A Modest Proposal

In 1729, Jonathan Swift published a satirical essay in which he offered a simple yet unique solution for resolving hunger among the starving Irish population.  His essay, most commonly referred to by the simplified title “A Modest Proposal,” provided a rather grotesque and shocking solution that would have made Hannibal Lecter proud.  His “solution” was offered in jest, yet it sent shockwaves through the tightlaced British culture.  In a similar vein, I have “A Modest Proposal” for the billiard industry.  By enacting the following recommendations, I believe we could ignite a pool renaissance unlike any other in recorded history and change the face of billiards forever.  So buckle your seatbelts, hold on to your hats, and get ready for a bumpy ride!  Here is my proposal for improving the image of the industry, and pushing pool into the mainstream.   You may not agree with me, but hopefully my proposal will get you thinking.

1. Clean up the Rooms

I’m tired of encountering dark, dingy bastions of ill repute, where honest people who want to find a good game of pool are forced to knife their way in and shoot their way out.  On many occasions during my travels I’ve walked into rooms and immediately turned around and left.  Why?  I figure if an establishment is so dark that you can’t see into the corners of the room, there must be something the owners are trying to hide.  Come on.  Are electricity bills really that bad?  Please, turn the lights on!  And while I’m on the subject of pool room environments, could you also please put a little more space between the tables?  How would you like it if you were in your shooting stance, about to make a game winning shot, and some oblivious player from another table poked you in the back with a pool stick?  Also, please turn the music down.  Huh?  What was that you said??

2. No Tables less than 9 Feet

Imagine Roger Federer or Andy Roddick being forced to play tennis on a ping pong table.  Sure, the ping pong table has a net and a green surface lined with white trim just like a tennis court, but it’s not the same game.  What if Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson were forced to play golf on a child’s mini golf course?  Again, a mini golf course may have eighteen holes and lots of grass (albeit fake grass), but it’s definitely not the same as the real game.  Likewise, why should pool players be forced to play on 8 foot, 7 foot, or (gasp!) 6 foot tables?   Blasphemy!  I certainly mean no disrespect to the fine folks at VNEA.  They’ve done a wonderful job building up a membership of over 100,000 people in a league that plays almost exclusively on 7 foot tables.  Great people and a great league.  I just hope someday they’ll promote REAL pool!  😉  (Uh oh, I’m probably going to hear back about this one!)

3. Dress Codes

Guys, no more cut-off sleeveless t-shirts, PLEASE!  The only place I want to see hairy underarms is at the zoo!  Now, I’m certainly not advocating that we all wear tuxedos because I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy myself, but let’s try to at least look presentable.  And Ladies, please button up the blouses!  You’ll garner much more attention (and respect) if you keep it buttoned up and just play a great game of pool.  Look at professional golfers, tennis players, or even baseball players.  There’s always a dress code.  Enough said!

4. No Smoking

When I lived in the Atlanta, Georgia area, I played in the APA.  I loved the weekly tournaments and the team camaraderie, but I abhorred the smoky bar room environments that we were forced to play in.  When my team traveled around town to play teams at other locations, we once parked outside a bar, walked up to the front of the place and opened the door.  Literally, a rolling cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out from the entrance into the night sky.  It was the most filthy miserable pool experience of my life.  I’m not saying your patrons can’t smoke, just please install smoke eaters, or have a smoking patio outside.  Your lungs and I will thank you.

5. No Gambling

WHAT?!  NO GAMBLING!!?  Yep, you heard me.  “But that’s the lifeblood of pool!,” you might say.  Okay okay, hear me out.  Why is it that pool has such a bad image?  I have many theories on this, and maybe I’ll cover them in a future post, but for now, just try this experiment: approach the average person on the street who has no association with pool, and ask for their opinion of the game.  In a majority of the cases, the term “Hustler” will come up.  Do we really want this image associated with our sport?  I must admit, I actually like the idea of being a skilled enough player to become a hustler, but it’s really not what I want to do.  I just love the game for the game’s sake.  I’m not looking to make a living.  I’ve spoken to many players who gamble, and a few who hustle, and the reason they do so is to either supplement their income or make a living because it’s all they’ve ever known.  (And what a tough living it is.)  Step back for a moment and consider:  The reason there’s no BIG money in pool is because the corporations that have deep pockets refuse to assume the risk of advertising in a sport that could tarnish THEIR image.  As long as we keep up with the smoking, drinking, gambling, and other nefarious activities, large corporations with deep pockets will not come close to us with a nickel.

How do we go about improving the reputation and image of our beloved sport?  We need to strengthen the professional tours.  Over the last decade the women of the WPBA seem to have a fairly good track record of maintaining a clean image, promoting the sport, and getting some TV time.  Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from them.  The professional tours need our support, but without an extensive grass roots system of pool players feeding new talent and money into them, the professional tours can’t flourish.  In the United States alone, there are more leagues and organizations than I can count.  We have the WPBA, UPA, IPT, APA, BCA, VNEA, Joss tours, Predator tours, Mezz Pro-Am tours, USPPA, WorldPPA, and a veritable alphabet soup of other organizations so confusing that it makes my head spin.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could all collaborate, form a coalition, and speak with one unified voice?

This article is not about moral judgments, it’s simply my (somewhat) objective opinion about the changes that I believe could kick start an effort to repair pool’s image.  Remember, it’s all about perceptions and marketing.  Is pool’s image beyond repair?  Are there any examples that I can cite to provide hope that I’m not on a Don Quixote-esque quest?  Sure.  Just take a look at the skateboard industry.  What started out as a bunch of rebellious misfit adolescent teens has now morphed into the X Games.  Lots of money, tons of sponsors, and a whole lot more attention and national coverage than pool could ever dream of. 

So there you have it.  My humble opinion on steps necessary to move pool into the mainstream.  Let me know if you have any comments or ideas.  Also, please check out the other excellent articles written on this month’s PoolSynergy topic at NYCgrind.com.

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12 responses to “A Modest Proposal

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. Pool is its own worst enemy.

  2. for an interesting counterpoint, check out the biography of danny mcgoorty here. look under the used books listing. or check the libraries and pool halls.

  3. I agree with everything you said except about gambling. The rooms need to be clean, well lit and roomy enough to shoot with a minimum of interference. However, it’s my opinion that it is how we as players address the issue of gambling that makes sponsors shy about investing in our sport. We act as if gambling were a nefarious activity… its not. It just is what it is and people either do it or not. True hustling is another matter because it’s not really gambling.

    Why should casinos, racetracks (dogs and horses), Jai Alai and football pools be considered acceptable but betting that you can win a pool match is not? Then there’s poker which is not exciting except for the gambling. It has a huge following, multi-million dollar sponsors and plenty of TV time even in prime time. Who says the American public isn’t ready for high stakes gambling? The question should be reframed: Is pool and its players ready to stop hiding in a cloud of shame, feeling like gambling is immoral?

    • PoolBum: very interesting perspective. You might just sway my opinion here. I’ve always said that investing in the stock market is no better than gambling. We put our money in the hands of corporate executives, then Wall Street skims off the top of everything we do. Given the market troubles that we’ve all seen over the last year, I’m sure a lot of people are rethinking the stock market as a gamble, and not a “solid” investment. Your point is well taken. The general public certainly has heart for gambling as you so aptly pointed out, whether it’s at the race tracks, sports bars, Vegas, or Wall Street. We need to reframe the whole issue of gambling and pool, and establish a new image.

  4. Thank god someone made a list for cleaning up the pool world! I enjoyed so much of this and hope people will listen to your thoughts and take them into consideration for their own pool persona 🙂 As many will touch on your other topics, I’ll hit the one near and dear to my heart, dress code. Watching a sloppy pool player just is so eh? I’m a jeans and t-shirt with nice boots kind of girl myself and there are plenty of ways to dress nicely without a fashion coordinator at your beck and call. One of the things that attracted me to Tony was his respect for the game in character and style.

    As for the “puppies-exposure,” well, as a female voice I’ll say that everyone is going to have a different “stank” level … try not to judge so harshly a female who is confident with their body. There are so few of us who aren’t on the brink of starvation and self-loathing … 🙂

    • GG: I actually agree with your comments. The main point I was trying to make with dress codes is that we should show respect for the game and have some “class.” Of course, I understand that we are all individuals, and different people are going to have different thresholds for what they consider to be “classy” vs. “trashy.” My dream is for ALL pool players to consider themselves ambassadors of the game, then dress and act accordingly.

  5. Very nice article here, Michael. I agree with a lot of your ideas – even the smoking part, and I’m a smoker. As much as I would like to be able to smoke when I’m playing poorly, I would much rather have cleaner balls and tables to play on. I’m in the minority of smokers, I know (based on a ridiculously large AZB thread from a month or so ago). I thought gambling might have been bad for pool – but I think poolBum’s perspective is what I was trying to formulate in my brain.

  6. Thanks for this article, after you read mine you will see we are thinking about similar things

    Thanks enjoyed reading it.

    Markus

  7. Poolriah – You’re swaying me further away from my stance that gambling is bad for pool, and more toward the stance that BAD GAMBLING is bad for pool.

    • i think there are hustling and gambling. i don’t think there’s good or bad gambling; personally i believe it’s neutral. it’s the intentions you apply to the act of gambling that make it seem good or bad, when in reality it’s the person that’s good or bad. kind of like a van in a sense; in the hands of a paramedic the van will be used to take people to hospitals. in the hands of a maniac it’ll be used to run people over. the van itself is neutral.

      if gambling is carried out without deception, the gamblers should have the freedom to bet as they please, since no lies/cheats are involved, and the money is theirs to spend. hustling, with its bad intentions (lying, cheating, sharking, distracting, etc.), is the real culprit. bottom line, don’t have bad people hang near you or the venue.

      to further illustrate the point, i don’t feel the least bit dirty when i play cards/video poker in vegas. it’s just an activity, not morally good, not morally bad. as soon as someone tries to cheat at cards, it becomes very bad. (securitah!)

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