Comparing the McMansions of Matt Ryan and Tom Brady

Relive some of the excitement of Super Bowl by comparing the McMansion of Matt Ryan in Duluth, Georgia versus Tom Brady’s homes:

I’d say Matty Ice picked himself the most conventional McMansion possible…

But what his house, or houses? I bet he has no taste…This house in Brookline, Massachussets? You’re kidding me. It’s kind of tasteful. Okay, it’s great, it’s perfect…What about the house in LA? I bet that’s hideous…You know what though, Tommy Boy? You are not McMansion material…

The winner here is Matt Ryan for keeping it real.

All those hours of coverage of the big game and you didn’t see important information like this. Both clearly have large homes but there are notable differences. This analysis suggests this comes down to personal taste but I think there are some other factors at work:

  1. Brady operates in different locations where expectations about large homes may be different. Compared to the Atlanta area, are there were fewer McMansions in Brookline (probably) or in the Los Angeles area (maybe not but there are also more legitimate mansions)?
  2. Brady operates in a different social circle than Ryan. With his model wife, Brady has to fit in with a range of famous people while Ryan is with the football crowd. Both have plenty of money but there is a difference in social class and taste a la Bourdieu.
  3. Both grew up in suburban areas: Ryan in Exton, Pennsylvania (outside Philadelphia) and Brady in San Mateo, California (Bay Area). This could influence both wanting to live in suburban areas now.
  4. Ryan is younger than Brady and perhaps he hasn’t had the time or experience to move to a more “mature” home.

Overall, I suspect many pro athletes have homes critics would call McMansions.

DeSean Jackson illustrates how black Americans often retain ties to poorer neighborhoods, regardless of class

Jamelle Bouie highlights sociological research that shows blacks in America tend to live closer to and have ongoing social ties with poorer neighborhoods compared to whites:

The key fact is this: Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty.

As sociologist Patrick Sharkey shows in his book Stuck in Place, 62 percent of black adults born between 1955 and 1970 lived in neighborhoods that were at least 20 percent poor, a fact that’s true of their children as well. An astounding 66 percent of blacks born between 1985 and 2000 live in neighborhoods as poor or poorer as those of their parents…

How does this stack up to white families? Here, Sharkey is indispensable: Among white children born through 1955 and 1970, just 4 percent live in high poverty neighborhoods. Or, put another way, black Americans live with a level of poverty that is simply unknown to the vast majority of whites…

“When white families advance in economic status,” writes Sharkey, “they are able to translate this economic advantage into spatial advantage by buying into communities that provide quality schools and healthy environments for children.” The same isn’t true for black Americans, and some of the answer has to include present and ongoing housing discrimination. For example, in one study—conducted by the Department of Housing and the Urban Institute—black renters learned about fewer rental units and fewer homes than their white counterparts…

This can have serious consequences. Youthful experimentation for a white teenager in a suburb might be smoking a joint in a friend’s attic. Youthful experimentation for a black teenager might be hanging out with gang members. As Mary Pattillo-McCoy writes in her book Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class, “Youth walk a fine line between preparing for success and youthful delinquent experimentation, the consequences of which can be especially serious for black youth.”

Even as the details of the DeSean Jackson situation trickle out, the overall point is clear: blacks and whites in America continue to live in different neighborhoods and this has consequences for adult life. One consequence is that blacks tend to live in poorer neighborhoods, regardless of class, and a second is that social ties between wealthier and poorer neighborhoods often continue even when economic opportunity allows one to move elsewhere (see the work of Robert Sampson in Great American City for his social network analysis of social ties of residents who leave poorer neighborhoods – and also where they tend to end up).

All together, the impact of on-going residential segregation is not as simple as living in different places. The social conditions of different places is related to all sorts of disparate outcomes including housing options, educational attainment, safety and crime rates, economic opportunities, and life expectancy. We should not be surprised if we see this play out in arenas like the NFL which apparently has some divided opinions about how it should be addressed (one team releases a good player, another eagerly signs him).

Quick Review: League of Denial

I had a chance this past week to read the book League of Denial and see the PBS documentary by the same name. Some thoughts about the story of the NFL and concussion research (focusing mostly on the book which provides a more detailed narrative):

1. I know some fans are already complaining of “concussion fatigue” but it is hard to think of football the same way after hearing this story. For decades, we have held up players for their toughness and yet it may be ruining their brains.

2. The human story in all of this is quite interesting. This includes some of the former football players who have been driven to the edge by their football-related brain injuries. At the same time, the story amongst the doctors is also pretty fascinating, the chase for fame, publishing articles, and acquiring brains. Running through the whole book is this question of “who is really doing this research for the right reasons?” Even if the NFL research appears to be irrevocably tainted, are the researchers on the other side completely neutral or pure of heart?

3. The whole scientific process is laid out in the book (glossed over more in the documentary)…and I’m not sure how it fares. You have scientists fighting each other to acquire brains. You have peer-reviewed research – supposed to help prevent erroneous findings – that is viewed by many as erroneous from the start. You have scientists fighting for funding, an ongoing battle for all researchers as they must support their work and have their own livelihoods. In the end, consensus seems to be emerging but the book and documentary highlight the messy process it takes to get there.

4. The comparisons of the NFL to Big Tobacco seem compelling: the NFL tried to bury concussions research for a few decades and still doesn’t admit to a long-term impact of concussions on its players. One place where the comparison might break down for the general public (and scientific research could change this in the near future): the worst problems seem to be in long-time NFL players. When exactly does CTE start in the brains of football players? There is some evidence younger players, college or high school, might already have CTE but we need more evidence of this to be sure. If that is established, that perhaps kids as young as junior high already have CTE and that CTE is derived from regular hits at a young age (not the big knock-out blows), the link to Big Tobacco might be complete.

5. It is not really part of this story but I was struck again by how relatively little we know about the brain. Concussion research didn’t really take off until the 1990s, even as this had happened with football players for decades. (One sports area where it had been studied: boxing.) Much of this research is quite new and is a reminder that we humans don’t know as much as we might think.

6. This also provides a big reminder that the NFL is big business. Players seem the most aware of this: they can be cut at any time and an injury outside of their control could end their careers. The league and owners do not come off well here as they try to protect their holdings. The employees – the players – are generally treated badly: paid well if they perform but thrown aside otherwise. This may lead to a “better product” on the field but the human toll is staggering.

7. How exactly you change people’s opinions, both fans and players, regarding concussions will be fascinating to watch. It will take quite a shift among players from the tough-guy image to being willing to consider their futures more carefully. For fans, they may become more understanding as their favorite players consider what concussions might do to their lives. Will the NFL remain as popular? Hard to say though I imagine most fans this past weekend of football had little problem watching lots of gridiron action Saturday and Sunday.

Long tail: 17% of the seven foot tall men between ages 20 and 40 in the US play in the NBA

As part of dissecting whether Shaq can really fit in a Buick Lacrosse (I’ve asked this myself when watching the commercial), Car & Driver drops in this little statistic about men in the United States who are seven feet tall:

The population of seven-footers is infinitesimal. In 2011, Sports Illustrated estimated that there are fewer than 70 men between the ages of 20 and 40 in the United States who stand seven feet or taller. A shocking 17 percent of them play in the NBA.

In the distribution of heights in the United States, being at least seven feet tall is quite unusual and at the far right side of a fairly normal distribution. But, being that tall increases the odds of playing in the NBA by quite a lot. As a Forbes post suggests, “Being 7 Feet Tall [may be] the Fastest Way To Get Rich in America“:

Drawing on Centers for Disease Control data, Sports Illustrated‘s Pablo Torre estimated that no more than 70 American men are between the ages of 20 and 40 and at least 7 feet tall. “While the probability of, say, an American between 6’6? and 6’8? being an NBA player today stands at a mere 0.07%, it’s a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller,” Torre writes.

(While that claim might seem like a tall tale, more than 42 U.S.-born players listed at 7 feet did debut in NBA games between 1993 and 2013. Even accounting for the typical 1-inch inflation in players’ listed heights would still mean that 15 “true” 7-footers made it to the NBA, out of Torre’s hypothetical pool of about 70 men.)…

And given the market need for players who can protect the rim, there are extra rewards for this extra height. The league’s median player last season was 6 feet 7 inches tall, and paid about $2.5 million for his service. But consider the rarified air of the 7-footer-and-up club. The average salary of those 35 NBA players: $6.1 million.

(How much does one more inch matter? The 39 players listed at 6 feet 11 inches were paid an average of $4.9 million, or about 20% less than the 7 footers.)

Standing as an outlier at the far end of the distribution seems to pay off in this case.

Aren’t the Olympics the domain of well-funded athletes from wealthier countries?

While watching some events from the Olympics, I was struck by how much training must go into this. But this endless training reminded me of what Malcolm Gladwell discusses in Outliers: only a small number of people get the advantages that allow them to have all of this training. In other words, you are more likely to experience the “Matthew effect” if your parents, social network, or country has the resources to allow you to do all of this training. This doesn’t mean that these competitors aren’t skilled but it is not like all of the world’s population has an equal opportunity to take the path toward the Olympics. (Of course, not everyone would want to, either.)

I’m sure someone has already had this idea but what about some sort of “everyman Olympics”?

High rate of arrests among NFL players?

Going into the Super Bowl, everyone knows about the legal issues Ben Roethlisberger has faced in recent years. But one sociologist has found that behavior that breaks the law is not unknown to NFL players. One website suggests that sociologist Eric Carter found “nearly 35% of all players in the league have been arrested.” Elsewhere, Carter goes into more detail about why so many NFL players are arrested at some point and how religion could help players deal with anomie:

Eric has conducted over 100 interviews with NFL players, some who have led happy and well-adjusted lives but also with many who have not.  We talk about the typical pressures that a professional player faces, coming into sudden fame and fortune.  Prof. Carter brings the research ideas of Emile Durkheim, particulary “social anomie,” to bear on what a number of these athletes face when moving into the professional ranks.  The sudden change in lifestyle combined with intense pressures to perform often leave many of them unhappy, confused and susceptible to all sorts of deviant behavior (some of which makes the news).  We talk then about the role of religion in helping players cope with these changes.  Our discussion looks at what factors might help players make adjustments to their new environments, including: a religious upbringing; the support networks they have access to at college; and religious role models in the locker room.

More details about Carter’s study of NFL players can be found here. Although this is a small sample of 104 players (there are at least 1440 players in the NFL each year – 45 players on 32 rosters), Carter found that 33 of the players had been arrested (31.7%). And Carter wrote a book, Boys Gone Wild, based on his study.

What is interesting about this is that the NFL seems to avoid scrutiny in the public eye about this. Whereas baseball stars are vilified for cheating, NFL players are regularly arrested (if this arrest rate holds true across the NFL – and even if it was really 10-20% lower, it still is a decent number) and the popularity of the NFL has continued to grow. Even with players like Roethlisberger or Rae Carruth or Michael Vick or Ray Lewis or Donte Stallworth or Marvin Harrison getting into trouble, this sort of news gets overwhelmed by the behemoth that is NFL entertainment.

In a more recent interview, Carter talks about how the NFL is able to keep this information out of the public eye:

“We see a lot of what goes on, because of the media,” Carter said. “But I was amazed at how much goes on that isn’t picked up — how powerful the NFL is in combating some of the potential bad media. I couldn’t believe how many guys contemplated suicide or attempted it, or were that unhappy with their lives that they engaged in these self-destructive behaviors.”

Carter found that 32 percent of the players he interviewed had been arrested after they entered the league — and others said they often evaded arrest by dispensing autographs to star-struck police officers — and nearly half described themselves as unhappy people.

“Fifty percent? That’s a big number,” he said, especially when you consider that these are young men who make on average more than $1 million a year to play football, and many of them much more than that.

“It just goes against our contemporary American conceptions of what happiness is. They have it all. They have the wealth, the fame, the power, the status — all of those things that many people equate with a happy life.”

Perhaps the NFL is able to bury these stories or minimize them. Or perhaps the American public doesn’t want to face this kind of information or thinks the athletes are compensated enough and can deal with the problems on their own.

Quick Review: NFL Unplugged

With the  NFL season winding down and games taking on more importance, NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football offered me some new insights into professional football. A few thoughts about this new book:

1. Anthony Gargano suggests much of the game depends on what happens in the trenches with the offensive and defensive lines. This is not a new thought – John Madden pointed this out for years – but it rarely comes out in broadcasts or video games where quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers get a lot of attention. These linemen have a hard job: for less respect than teammates, they beat each other up play after play.

1a. I wondered while reading this about how much Gargano’s perspective was shaped by the players he has talked with during the years. While he shared information from players of all positions, he seemed to have closer relationships with some of the players in the trenches.

1b. Gargano seems to like playing up this warrior perspective.

1c. This reminds me of the different color commentary one hears depending on whether the commentator was a quarterback or lineman. Linemen, in particular, seem to see the game in a completely different way and tend to emphasize blocking and who is “getting a push” at the line.

1d. Do many fans have a skewed perspective because of playing Madden football and controlling the guy with the ball (usually the quarterback)? In a video game, the player doesn’t get any sense of the physical nature of football – it essentially becomes a game of X’s and O’s and putting the ball in the right holes or hands. Some years ago, Madden included a blocking feature where the player could control a lineman or other blocker rather than the ball handler. Does anyone ever use this feature?

2. Players have to amp themselves up to even play. Many have nerves, to the point of throwing up repeatedly before the game, and most have to get themselves into a mental state where they would be willing to throw their body into other people for 60 minutes. Gargano describes this mental state as something like “the dark side” that many players try to reach.

3. Even with all of the money they players make, there is no doubt that it takes a toll on their bodies. In our world of white-collar, management, and technology jobs, football players stick out as celebrated workers who put their bodies on the line. One of the classic examples Gargano talks about repeatedly is what happens in the piles when the football has come loose. Most football plans have some clue of what goes on in the piles but Gargano talks about screaming and particularly dirty tactics.

4. Do football broadcasters and commentators have some sort of unwritten rule about not mentioning or talking about the physical nature of football? Many of the commentators tend to focus on the glamorous parts – the quarterback with the perfect throw, the receiver with a great catch, etc. But if so many broadcasters today have played football themselves, why don’t they offer more insights int this? Do they think viewers don’t want to hear this? Americans seem to like football because it is violent – but is there a limit to how much violence people actually want to hear about?

5. There was not a whole lot of insights into actual tactics or strategies during the game. More time is spent talking about the schedule of football players: what happens during the week and then what happens on game days.

Overall, an interesting book that mainly talks about players’ preparation and recovery. Many of the insights have been offered elsewhere but this book is quite vivid in offering a perspective that is often buried or downplayed.

Thinking about the sociology of cricket

If you thought that cricket was a pleasant and quaint sport with matches that last days, a British commentator suggests otherwise. Like other sports, cricket has become dominated by money (“lucre”) and this threatens to overwhelm the commentator’s interest in watching the interactions between players:

Cricket has had a real battering in the last few months. This was not just because of the match-fixing scandal at the end of the last English season; it was also because of the rather gutless way in which certain parts of the cricket establishment, here and internationally, responded to it. Cricket is a game now obsessed with money. Even those who do not engage in match-fixing, and who condemn (quite rightly) those who do, share the same devotion to filthy lucre. The only difference is that they prostitute the game in different, and entirely legal, ways.

I have never been an especially partisan follower of cricket. It is not just that, on one level, it’s only a game (I shall deal later with the charmingly old-fashioned notion that it is, by contrast, more than a game), and therefore which side wins or loses is in the end irrelevant. It is that the main interest to me, as a follower of the game, has been its aesthetics and, almost as much, its sociology. It has the capacity to be a visually beautiful game, and because games of cricket can go on for up to five days, there is plenty of time for the spectator to examine the interaction of the players with each other – with those on their own side as much as with those on the opposing team.

The solution for this writer is to watch cricket at a lower level, such as watching is son play with other 14-year olds. You will hear this argument from some Americans as well: the professional sports are tainted and if you want to enjoy an authentic version of the game where players play because they love the same, you have to go to the college level or lower. I tend to think this argument leaves out an important aspect of why people watch sports – they want to see the best athletes in the world perform amazing plays. High school athletes may love what they are doing but it is hard not to think about how a college or pro athlete could athletically do so much more.

I have also always enjoyed watching the interactions between players. Additionally, I enjoy going to sporting events to watch interactions between fans and the players and amongst fans. In short, if you gather so many passionate people together in a relatively small location with much on the line, there is bound to be some interesting interactions.

Of course, cricket on the international level also has the potential to open up discussion about colonialism and class – how exactly did an English sport find its way to the streets of Australia, the West Indies, Pakistan, and India?

Athletes, their wives, and infidelity

In a world seemingly full of athletes who are cheating on their wives, people wonder how this happens. A sociologist who has been studying this for years sums up some of his research:

None of this surprises Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State who has spent nearly 20 years studying the wives of professional athletes and what he calls “husband-oriented” sports marriages. In one study, Ortiz interviewed 47 wives married to men in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

He chalks up the pattern of behavior to a patriarchal society and what he calls “spoiled-athlete syndrome.” Since childhood, he says, athletes are enabled because of their obvious talent. And in the same way the culture of celebrity is celebrated, athletic heroes are worshipped.

Ortiz says he observed three ways in which the issue of infidelity is handled in these marriages: one, with humor, and two, avoidance of the subject. The third, he says, typically occurs when the wife searches for evidence in laundry, e-mail messages or phone calls.

“A major stressor is the fear of infidelity,” Ortiz says. “[The wives] have no control over the situation.”

According to the rest of the ESPN story, a number of wives know this is a possibility while they are married. It sounds like others had no idea that athletes behaved like this before getting married. Could there be some sort of athlete’s wives support group that would help those who are currently married and counsel those who are about to get married?

A few other questions I had after reading this:

1. How much do teams support, overtly or covertly, this behavior on the parts of male athletes?

2. Does this sort of behavior occur among female athletes? If not, why not?

3. Why do some male athletes not fall into these traps? What factors influence the decisions of male athletes to cheat or not to cheat?

4. How common in this behavior? Are the stories we see in the news, such as those about Tiger Woods or Brett Favre, the norm or are they outliers? Would fans pay less attention to sports if they knew all about this area of life?

5. How does this all affect athlete’s children?

The value of stretching for athletes

Henry Abbott at Truehoop looks at some recent research regarding stretching which suggests stretching before athletic events is not that helpful.

The question arises: why then do athletes go through a stretching routine before a game? I’ll throw out a possible answer: stretching is part of a routine that is psychologically helpful in preparing for a game. Even if stretching beforehand has limited value, as long as it is not harmful, it could help athletes feel like they are doing something worthwhile. Perhaps it helps improve their mental focus. For many, I assume it is part of an established routine that they were socialized into either at a younger age or by an expert. Since they have been doing it in the past, going through the motions helps them prepare.

Where this research could be used is with younger athletes. It is hard to break people out of established patterns but teenagers and kids could chart a new path that includes little or no pregame stretching and more postgame stretching. These younger athletes could then establish new kinds of routines that will be with them throughout their athletic careers.