Monthly Archives: January 2014

Is it wrong that I found P!nk really sexy at the Grammys?

Because I work out and try (and largely fail) to do some difficult core moves, I understand just how hard P!nk’s performance at the Grammys the other night was. And, as if that weren’t hard enough, she did it without lip syncing. If you watch the entire performance (click here to watch), she’s actually singing that song while she does all that stuff. And the only time you’ll hear her start to breathe even a little heavy is right at the end. And I didn’t catch that until about the fourth time I watched it.

I would need a bionic exoskeleton to even begin to do the things she did in that performance. The shot below isn’t a movement shot. She and Unnamed Hunky Guy actually held that pose. It’s safe to say that P!nk is banned from Dancing with the Stars.

So all that having been said, all that respect and adulation given, P!nk was incredibly hott during that number. I mean hawt. To quote the great Frank Barone, “Holy crap!” That kind of hot.

It’s not by accident. Sex sells. But the kind of sexiness displayed above is far different than the sexiness displayed with Beyonce and JayZ at the beginning of the ceremony. Yeah, Beyonce could be sexy in an oversized sweat suit, fresh out of bed reading the phone book. But it was different with P!nk. There was another dimension to it. She wasn’t just sexy because she looked sexy.

Beyonce and some guy she married.

All of this comes against the backdrop of the questions about female nudity in the HBO show Girls. When a reporter asked the show’s star Lena Dunham, how come the characters are naked so often, she–and pretty much the rest of the show’s entourage, pretty much called him a misogynist.

Call me creepy, but if a woman walks around on TV naked, I’m gonna notice. I’m a heterosexual guy. It’s my job, just like killing insects and never stopping to ask for directions. The only hetero guy at the Grammys who didn’t find P!nk hot was Stevie Wonder, but he’s still giving his acceptance speech from his best album win in 1976.

I’m not saying that I, as an adult male, have it tough. I don’t have to deal with sexual harassment at work. I never had someone dismiss me during a meeting, out of hand, because I’m a woman. And I don’t have to wear heels because society expects it.

But if I were a teenaged boy, I’d struggle with these things. On the one hand, woman are first and foremost people, and they need to be respected beyond the way they fill out a pair of jeans. I’m not supposed to see women as sex objects. On the other hand, they’re wearing these damned tight jeans and it seems like every time I turn on TV (except Mike and Molly), I see stuff like the pictures displayed above.

Oh, and I’m fifteen and filled with hormones and everything is sexy.

This isn’t a she’s wearing tight jeans so I’m not responsible post. It’s a post about conflicting messages, which were crystallized in my reaction to P!nk. Because the performance was amazing, and that’s one of the reasons it was sexy.

Sigh. Now I have to go to confession.

Advertisements

Thug? Racist? Sigh.

I knew we weren’t supposed to refer to the nation’s capital’s National Football League team by name, because that name is racist. I also knew that the team names Chiefs, Indians, Blackhawks, Braves, and Fighting Sioux are unacceptable. And that we should never use the b-word outside references to songs by the Rolling Stones and Meredith Brooks. And if you use the word slut, you’re slut shaming. And if you reference someone who might weigh more than she should, that’s fat shaming (but it’s somehow okay to call a guy a fat tub of goo).

But if you’re keeping score, you also can’t use the word thug. In the fallout from Richard Sherman’s post-game interview, a bunch of ignorant, stupid keyboard warriors spewed racial invective at Sherman, and a good part of the discussion since then has centered around whether the word thug is a neat and tidy way of saying the n-word without saying the n-word. No doubt the leaders of the self-important sport talking-head industry will agree. Washington Post columnist Mike Wise does.

Richard Sherman

Of course, this isn’t new. Take, for instance, Huffington Post blogger Judy Muller, who was stunned to see that a black woman at a dinner was offended that Robert Mugabe was referred to as a thug. This is the guy who Parade magazine declared was the worst dictator in the world in 2009, and whose country has been the target of sanctions by the US and other nations.

Thug Life was a rap group whose members include 2Pac Shakur.

As with all debates, there is a shade of truth to the insistence. Basketball and football players–predominantly black–who behave badly are characterized as thugs. In the National Hockey League, the same types of actions among its players–almost completely white–earn the term enforcer. And in hockey culture, it’s not a bad thing to be an enforcer. (Although enforcing, which is to say fighting, is one of the reasons I don’t watch hockey.)

Thug has become a term associated with rap culture. Just Google thug and rap.

But, when Rush Limbaugh was criticized on the air for describing Rahm Emmanuel and President Obama as Chicago thugs, he was called to task by a caller who said the word was racist. (Emmanuel is not black.) In response, Limbaugh said he’s been talking about union thugs for years, with no racist intent.

As a writers, this concerns me. There’s a balance between not being offensive and using the right word. I’m hard pressed to consider a time when I might use the n-word in my writing. The other word that carries the same weight to me, a word that starts with c and reduces a woman to a piece of her anatomy, is a word I’ve used exactly once–appropriately. And the character who used it was immediately chastised for its use.

Personally, I would use the word thug if I thought it were the right word. The n-word has been used for generations to marginalize an entire class of people. Thug, not so much. A generation ago, Robert B. Parker’s Hawk used it to emphasize that he and Spenser were very good at their trade. It’s not the n-word. In terms of weight and history, it’s not in the same galaxy as the n-word.

But that’s not how our culture seems to be going. In response to the controversy over references to the Washington Redskins, commissioner Roger Goodell declared that if one person is offended by the name of the team, then the NFL has to listen. (Hey, uhhh, Commish? PETA’s on line three, they want you to rename the Green Bay Packers as the Green Bay Pickers because they’re named after meat packers.)

Commissioner Goodell seems to be saying we have to listen seriously to people like Justin Bieber.

I have nothing against Richard Sherman. If you stick a mic in a football player’s face after he made the biggest play of his career to go to the Super Bowl, you’re going to get an emotional response. And that play beat his team’s biggest rival and their wide receiver engaged in three hours of on-field trash talk, that response is going to be heightened. He’s a human being, not a robot.

But I disagree in his assessment. And I disagree with commissioner Goodell’s measuring stick on when we have to listen. There’s an arguable case for Redskins being offensive, but the words Braves, Indians, Blackhawks, bitch, slut, and fatty (being kind of one myself)? Not so much.


What our response to Richard Sherman means

If you know who Richard Sherman is, you probably know him from his post-game rant the other day on FOX after he helped end the 49ers hopes for a second straight Super Bowl berth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PH35C7Fhq0

Admittedly, Sherman comes off as yet another pompous self-important athlete in that interview. The Twittersphere erupted after that interview with people calling him that and lots worse, much of it racially charged. After all, here was this big, scary looking black man yelling at a pretty blonde white woman.

So, of course, there was a rush to turn the interview and its response into a referendum on dominant (that is to say, white) American society. We were too quick to judge, went the narrative. Sherman is a remarkable man, it said. He actually is the best cornerback in the game. And pitcher Justin Verlander had the nerve to say that if he pulled that in baseball, there’d be a high and tight fastball with his name on it.

All of these things are true. Richard Sherman is a remarkable man. He’s the best corner in the league. And he would get a high, tight fastball if he played baseball and popped off like that. And there was a lot of racist response.

But it’s not that simple. For most of America, their first exposure to Richard Sherman was that interview. And in the past year, NFL players have been arrested for a number of offenses far more serious than the seemingly usual battery and sexual assault. Aaron Hernandez may have murdered three people and will probably never walk free again. Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child before driving the the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility and killing himself. And these are just the latest examples.

Most of American knows that more than they know the real Richard Sherman.

As for Verlander, baseball’s a different game, with a different culture. Outward respect is important in baseball. You don’t show your opponent up. You don’t steal bases when you’re way ahead. You don’t showboat on the field. And you don’t call opposing players out like Sherman did. Or you get the high-and-tight fastball. To call all of America’s response racist is, in some ways, calling baseball’s culture racist. They aren’t that far apart.

But football’s a different animal. It’s far more physical than baseball. These guys are out there pounding on each other for the better part of three hours. According to insiders, Crabtree–a decent, if not great, wide receiver–was jawwing with Sherman all game, trying to get inside his head. That’s part of the job. Then, with the game on the line, Sherman made a magical play to snuff out the 49ers’ rally and save the game and season for the Seahawks. Our workday culture is far closer to Verlander’s than Shermans.

This is a guy who’s had to prove himself every step of the way, from a horrible high school, where he graduated with a 4.2 GPA, to Stanford University, which isn’t exactly the local community college. Then he went on to dominate the NFL. A guy like that, charged with adrenalin, after making the play of the game seconds earlier, probably won’t sound like William F. Buckley in a post-game interview. To expect him to is folly.

Football’s about intimidation. It’s a mental game, as much as a physical one. And Sherman looks intimidating. He acts intimidating. It’s part of the job description. To blame all of America, or claim collective racism for responding to that intimidation, is misguided–though it doesn’t justify the racial responses thrown out there by America’s keyboard warriors.


Unconscious competence developed by relentless and realistic training

I’m reading a book called The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior and Succeed (linking to Amazon because it’s a couple bucks cheaper for Kindle than for Nook). Ally Machate, a lovely person I met last weekend, is the co-author (along with retired SEAL Mark Divine). If it remains as good throughout as it is through part I’ve read so far, I plan to give it immense online love on Amazon and Goodreads.

In an early chapter, the phrase unconscious competence developed by relentless and realistic training jumped out at me, as in “My…focus, combined with unconscious competence developed by relentless and realistic training, had saved my life.”

I love that sentence because of the power locked in it.

It’s more than Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (to truly master something, you have to do it for 10,000 hours). This is doing it relentlessly, until you do it calmly without thinking. It’s programming away the failure by giving yourself the permission to fail and learn in a training environment. Then, with each failure, you learn more about yourself and what you’re trying to do, until you get better at it. And then you learn even more until it’s second nature, until you can calmly and effectively do what you need to do, even under duress.

That phrase, relentless and realistic training, is one of the (many) things that sets SEALs and other elites apart. In my job, I don’t have the luxury of relentless training. There’s no practice; it’s all game day. So the training has to be in real time. But I’m still have to train myself.

It’s a popular thought that elites don’t make the same mistake twice. It’s also a lie. Elites make the same mistake dozens of times, until–or more appropriately, while–they train themselves differently.

I used to have a short fuse, which wasn’t good for me or the people around me. Every day, I would go to work and say, “Today I won’t get stressed and then go off on someone.” And every day, I failed. And every failure re-enforced my internal concept that I was a hot head. It also made me feel incompetent.

As incompetent as I felt, I didn’t give up. In reality (as in realistic training), each failure was a reprogramming step. I had relentlessly trained myself to go off on people when I was stressed. I had created an unconscious competence in it.

Each misstep, followed by my feelings of failure after, was actually a step in building a new, better unconscious competence in handling things much more calmly.

So what am I doing now? Years later, I am resuming that training. Not being ineffective isn’t enough. One of the tools I’m developing is breathing deeply. Divine talks about how deep breathing allows you to calm your mind down so you can take control of it. So, my computer now pops up an hourly reminder to breathe deeply. The goal is to repeat the process so many times that, eventually, when I’m put in a stressful circumstance, I’ll breathe deeply and accomplish a key first step in slowing things down and responding in a positive manner that builds value for myself and others.

The first time I want to do this, I will probably forget. If not the first time, there will come a time when I do.

That’s not okay, exactly, but it’s expected. I will learn from it and go on. It’s not a sign of failure, but of ultimate success.


Girls are victims of societal expectations; why aren’t boys?

Steroids have been a big topic in the sports world this week. You can’t talk about the Hall of Fame any more without talking about steroids and who did, didn’t, and might have. The Guardians of Baseballâ„¢ have determined that anyone who cheated, might have cheated, or is suspected cheating by sportswriter Murray Chass is a lying, cheating scumbag who must be voted off the island. Then there was Alex Rodriguez (A-Roid…get it? Get it?).

This post isn’t about the Hall of Fame (the section process makes the place a joke) or A-Rod and how the Yankees just got $25 million of money to spend on this year’s roster. It’s about boys and girls and expectations and cultural standards. And the idea came after seeing this picture.

And the first thing I thought of when I looked at He-Man was, “you would need a whole convoy to carry all the steroids.” And that’s what’s different about boys. We’ve devoted a lot of collective hand-wringing to girls and weight. Enough so that when a fit mother of three posted a picture of herself with her kids and the caption “What’s your excuse?” she was reviled for fat shaming. We’ve got multiple campaigns talking about how it’s wrong the way media portrays women. And when a girl resorts to puking herself to lose weight, she’s a victim.

EVIL!

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a teenaged boy. Boys are no less confused and perplexed by being a teen than girls are. They aren’t immune to the peer pressure. And they can be just as mercilessly excluded socially. And there’s just as much pressure to meet ridiculous standards. All of it just manifests differently.

Put another way, the most insidious thing about steroids in baseball isn’t the devaluing of precious home run or batting records. It’s not how Roger Clemens wagged his finger and proclaimed his innocence. It’s not the elimination of the pure game of baseball when stolen bases are king and 20 home runs in a season is a lot. It’s the pressure on young men who feel the need to do what everyone else is doing to compete.

And it’s not just in baseball. For all the negative press baseball gets about steroids, it has among the most aggressive anti-doping standards in American professional sports. It was Lyle Alzado, who played in the National Football League, who died early, largely because of steroid abuse. Alzado played in the 1970s and 1980s, before Barry Bonds ever sniffed a syringe. Look at an NFL or college game today and tell me looks less freakish the Bonds’ upper body toward the end of his career.

The subhead says “Former NFL star Lyle Alzado now admits to massive use of steroids and human growth hormone–and believes they caused his inoperable brain cancer.”

And that’s where society puts inappropriate pressure on boys.

I can’t entirely blame athletes who juice for cheating. After all, if the perception is that everyone else is doing it and it’s your job to perform on a field of play, then the lines blur. If everyone else is cheating, is it really cheating, or is it just the new reality.

And if you’re a high school boy and you excel at your sport, you receive praise and glory for it, then get into high school and people start passing you, and maybe some of them are juicing, aren’t you going to feel that same pressure. These aren’t grown men at this point, they’re boys.

In an environment where even Little League players train at boot camps and start positioning to get ahead, get more playing time, and get on a high school team, the pressure to go along to succeed is as intense for boys as the pressure to look good is for girls.

I’m emphatically not saying that care isn’t required in how society shapes the way girls see themselves. I’m saying it’s not a girls-only issue. It goes across the board. And while there’s currently a backlash against the unrealistic expectations placed on girls, there’s no such backlash for boys. It’s not a girls or boys problem. It extends across the spectrum. And the damage done by human growth hormone and the damage done by Photoshop are both symptoms of a society that places increasingly unrealistic demands on adults and children.


My 2014 fitness challenge: nutrition

It’s the time of the year for resolutions–the little promises we make ourselves about how we’re going to use the new year to start over and do something new this year. Most of the resolutions fall by the wayside, but a few don’t.

A few years back, I decided it was time to work on fitness–and that work has been successful. I don’t have an Adonis-like body, but I do have muscle definition and my calves are pretty sexy, if you’re into that. I work out practically every day and when I don’t there’s a reason why (sickness, injury, injury prevention, or just a periodic rest day). Fitness is not an issue for me.

Food, on the other hand, is an ongoing issue. I read an article about cancer that says that sugar, dairy, and meat feed cancer. There was no attribution in the article, but the information that vast amounts of sugar aren’t good for you isn’t new news, nor is it controversial. And yet, if there’s one thing I tend to eat, it’s vast amounts of sugar. If I’m stressed, I go for the sugar (I’m not alone in that–the body does that). If it’s around. Or if I’m just in the mood for a big old bunch of spiced gum drops.

I know I’m undercutting my workouts when I eat all that stuff. I know it’s not good for me. But I still eat it. I know I shouldn’t eat it. But I still eat it.

In the name of full disclosure, I reveal this to you.

I’m not going to make a resolution about it, but I commit this to you–I will try to do better this year. I will try to eat less crap, then to temper my helping size when I do. I will try to be a better role model in that regard.

That’s all I can promise. How about you?


My 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s probably not going to generate a lot of traffic, and I’m not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, alternately knowns as PINHEADs), but this week you have to turn in your ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Never in the history of this game has there been more grief about who did what, who might have done what, who possibly did what, and who we have no proof did what, but their arms are big (or something) and they might be guilty.

Put another way, hitting home runs is not proof that you juiced. Hitting really well for a catcher is not proof that you juiced. Having Jeff Bagwell’s forearms is not proof that you juiced.

For the record, the guys who basically admitted to juicing wouldn’t get my vote. Yeah, you can rave about Pete Rose (another topic for another time) and how no one in the history of baseball cheated like Gaylord Perry. But Gaylord Perry never created an environment where high school kids maybe felt pressure to juice to keep up.

That having been said, here’s my ballot, in order of (in my opinion) worthiness. I will freely admit that some of these guys may be revealed to be dirty down the line, but so be it. I can only go on what I have.

  1. Greg Maddux — Sure he got the strike call on pitches that were 23 feet off the plate, but he was the most dominant pitcher for several years at a rip of anyone in my lifetime. More dominant than Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, anyone. He was as close to a sure thing over many years as anyone in the history of this game. Like guys like Seaver, Carlton, and Palmer, he should be first ballot. Also like them, he won’t be.
  2. Jeff Bagwell — If this guy played in New York, Boston, Chicago, or LA, there’s no debate. Instead, he played in Houston, spending much of his career playing 81 games a year in the Astrodome. Remember the line in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner told Tim Robbins that ball would have stayed in a lot of park. Robbins said Name one and Costner said Yellowstone. He could have added the Astrodome. And there is no credible evidence that Bagwell juiced. None. See the previous statement about forearms.
  3. Tom Glavine — Between this year and next year, the Braves will induct three pitchers who dominated their rotate at the same time. On almost any other rotation, Glavine would have been the best. That he wasn’t is a testament to how great Maddux is. Seriously, though, if you played a three-game set against the Braves and got Maddux and Glavine in games one and two, you had a lost weekend.
  4. Mike Piazza — If someone hadn’t hinted in an article someplace that Piazza might have juiced and if Murray Chass wasn’t obsessed with his back acne, Piazza would have been a first-ballot guy. Then again, he’s the guy you jump on with no proof. The supposed facts of his juicing were the same as his supposed homosexuality. None of it was proven, which somehow makes it more true. Here’s what’s true: Only two guys (Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey) had a higher career batting average than Piazza’s .305. Only four had a higher career on base percentage. Only Roy Campanella (.500) had a slugging percentage within 60 points of Piazza’s .545. He’s not just a Hall of Famer, he’s an upper-tier Hall of Famer.
  5. Tim Raines — A poor man’s Rickey Henderson. As a Mets fan I got to see Raines a lot, and when he was on, only Henderson could dominate a game more thoroughly. Raines was caught in the drug sweep in the 80s, but he’s been clean since then. Unfortunately, many PINHEADs still hold it against him. Raines stole 808 bases, good for fifth all-time. But he wasn’t Vince Coleman–one-dimensional. Raines was a seven-time all-star. Four of the ten players most similar to him are Hall of Famers.
  6. Lee Smith — The dividing line on relief pitchers is funny. There’s no question about Trevor Hoffman getting in when he’s eligible, but Lee Smith isn’t likely to ever make it. Yet Smith is third all-time on the saves list, and much of his career took place before you got a save for completing the ninth inning with your team ahead. Smith dominated with several teams and deserves this honor.
  7. Jack Morris — I have to admit that I’m not entirely convinced about Jack Morris. If he weren’t a member of World Championship teams with Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto, I probably wouldn’t include him. But add his post-season performances in 1984 and (especially) 1991, and it pushes him across the line. His performance in Game Seven of the 1991 Series is probably the most dominant clutch performance I’ve ever seen by a pitcher. And if you add 254 wins, that’s enough.
  8. Frank Thomas — Offensively Frank Thomas was dominant for the time he played. But I struggle because he only played more than 100 games in the field four times. When the time comes that a truly dominant DH is eligible for election (and Edgar Martinez isn’t that guy), that’ll be tough. But Thomas’s production is too much to ignore. He had an OPS over 1.000 seven times and over .900 six more times. He retired with 521 home runs, a .301 career batting average, a .419 career on base percentage, and a .555 slugging percentage (for a career OPS of .974).

That’s my ballot, or would be if I had one. Alan Trammell doesn’t make it for me. I could be convinced over time about Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina. But these are my picks. Unfortunately, Maddux and Glavine are likely to be the only ones inducted this year.