Sunday, January 13, 2019

Digging Deeper

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Life is fast, faster than ever.  We are connected…constantly.  Attention spans are shrinking.  Patience is thin.  Information better be condensed into a headline, a hyperlink, a slideshow or a brief video, otherwise…don’t bother. 

I’ve lost half my readers already. 

Superficial facts produce superficial and often inadequate knowledge.  We are aware, but are we informed?  What are we missing?  A lot…

Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite writers, is best known for popularizing Gonzo journalism.  He is famous for embedding himself within the Hell’s Angels (and the resulting novel), coining the phrase “fear and loathing” and embracing the nation’s drug culture – both personally and in his writing.  In perhaps his most well-known book (and movie), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson took readers on a dizzying ride into the Nevada desert in search of the American dream.  It was a wild collection of drug-induced hallucinations and debauchery that left the line between fantasy and reality indistinguishable.    

At the end, it leaves the reader wondering what exactly they just read.  Could it be real?  What kind of mind creates such actual and literary mayhem?  Much of Thompson’s writing followed a similar script.  The raw brilliance is obvious, but the sheer madness is what immediately sticks. 

That is both Thompson’s gift and his curse.  His wildly entertaining work is marked by quick, intense introductions (suggestion: read…or reread…the opening to Hell’s Angels) - irresistible hooks – and relentless unfolding chaos.  It is all so outrageous that it feels surreal – screeds penned by a semi-sane/semi-mad genius lost between fact and fiction.  Thompson is so good at wreaking havoc with words that is easy to dismiss him as a purveyor of the absurd.

But to accept Thompson as just that is to dismiss half his story.  As Timothy Denevi passionately argues in his recent book Freak Kingdom, Thompson’s political writing, starting after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and continuing into the Nixon administration is arguably his best and certainly his most historically important work.  Thompson’s coverage of the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns and biting criticism of Nixon, in particular, is as relevant today as it was when it first flew from his typewriter.  

It is an odd connection, but like Thompson, the most substantive aspects of sports often get crowded out by seductive statistics, flashy plays, tweets and clickbait.  The evidence is extensive, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit it to a quarterback, an NFL owner, a few professional teams and an NHL raffle.

The quarterback: Drew Brees.  Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer and among the best of his generation.  Undersold?  Indeed.  Brees is the New Orleans Saints and, in the end, he will have meant as much to The Big Easy as Louis Armstrong (well, almost).  Brees is 39 years old.  His time on the field is short.  Player-city marriages like this are rare.  Enjoy it.  Appreciate it.

The owner: Paul Allen, the former Seattle Seahawks owner, passed away last month.  He is best known as Microsoft co-founder and savior of the Seahawks franchise in the Pacific Northwest.  But his legacy will be this: he arranged for the proceeds of the sale of the franchise – estimated at over $2B - to go completely to his charity, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 

The Teams: Given recent and on-going events in their communities, do you think the professional teams in California and Pittsburgh are playing for more wins on the field?  As an example, Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth donated last week’s game check to the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting.

The Raffle: The Capitals hold 50/50 raffles at home games – a ho-hum promotion…until it wasn’t.  In a recent game against the hated Penguins, the winning Caps fan donated the haul - $19k – to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA. 

The Message: Dig a little deeper.  Read beyond the headlines.  Pierce through the force-fed stuff (which is often designed to distract and provoke).  Wrestle conventional wisdom.  Find substance…or at least a quarterback, a billionaire owner, a couple of teams or an unknown fan that, through their character, compassion and decency, make you smile. 

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