Monday, January 27, 2014

Sherman’s NFL Fine the Right Thing (for the Wrong Reason)

              It’s disheartening to witness NFL player Richard Sherman being raked over the coals on TV, radio and in print. His offense? Being human. Most pro football fans are aware of the cornerback’s in-the-heat-of-the-moment bravado. It happened immediately after the last play of a recent game in which he played a key role. Winning that contest secured his Seattle Seahawks a slot at the Super Bowl.

              Now he’s been fined nearly $8,000 by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct. That in and of itself was not a bad thing. After all, taunting an opposing player after the game and clutching your hands to your throat in a choking gesture is well, unsportsmanlike. Problem is, it remains unclear if the NFL brass is punishing Sherman for what he did on the field or off.

              “He’s a professional and should know better,” say armchair quarterbacks. I say he’s a human being, not a robot. It’s not easy to gear up mentally and emotionally for the mayhem we call football, then at game’s end instantaneously shut down all that intensity. Remember, this isn’t arguing over the last cup of java in the office. We’re talking a vocation in which physical pain and injury (sometimes broken bones and concussions) happens with great regularity.

              In an arena where the object of the game for most latter day gladiators on the field is to hit someone, it’s unreasonable to accept physical and verbal violence on the part of the players during the game and then expect them to be humble and always say the right thing after. It’s insane. It’s also dishonest, which is part of what irks me during those player interviews.

              A lot of us forget that the young men playing this game are paid, in some cases quite well to hurl their bodies into each other. Oh, football aficionados will tell you the elements of brutality on the field are byproducts of the game, rather than its goal, and a compelling argument can be made in that regard. At the same time, it’s interesting how so many plays exhibiting the greatest carnage seem to be replayed in sports highlights and You Tube.

              For his part, Sherman appreciated the implications of his actions. According to a news report he said, “You're constantly learning and growing as a person, learning about how the world works and how what you say and do affects people and affects kids, especially. It's fun to learn new things about people, the bad, the good, and to have that open dialogue.”

              In the end, it’s hypocritical what happened to this young man after he ‘lost it’ briefly following the game. After all, minutes later when he was on camera again, he was completely composed and gushing the boring complements and canned platitudes expected from our gridiron gladiators.

              Do I condone Sherman’s conduct immediately following the game? No. Do I understand it? In the context of a 25-year-old in heated competition, yes. What’s harder to swallow were the assorted race-tinged posts and tweets Sherman received in the wake of his short on-camera rant.

              Sherman never once cursed during his tirade and had appropriately recomposed himself lightning fast. However, comments from disgruntled fans and others were less poised; they hurled bigoted insults in his direction, using the N-word, likening the ballplayer to a monkey and branding him a thug for his emotionally charged statement. Funny how our deepest regard for people who are different from us surfaces in times of high emotion or stress.

              Too bad Twitter, Facebook and the like can’t fine us when we ourselves cross the line in social media and in public.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Storms Can Bring Out the Best in People

Swing low, sweet weather pattern...
I call it PV-14. No, it’s not some video war game or a jet fighter designation. Nor is it the latest flu bug or computer anti-virus, for that matter. Polar Vortex 2014 is the bone-chilling, back-breaking, accident-inducing North Pole blast that put Michigan and a good part of the Northern U.S. in a deep freeze. We’re, quite literally, iced out. That’s good news too but we’ll get to that in a second.
               Polar Vortex. I first heard the term on the Weather Channel. Sounded kind of cool, excuse the pun. Some scientists call it a Polar Cyclone. For those who are elsewhere and unaffected by this frigid meteorological event, please refer to 2004’s “Day After Tomorrow.” That sci-fi weather catastrophe flick can help you to gain an admittedly exaggerated yet undeniably visceral appreciation of what we’re experiencing. Thank goodness I get my winter gear from LL Bean.
               From a social harmony point of view, this crazy cold climate has brought out the best in folks in my neighborhood. I’ve witnessed and even participated in random acts of kindness all along the avenue. Seems a human being’s levels of empathy, generosity and kindness spike when unexpected reversals of fortune occur. Especially when it involves weather or the environment.
A present help; can you dig it?
               What a difference a prickly weather system can make. We don’t need an attack by space aliens for us to all be on the same page, dang it. All we need is Mother Nature. Remember in 2011 when Battle Creek was pummeled by straight line winds, a tornado, or whatever weather people ended up calling it? People were giving of themselves like there was no tomorrow.
               Humans and our machines. I like to believe folks wielding their chainsaws and snow throwers with all the generosity of Santa Claus is more than a simple matter of neighbors having an excuse to show off their power tools.
               What drives an already hard working person like Kate to venture into harm’s way to dig out a friend stranded in the weather? After all, she no doubt had her own snow drama at home. How about Ron? This white-bearded fellow toiled for hours, along with others much younger in tooth, pushing vehicles out of ice-laden trouble. What compelled him to help people from their snowy mess, doing whatever it took to see car after car made its way to wherever? Shovel, elbow grease, cat litter; you name it, he provided it.
               There are others. Like Brent who insisted on loaning my mom his generator during the recent power outage. Or Mr. McNutt a few houses down. He works tirelessly each winter to clear the driveways of up to three fellow retirees not up to the task themselves. For nothing more than a thank you.
               Then there are people like my mother and late father, parents who modeled to me, my sister and others to help those in need. Why? Because you can.
Oh the weather outside is frightful...
It’s a pity other longer-term disasters, those of a social kind (poverty, hunger, homelessness, discrimination, bullying), aren’t met with the kind of urgency afforded more in-your-face emergencies. Like it or not, these social ills are equally threatening and speak to our humanity (or inhumanity) toward each other. And I’m not talking charity or check-writing. I mean rolling up your sleeves and working in the trenches.
               Still, there’s reason for hope. After all, Kate didn’t wonder if her friend could afford a tow truck, Brent didn’t ask about the color of my mom’s skin, and Ron didn’t care if those he helped were younger than him. They helped because it was the human thing to do.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Right Time is Now

Time slows for no one.
It’s 2014! Wow. Time flies. Another day, another year. It just keeps rolling by. And the older I get, looking back, the faster it seems to pass. In fact, it’s to the point where so many of the important events in my life feel like they happened too quickly. Sometimes almost in the blink of an eye. And l often lament their passing.
What probably trips me out most are the markers I put in place as a kid. They were sort of milestones; time-related signposts that, back then, seemed far-flung in the future. Yet today they are memories from my long ago past. Or that’s the way I perceive them. And I’m not sure how I feel about it all.
For instance, when I was eight, there was an outer space event I looked forward to that seemed impossibly far off, timewise. Halley’s Comet. It was scheduled to, and in fact did, arrive in 1986. It was something most folks would get to see just once in their lifetime because it only came close enough to Earth for us to see in the sky once every 76 years. As a kid, I anxiously awaited its arrival, though it seemed so far in the future.
Along the way a funny thing happened. The time for it to come came and went. On reflection, in the apparent blink of an eye. Yeah, the comet was traveling really fast through space but that’s not what I mean. During the days it was actually in our viewing skies, I remember thinking, “Dang, that was quick.”
1997's Hale-Bopp comet
Now I never actually saw that comet; it was cloudy where I lived. Besides, scientists confessed that it was not traveling as close to us as predicted, so it wouldn’t have been all that dramatic if it had been clear outside. But the point is that looking back, the apparent speed at which time passed (some 20 years) from childhood until that moment seemed fast.
It was the same sort of feeling at the turn of the century. When I was a kid, I remember thinking, “It’s such a long way off. By the year 2000, I’ll be too old to enjoy it. I’ll be over 40!”
Yet here we are 14 years after Y2K. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, but I’m no Methuselah either. In fact, I feel pretty much the same way I did that decade-and-a-half ago. Body aches and gray hairs aside. Oh and the bumps and bruises life has bestowed on me.
It’s interesting how the amount of time that’s passed seems not to have changed me in as dramatic a way as I thought it would when I was a child. Or maybe it has but I just haven’t noticed. Like the change of the seasons.
The tree in the foreground is gone, just like yesterday.
Take winter, for instance. It’s not my favorite time of the year. In fact, each August I dread its arrival, even though it’s still months away. Yet by the time the first real snowfall hits, it always feels like the most natural thing in the world. I welcome it. That is, until it’s time to clear the driveway.
Looking out the window this moment at the falling snow and watching it accumulate on the lawn and branches – it seems so right. There have been countless other snowfalls. Yet this one, right now, matters most.
So often, we look back on the past and think longingly about it. Or we look forward and anxiously await it. But I think, at least right now, it is today we should be focused on. Like they say, there’s no time like the present. This moment. This time. This place. Happy New Year.