Question Everything

To craft a compelling paper takes time, patience, and a lot of wine. Or is that how one crafts a well-rounded argument with another person? Perhaps they are bedmates in the grand scheme of things. I have learned the value of research and analyzing the world around me. Still, I would never consider myself a scholar on any one subject. Technology and discovery changes and evolves. The grey matter betwixt our ears scrambles to keep up. In that, ‘question everything’ has become my mantra. In this day of fake news and people who have lost the art of critical thinking, I have to find different perspectives. Is one source the definitive answer or there other points of view to bring more clarity to the subject? The elements of the rhetorical situation are a solid basis for most writing. This I know well—even fear to some point. Each generation has a new landscape to travel. Each person has the ability to change history for the better or worse. To question the treasure map thrust into their hands. Whether Google or the local library, the chance to learn and continue learning is at their fingertips—should they chose to do so.

We have rules in scholarly writing, however. For example, the format of main point, three sub points, and summary brought back the horrors of keyhole layout during my misspent high school years. I languished for hours trying to come up with three simple elements to state my case. All the research in the world on my subject matter did nothing to belay the deep-seed fears that form of writing brought me. I scoffed and tried to reassure my freaked-out mind that this was a cake walk and all I needed to do was put pen to paper. Nothing is as easy as that or we’d all be laureates out of kindergarten. Part of me still wants to practice the art of the master thespian and explain the woes of writing to the wanderer passing by my door. Please! I plead unto thee! Shake me from this foul beast that dost to claw at my wits! The fact remains that I and I alone have to complete the task and bury the fear behind the wood shed.

My mood lightened as I dug deeper into rhetorical analysis when a familiar friend jumped from the pages to assure me that I hadn’t lost all hope. The essential ‘who, what, where, how, and why’ are a cornerstone, in my opinion, to all types of writing. Perhaps these words stuck out in my mind because I remember them vividly from my English teachers in high school. Those formative years weren’t all a ball of emo misery after all. I relied on those five words for my professional writing. They shined like a beacon in my dark abyss. Sometimes when I’m mired in my mind as it goes off like a cat in a field of butterflies, they are the compass that steers me back on course. So I connected with this fundamental design. Come to me, my darlings, and we shall conquer all.

I realized another important element: Debating is an art form. It can transcend into a mutual respect yet not quite for the resolution of the argument. It could also delve into the madding depths of crass name-calling or alternate facts. The story of the senator and the parent comes to mind from chapter two of Everything You Need to Know about College Writing. The exigence of the situation is the senator touting the merits of going to war. A parent, who has lost a child to this purgatory road, could use an emotional plea to persuade this public official into seeing the tragedy that comes along with his decision. On the other side, the parent could attack his character and perhaps the fact that the cost of life has no bearing on his corrupt soul. One is of reason, one is of heartbreaking emotion. Neither could sway. With that in mind when I searched for something current to base my rhetorical triangle on, I chose a subject that I had read about before. The difference this time was that I picked an article written by someone well-versed in law. I wanted that deeper understanding beyond reading the sterile jargon of the emolument clause I had previously encountered. Zephyr Teachout brought out the human element, along with the sorted history that birthed the clause, in her article in the Washington post titled Trump is getting payments from foreign governments. We have no idea what they are.

With reaffirmed knowledge at hand, I can move forward with this course and the ones to come. There will always be another perspective to our notions. I feel it’s our duty to quest for them. No matter what my accomplishments may be, I am not beyond my capacity to learn. The years do not make us wiser nor does the mileage. I wouldn’t be seeking my degree after all these years if I thought so. Analyze why someone might be striking out on the path they choose or what they could be seeking. Engage for a deeper understanding. How we craft our words will be the way we argue our points—whether in paper form or verbally. The phrase ‘knowledge is power’ only equates if we choose our words carefully and not allow our emotions to rollercoaster. Life has no shortage of doubts and forks in the road. The more we observe, the more the art of persuasion can influence our thinking. We’re mere pups when we come out of high school with big ideals and aspirations. The world is our ocean and we the pirates to plunder it. Question everything.



Research Junkie

Research is a wonderful tool for a writer, no matter if you’re word wrestling a term paper or writing a potential best-selling fiction novel. Factual evidence plays a part in either story or should. We are living in a world of pictures with words slapped on them that are peddled as the truth. The reality of alternative facts used as a hot button phrase to spin a false narrative into a factual baseline. Even numeric statistics can be skewed and strong convictions can sway someone from questioning a statement—even when that statement is proven completely false. We have to make a concerted effort to weed through the muck of misinformation and refute it with a solid counter. Several paths will take us on our journey to knowledge. We must but step forward and ask for claims to be supported with citations from credible sources. Good journalism, it would seem, is a rare commodity.

As a writer, I love the prospect of researching a topic—sometimes to the point of burning days on one particular oddity for a story. I understand the value of not relying one source for information. For example, I’ve bought books written by experts on guns that go into depth on the mechanics and what type of ammunition each type would use. What I couldn’t get from reading was how to hold a gun or the distinct sound one makes when fired. Sure, I could ask law enforcement or one of my military friends but that gives me their perspective. How could I write with emotion with someone else’s words? My solution was to ask a friend to take me out to the firing range. Through that, I felt the deadly power pulsing in that little piece of constructed metal bits. Each buck as the bullet discharged from the 9mm or the impact to my shoulder when the shotgun shell hurled at top speed through the barrel. With this information gathering, I can be confident in inserting this knowledge into any future novel.

On the other side, deciding on the exact audience I want to capture is a little more tenuous. I’ve written in several genres. I could take the approach that most people might be like me and read more than just one type of fiction. However, that would be a big assumption based on nothing but shaking the magical eight ball of faux wisdom. When I read an article online, I honestly can’t pinpoint the intended audience. I know I’m part of the key because I clicked the link and was engaged. So I could rationalize that people of like mind would also enjoy the article. That still gives me little to go on. Presumption isn’t a very good virtue. It’s a fallacy we carry in our pocket.

Still we must learn the art of research to succeed in college. Every subject employs the tactic in one form or another. Our teachings go beyond the textbook. By using multiple sources, distinguishing fact from falsehood will be easier to spot. This isn’t going to convince everyone to your side of the line. An impassioned plea could stir emotion. That human element is a strong ally. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, for example. In the end, supporting your argument with facts—whether by expert opinion or diligent research—will be the cornerstone to the validity of your statements. Think of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Petruchio claims that the sun is the moon yet Katherine rebukes his claim. This is a test of wills between the two would-be lovers and while the statement of Petruchio is false in every sense of the word he expects Katherine to see it as truth. These are the circumstances we could find ourselves embroiled in today if a conscious effort is not made to question one’s reasoning. To ask why someone believes their opinion is rational and all knowing. We are the seekers of knowledge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t grasp debt and sleepless nights like a newborn.

Cognitive Disconnect

Sports are a beautiful display of athleticism. Reaching the pinnacle of the professional level is a dream for aspiring athletes. While minor leagues exist, the major league action can become a stamp of approval in their life goals. To make it into the National Hockey League or National Football League takes years of training, heart, and dedication. Each has their set number of players and the dangers of two opponents sparring for that coveted win. The stage, whether on ice or grass, entertains adoring fans. This is an entertainment business that generates revenue with merchandise and interaction with players through games or organized events. Each team has their star player that fans will flock to see but what if a significant injury sidelines that player? When do you draw the line between the safety of those who play professional sports and what the people who spend their hard-earned money on it want? Consideration for an athlete’s health and well-being must be at the forefront.

Collectively, the NHL and NFL suffer from player injuries, in particular concussions. While they both use SCAT, or Sports Concussion Assessment Tool, to determine whether or not a player has this head trauma, how they initialize testing vastly differs. For the NFL, the rules aren’t as rigorous. They began the initial baseline testing in 2011 and instituted what they called the “Madden Rule” which was named after John Madden, a former coach for the Oakland Raiders and NFL broadcaster. The rule states that any player diagnosed with a concussion shall be removed from the game and is prohibited from talking to the press until they are medically cleared. Educating the players on the signs of a concussion, however, was not instituted until 2013. Along with player training, a rule stating that twenty-nine medical officials must be present at each game was drafted. This includes personnel such as, physicians and athletic trainers—including two spotters to sit in the booth with coaching staff to assess a player’s condition from above. Another element to that is an unaffiliated neurological consultant. Since the NFL season only runs sixteen games, not including any playoff games, having a key player out with a concussion could severely impact the season. By having someone not affiliated with the team, there is a more likely chance of an unbiased opinion being made on a medical evaluation. The NFL allows a player to be initially evaluated on the sidelines. If the player passes simple motor functions and cognitive tests, they are allowed back in the game. Otherwise, they are escorted back to the locker room for further tests. Even though the cognitive baseline is the primary source of determining whether or not the player has a concussion, the teams rely more on whether or not the player’s personality has altered during the initial tests. While both the NFL and NHL have concussion issues, 2015’s movie Concussion took direct aim at the NFL and the effects of concussion by highlighting former Pittsburgh Steelers players Mike Webster and Terry Long who both took their lives though they were otherwise healthy in appearance. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, studied the brains of these two athletes and discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE and linked it to head trauma. This research started in 2002 yet it would take nearly ten years for a more serious approach to concussions would be taken. An example of how concussion can affect a player long term is the case of Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys. During a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, he suffered a knee to the head by Dennis Brown. While Aikman did not finish playing, to this day he cannot remember the entirety of what happened in that game.

Since 1997, the NHL has had a concussion protocol in place as far as identifying the injury. In 2011 they expanded the rules on how to handle this delicate neurological injury. Along with signing an acknowledgement to the league’s policy on concussions, each player must go through a series of tests to get a baseline of their cognitive skills much like the NFL. This would give the team’s doctor something to work with should a test be necessary. If a player is hit and shows symptoms of a concussion such as a blank or vacant stare, vertigo, or they’ve been rendered unconscious by a blow they must be removed from the ice and brought back to the locker room into an area designated as a “quiet room”. This allows the exam—which can last at least fifteen minutes—to be completed without distractions. Before 2011, this testing was done at the bench much like the NFL’s current policy. If the player passes, they are allowed to re-enter the game. If they are concussed, they may not return and cannot practice or otherwise play until they return to their cognitive baseline. This includes traveling with the team. Should a player suffer a concussion, they must be re-evaluated before the next season so that a new baseline can be established. One example, and possibly one of the reasons the NHL changed their policies, was the concussion injury sustained by Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in January of 2011. During the Winter Classic held on January 1, 2011, Crosby was blindsided by David Steckel of the Washington Capitals with a blow to the head in the second period. Crosby left the game and would return to play for one shift in the third period before leaving the game entirely. He would go on to play on January 5, 2011 against the Tampa Bay Lightning only to be hit from behind and his head driven into the boards of the ice rink. Afterwards, he was diagnosed with a severe concussion and did not fully return to playing hockey until March 15, 2012. Since the NHL’s season consists of eighty-two games not including playoffs, numerous games were missed. Another way head trauma can occur in hockey is the ever-popular fighting, This act of aggression has been ingrained into the culture. While they can’t take it completely out of the game, the NHL has continued to make new rules—such as no removal of the helmet by the player if engaged in fisticuffs—to protect from head injuries. However, like the NFL, the NHL isn’t without a suicide rate particularly from former players known as enforcers from an area in hockey that is slowly fading. Derek Boogaard was twenty-eight years old when a mixture of alcohol and prescriptions drugs took his life in 2011. At the time, he had been suffering from post-concussion symptoms from a career built on fighting.

The thrill of the game draws the fans in and a bone-crunching hit excites a crowd into cheering mastodon more often than not. Both the NHL and NFL at one time glorified what they believed to be the ultimate display of powerful dominance in their weekly highlight reels. Gone are the eras of the hockey’s Broad Street Bullies or the football’s original Steel Curtain. The reality is time is changing the way the game is played. Not so much on the size of the teams or how long they play the game but the safety of those who dedicate their lives to their profession. A pattern of placing the needs of the player over the potential financial impact of the team’s owners is slowly immerging. With the installation of new rules to keep the game on the same thrilling level—like hockey’s three-on-three rule for overtime or football’s new overtime touchdown rule—perhaps the fans will have their inner primal needs sated as well. In the end, the thrill of the game overall will hopefully prevail.



References: (2012) Timeline: Sidney Crosby’s Concussion.
Wharnsby, T. (2016) CBC Sports Sidney Crosby’s concussion history makes latest one more troubling,
Sean Gregory, S (2015) Time Magazine Concussion Expert: Over 90% of NFL Players Have Brain Disease
Branch, J. (2011) New York Times Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’

Sports Documents NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management
NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee’s Protocols Regarding Diagnosis and Management of Concussion
Breslow, J. (2013) Frontline How One Client’s Concussion Shook the Real “Jerry Maguire”