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Home Blog - Pete Weighs In Table for Eight

Table for Eight

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December 9, 2008

In college, my nickname was “Neidermeyer.” I thought for a long time about whether it would be wise to disclose that in this space and initially leaned away from doing so, but ultimately I concluded that it’s harmless enough, and it’s a useful vehicle to get to the point I’m going to try to make in this column. Furthermore, I previously outed my good friend Brian Thompson, whose wife disclosed that the members of his former bass club in Pennsylvania called him “Dexter,” apparently in reference to some nerdy television character. So I guess turnabout is fair play. Even if I’m not obligated or otherwise inclined to tell you all of my dark secrets, however minimal, I suppose it builds trust, between you, the reader, and me, the slightly embarrassed blogger.

The Neidermeyer who inspired a group of upperclassmen to bestow that name upon me as a hapless second semester freshman was one Douglas C. Neidermeyer, the fascist Omega House brother (“We shall now consecrate the bond of obedience”) and ROTC leader (“You're all worthless and weak! Now drop and give me twenty.”) in the classic college film Animal House. As a side note, I think every college fraternity or clique worth anything at all identifies with the Deltas, the underdogs who emerge victorious, just as I’m suspicious of any teenager who doesn’t feel at least a slight empathy for Holden Caulfield.

I was neither a button-downed elitist nor a member of the campus militia. In fact I never exercised a bit of authority over anyone during those four years, but those perceptive slackers who managed to get in a few years ahead of me noticed my oblong shaped skull and a haircut that was short and stubbly without being quite so fashionable as a buzz cut, and gave me the name. It stuck. Now, nearly twenty years later, I’m taken a bit aback when I’m called that name across a crowded room by a college friend who I haven’t seen in years, but I nevertheless instinctively respond to it.

And I still love the movie. Believe it or not, the first dance my wife and I shared at our wedding was to “Shamma Lamma Ding Dong” (and yes, someone in the back of the room had the wherewithal to shout out “Otis, my man.”).

The key Animal House scene that I’m channeling right now is at the very end of the movie, when the Deltas have successfully employed the Deathmobile to ruin the homecoming parade. The parade is aborted, the streets are in shambles, the town elders don’t know what to do, and Neidermeyer’s protégé, Chip Diller (played by a youthful Kevin Bacon when he was still at least nine or ten degrees from anyone) stands in the streets, yelling “Remain calm. All is well.”

The guys who thought they had everything under control (as Dean Wormer said, “Get Neidermeyer on it, he’s a sneaky #%@&.”) actually had no clue, or at least they weren’t willing to accept the reality as it bowled them over.

The mainstream fishing media, influenced as it is by the tournament circuits and their advertisers (disclosure: I write for many, if not most, of them), has not really disclosed how bad the situation is right now, at least on the tournament side of things. But have you heard any angler mention a new major deal, particularly a non-endemic one, this off-season? A deal of the sort that we assumed would flow constantly when wrapped boats and “personal branding” first entered our consciousness. For that matter, have either of the major circuits announced any new financial support? On the contrary, the groups like Advance Auto Parts have left, and if they’ve been replaced at all it has been by minor players.

They should be in crisis mode, and perhaps they are behind closed doors, but none of the rest of us seem all that concerned. Maybe it’s that their actions and health don’t really affect us. Maybe it’s that when you’ve lost your job you don’t have time to think about the health of some guys making a living at what you consider a leisure time pursuit. I think part of it is a natural settling process. A few years back, when BASS and FLW were still fighting for turf, we all seemed to have a lot more invested in who got what and who fished where. Now that they’ve pretty much drawn a line in the sand, claimed their own poster boys and aligned themselves with certain brands and waterways, it somehow seems less pressing, less confrontational.

Gas prices may be low now, but they’re certain to go back up. Boat sales are already in the tank. People have less to spend on leisure activities and we’re told that the worst is yet to come. If that’s not a crisis for this segment of the sport, you’ve been drinking the optimist tea far more frequently than I have.

Therefore, as someone who does take all of this far too seriously, I think that we have to consider the issues, and consider them soon. Thus, I propose, as I have done before, that we commission a blue-ribbon panel to figure out how to save our sport, where fishing should go from here. Is it that dire? I don’t know. But it’s real enough that I think we could benefit from a summit of sorts. I previously suggested that it should be a panel of media types – maybe Mark Jeffreys, Craig Lamb, Alan Clemons, Steve Price, Louie Stout, Jon Storm, etc. But upon further consideration, I think it has to be more broad-reaching than that. Nothing against any of those guys – they’ve all been mentors or informal advisors to me at some point, but they’re all insiders. A bit of that is ok. Too much and it would be too much rehashing and story-telling. There will be a time and a place for those stories – I want to hear them and I’ll pay for the beer – but this requires thought of a different ilk. And since I’m the one convening this imaginary brain trust, here’s my dream team, a dinner table of eight people who could solve bass fishing’s problems in short order and then move onto some other big ticket issues before a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.

Me
It’s my idea and I think I’m brilliant (so does my mom).

Alan Clemons, outdoor writer for the Huntsville Times
(http://blog.al.com/outdoors/).
I know I said that I wasn’t going to make it a tribunal of insiders, but I need one such individual on my side. Unlike some of the others, Alan’s job description doesn’t include selling advertising space, nor is he beholden to any particular tournament circuit. He covers both BASS and FLW, and does it well. He knows the issues and the players, but he’s not afraid to call BS on any of them. In the interests of full disclosure, he’s been a mentor and advisor to me in recent months. I’ll get an email asking about a particular article I’ve written, either commending me or gently jabbing me with a question like “Did you ask him about….” or “Why didn’t you call….?” Each time, he’s gets right at the crux of the matter. The point is that where I might let an issue go at our closed-door session, he’d push to ask one more question. Perhaps more importantly, he’s a consummate foodie, so I’d put him in charge of the menu. If the conversation doesn’t keep the players around, maybe the foodstuffs and libations will.

Nick Taylor
, author (www.nicktaylor.us).
Taylor wrote Bass Wars over two decades ago and it holds up today, at least in my mind, as the truest representation of what bass fishing is like in the major leagues. He pointed out that the prizes weren’t always what they seemed (annuities, overvalued boats) and that life could be tough, even for the most accomplished anglers. Most importantly, he came to the sport with an outsider’s critical eye. His recent book, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work was named one of the year’s best pieces of non-fiction by the Washington Post. I’d like to think that the research that went into the latter book would give him some pretty good insights on the broader issues and might provide a general template on how to get us out of whatever mess we’re in.

Rick Pierce, BassCat Boats.
I questioned whether to include Pierce in this group. Yes, I’d want someone from the boating industry, specifically because that industry is hurting now, but I like his boats (my last two, a new one and a used one before that, have both been Cats, even though I have no direct affiliation with the company) and I wondered if that swayed my decision. I suppose that you could include one of the other companies, but Skeeter and Ranger have close ties to the two major tournament circuits, which rules them out for my purposes (even though I had the good fortune to eat breakfast with Ranger’s Randy Hopper at the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup and in that brief encounter found him to be both candid and insightful). Earl Bentz? I just don’t know enough about him. The closest I’ve come to meeting him was sharing an elevator with his wife and attractive daughters at the 2004 Classic in Charlotte. Mrs. Bentz was talking with Ron Shuffield, and I assumed they were married, although with no offense intended to Ron, that seemed to be an unexpected coupling. In my limited dealings with Rick Pierce I’ve found him to be honorable and forthright. When he builds a boat, it’s not always to the industry’s expected design template, and not always to everyone’s liking, but he has a reason for everything he does.

Scott Boras, super-agent.
I have no idea if Boras knows which end of a flipping stick to hold, but his zealous and often non-yielding representation of some of baseball’s biggest superstars is impressive. I’m sure he’s hated by a lot of owners, a lot of general managers, some fans and even a few players, but he usually seems to get his way. Even though professional bass fishing does not present the typical relationship of management to salaried athlete, I’m sure he could shed some light on how the anglers could better serve their own interests by leveraging their value to the sport.

Mark Cuban, internet billionaire, owner of the Dallas Mavericks (http://blogmaverick.com/).
As a counterpoint to Boras, we’d have to have someone to represent the “management” side of the equation. Not only is Cuban brilliant (just ask him), but he’s also willing to buck the establishment – even though he’s part of the establishment. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that he’s the most heavily-fined figure in the history of sports. He’ll criticize officials, criticize the league, suggest ways to make things better. I want someone like that at this summit. He’s got nothing to lose and could probably give old Irwin a run for his money.

Michael Lewis, author.
I wanted a literary figure with no known connections to bass fishing, so I narrowed it down to Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell. While I think that the concepts in Gladwell’s Blink and The Tipping Point have great relevance to the art of bass fishing (and from what I understand, his new book, Outliers, does too), for some reason his writings seem more theoretical and ultra-intellectual than do books like Moneyball and The Blind Side, from Lewis. I don’t know if that’s an accurate assessment, but sliced thickly that’s where I came down. Moneyball was such a game-changing book for me, in terms of how I looked at baseball, how I looked at fishing, how I looked at a lot of things, that I really want the opportunity to have Lewis apply those same Beane-isms to fishing. Besides, I’d like an opportunity to ask him what it’s like to be married to Tabitha Soren.

Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics, Smith College (http://sophia.smith.edu/~azimbali/biography1.html)
I thought about asking Richard Lapchick of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida to take the last spot at our table. He is frequently called as an expert on social issues in sports. But while the possible slow death of professional bass fishing is a social issue, to be sure, it is also an economic one. And Lapchick’s counterpart, when it comes to credibility on issues affecting the economics of sport, is Zimbalist. Without passing judgment on whether he’s more relevant to our inquiry than Lapchick, I think Zimbalist’s curriculum vitae speaks for itself. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t considered or written about professional bass fishing. We need the lessons derived from his other endeavors. Furthermore, as a professor at an all-female college, he might be able to tell us why there aren’t more hot bass fishing groupies.

That’s my panel and my reasons.

It’s not really relevant to this blog entry, but it somehow bears mentioning that Neidermeyer was killed by his own men in Vietnam. There’s a brilliant reference to this in the Twilight Zone movie, if you’re interested. I suppose the moral is that you have to choose your friends carefully, your dinner companions more carefully and your fishing partners with care bordering on obsessiveness.

Faithfully submitted,
Peter R. Robbins.
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