Monthly Archives: February 2014

Banning all slurs

The NFL–the league with the team name that’s arguably a racial slur–is considering penalizing a penalty for players who use a racial and homophobic slurs on the field. When asked about whether he would support a similar step in the NBA, Miami Heat center Chris Bosh upped the ante, saying that he would ban all slurs on the court.

Yes, people should be decent to each other. And yes, there are certain words that are inappropriate in a workplace context. And though the football field or the basketball court are fields of play, they are also a workplace.

But let’s talk about banning all slurs.

  • It’s a first-amendment issue. No, it is specifically not a first-amendment issue. Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech. But the NFL is not Congress. Neither is the NBA. To that point, neither are WordPress, your favorite television network, YouTube, or any publisher (book, newspaper, or magazine). If the NFL wants to penalize or ban a player for saying specific words on the field of play, they are completely entitled to do so.
  • Of course, all slurs should be banned. There is no reason for people to act that way to each other, regardless of context. The NFL and NBA, like all other insular groups, have their own culture. Part of that culture includes intimidation and gaining a mental edge. It has since the early days of competitive sports. Much of it is largely meaningless. When people are bound together in an intense situation, the language isn’t necessarily what you would use with your grandmother. Eliminating all words that could possibly be considered a slur wouldn’t improve a workplace. It would most likely break down the relationships in which people can call each other names they wouldn’t use in front of their grandmothers. Some of the best workplaces I’ve worked in included some of the coarsest language.
  • But this isn’t like calling someone an idiot. These words have loaded histories. Offense is subjective. Although large segments of society are offended by most racial or homophobic slurs, people are also offended by words like bitch, idiot, or fatso. A growing chorus is offended by the name of the nation’s capital NFL team. Some are offended by Indians, Braves, and Chiefs. At what point do we draw the line between using the n-word and calling someone a fatso, or a Papist? Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be setting the bar quite low, saying about the Redskins that if anyone is offended by a name, a conversation should ensue.
  •  For crying out loud, stop with the political correctness and just play the game. Yeah, there’s that. But there’s also an increasingly loud plurality of people who oppose anything that offends them. Political correctness doesn’t just come from thin-skinned liberals. Try saying Happy Holidays at Christmas sometime. If Paula Deen and Don Imus are going to lose their jobs for making insensitive statements, should it be a surprise when the NFL wants to penalize its players?

I’m a writer. Part of that means to deal with difficult issues. Sometimes that means character use bad words. I know there are people who would be offended by reading my work. Being offended is increasingly powerful, and society seems to be increasingly deciding that offending something isn’t acceptable. That concerns me.

In a free society, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

But in my estimate, just because you shouldn’t do something means you should be prevented from doing it.

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A hard challenge for the heart

I do something through church called a Life Map Journal. Over the space of a year, I read selections from the Bible, usually a couple or three Old Testament chapters, one New Testament chapters, and sometimes a Psalm. I’ve done it religiously (get it? religiously? I slay myself.) since early November.

Today’s passages included the story in Mark’s gospel about how Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his disciples. He called to him, went to his house for dinner, and then said, “Matthew, come hang with me and be part of my inner circle.”

Again, Matthew was a tax collector. He was a Jew who collected taxes for the Romans, who were occupying the Jews at the time. And he made his salary based on whatever he collected over and above what the Romans wanted. In other words, he was one of them. The wretched refuge. He was essentially frozen out of the Jewish community.

The Pharisees went nuts. Which is okay, because Pharisee equals hypocrites and Jesus was basically kicking them in the teeth because to a person, they were rotten, evil, stupid human beings. Right?

Maybe not. Let’s assume for a minute that a lot of these Pharisees really thought they were following God’s law. Let’s say they were brought up to believe that the Law was the way to God and that you measured someone’s worth based on how well they followed the Law. Let’s say also that they were seeing Jesus heal people and give them hope and make their lives different. And then he went and embraced one of them, someone who was decidedly outside the community. Someone whose very presence was unquestionably a problem.

If you were really following God, that would screw you up. Here are two things you believe in, and they’re suddenly contradicting each other, and that’s hard. Because suddenly this guy it wasn’t just okay to exclude, but it was righteous to exclude is suddenly maybe not them.

If you were a Pharisee who really wanted to find God and be the best you could be, that must have been hard.

It is hard. It’s one of the hardest things. After all, every culture, every belief system, every interpersonal system has us and them. Maybe it’s based on race or religion. Maybe it’s because they’re Republicans or Democrats.

Maybe Jesus is telling the homophobes to accept the gays.

Yeah, maybe so. After all, my Bible doesn’t include any passage where God asks for me to act as his proxy in determining who is good and who is awful. But maybe he’s telling the Democrats to accept the Republicans, too. Maybe he’s telling the whites who grew up thinking that the blacks are them to get over it. And maybe he’s saying the same thing to the blacks who were taught that the whites were them.

It doesn’t matter who your them is. The message of this piece of the Gospel is that Jesus came for them, too. And that in order for you to be healed, maybe you need to stop seeing them as them. Maybe you’re being called on to do the work and embrace that struggle. It doesn’t mean that you have to accept them right this second. It means you have to examine yourself and your view of the world and see where it comes up short. Replace Matthew the tax collector with Matthew the homo or Matthew the black guy or Matthew the Republican. And then consider that and struggle with it. Do the hard work and ask yourself and God if you might need to see things differently.

I’m not immune. What if Matthew was a stupid person? What if Matthew was the person who runs the freaking items across the scanner at the same speed as if they were being pushed by a glacier? What if Matthew was the person who made me feel like an insignificant moron the other day? What if Matthew was a fundamentalist Christian who believes in every word of the Bible as literal truth?

The bottom line is I don’t have the tools to judge who is actually righteous and who isn’t. And if I did, the first person I would have to judge is the person on the other side of the mirror–the guy I shave with every morning.

And sometimes, he’s not doing so hot.

I have biases. Some of them would probably piss you off if I were open about them. I am a limited human being with limited vision. Which makes me like everyone else. The key is to understand that–to realize that I have blind spots, look for them, and challenge them.

And to understand that when I judge other people, it doesn’t encourage them to try to discover and challenge their blind spots; it just makes those blind spots seem more appropriate.

Thus endeth today’s sermon.


I’m not sure how I feel about Arizona’s proposed law…

Before I dive into today’s topic, a little background. In a free society, you should have the same legal rights as other people, even if you happen to sleep with someone of the same sex–that includes employment, the civil aspects of marriage, and everything else. In a free society, we do not make law solely on the basis of what it says in Leviticus 18:22.

And in a free society, we protect peoples’ religious freedoms, even if we don’t agree with those stances. And that includes the right of Muslims to worship, the right of Fred Phelps to be a public spectacle, and the rights of people to abstain from certain things based on their religious beliefs.

 

All of which leads to the latest controversy from Arizona, where the legislature has passed a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to same-sex coupled on the basis of religious belief. 

Most people probably view this bill quite simply–it’s either institutionalized discrimination against homosexuals or it’s a guarantee of religious freedom. It’s either morally reprehensible or it’s a necessary protection for people of faith.

And on this point, I struggle. (It’s okay to struggle with something–to not immediately be certain of the moral implications of a specific stance. That doesn’t make you a knuckle-dragging racist homophobe or a pinko-loving godless anti-Christ.)

I would like some cake, please.

On one hand, in a free society, if you don’t want to make a cake for Chuck and Larry’s nuptials because you think God commands you not to, you should have the right to honor your religious beliefs. And if Chuck and Larry choose to let all of Arizona know of your decision so people can avoid your business, they should be able to, uhhh, advertise for you. After all, there are dozens of places to get wedding cake in Phoenix and Tucson and even Flagstaff.

But what about Winslow, Arizona? I’ve been there. There weren’t girls (my lord) in flatbed Fords looking at me. (Their loss.) And there weren’t dozens of places for Chuck and Larry to get wedding cake. According to the internet, there appear to be two–and one of them is Safeway. What happens then?

Certainly the people who run the other place should have the freedom to say “sorry guys, we don’t support that because of our religious beliefs.” But certainly, Chuck and Larry shouldn’t have to drive all the way to Flagstaff (about an hour) simply because the one non-supermarket bakery in town refuses to make them a freaking wedding cake. How different is that for Chuck and Larry than when blacks had no place to stay because there weren’t any colored motels in town?

Then again, how different is it from the local church not renting their parish hall to the local chapter of the Atheist Alliance International?

Personally, I’d make their wedding cake. I don’t think Jesus would be angry about that–I think if Chuck and Larry were true to the Godly model of love in terms of how they treat each other and other people, that’s the key. And if Jesus is angry, I’ll take my chances. If Chuck and Larry love each other, that’s their business, not mine. Making cakes would be mine and they’d get the best damned cake in town.

And in a perfect world, if I’m gay or lesbian, if this bill were made law, it helps me figure out where not to spend my money. In a perfect world, Chuck and Larry don’t have to spend two hours getting their cake from Flagstaff if the only non-Safeway bakery in Winslow won’t cater to them.

So I’m unsure. If I had to make a decision, I would probably veto the bill, but I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with that.

 


Acting your age (or, my Spartan Sprint experience)

So I did the Tampa Spartan Sprint yesterday, signing up because I figured it would be like a mini-Tough Mudder. Actually, it was quite different. We started out by running the ramps at Raymond James all the way to the top. No problem actually. All that T25 and the wacky P90X3 stuff I’ve been doing really paid off. I was a little winded at the top, but my legs felt good.

Escalator? I don’t need no steenkeeng escalator.

That was a good thing because then we had to run the steps in the upper deck down and then back up, then it was back down the ramps to the main concourse. There were some walls to go over, but nothing too bad. Then we had to put this tight-ish piece of rubber around our ankles and hop up six flights of stairs. There was a time when I’d have been intimidated to death by that, but P90X plyometrics was way harder. No problem. Then it was down the rest of the ramps to the ground floor and the first big wall.

Hop up some stairs? Please. I do jump knee tucks.

I made it up, no problem, which surprised me because those have always been hard for me. I barely struggled at all. Then jumped down–big problem. I landed hard on my heel, on cement.

And it hurt. It still hurts. We were up and down the stadium a couple more times after that, including running stairs at various levels, including once with a 50-pound sand back. I wanted the damned t-shirt and whatever else, so I stuck it out. Running the stairs wasn’t hard because I landed on the balls of my feet. Crawling under barbed wire wasn’t too bad either–for probably more than 100 yards–because of the oblique work in T25.

But at that point, it was time to walk. Hobble, really. Then we picked up this cement ball probably half again as big as a basketball, carried it 20 yards, did five burpees, then carried it back. There were a few more obstacles, half of which I skipped because of my heel. And then it was over.

Oh, except for the burpees. There were five or six obstacles where you had to accomplish a feat–impaling a figure made of hay bales with a spear, throwing a football in a bucket from fifteen yards. And if you failed–thirty burpees. I failed most of them, which is the design. But one was pulling a big bucket of cement up to a pulley about thirty feet off the ground. No problem (which made me excited).

But to the heel. It’s a deep bone bruise, which hurts like it’s broken and is swollen like it’s broken, but isn’t. It’s a pain in the…well, foot, to get around and I may have to resort to crutches at work for a few days.

While I was hopping around like an invalid while going to the bathroom last night and sitting in the urgent care this morning, a part of me–a rather insistent part of me–thought maybe it was time to start acting my age. After all, people who remember Sergeant Schultz knowing nothing maybe shouldn’t be climbing wall, plunging into ice-water dumpsters, and–scariest of all–running through live electrical wires. And paying good money to do so.

But I only get to do this once and, God help me, I like that crap. So, as the man said, “Challenge accepted!”

Or, you know…not.


Why I participate in unnecessary, stupid mud races

Last April, a guy named Avishek Sengupta drowned during Tough Mudder at an obstacle called Walk the Plank. In the obstacle, you climb a very steep ramp to a 17-foot high platform and then jump into chilly water. Sengupta jumped and never resurfaced. Although his is the only death at a Tough Mudder event, there are questions about whether the response was quick enough.

If you aren’t familiar with Tough Mudder, it’s an 8-to-12 mile extreme obstacle race that includes much deep mud, a dumpster full of ice water (including a brief total submersion), a lot of climbing, and several obstacles that can make anyone feel claustrophobic. The last obstacle is a dash through hanging electrical wires guaranteed to drop you if you get zapped. I got zapped five times a couple years ago.

The stories of Sengupta tend to hit newspapers whenever Tough Mudder comes to town. Because it’s grown from a cult event to a huge business. Through 2012, almost a million people had participated in Tough Mudder. Given the proliferation of events, that number is probably closer to two million today. The 2012 Tough Mudder in Sarasota tied up I-75 for hours on race day. In other words, there’s lots of money at stake. And when we ran in November 2013, the Walk the Plank obstacle was closed when we got there because of danger (though no one drowned).

Jump in. It’ll wake you up!

Inevitably when the stories hit the paper, several people comment with references to Darwin awards and the idea that it’s completely unnecessary to run in such an event. It seems people don’t understand the need for the extremes. Tough Mudder. P90X (Power 90 Extreme). What’s the point? Is a nice run, or even a walk in the woods so bad? Maybe some mild cardio like aerobics or something? What’s wrong with that?

To answer the question, nothing is wrong with those things. If that’s what works for you, go for it. When I run for fitness, there’s a certain mental state I reach during a long run that’s not quite the runners’ high, but it’s maybe a step toward it. My mind shuts off and I almost become separate from the run. It’s kind of a zen meditative state. There is no me, really. There’s just the next step and the next half mile and keeping the sweat out of my face.

But there’s also a rush in challenging yourself. Tough Mudder is a long event, structured to challenge you physically and mentally. After getting dropped five times by the electricity, I spent the entire race in fear of the wires this time through. Fortunately, I came with a group and we linked arms and run through this year, guaranteeing more shocks but reducing their harsh punishment. I made it through the race this year. Last year, I made it through in spite of a tweaked back. The year before, I made it through in spite of never having done anything like that.

The average age of a Tough Mudder participant in 29. I’m not 29. And yet I make it through each time. When it’s 5:00 in the morning and I’m struggling through pushups that turn my arms to jelly, Tough Mudder gives me something to shoot for.

And the extreme workouts make me feel better. They make me understand that I can do things that make me a little uncomfortable and change myself. When I first started, I was so heavy my knees hurt when I walked up stairs. Now, for the first time in my life, I can make a muscle with my arms and not look like Olive Oyl. My back is hard, and though I haven’t mastered pull ups yet, I will. (Oh, yes, I will. I WILL! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!)

Life is a challenge. Even people in pampered situations (and relative to the rest of the world, I’m one of these people and so are you), people are challenged. Extreme events and workouts have helped me change my approach to these challenges from being yet another burden unfairly placed to an opportunity to show something, even if it’s just resigned participation to end.

I don’t believe that God made us to sit and let life happen to us. I believe God made us to find challenges and run to them and engage them. Engaging in Tough Mudder and doing P90X3 helps me run toward those challenges rather than meekly accepting my fate. Running toward is better.

It isn’t necessary for me or anyone else to make these choices. But to quote P90X’s Tony Horton, “You don’t have to do it. But I like to.”

Challenge accepted.


About Michael Sam’s Father

Let’s say you believe in the Bible pretty literally. Let’s say you really believe what it says. The Leviticus 18:22 part, which says “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. (NLT)” Then let’s say you get a text from your son which says, “Dad, I’m gay.” Michael Sam’s father got such a text last week.

I don’t know Michael Sam’s father. (Sam is the linebacker who came out this week and will likely be the first openly gay player in the NFL come draft day.) I don’t know if he believes the Bible literally. I do know that he was quoted as saying, “I couldn’t eat no more, so I went to Applebee’s to have drinks. I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.”

It would be easy to dismiss the elder Sam as just another knuckle-dragging homophobic idiot. It would be easy to point to his poorly spoken English, the fact that he was divorced, and the fact that his family could accurately be described as broken and conclude that he’s not a good man. And maybe he isn’t. His son, after all, came out to his teammates months before coming out to him.

But there may be more at work here than that. And it may be something to remember when others come out, either in the sports world, or in your own personal world.

The speed at which acceptance of gays in society is occurring is nothing short of amazing. Sure there are those whose religious beliefs prevent acceptance of homosexuality. There are also morons and bigots. But for most people, this just isn’t an issue any more. And for most people, that stance may be far different than the way they felt even five years ago.

It doesn’t feel like a revolution to me. Then again, I’m from the generation that largely couldn’t understand why you would threaten Hank Aaron’s life for hitting home runs, and who wondered why it was 1989 before the NFL hired a black head coach.

I’ve known enough gay people to know that the vast majority of them aren’t sexual predators. Some are friends and family members. I’m not struggling to understand a world that I can’t recognize or understand any more.

The ESPN headline about this says “Sam’s father struggling with news son is gay.” If that’s true–and the elder Sam says he loves his son–there’s no problem with that. It takes time and struggle to grapple with and come to peace with changes in your viewpoint. If there’s some part of him that wants to be okay with what his son is, then damning him and dismissing that struggle isn’t helpful to him, his son, or societal cohesion.

I personally hope he gets there. Watching your son achieve a dream is a wonderful thing. It’s a think I hope to enjoy some day.

I would hate to see this father and this son miss that experience.

 


Michael Sam is not a big story to me. Why he is to some others.

When I first found out that Missouri linebacker Michael Sam was gay, my first response was, “Holy cow, so what?” On a personal level, I don’t don’t care. As long as he’s going to bed with a consenting adult, it’s none of my business. It’s no more relevant to me than Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron sleeping with a model.

If you’re gay, I can understand why you might root for him. It’s the same as how I–a goofy-looking white guy who can’t grow a mustache people can see–rooted for Larry Bird, a goofy-looking white guy who can’t grow a mustache people can see. It’s the same as how Christians rooted for Tim Tebow. It’s the same as how I once rooted for Sam Perkins, the basketball player, because he went to high school in the Capital District of New York, where I grew up.

Yes, there is a mustache there.

But then Jonathan Vilma, an all-pro linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, said “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?” (Perhaps you should figure he’s a professional doing his job, just like you. Not everyone is hot for you. Besides, he probably didn’t bring his electron microscope into the shower with him, so you don’t have to worry.)

And there was the entire brawl about Chris Kluwe, the Vikings’ former punter, said he was released from the team because of his support for gay marriage. Kluwe said that special teams coach Mike Prieffer made homophobic comments to him, and he was told by former coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman to tone down his support.

Andrea Kremer, the former sideline reporter, is the NFL’s correspondent for player health and safety. She interviewed a number of players about their view of possibly gay teammates. And while I suspect most people in the real world share my views about Sam, it might not be so in the NFL, where the culture is different and much more insular than we’re used to. It’s culture where players of any race can sometimes use the n-word with each other without it being considered an insult. It’s a coarse, n0-holds-barred culture. And if Kremer is right, it might not be as welcoming as the University of Missouri was.

Some have suggested that Sam came out to enhance his draft status, but that’s ridiculous. He was the defensive player of the year in the SEC. He’s probably a third-to-fifth round pick. But there’s a thought that the media focus may drop him a round. It’s certainly not going to move him up a round.

You can’t have it both ways. If Sam’s coming out is going to cost him, he didn’t do it for self-aggrandizement. If he’s going to face extra opposition in his job, he didn’t do it for acceptance.

When he takes the field, he won’t be the only gay player in the NFL. There are probably a number of players whose sexuality is an open secret. Given the fact that none of them are obvious about it, there’s no way to tell how that’s affected them with their teams.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe the NFL has reached a point where a guy who can help you win is welcome, regardless of which consenting adults he chooses to sleep with.

Maybe not.

But just for balance, here are a few of the things Michael Sam didn’t do. He didn’t raise dogs for dog fighting. He didn’t kill his girlfriend then drive to the team facility and commit suicide. He didn’t kill a semi-pro football player. He didn’t shout a racial slur at a concert. He didn’t bully a teammate. He didn’t beat or rape anyone. He didn’t kill a teammate because he crashed his car driving drunk. In other words, he’s not the only distraction in the league.

And he’s not even close to the most harmful.