Are You Really Learning From This Site?

I know many people who come here to Thin Air, and who visited the sites before that they enjoyed, aren’t always interested in discussing things outside of the sports realm, but as we are finding out, it’s not always possible to avoid this.

The biggest example is the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith. It’s already drawn non-football-related diatribes ranging from quarterback Drew Brees talking about his Christian beliefs to head coach Sean Payton talking about how he doesn’t like guns.

Rather than talk specifically about that issue, though, I wanted to talk to everybody about some things to keep in mind about what everyone who comes to this site have learned over time about how to think about things, dating back to those who you liked to follow on Mile High Report, then followed them when they launched It’s All Over Fat Man, and how your desire to keep a community together led to the launch of Thin Air.

First of all, I’ll get into my own beliefs and how they took shape. When I was in my 20s, I wasn’t always the most well-informed person, until I ran across a forum at which I had discussions with a few other people and one, in particular, pointed out how I was tossing out red herrings in a subject we were debating. Rather than press the issue, I realized I needed to step back and carefully consider what the person was getting across.

It was that moment that made me realize I needed to think more critically about issues. Along the way, I got back into reading up on history and the book Don’t Know Much About History reminded me of the complexities of our nation. Then I ran across Mile High Report and liked what I saw from those who went on to create It’s All Over Fat Man. I sought out websites that promoted critical thinking and insightful discussion of issues, ranging from Mother Jones to The Atlantic to The American Conservative. And while all these sites had writers who wrote things I didn’t always agree with, they always strived toward critical thinking rather than “read and react” writings and didn’t insist that everyone who contributed had to subscribed to a particular manner of thinking.

Over time, my beliefs changed to what they are now. To summarize:

I see both liberal and conservative views having value in the roots of both movements while recognizing the weaknesses of each. The good thing about classic liberalism is that it promotes the concept that the more people who participate in decision-making processes, the better off everyone will be. However, those who strongly embrace liberalism tend to be too quick to embracing new ideas, especially those that help the disenfranchised, that they don’t always think about long-term effects. Meanwhile, I see the strength in classic conservatism, which goes back to the philosophies of Edmund Burke: Change is inevitable but should be carefully deliberated and don’t try to change too much at once. The downside, though, is those who strongly embrace conservatism become resistant, even hostile, toward any change.

I believe fiscal conservatism has been corrupted by mainstream GOPers. The GOP rank and file claim it’s “lower taxes, reduce spending, but don’t touch the military” while what it really means is “tax and spend wisely.” In other words, you need to carefully consider what taxes you collect, the rates you set and what you spend revenues on. And if your considerations determine that taxes are too low, then yes, you need to raise the rates.

On the other hand, I tend to lean more to the left on many social issues. I am a big supporter of same-sex marriage and have always believed that if two people love each other and want to commit the rest of their lives to each other, that’s their decision. And while it’s one thing if a church doesn’t want to perform same-sex marriages, that doesn’t mean members of that church get to refuse to offer a marriage license to same-sex couples when those members are performing the duties of a government office.

Finally, my religious beliefs would be best described as deistic Christianity, in which I recognize some of the value of Jesus’ teachings, but don’t believe that I have to accept his divinity to recognize the value. Furthermore, I’ve come to the conclusion that church just isn’t for me, but when I visit my family (who are regular church attenders), I go with them because I believe it’s important to be with the family (and besides, they aren’t the type who want to cram their religious beliefs down others’ throats). But I do recognize the value of a community church in supporting a local community, while holding those who spend their time engaging in national movements to put more religious influences into the government with suspicion.

OK, so that became more than a summary, but my point is this: Critical thinking is what caused me to revisit some of the things that I believed at one time and come back with more nuanced viewpoints. Furthermore, I reject absolutism in most cases. My philosophy of life is that there are absolutes, but they are few in number, and everything else is too complex to be solved with absolutes.

Now, getting this back to this site, I want to talk to you about the things you should have been learning from your time spent following the guys at MHR, who went on to form IAOFM, and who have been influenced by those guys and now are the ones regularly contributing to this site. We’ve all made you think a little more critically about football, the way the game is played and the way a team should be built. And the truth is, you can apply those things you’ve learned to just about any other subject and you’ll be a smarter person for it.

It pains me to say that polarization sells, that two guys screaming at one another draws more attention than one or two people articulating their points well, and that too many Americans would rather have an easy answer to everything than to recognizing the complexity of most issues. Like it or not, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith get more attention than sites like Thin Air.

But with that said, it doesn’t have to remain that way. It will take time to change that, but the only way to change that is to make sure you apply your thinking about football and other sports to everything else, from politics to religion to philosophy to anything else you encounter or engage.

So what are some of these things you should have learned in your time with MHR, IAOFM and Thin Air? Let us review and consider how those things apply to anything that isn’t football.

Football is a complex sport with a lot of players that must work well as a unit to succeed. It’s easy to focus on one particular position or player and give them the lion’s share of the credit, but as we have discussed, it doesn’t always work that way. The quarterback may be an important position, but we must be careful not to give all the credit or the all the blame to that guy. Nor should we focus on any other single player for what happened, because many players can impact a game’s outcome positive or negatively.

How that applies outside of football: Most issues are complex and easy answers are often bullshit.

Football games are seldom truly decided by one play. I’m sure you read plenty of hot takes about the Broncos-Patriots AFC title game last January, in which some people wanted to boil down the result to a specific play. But everyone here should know that boiling it down to one play didn’t paint the full picture and that changing the outcome of one play doesn’t guarantee everything else stays the same.

How that applies outside of football: Few events are decided by just one factor.

Football is a game that is constantly evolving. Certain approaches to the NFL may have worked in the past, but they don’t work any longer, ranging from rules that have changed to players becoming more skilled at certain things. There are some basic concepts that won’t change, but the particulars in terms of how a team can win a game change from time to time. Therefore, you need to be prepared to adjust your thinking to stay successful.

How that applies outside of football: Society does not remain static and change is going to happen at some point.

Things are not always what they appear to be upon first glance. No better example can be found than NFL player contracts, in which what looks like a five-year, $60M deal on paper turns out to really be a two-year, $20M deal in which the player could get cut and the team not owe the player another penny. You have learned not to jump to conclusions about contracts, and you should apply that logic to everything else about the game, a player, etc.

How that applies outside of football: Details tell far more about the story than a summary. Also, don’t read and react; take time to learn more before you open your mouth or touch the keyboard.

There’s no one correct approach to building a team, but you want to have more strong moves than poor moves. The best NFL teams don’t all follow the same thought process with handling free agency, the draft and player extensions, but they all work toward the same objective: They want to be a playoff contender every year. And no one franchise has gotten every move right, but that means while one should acknowledge mistakes, that does not mean you panic when you make a mistake, especially if you have made lots of good moves. What you do is learn from the mistake and move forward. Dwell on the mistake and you are more likely to make more.

How that applies outside of football: The best leaders make more good decisions than poor decisions, but if they make a poor decision, it shouldn’t define them as long as it doesn’t outweigh the good decisions. With that said, you want them to learn from the poor decisions, not shrug them off.

You can’t use football to escape from the real world, like it or not. We’ve had discussions about countless topics that have had NFL ties, but have bigger implications on more than just the NFL. Owners seeking public funding for stadiums deals with taxpayer money. Domestic violence isn’t limited to NFL players and, while discussing how the NFL handles discipline of players who commit the act is worthwhile, it should remind us that we need to be aware of such issues more than just when an NFL player commits the act. Roger Goodell’s stumbling with his handling of certain issues is a reminder about how things can go wrong when you worry yourself too much about protecting a brand or hoping for positive PR every time. And the death of Will Smith is a harsh reminder about how we have a violent culture in the United States. Heck, if you think about it, our love for football falls right into that culture of violence, even if none of us would ever dream of committing an illegal act resulting in another’s death.

How that applies outside of football: There is almost no way to escape the real world, so don’t insist upon it.

And all of this goes back to a larger point: Critical thinking is what you should have learned about as you spent your time at MHR, then IAOFM, and now here. And it needs to be applied to everything you do, difficult as that may be.

Remember, the ways of every equivalent to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are easy to fall for, but their love of polarization, debate by shouting and the embracing of the easy answer to everything ultimately do more harm than good. And while we all are passionate about our beliefs and philosophies, we must remember to not let that passion cause us to fall into the traps that the likes of Bayless and Smith want us to fall into.

Critical thinking can sometimes be hard to accept, and while it won’t always lead to the right answer, it’s more likely to do so than the alternative that is so easy to embrace.

Published by

Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.