ATLANTA — Cynicism is fashionable in America.
Perhaps it was always that way before the post-Watergate and post-Vietnam world of my own personal consciousness, or before Tom Cruise made “we live in a cynical world” part of his memorable monologue at the end of “Jerry Maguire.” But however long it’s been around, it is one of our most ingrained cultural traits.
Like many things, cynical skepticism is fine in moderation, even necessary. Many of our public institutions require it to be held in check — like bowl games.
The excesses and foibles of the bowl system have been well documented. There were the rampant improprieties that existed at the Fiesta Bowl under former president and CEO John Junker, chief among them a conspiracy to cover up more than $46,000 in mandated political contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees that were a clear violation of Arizona campaign finance laws.
Bowls invite teams to play in their games but first make them buy an arbitrary number of tickets — in LSU’s case, 16,000 for this game. That includes the hundreds of seats that will be occupied by the LSU band in the Georgia Dome stands at Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, and the thousands of seats LSU won’t be able to fill with its fans.
But there are things worth lauding about the bowls, too, and those who play them.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl has made more than $1 million in charitable donations each of the past five years, among that scholarship endowments at 17 schools that have participated in the bowl, including LSU. The total endowment now tops $2 million. Belk, the company that sponsors the Belk Bowl, began a three-year program to donate $3 million to breast cancer research starting in 2010.
Sometimes, the game is merely a stage for a bigger message.
During the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday night in Orlando, Fla., Virginia Tech’s helmets included a ribbon sticker on the back. The sticker featured both the initials “VT” and “SH” for Sandy Hook Elementary, two schools linked in the terrible carnage of the two worst mass shootings in our nation’s history.
Monday night, LSU’s helmets also will bear a tribute to the Sandy Hook victims.
On the back of the LSU helmets will be a decal that reads “RAV,” which stands for Random Acts of Violence. The letters are stamped with a red circle and slash, the symbol of something that needs to be stamped out. The name of Sandy Hook Elementary is also inscribed.
LSU coach Les Miles started to describe the reason for the helmet sticker at a media briefing Thursday but held back. He was slated to discuss it at Friday’s news conference but again deferred, apparently out of concern for trying to find the right time and tone. The school is expected to release an official statement before Monday night’s game.
Miles and LSU shouldn’t be so concerned. Meeting a random act of violence with a purposeful act of kindness — and respect — can’t be a bad thing.
Even in a cynical, cynical world.