Monday, September 25, 2006


Georgia defeats South Carolina
Woof. Chomp. Yum. Grilled Gamecock has replaced Irish mincemeat as my favorite meal on autumn Saturdays
Book sales in the United States approached $24 billion in 2004. A significant slice of that action went to business books. Less formally, these titles are (1) shamelessly intended to help the rich get richer and (2) the only self-help books men will voluntarily read.

For my money, the entire business bookshelf can be reduced to the work of a single author. When it comes to the evaluation of talent, in business or in academia, there may be no more astute author than Michael Lewis. The author of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game -- yes, the book that inspired the MoneyLaw blog and Paul Caron and Rafael Gely's classic law review article -- has turned his attention to "the way people are valued -- on the football field and off."

Night footballAs an initial matter, it's worth exploring a modest question aimed at the cultural peculiarities of legal academics and other members of the information-society elite. Why hasn't football -- especially the overtly professional variant of the game -- displaced baseball as the official sport of American intelligentsia? Make no mistake; I love baseball. But baseball doesn't come close to matching the strategic complexity, athletic beauty, and raw emotion of twenty-two men moving at once, desperately counting to eleven and trying to balance the power of the ground game against the acrobatics of the forward pass. Football is the truly democratic sport. The fat and the skinny can compete on roughly equal footing; everyone in the village has a position to play. Eleven o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, but thank God almighty, Americans of all races come together under Friday Night Lights.

Mike LeachLast football season, Michael Lewis profiled Mike Leach of Texas Tech, one of the game's genuine innovators. For his contributions to football -- nothing short of reimagining the geometry of the game and extracting the absolute maximum out of players with admittedly marginal talent -- Mike Leach has earned little more than the spite of his peers. Football populists of the world, unite behind Tech. It's not as if the Big 12 is filled with programs to admire, and the Red Raiders under Leach play some of the most inspired, entertaining football anywhere.

Mike OherMike OherIn his most recent foray into football, Lewis recounts the remarkable story of Michael Oher. From an utterly despondent childhood in Memphis, Oher now stands on the brink of NFL stardom. "Big Mike" has had plenty of help to put him on the line of scrimmage for Ole Miss, but it all hinges on his unique combination of size, strength, and terrifying quickness.

The Blind SideMike Oher is the centerpiece of Lewis's newest book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Lewis's studies of these two Mikes -- Leach and Oher -- shed clarifying light on the evaluation and exploitation of talent in America's most popular and most intellectually stimulating sport. Whether the self-appointed guardians of this country's academic culture take notice remains to be seen. This much is already clear: the market for knowledge about entrepreneurial advantantage, in football and in business, will pay attention no matter what academia elects to do.

Hat tip to Eric Goldman for bringing Michael Lewis's article on Michael Oher to my attention.


Blogger N.J.L.S. said...

"The Ballad of Big Mike" is a compelling story, both for its human interest element, as well as its dicussion of the evolution of football recruiting. However, whether by design or by neglect, it is positively disturbing. The vignettes the author conveys are laden with racial paternalism and individual devaluation, and his own analogy refers to Mr. Oher's "breed" and links his ultimate success to not being seen as African American.

Again, the article is a worthwhile read for its compelling narrative; yet it also provides powerful anecdotal evidence of contemporary subtle - and not so subtle - racism.

Any other thoughts on this? I excerpted a bit more of the article on my blog, if you are interested in reading a bit more into this aspect of Mr. Oher's biography.

9/25/2006 9:29 AM  

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