Saturday, March 13, 2010

Listen and Learn

UPA Board Member and Hall of Fame Liaison Henry Thorne had many interesting things to say in comments to a post on Jim Parinella’s blog recently. I will address some of the most interesting ones in considerable detail soon enough, but in the meantime I want to share some of what I experienced when I brought his comments to the attention of another member of the UPA HOF’s hierarchy.

Because he is someone I respect who was drawn into this morass reluctantly and through no fault of his own, I won’t name him. I will, however, share some of what he had to say in general terms as a catalyst to a broader and, I think, more illuminating discussion than could be had were we to confine ourselves to the fairly obvious details of my HOF outduction.

To begin, he “revealed” several facts that were not exactly surprising. First, based on the responses the UPA HOF received from the Call to the Community, I am a deeply polarizing figure. Second, a huge portion of the time spent in consideration of HOF candidates was spent considering the merits of my candidacy. Finally, is response to my statement that some of the things that Henry wrote on Jim’s blog were absolutely outrageous and borderline libelous, he dismissed my concerns by suggesting that the blogosphere is generally populated by (my terms, not his) nitwits, extremists, conspiracy theorists, and general nutjobs, and that the more reasoned portion of the population would remain blissfully unaware of Henry’s condemnations of my character. Effectively, he suggested the offerings on the internet are generally mindless blather.

Initially, as an erstwhile rsd poster and current blogger, I was slightly stung by his criticism, but I quickly dismissed his opinion as being woefully emblematic of the default position for any member of the UPA hierarchy when it concerns such matters. In time, and after some reflection, I thought there might be some truth to what he said. After subsequently re-reading many blog posts and comments on the matter at hand I realized that his assessment is largely accurate.

As a brief aside, it has been suggested that I really don’t care what people think about me, my playing career, my HOF candidacy, or my ultimate legacy. In fact, I do, but perhaps not in the way that you might imagine. It’s true that I don’t lose any sleep over people’s characterizations of me as a comical Napoleon, and I don’t lie awake at night fretting over my HOF exclusion. Nor are my feelings hurt when I am criticized, often anonymously, as an ultimate asshole or worse. But I do care what people have to say in the sense that, when time permits, I take the time to scroll through rsd and various blogs, as well as the comments to my blog, and “listen” to what people have to say by reading their words and trying to make sense of them. At times, it’s a fairly fruitless proposition.

To be fair, to say that all ultimate blogging, rsd posting, and subsequent commenting is mindless blather is too strong a statement. There are some thoughtful people in the blogosphere who take the time to craft carefully worded, illuminating posts that clarify the issue under discussion and enrich the dialogue. They are, however, the exception, and the vast majority of contributions to the various discussions taking place in ultimate cyberspace can be characterized by one thing: an astonishing absence of any evidence of disciplined thought.

There are many such examples, and it would be a foolish waste of time to catalog them all here, but I would like to highlight two recent examples to show that even people who seem reasonably intelligent often fail to take the time to think before they write.

Recently, someone posted on rsd in reference to an article that ran many years ago in the Wall Street Journal, and followed that post with the following query:

“Anyway....a basic UPA HOF candidate question:

Was Kenny Dobyns representative of the sport?”

I would say the question is irrelevant, but it’s not even irrelevant; it’s incoherent. Players are not representative of the sports they play. They are the sports they play. Ultimate is a grass field, eight cones, and a piece of plastic. Baseball is a dirt and grass field, some chalk lines, four bases and a mound. But when players step onto those fields and play the games, the games come to life, and they live through the players who play them.

You want a HOF candidate question? Here’s one:

Did ultimate at that time represent the candidate?

Now think about the players who are in the Hall of Fame. If you had the opportunity to see them play, then you know that often the answer is yes.

Now here’s another question:

Did ultimate in the late 80s and early 90s represent Kenny Dobyns?

Whether you like it or not, the answer is yes.

When Mark McGwire pathetically stated that he wished he hadn’t played in the steroid era, he tried to suggest that everything had happened to him, as though he were a passive victim, innocently caught up in the maelstrom of performance enhancing drugs. It was sickeningly disingenuous. The steroid era in baseball was what it was because it was representative of Mark McGwire and those of his ilk, not the other way around.

Along the same lines, the era that stretched from the mid 80s through the mid 90s in ultimate was characterized by a highly competitive, hyper aggressive, push the envelope of the game, in your face style of play that was representative of the people who played at the time. The theory has been advanced that what transpired in the game back then was the direct result of a system of lax enforcement of toothless rules. Perhaps that’s true, but such arguments are a little too close to a McGwiresque justification for my comfort. We chose our style of play. It didn’t happen to us. We looked at athletic competition as a war between opposing forces, and we were determined to prevail against all comers. To make sure we were prepared, we reminded ourselves in the huddle before we stepped onto the field: no mercy, no prisoners. If the people whose opinions drive the process have decided the UPA HOF is no place for people who played the game that way, then they are absolutely right to keep me out of their little club. No harm. No foul. But so long as the discussions continue, I’m going to use them to address the lack of disciplined thought I mentioned earlier, which brings me right back to Henry Thorne.

As I said, in the not too distant future I will address some of the egregious and indefensible statements Henry made, but for now I want to examine, for the purposes of instruction, how he made them. Basically I want to point out yet again how seemingly intelligent people sometimes fail to think before they write.

In response to Jim Parinella’s blog post encouraging discussion of the UPA HOF selection process, Henry posted over a dozen times. In some instances he was careful to point out that he was expressing his personal, not official, opinion. In other instances he was not so clear. But even when he did say something along the lines of “This is me expressing myself as an individual,” he added his official titles as UPA Board member and HOF liaison. He then made it clear through his writing that his opinion had been shaped by information he only had access to because he is a UPA Board Member and HOF Liaison. Given those circumstances, regardless of whether he is presiding over an official board meeting or posting to a blog from his basement, his opinion cannot be separated from the process through which he arrived at it. It is not the opinion of Citizen Thorne. It is the opinion of a UPA official and HOF voter, who also happens to be named Henry Thorne. One would imagine he has enough sense to realize that, but perhaps not.

Additionally, in responding to questions and supporting his process and conclusions, Henry revealed information (gleaned from HOF documents) that is almost certainly supposed to be kept confidential. Did he not realize that? It’s one thing to say, “based on the information provided to me about the candidates in question, I can say that some were rated significantly more negatively than others when it comes to the spirit category.” It’s another to quote specific statistics and attach them to particular persons. I recognize that these people are volunteers, and that you get what you pay for, but Henry should absolutely have known better.

In an earlier post in this forum I wrote that Henry should be commended. I still believe that. The UPA HOF selection process is clearly flawed, and while some people have expended a great deal of energy trying to improve it, there’s still more work to do. But in the areas of communication and transparency, areas where the process has so far failed spectacularly, I have seen precious little effort to improve, and nary an official admission of the need to improve. In fact, the only thing that has come close to an official engagement in substantive discussion of the process is Henry’s contribution to Jim’s blog. Based on my conversation with my respected but unnamed HOF hierarchy source, we probably have only ourselves to blame.

It has often been suggested that the UPA should use public forums (such as rsd) to engage directly in discourse with the ultimate community at large. I have heard at least one UPA response stating that the rsd community is not a representative sample of the ultimate community at large, a point I’d be willing to debate. I have also heard at least one UPA response stating that what passes for discourse on rsd is something less than true discourse, and that is a point it would be harder to debate.

When I was a teacher, I used a classroom discussion exercise to force my students to listen and think without speaking. I would tell them that on Friday after their weekly vocabulary quiz we would be having an open discussion on a topic I knew they would find interesting (the school dress code for example). Once the quiz was over, they would be all fired up to share their thoughts. Then I would have them reach under their chairs to retrieve a card. Depending on what was written on the card, they would either be required to speak during the discussion, or be forbidden from speaking during the discussion. Those forbidden from speaking would be required to start by briefly describing their feelings at the top of the page, and then take notes of what the speakers said during the discussion. In addition, they had to respond during the discussion with their own thoughts in writing, without ever being given the chance to speak out loud. Although they initially found it frustrating, in time they realized that by listening carefully and responding on paper, they often found their opinions on the topic changing ever so slightly during the discussion. By contrast, those who spoke their views openly generally left the class feeling the same as they had when they came in.

The take home lessons are that it is only by being silent that we can listen, only by listening that we can hear, only by hearing that we can understand, and only by understanding that we can learn. It is a sad comment on the state of rsd, and our society as a whole, that there is far too little silence, and precious little understanding in what passes for discourse these days, whether it takes place on rsd or on Fox News. Given that fact, I can’t really blame anyone who resists the request for engagement. Can you?

As I stated earlier, I periodically go back and read the comments on my blog. It is with some measure of disappointment that I note that many of the comments come from the same person, that all of his comments generally say the same thing, and that rarely does anyone continue to contribute to what, at that point, is no longer a discourse. It’s a pity. Some time ago I made a vow to neither delete comments from my blog nor restrict anonymous comments. Recently I have been considering a change to my policy. Would that instead the person in question would reach under his chair and retrieve a card, then sit in silence and listen for a change.

We all might learn something.


Niklas said...


Hall of fame without you is a joke.

I played against you with Sweden in 1988 and 1990. You were a tough competitor but no less spirited than dozens of other players I have played against.

The New York team we played in 1994(without you) were more unspirited than the earlier verisons, I must say, without taking anything away from them.

There are many skilled players, but only a few have the power to change the momentum of a game on their own. That is the mark of a champion, and you had that ability.

Listen up America. KD is one of the greatest players ever. He is a hall of famer if you vote him in or not. For the credibility of your HoF you´d better put him there.

All the best from
Niklas, #2 of Sweden

Anonymous said...

listen and learn???? not bloddy likely. I mean seriously.....what is there to be learned by listening to all the spirit centric BS that gets spewed on rsd and on various blogs. I'd rather talk and teach(while not giving two shits if anyone listens or even cares). I guess i just dont see the point in writing a freakin book just to make one little simple point. seems kinda needy to me, but whatever, delete my shit, no skin off my back. And again, theres a bigger issue at stake here than your canadacy, and the selection proces is part of it, but a small part. I think we probably see eye to ey on most of this stupid spirity crap we just have a different way of expressing it......mine being obviously more beligerant......does that ring a bell?

ulticritic said...

So i guess my last post didnt get through (or maybe it got deleted) either way, let me say (again?) that as an act of cooperation i will volutarily take part in kens little "classroom discussion exorsize" and not actively take part (in speech/writing) in his next thread topic and take notes and listen to what others say (even though its unherd of and completely unamerican) in an effort to see if i have any kind of different perspective, which i know i wont......but, none the less, i will comply. So the floor is all yours gentlemen of nonbelligerant and proper discourse.....try not to "out intellectual" each other as you dance around the brutal and ugly truth of the matter that i so "belligerantly" confront and expose(even if it is some peoples perception of telling someone "you will wear them like a cheap suit" over and over again....NOT MINE THOUGH, i love that kind of bellegerance). So, like when kramer said he would shut up and he would start "riiiiight nnnnnnnnnnnnow!" will i (at least for the next topic of discussion).

Anonymous said...

kd, please post another thread ASAP so we can see if toad will stick to his word. i'm going 3-1 he can't do it.

Anonymous said...

i played against henry thorne and kenneth d and they are both very short. that is all.