When I was a kid, my parents watched the TV show “Fantasy Island.” It is famous for its opening, in which a character named Tattoo, played by Hervé Villechaize, would point up at the approaching plane bringing guests to the island, and say “Ze plane! ze plane!” I can’t say I remember any episodes of this show (that’s why I say my parents watched it, rather than I), but I do remember this. That phrase, spoken with a bad French accent, entered US popular culture for a while in the 1970s and 80s.
I hadn’t thought of it in years, but recently I visited Levi’s stadium, the relatively new home of the San Francisco 49ers, with my son’s 7th grade class. The stadium is located a little over 5 miles from Mineta San Jose International airport. As we were sitting in our “VIP seats” listening to the tour guide, “ze planes” passed low overhead. They pass overhead there so frequently as to become mundane.
Levi’s stadium is a big improvement over Candlestick Park, where the 49ers used to play the last time I lived in CA. It’s a “green” stadium, with over 1100 solar panels generating electricity. And as part of the grant to build it, funds were provided for an educational museum and tours to link STEM education and sports.
I have good memories of the 49ers. When I was in graduate school here at Stanford, and the team was still playing at Candlestick, those were the years of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, the Super Bowl wins, and the “team of the decade.” Having grown up near Buffalo, it was the first time I’d lived anywhere with a winning sports team.
Still, nowadays, I think American football faces an uncertain future with the (deserved) bad publicity, and serious issues surrounding traumatic brain injuries and violent behavior off the field by a subset of players. Many parents I know, myself included, are relieved when/if their sons don’t show an interest in playing football.
Will allowing kids into the locker room to try on real shoulder pads, helmets, and jerseys; putting them through some real running and throwing drills; and having them participate in an “engineering challenge” to design a safer facemask be enough to make football into a kinder and gentler, family friendly sport?
I have my doubts, but I wish them well.