“He makes such a difference.” Those are the words of Bishop O’Connell (based in Arlington, VA) high school quarterback Jonathan Nguyen. He’s talking about Tyler Fontenot, the placekicker and punter for O’Connell. Yes, you read that right. The placekicker.
In a fascinating article penned by Washington Post sportswriter Spencer Nusbaum, it comes out that the football position formerly populated by the “outcasts” is now, in the words of Nusbaum, “integral to team culture.” Nusbaum adds that “It’s cool to be a kicker these days.”
Readers can rest assured that in the future, it will be cool to be all sorts of things seen as uncool, down market, or downwardly mobile now. That’s why those being born today, and those who have yet to be born, are so lucky. A world populated by specialists is a world full of happy, cool, charismatic people.
Consider how many television shows (fiction, and non-fiction) there are about chefs today. And in thinking about the present, it’s worth remembering that not too long ago chefs were cooks. It wasn’t even a profession, really. Danny Meyer wrote in Setting the Table of how, when he decided to leave a six-figure sales job in the early ‘80s for restaurant work, people in his high-end world would shuffle uncomfortably as the Trinity College grad described his career pivot. That’s no longer the case.
By the time Eric Ripert published 32 Yolks, cooks were chefs. Better yet, they oozed charisma. That’s why they’re on television. People who are doing what they’re really good at possess a certain, indefinable magnetism.
Crucial about the magnetism is that it’s a consequence of abundance. As the world becomes richer, the range of ways that individuals can earn a living skyrockets. Wealth is consequence of abundance, of the mass production of former necessities and luxuries on the way to low prices for both. In a world defined by material plenty, the individuals who populate it are increasingly freed from work they have to do in order to survive, in favor of work they can't not do by virtue of it reflecting their unique genius and intelligence.
When we’re doing what we can’t not do we’re smart, we’re tireless, and yes, we’re charismatic. There’s this view that rich societies are lazy. Quite the opposite. In my 2018 book The End of Work (my working title was more apt: The End of Laziness), I even invented an eponymous law (Tamny’s Law), which argues that as wealth grows, so grows our passion and capacity for work.
Back to Fontenot, Nusbaum describes him as an alchemist, as someone who is imbuing the seemingly prosaic (kicking) with genius. Well, yes. While in the past there weren’t sufficient resources (particularly on the high school level) to dedicate to kicking and punting (Fontenot is a Five Star in both), in modern times specialization is the norm even on the high school level.
In other words, the “outcasts” from the past have position coaches now, plus in Fontenot’s case, he’s also got a kicking coach outside of O’Connell. Think about that. Making a living as a coach for high-school kickers is a very modern notion that is only a notion born of staggering abundance. When there’s so much, we can do so much more.
For now, Tyler Fontenot’s actions on the football field have filled him with “magnetism” and “charisma,” two adjectives not historically associated with kicker and punter. Today’s chefs understand. Unknown is the dismissed activities of the present that will similarly be cool in the future. Rest assured there will be many. As wealth grows, so grows genius and charisma.