Monthly Archives: September 2017

What’s really offensive about the Anthem protest…

Let’s say for a minute that every day when you got to work, you had to stand at attention in front of people and take what amounts to a public loyalty oath to your country. A lot of you are saying, “It would be my pleasure to do such a thing. I love this country. I would be proud, unlike those stupid ingrates in the National Football League.”

Okay, I hear you. But let’s change things up a little bit. Let’s say it was a condition of your employment. You okay with that?

Now let’s say it’s a condition of your employment because the Federal government paid your employer in exchange for you and your fellow employees to profess your loyalty. In other words, it’s not a spontaneous expression of respect and appreciation, but a marketing effort by your employer–not to mention a revenue stream.

Until 2009, players weren’t typically on the field for the national anthem. Starting that year, under the Obama Administration, the government started paying not just the NFL, but MLB and other professional leagues. In the grand scheme of things, the amount of money is insignificant. But part of what it pays for is players to be on the field during the anthem.

Suddenly, the anthem isn’t the symbol of national pride. Suddenly, you aren’t honoring America, as the PA announcer always says. Suddenly, you are selling your affection for your country–so your employer gets paid. Your mileage may vary on this one, but to me, this practice is cynical, ridiculous, and more offensive than what happened on the field this weekend.

My patriotism is meaningful to me. It’s not something to be bought and sold, and it sure as hell isn’t something my employer should count on as a revenue stream.

President Trump ill-conceived tirade against anthem protesters

It all started when Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in protest for police brutality against blacks. Kaepernick, it should be added, didn’t vote in the election and showed up for practice wearing socks that depicted police as pigs.

A few players here and there followed suit last season and into this season. Four players even demanded that the NFL set aside the month of November–typically used to honor the military, more or less–as a month to promote social activism.

To be clear, Kaepernick, who is currently unemployed, has every right to wear pig socks and sit down during the anthem if he chooses to do so. The NFL has every right to employ him or not. The fans have every right to vote with their wallets, as they seem to be doing, based on ratings and attendance figures.

This is what it is to be an American. People are going to push ideas you think are horrible and you’re going to push back that they’re wrong.

And then the President weighed in. He said to a crowd at a Senate campaign rally “wouldn’t you love to see one of these owners…say get that son of a bitch off the field now?”

When Roger Goodell pushed back, President Trump took to Twitter saying that the Commissioner was trying to justify “the total disrespect certain players have for this country.”

And now, the league’s players are more unified than ever, and more of them will protest during the anthem than ever. The protest has even spread to baseball as Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the anthem.

Again, if the collective bargaining agreement permits it, the players have every right to kneel, sit, or stand for the anthem. And a country that demands a loyalty oath as a pre-condition for employment doesn’t sound like a free country to me.

As this mess swirls around–and threatens to drain even more joy from following professional sports–one thing is clear: by his actions, the President has done more to draw attention to this effort than Colin Kaepernick and his pig socks could ever hope to.

Love and performance

Love based on performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

I don’t know who said that, but the words, if not the source, have stuck with me over the years.

As you hear those words, hear them spoken bluntly, without softness. With no room for negotiation.

Love based on performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

Not every kind of love can move into that realm. It’s a realm that’s hard to achieve and harder to maintain. It’s a risky love that gives it’s object the a sharp knife and directions to your heart and soul.

It means that the person to whom you give the knife has nothing stopping them from carving up your most cherish, most protected, most precious part.

As human beings, even the best of us does some carving from time to time. Even the closest person alive to perfect lets you down. The closest person to perfect currently in this world is Nolan Ryan–and he could only do it on a baseball field. And he hasn’t done it in a long, long time.

And yet, to love–to truly love–means that you understand the risk and you hand over the knife anyway.

The problem comes when you hand over the knife inappropriately to someone who doesn’t value what it can carve. Worse yet is when you have the knife yourself and you don’t value what it can carve.

Still, both externally with other people and internally with yourself, love in return for performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

Performance and pay have their place. Without them, we’d still be living in caves, victims of whatever nature throws our way.

And there’s still a necessity in a loving relationship to return some aspect of care and respect.

But that doesn’t negate the one true fact–the one thing we as a society and as a human race miss far too much.

You can’t base love on performance. They’re two different things.

On Being Jemele Hill

If you haven’t been following, Jemele Hill is the high-profile ESPN SportsCenter anchor who set off a firestorm about the Worldwide Leader earlier in the week when she posted on Twitter, essentially calling President Trump and everyone around him white supremacists.

SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill

It’s true that white supremacists have become much more vocal in during the Trump Administration. It’s also true that the white supremacist movement is vocal and very public in support of Donald Trump. But taken as a whole, I don’t agree with Ms. Hill’s tweets.

Then again, I’m not Jemele Hill.

We can argue all we want over specific instances like Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Philando Castile, but it’s lunacy to suggest that racism is dead. It’s lunacy to ignore people hanging Obama in effigy from trees or showing up at a Wisconsin football game as Obama being lynched.

This actually happened at a Uninversity of Wisconsin football game.

It’s unfair to ignore the responses that almost certainly came Ms. Hill’s way after the tweets and maybe even before. I couldn’t find specifics, but haters gonna hate and when you’re a woman and a black, that hate comes wrapped in racism and misogyny. After all, it’s less than a year since a West Virginia mayor had to resign for agreeing with a Facebook post that called Michelle Obama an ape in high heels.

Put quite simply, if you were to experience life as Jemele Hill’s experienced it, you might see the world the way she does.

That’s something we’re all to eager to forget in our hyper-judgemental world. It’s inappropriate to pass judgement on someone based on four 140-character tweets.

Quite a while ago, then-President Bill Clinton called for a national conversation on race. At the time, I interpreted that as a call for white people and conservatives to shut up and acknowledge everything thrown at them about racism. I’m not sure my view on that particular initiative has changed.

Not a conversation

But the fact is, we need to have conversations. True conversations. We need to understand why Jemele Hill feels the way she does. And we also need to understand what’s driving some of the opposition to Ms. Hill.

It isn’t enough to say that racism is a problem and if you don’t fully agree, you are the problem. And it isn’t enough to ignore the problem and pretend anyone who makes noise about it is the problem.

Listening is enough. Trying to imagine what it’s like for the person you disagree with is enough. Trying to reach across the divide and love anyway is enough.

Context around Fenway Pahk’s anti-racist banner

A guy named Carron J. Phillips wrote in today’s New York Daily News, “Boston has a racist history, and so does baseball.” Then he praises the four people who were shown the Fenway Park door after unfurling a huge anti-racism banner on the Green Monster in last night’s Saux-Athletics tilt.

In fairness to Mr. Phillips, what he says is technically true. America has historically had a racism problem. So has baseball. There was a color barrier in the sport that lasted until 1947. The Red Sox infamously had a chance to put Willie Mays in the same outfield as Ted Williams and passed because he was black. They finally broke their own color barrier in 1959 with a guy named Pumpsie Green (career stats: .246, 13 HR, 74 RBI).

For reference, in 1959, Willie Mays hit .313 with 34 HR and 104 RBI, was an All-Star, and finished sixth in MVP voting. It wouldn’t be until 15 years later (1974) that baseball got its first black manager, the same year Henry Aaron’s life was continually threatened because he dared to hit more home runs than Babe Ruth while being black.

The NFL, which isn’t generally considered to have racist baggage, didn’t have a black head coach until 1989–15 years later. It was only two years earlier that Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. But sure, let’s concentrate on baseball.

As for the country, racism exists here. You are either deliberately blind if you deny it. Or you’re racist.

And the uptick of ugliness lately is both distressing and alarming. It cannot be dismissed. And this country has a history rife with slaver, Jim Crow, and lynching. But we have made progress.  To imply we haven’t is simply incorrect.

To imply that racism isn’t part of the human condition, rather than the American condition, is simply wrong. Asians have been victims of racism here (see internment camps). But Asian cultures can also be remarkably racist. African cultures can be remarkably racist, as well (though, in fairness, skin color isn’t typically the discriminator).

None of this is to say that baseball doesn’t have problems. Although it has rich racial diversity, only 8% of Major League players are black, and only 3.1% of pitchers. I don’t think that’s the result of racism, but it does represent a gap in a sports landscape increasingly dominated by black athletes, their magnetism, and their marketing power. There’s a reason the (ahem) Worldwide Leader has de-emphasized baseball.

It’s not to say that Boston doesn’t have problems, either. Earlier this year, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was pelted with racial slurs. But to be clear, the Red Sox found the people who hurled the slurs and banned them for life. They’re also considering renaming Yawkey Way, outside Fenway, because former owner Tom Yawkey was notably racist. But the Yawkey way is undeniably part of the Red Sox history–a history that took strong cues from the city around it.

Again, none of this to intended to minimize the problems with race in baseball, Boston, and the United States, but to provide context around it.

The great thing about this country is the promise of equality of opportunity. It’s an ideal that will probably always elude us, but one worth pursuing. We hurt ourselves by pretending that we don’t have issues to resolve. But we don’t help ourselves by assuming that progress–threatened as it currently seems–has not occurred.

And as long as we pretend racism is intrinsically American, we doom ourselves to swim in it.


The Worldwide Leader in double standards

For the record, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jamelle Hill has every right to say that Donald Trump is a white supremisist and that he was elected by white supremacists. She has the right to say that Trump’s cabinet (which includes a black man, a black woman, an Indian woman, and an Asian woman) is filled with white supremacists.

And ESPN has every right to suspend her, promote her, or writer her a strongly worded letter on company letterhead saying that they’re very, very disappointed.

Anchor Linda Cohn has the right to go on a radio show and says that ESPN’s layoffs were because they overpaid for rights fees and, in part, because they’ve alienated older, more conservative viewers. And ESPN has the right to suspend her.

Linda Cohn and loudmouth Stephen A. Smith

Freedom of speech doesn’t extend to employment. It covers government actions.

ESPN used to the my network of choice. SportsCenter used to be my go-to program. The Big Show with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (yes, that Keith Olbermann).

Along with his tag-team partner Keith Olbermann, he is merely Dan Patrick.

ESPN used to be about highlights, scores, and games, not Stephen A. Smith flapping his gums. ESPN used to care about sports and sports journalism, not using its “news” operation to promote its programming. (When is the last time a football brain-injury story was featured? [ESPN broadcasts NFL football.])

ESPN used to care at least a little about my demographic. They simply don’t any more. They’re looking younger, more urban, and more progressive. Just look at its website. It’s better than it was a couple of months ago, but rare was the day when Colin Kaepernick (an unemployed mediocre quarterback and activist) or Lavar Ball (not even an athlete–his sons are) weren’t featured.

Colin Kaepernick. And Oscar Gamble’s hair. (Google it.)

So when people claim that ESPN has a strong progressive bias, ESPN has worked to attain that, and it’s inconsistent treatment of Hill and Cohn is fair game.

And all of this is why people like me don’t watch.

It’s their right to take that approach, but no one should be surprised if they’re criticized for it.

Reclaiming September 11

It’s the day after.

The storm, as it turned out, wasn’t too bad here. We lost power for about 16 hours and the roads were impassible. Some shingles, vinyl fences, and small trees didn’t make it through. That’s the extent of it.

As for me, my hands are raw, my shoulders ache, and my head’s probably a little sunburned. A lot of the members of our community are really good at putting up and taking down hurricane shutters.

Where I live is fairly affluent. But affluence doesn’t get you up and down a ladder in the dark trying to fit heavy sheets of fabric on misaligned screws and studs. It doesn’t get you up the ladder if you struggle with the stairs. And it doesn’t help you protect your place if you aren’t home to get the window covers up.

So the people who could, did. And we got through, as a community. Together.

We’ve lived here for about six weeks now. We’re still not unpacked. And because of the storm, and a fortuitous ladder purchase in late July at Lowe’s, I know my neighbors here better than I did in 17 years at the old house. Saturday night, I sat in the driveway of one of the guys I worked with and his wife and a couple of their neighbors and drank beer. The Halloween party should be fun this year.

I’m not saying this to show how great a guy I am. What I did wasn’t really special. What we did was.

We didn’t know that the storm would take juke inland at the last minute and save us the experience of a major hurricane. We knew people needed help and we could help. That’s just what you do.

I won’t forget what happened in 2001. Not ever. I won’t forget the fear, and the feeling that things were out of control and something really bad was starting. I won’t forget the anthrax and the shooter in Washington. I won’t forget the plane crash just outside New York City and the fear that it had happened again.  Those memories are chiseled into my soul.

But going forward, when I remember September 11, I’ll remember being sore and tired and a little sunburnt, and being part of a group of strangers who made it possible for people and their families to sleep a little better in the face of a huge, scary threat.

It make sound coarse, but screw the 19 monsters who reigned chaos that day. Screw everyone like them in both big ways and small.

They should not own this day, and neither should their actions. For me, at least, they won’t own it any more.

There are more of us than there are of them. And with deep, abiding respect to anyone who might disagree, that’s what this day should be all about.

On being screwed

Jim Cantore flew into Tampa International Airport the other night. My resulting Facebook page indicated, comically (I hope) that we were screwed. Jim Cantore is the weather angel of death.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning when I first saw that the path had come to the west coast the nervous laughter went away. And why not? A category-three hurricane is serious crap. There wasn’t enough time or gas to get out of town.

I didn’t do anything extreme. I kept up with what my activities at the time were, but there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But the truth is, we have hurricane shutters and our house is new construction. Close friends of mine are in older construction with no hurricane shutters.

They’re screwed.

But there’s no guarantee that their house will be severely damaged and even if it is, they have a phalanx of friends and family willing to help, in addition to the insurance, FEMA, and stuff available from our employer.

It’s the people in the shelters, the people who live on the water–they’re screwed.

Except they’re in shelters. They’re safe. They’re worried and it’s not a lot of fun to live in a fourth-grade classroom for several days. But they’re safe and most likely with their family.

The plain truth is that very few people will die in the US in storm. That means they and their families will be safe. They may take damage–maybe a lot of damage, but they’ll be safe.

We live in a comfortable time. We’re likely in good shape. And there are huge numbers of people ready and willing to help.

We aren’t screwed.

Hurricane Preparation — What I would do differently

According to ancient military wisdom, any battle plan lasts until the first engagement. We’ve planned pretty well, but this post is a link of what I think we did well, and what I would do differently. As the storm progresses, it wouldn’t surprise me to see things shift from the first list to the second list.

What we did well

  • We have hurricane protection. If I were to go back to 1999, when we moved in our house and do something differently, I’d try to find a way to include hurricane protection into the cost of the house. I can’t imagine trying to ride this out without protection. It’s worth every penny down here–the best present you can give your family, especially if you have kids.
  • We put ours up early. It was still okay Saturday, but when the breezes came up, here and there yesterday, it got a lot harder. By getting done early, we reduced our risk and put ourselves in a position to help others.
  • We adjusted well. There was no water, so we got pails and filled them. Plan B is vital.
  • We kept our heads. At various points, we thought about leaving, but our house is rated up to 140 mph. Considering the traffic on I-75 and the gas situation, it would’ve been dangerous and irresponsible for us to leave. One less car on the road, one less tankful of gasoline used.
  • We used Amazon to help prepare. Batteries, radio, flashlight–all of which we got. We were going to get food, but the delivery timeline was too long.
  • We identified one person out of the area as a conduit for information. No freaking everyone out.
  • We set expectations. We have no reliable cell service here, so if the power or Internet goes out, our landline doesn’t work. We told people that if they can’t get us, it means the power’s out. Nothing more.
  • Took pictures of our hurricane shutters installed on each window to show the insurance company, in case there was any damaged.
  • Advised people who had trouble with their shutters to call the builder’s warranty line to show a record that their shutters weren’t right.

What I would do differently

  • If we ever move into another house in Florida, the first weekend we live there, we’re going to put up the hurricane protection. Several houses in our development had ill-fitting or missing protection. Also, there’s a learning curve. But if you wait until the day before to put it up and it doesn’t work, you have no recourse.
  • We’d have prepared a little earlier. We just moved, so we didn’t have the water and the staples. We should’ve replenished earlier. We’ll be okay–I think–in terms of food and water.
  • We didn’t get extra cell charger batteries. They’re cheap and there’s no reason not to get them. If we’re out of power a long time, we’ll need the cell phone to communicate (though we’ll have to drive someplace).
  • Get box cutters to put in the upstairs bedrooms. If there’s a fire, the shutters (fabric shutters) would trap us in our rooms. That purchase will be made after the storm.

My One At Bat At Life

A friend of mind sent me this video from an Internet entrepreneur named Gary Vaynerchuk. It’s worth watching all the way through, but it’s one phrase at the end that stuck with me.

My one at bat at life.

I’ve written more baseball as life metaphors than anyone I know, but they usually take the opposite approach. Baseball is a game of repetition. There are 162 games in a season. If an average starter gets four trips to the plate per season, that’s 648 times. It’s not technically correct, but that’s about 650 at bats.

Given that many chances, what you do in any particular at bat isn’t that important, as long as you generally produce. You can face a tough pitcher and get fooled by a curveball and that’s okay most of the time, you’ll get ’em next time.

That’s what’s so important about the phrase my one at bat at life. Sometimes you don’t get 648 at bats. Sometimes you get one shot.

I’m not a huge Eminem fan, but sometime check out the lyrics to Lose Yourself. Maybe they’re a little self-serving, but they also feel accurate. Because sometimes you get one shot and you have to take it and simply refuse to be defined by others’ opinions of what you’re doing.

If you listen to Vaynerchuk, there’s a certain arrogance about him–I don’t care what other people think. I’m sure there are times when he rubs people hard the wrong way. The drive to success doesn’t give you license to be a jerk to everyone in range, but sometimes if you’re going to do the greatest good for yourself and others, you’re going to bend some feelings.

Personally, I care too much about what other people think. I’d like to not. I’ve put a long time into trying.

But maybe sometimes Yoda’s simplistic advice is best. Try no. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. I suspect the spaghetti puke in Eminem’s song is probably real. Imagine being so stressed by a situation that you puke about it. That’s hard. It’s hard–super hard–when the world seems to be aligned against you and you need to push through. It might be the hardest thing.

And it’s sure as hell not fair.

But sometimes it’s just reality.

But if you have one at bat, you have to go to the plate with an absolute drive to succeed, regardless of who the pitcher is. You’re facing Pedro Martinez or Nolan Ryan or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax (amazingly good and intimidating pitchers)–and the next guy got some September call-up who’s just lucky to be here? Tough luck. But that’s who you got.

Nolan Ryan wasn’t just scary to hit against.

It’s harsh and mean, but you have just the one at bat.

Let’s play ball, I guess.