Tuesday, October 28, 2008


On a personal note this past World Cup will always be a bittersweet memory. Not because of any result or the lack thereof. This World Cup marked the official retirement of my son from the ranks of pro players. While I am and have always been proud of his accomplishments that's not what this is about. I got involved in paintball because of my then teen aged son. And over the last 12 years paintball has given me something a lot more valuable than any pleasure of the game. It gave me an opportunity to spend a lot more time with my son than many fathers and sons share for longer than is often the norm these days and I'm thankful for every minute. Selfishly I don't want things to change even though it's time. He leaves the paintball life on his own terms, his love of the game intact and his skills undiminished. Sometimes in the heat of the moment and the all-consuming desire to win it's easy to lose sight of what's most important.
I wrote the attached column for PB2X last year with my son and this moment in mind. This isn't the end, just a new beginning.

Sic Transit Gloria

A couple of weeks ago I met an Old Skool Bad Company player at a pump tournament playing with a former teammate of mine. He was low key but mentioned almost immediately he was from the time "when BC was good. Fourth in the world." I remembered when BC was a team to be feared but I didn’t recall his name, if I had ever even heard it before. There was a time though, not really all that long ago, when he was a player at the top of the game.
There was also a time when paintball celebrated the local hero, the guy who was the undisputed king of his field. The guy everyone hoped to best one day and in the meantime wanted to play with. Sometimes he was captain of the field team and other times just the player everyone else looked up to. It was good to be the king.
Today it’s surprising how well known many of the top players really are. At least it’s surprising to me. My son has played pro for some years now. The first few with Strange. In that time he’s had his share of attention but nothing like the hoopla of an Ollie Lang so it used to be surprising when time after time in unusual circumstances people would know him. Or more correctly know about him. Chance conversations with strangers that turned to paintball have on numerous occasions led to their excitement at meeting somebody who knows Matt as they or their kids or friends know him, like him, etc. And isn’t a local phenomenon. It has happened all over the place. From the left coast to the east. From rural podunk fields a thousand miles from home to conversations begun over non-paintball related business. And while I still find it extraordinary–and not a little gratifying (hey, he’s my kid, after all)–I’ve accepted that somehow a lot of people involved in paintball one way or another really do get into it in a serious way and that at another level the sport of paintball is reaching more people in ways that are hard to quantify or follow but nevertheless exist. And if it’s happening to him it must be happening to other pro players as well.
Ratchet that awareness up a couple of notches for the international superstars of the game who are sometimes better known for their antics and personalities than their play but known nonetheless. In recent years more players has meant more interest and more media–magazines, DVDs, internet video clips, personal accessibility thru dedicated paintball websites, forums and places like MySpace–and that outreach has made today’s players much bigger stars than the giants of yesteryear. They are sought after at events, pointed out by name and admired by a generation of hopeful up-and-comers who, more and more, want to be just like them. Sorta. What they want isn’t necessarily to be great players, it’s to be paintball celebrities.
But, but ...
Paintball celebrity and a token will get you a ride on the bus. Just ask the guy who used to be a world famous baller. I know a guy, a very entertaining and easy-going guy who once stood atop Paintball’s Olympus as one of the most recognizable and popular names in the game. It’s been awhile since he was a household name and though well-liked and well-known by his generation of players–and still a legend–I doubt if 50% of today’s tourney kids would know his name.
Glory is fleeting. Sic transit gloria mundi. That’s Latin by the way. The language of ancient Rome, long dead and gone. More accurately read as: Thus passes the glory of this world. It is spoken repeatedly as a reminder at the coronation of incoming Popes not to be overwhelmed by the pomp, prestige and power of their changing status. In ancient Rome a similar sentiment was whispered to those who were honored with a Triumph–kinda like a big parade celebrating you, your wealth and success. Bottom line: Fame isn’t forever. It’s transitory. Even illusory. In paintball glory is also brief. Oh sure, there’s lots of well-known, even famous–if you’re prepared to assign ‘fame’ status to some peeps that a fraction of a percent of humanity might recognize if they’re wearing their team jersey–but how many of you can name, much less recognize a half dozen paintball superstars of say, oh, seven years ago? Or even name the whole current Dynasty roster–and everybody knows who those guys are, right? (Of course some of you no-lifers can name the entire roster but you are the exceptions.)
In a celebrity driven society where anybody can have at least Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame by blubbering about their dysfunctional family on Dr. Phil or exposing their petty animosities on Judge Judy or their inability to sing to a national audience or their willingness to simply make spectacles of themselves on any random reality show–except the Amazing Race which is, you know, amazing–to the spoiled little rich girl who is famous for being famous and having a sex tape on the internet the whole idea of fame has become so debased as to be nearly meaningless. Where stories of chance meetings with actors or athletes or other celebrities become self-referential stories about the storyteller. Look at me. Pay attention to me. Bask in the reflected glow of the glow I’m reflecting from knowing so and so. Whoop-de-freaking-do.
Who are you?
It has been my (mostly) good fortune to have met and, in many instances, gotten to know at some level a number of big time players, both actual players and movers and shakers, in tournament paintball over the years. I have also been extremely lucky in that I’ve managed to loiter around the back door of some of the big happenings in recent paintball and relate my view to all of you. I have also met lots of ordinary ballers like you and me. I spent my playing days struggling in the middle ranks like most everyone else. And even the difficult times were mostly good times–because of a handful of friends it was shared with. Winning is a special reward and delivers a lot of satisfaction and a wall of trophies is nice but over time you will discover it’s the shared experiences, on and off the field, that mean the most. I know, it’s terribly corny but it’s true.
When it’s all said and done that is what is going to matter. Trust me on this. No matter how famous paintball may make you–and seriously, if it hasn’t made me famous what chance do you really have? Fortunately I have so far also avoided all the negatives of ballin’ celebrity; no admiring fans, no envious stares, no attracting unwanted attention, nobody making wearying demands on my time like asking for autographs and definitely nobody gushing about how memorable this or that time spent with me was. Of course it could also be my routinely angry, sullen expression or my uncanny resemblance to The Thing or the fact I’m older than dirt and just happen to believe that excessive bathing is unhygienic.
Today’s fame is tomorrow’s blank stares. The person standing in front of you isn’t about to ask for your autograph, he’s waiting for you to get out the way because there is always the next guy, the new superstar. And the best you’re ever gonna get from those adoring throngs is a passing recollection and a bit part in their memories of when they played the game. You’re unlikely to ever share a story over a drink or laugh with their friends so enjoy that fame while you can. In what, two years, five years maybe you won’t be the latest, coolest, hippest superstar anymore and in ten years it’s likely the majority of tourney players will have started playing long after you stopped playing (or stopped being a high profile player) and the best you’re likely to manage is "hey, you’re that guy."
If paintballin’ glory comes your way I’m not saying don’t enjoy it. I am saying, keep it in perspective. Here today, gone tomorrow. And while there’s definitely nothing wrong with taking pride in accomplishment if that’s all you take away from your time in paintball you will have missed out. I know most of you have attention deficit disorder (why after all, would our schools, health professionals and giant pharmaceuticals lie to us?) so I’ll give it to you in a nutshell. Fame really is fleeting. The hype doesn’t last and in the ways that count it isn’t even real. Play for pride, enjoy the ride, cherish your friends and don’t let it go to your head.

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