Mark Schnabel: ’Rollerball’ still relevant, soccer to return

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan

An old Chinese blessing (or is it curse) goes, “May you live in interesting times.”

Whatever you think about all that is going around about everything, you can’t deny that these are interesting times.

In the 1975 Norman Jewison film “Rollerball” (not the stupid remake made a few years ago), a brutal sport is invented for the masses to take their minds off their lives of boredom in a corporate dystopia.

The government has been displaced by the corporations — of which just a handful remain with names such as Transport, Food, Communication, Housing, Luxury and Energy. The corporations are run by executives, who are free to act with impunity.

As the late, great John Houseman said, portraying the executive Bartholomew, “A few of us making decisions on a global basis for a common good.”

With all dissent squelched, as well as all physical need, the sole outlet for the people is rollerball.

Now the Energy Corporation has a problem. Its best player, Jonathan E (the always intense James Caan), from its best team, Houston, has grown in popularity beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Jonathan has become LeBron James, Tom Brady, Mike Trout, Lionel Messi and Sidney Crosby — all rolled into one and multiplied by 1,000.

With that talent and popularity comes a platform to communicate with the masses — and that has the executives scared and they want Jonathan to step down and quietly retire.

He is scarier to the established order than an entire league of Colin Kaepernicks.

Again, Mr. Bartholomew: “The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort. And the game must do its work. The Energy Corporation has done all it can, and if a champion defeats the meaning for which the game was designed, then he must lose.”

Now Jonathan has no real ambitions, motives or any other reason to stay in the game. He is not particularly political.

But he does have ego — not the narcissistic type, which craves fame or adulation. He was hurt by the executive class, which is trying to control his life.

An executive took Jonathan’s wife and married her. Executive privilege if you will.

I’m not going to spoil the rest. Go ahead and rent it or stream it. But despite the movie being 45 years old, it speaks volumes to where we are today.

And now for something completely different:

• Major League Soccer has come to terms with its player association to find a way to finish the season.

The MLS season was suspended after just two games for each team out of a 34-game season.

Under the agreement, players agreed to a salary cut for this season.

Play will resume with a tournament at the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando (the same complex where the NBA is expected to resume the season).

After the tournament, the league is hoping to return to home stadiums to finish out the season, which may extend into December. Those games may or may not have fans, depending on the state of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The MLS is more dependent on ticket sales than some of the other major sports leagues in the U.S. It is in its 25th season, making it the longest first-division professional league in North America.

The original NASL lasted 17 seasons. The American Soccer League lasted from 1933 to 1983, but was never fully professional until its latter years. It could be argued that it was the top league on the pyramid from 1933 to about 1967.

• We’re still awaiting the possible start of Major League Baseball. The players and owners are still apart on a few issues such as pay scales and length of season.

It looks increasingly like the minor-league season will be a complete loss.

The NHL has a Stanley Cup playoff plan in place, but no firm start date.

• On the local front, several area schools started their summer conditioning.

In most years, that barely goes noticed. It’s one of those things that’s expected. The kids get up early in the morning and go through weight and cardio conditioning workouts, then move into team camps. Football players have team camps and seven-on-seven passing leagues and the like.

After losing the entire spring sports season, being able to get into a weight room or running around a bit on the track is probably a release.

Mark Schnabel is the sports editor for the Kansan. He can be reached at