Pleading for Player Power

Pic-University_of_Missouri_PlayersNew Orleans    In the United States, from place to place, Thanksgiving comes with its own set of traditions enhanced by families and friends.

One of my first Thanksgivings away from home while on my brief on and off collegiate tour, the details are now lost in the fog of memory, but somehow I ended up, likely with a friend, invited by a generous soul to her Italian family’s late afternoon dinner in the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, where multiple courses were served, accompanied by wine, all of which seemed revolutionary to me at the time and for which I am still thankful.  Another year, in Springfield, Massachusetts, my brother came over from New Jersey, while we were living there, and Barbara Rivera, one of our spectacular welfare rights leaders invited us all over to her house for a Puerto Rican flavored Thanksgiving dinner, still remembered by both me and her family.

For years when we were young and had grandparents in the delta of Mississippi, Thanksgiving meant a drive up from New Orleans for family and a feast.  There was always divinity fudge, one of the great inventions in candy-land, and jam cake, which has become a family tradition from grandmother to mother to now daughter.  And, in Mississippi before, during, and after a huge, piling heap of food was offered and consumed I now know not only there, but in much of the rest of the South there was football, one game after another.  Now with its increasing popularity there’s basketball, too.  In the South, there’s also the mandatory nap option that has to be squeezed in during half-times or blowouts.   Sometimes it’s even funny to read in the paper as pro-ballers talk about what it might be like to have a Thanksgiving at home.  The crocodile tears are flowing everywhere now, I know they are.

The business of sports though has become simply sports as business, and that’s not something to be thankful about.  Living in the heartland of the big college football power conference, the South Eastern Conference, where football often seems to pass the line between sports and religion, it may be the biggest business of all.  In Louisiana, the coach has lost three games in a row and despite perhaps the winningest record of almost any coach anywhere, a national championship on his record, and several SEC titles, yet some of the heavy breather alums are talking about paying gazillions to buy out his contract that’s good until 2019.

Meanwhile, one of the newer SEC teams at the University of Missouri may not be leading the league in the win-loss column but has shown how semi-professional college players can stand up for themselves and others.  The NCAA fought the Northwestern players hammer and tong, but despite their billion dollar bottom-line mentality, collective action by the players works, no matter what the lawyers might want and wish.  Now some pundits are calling for coaches and basketball players to get into the act to push back at the NCAA and its unaccountable and arbitrary way of dealing with current and prospective players, including recruits from all over the world.  The price of the first coach standing behind his players may have been the heave-ho in Missouri since even though the President and other bigwigs fell by the wayside, the athletic director was still standing, and may not have been a solidarity-forever guy, no matter what the coach claims.

If sports, professional and amateur, is going to be part of our contemporary culture in coming years, and run as a body killing, youth stealing, child labor sweatshop, then the workers,  paid, unpaid, and exploited need to exercise their market power and bring them to their knees.  For my part I think Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day would be the perfect tactical times for football and basketball players to stand up and stand together to force some change.

I would definitely interrupt a nap for that kind of action!


Fate, Thanksgiving, and the Mill Hunk Herald


Larry Evans and Leslie Byrd Evans, then his wife, in 1981.
Larry Evans and Leslie Byrd Evans, then his wife, in 1981.

New Orleans    The Mill Hunk Herald is likely a quarterly publication you’ve never heard of or long forgotten.  It was a Pittsburgh-based scrappy and chaotic voice of an array of blue collar workers during a ten year period between 1979 and 1989.  Whenever it arrived it was a jumble of stories, poems, and whatnots that spoke passionately of the fate of steelworkers and similar workers caught in the grinding process of deindustrialization almost impossible for them to fathom in voices that demanded to be heard, but were constantly ignored.  I forget how I stumbled onto the publication but I was a subscriber for years until suddenly as mysteriously as it had sprung to my attention, it slithered off into an unknown darkness.

            I was a fan though for the simplest of reasons.  I think we simply must build and support voices for the voiceless.  Voices without filters.  Voices that are authentic.  Voices leaping over mediation and defying dilution and passive interpretation.   KABF and our “voice of the people” radio stations continue to be part and parcel of this deep rock commitment and world view.

            What am I talking about?  Well from a book called Hands by Janet Zandy we have a good description of the mission and the methods of Larry Leif Evans and the Herald:

“A self-proclaimed, ‘worker rag,’ the Mill Hunk Herald is described by editor Larry Evans as not always a ‘Class Act’ but definitely ‘an act of class,’ and more seriously, ‘a microcosm of what an unleashed worker’ self-educative movement might look like.’”

            Evans described some of their “imaginative strategies” to undercover and bring forward workers’ alternative, true voices,

“To seed the ranks of our writers (eventually numbering over 741 over ten years), we took on the local papers and union publications, boasting that we would be a democratically-run publisher for all working people…We recruited from the rankled rank of mainstream ‘letters to the editor’ writers…We clipped their letters and forwarded our invitation to write for us…Of 80 folks approached in this way, 63 sent us submissions.  Some sent trunk-loads.”

            Not long ago I got a blurb at Social Policy about a book by someone named Leif Evans.  The title was so bizarre, that it caught my eye:  Viking Women Don’t Care:  A Creative Non-Fiction Memoir, Volume One – Wrestling with Baltimore.  Normally, such a bulletin calls for the recycling bin, but looking at the blurb I saw the mention that in a former life Evans had been the sparkplug behind the Mill Hunk Herald.  Now they had my attention, so I responded that they should send me a copy of this Viking Women thing, and I’d see if we could excerpt it in Social Policy.  Finally, weeks later I got a copy in fact two copies, since I had written a “what’s up” email to Evans about the first copy.  A quick scan of Viking Women revealed that it was what it promised:  a romping, riot of writing about Evans’ early life in Baltimore.  What it wasn’t was a look at his time in Pittsburgh in the mills and as editor of the Mill Hunk Herald.

            So I wrote Evans back and said I wasn’t sure how to do an excerpt for Viking Women in Social Policy unless he had some better ideas, but I would be happy to interview him on KABF’s Wade’s World show about the Mill Hunk Herald and he could mention his Viking Women piece as well.  Furthermore once he finished the next volume that promised to cover the Mill Hunk Herald, we would definitely excerpt that.  He was game for the interview but he was teaching a writing course every Friday morning from 9 to 11 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh every Friday except Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  No problem, I said, we’ll do it then, so we had a deal, and it went on the calendar, and I promoted it before Thanksgiving.

            The Monday before the show I realized I didn’t have his phone number, so I sent him another email asking him to send it along.  Thanksgiving afternoon after all our many blessings were counted, I looked at my email and still didn’t have a message from Evans.  No problem, I’ll Google the university and come up with it.  No trace of an Evans.  Not on Facebook either or on a plan Google search.  I remembered though that his email said Larry Evans even though he signed the book to me as Leif, so I Googled Larry Evans from Pittsburgh, and finally a story came up.

            To my shock though it was an obituary.  On his way to a book signing only a couple of days after our last correspondence, he had died in a car accident possibly triggered by what they called a “medical event.”

            Obviously, I didn’t know Evans personally, though I knew his work 30 years ago and his book now, but the random way that fate plays with our plans and life itself is a reminder that on Thanksgiving we not only have our families to be thankful for, but should remember that every breath of life and minute of time is transitory, a blessing in itself, and a warrant instructing us to make the most of each second of our time.