What’s American Anyways?

In the past week, we saw the resurrection and death of another GOP healthcare bill, as well as massive failures across the board for the Trump administration in terms of focus and constructive action.

One obvious example of the discord is yet another social media war launched by the President, with tweets railing against the NFL. The rising political consciousness of athletes has been  assailed since former quarterback Colin Kaepernick  began a peaceful on-field protest a year ago. Some of the loftier discussions involve definitions of what constitutes patriotism. The Trumpbots advocate blind allegiance to tradition, with minimal consideration of different sociopolitical experiences of our country. Others view Kapernick’s kneeling as an expression of First Amendment rights designed to advocate change.

What does it mean to be American? The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and the public and the office of President have been tested to back up their patriotism – with trial by fire, rain and torrential winds. Hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters have recently devastated states, territories, and communities.

Trump and his America have failed to be inclusive in their support of crisis operations. In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Texas is slowly on the path to recovery and the Florida Keys are opening up next week for tourism, despite 25 percent of homes being destroyed. News of progress has been muted, eclipsed by other trending topics, including the devastation of non-mainland American territories.

Texas and Florida have electricity and supplies. Puerto Rico does not. It took nearly a whole week for public outcry to turn into a collective roar, demanding that Donald Trump and his administration take action, rather than ignore the increased degradation of daily life for Puerto Ricans.

I’m sure your social media, news feeds and offline conversations have been filled with both NFL news and hurricane updates. But we need more media clarity regarding exactly who is being most negatively affected by the indifference: those whose skin tone is not found on the same color swatch as Mr. Trump (although in fairness, there aren’t many orange people).

It’s no secret that America has a race and “othering” problem. This administration is attacking sexual assault victims, non-christian religions, and pre-emptively filing waivers for the Jones Act in areas that support Trump and house his default residence.  Meanwhile, leadership held off on filing for a ravaged area full of brown people.

It’s time to hold authorities responsible and accountable for their lethal biases. People are dying from inaction and insufficient support. To be American isn’t a complexion, blind obedience to a ritual or speaking Midwestern English. Americanism used to mean welcoming and protecting freedoms, taking care of our citizens in times of crisis. It’s a shame that the occupant of the nation’s highest office needs constant reminders.

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‘Liberal’ Media Equally Unbalanced On Hillary’s Pneumonia

clinton007

“There were no surprises regarding the non-stop Sunday coverage from cable news networks. Of course, the lead story throughout the day should have been the landmark 15-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with a smattering of reporting on the NFL’s first weekend games of the season. But when one of our two presidential candidates faints in public, we expect media hysteria. Those 24-hour news networks have a lot of airtime to fill and not much appetite for critical thinking or investigation.

However, this story more than any other has turned America’s mass market journalism upside down. Because I find myself fuming at three liberal, female media personalities who happen to be personal heroes. Meanwhile, I’m in complete agreement with Lanny Davis of Fox News. What a country.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Are You Ready for Some Football Wrigleyville Nation? Probably Not

Cubs

“This season has been an emotional roller coaster. Wrigleyville Nation hasn’t been able to look away for a minute. And with the Cubs’ back to being the best team in baseball, with certain playoff odds (Don’t take my word – as of this morning, Baseball Prospectus lists them at 100 percent), I have little energy or enthusiasm for a fantasy draft. How we can we possibly think of football at a time like this?!

Obviously this post is written with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek, but just a little. My NFL fantasy league draft is set for September 4 and I have to give the commitment some real thought. In years prior, I welcomed gridiron distractions from lackluster baseball seasons, but this is the dawn of a new era. If the baseball gods smile fortunately upon the North Side of Chicago, we’ll be watching Cubs action through October – eight full weeks past the NFL kickoff. What’s a sports fan with only so much emotional bandwidth to do?”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

3 Reasons Super Bowl 50 Might Be My Last

3 Reasons Super Bowl 50 Might Be My Last

Next week Sunday evening, the Carolina Panthers and star young quarterback Cam Newton will face off against veteran Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl 50 at Levi Stadium is being touted as the “Father Time vs. The Fountain of Youth” matchup, and rightfully so. Only New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady can rival future Hall of Famer Manning for the title of generational greatest. And Newton? Well he’s 26 years old and already the best of what remains should Manning and Brady finally decide to hang up their cleats. Barring major injury (unfortunately always a prospect in the NFL), we should be talking about him for a long time.

I’m deeply interested in this game. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Peyton Manning as an athlete and competitor, and I’ll also admit I’ve enjoyed his humorous turns in a variety of ad campaigns. He’s far looser, with better comedic timing than his wooden and unfathomably two-ringed younger brother Eli (another rant for another time). This may well be his final season and it would be awfully sweet to see him go out a champion. Also, suck it Colts.

As for Cam Newton, he’s at the top of his game and a possible 2016 MVP candidate. It’s fun to watch a guy who just won the Heisman Trophy five years ago dominate the sport. The fact that he’s also extraordinarily good looking has nothing to do with my affinity (lies).

But you know what? Other than perhaps the first three contests of the 2015-2016 Bears season, Super Bowl 50 might be the ONLY game I’ve given a shit about in awhile. Yes, the former Monsters of the Midway went a pathetic 0-3 and never improved much. Sure my fantasy team comfortably finished in last place. And I admit I was out of my survival pool by Week 5. I miserably own all of these misfortunes, but I’d be lying if I claimed they weren’t the year-over-year norm.

No, for three colossal reasons, I’ve just found it hard to care much about this season. My love of sports and competition springs eternal, but National Football League, if you’re listening? I’m over it. Notwithstanding welcome and overdue news of Buffalo’s hiring Kathryn Smith, breaking the glass ceiling as the league’s first female assistant head coach, I’m just not that into you anymore.

Here’s why.

The absurd greed.

The NFL has finally begun paying taxes, but corporate whore Roger Goodell and his machine generate over $10 billion in revenue for football. It’s a business, and this fact permeates seemingly everything the Ginger Hammer decrees (thanks Drew Magary!).

  • The decision to depart from Roman numeral 50 for the coming Super Bowl, and the fact that this story about the merchandising theory behind it ran on CNN Money.
  • The strong but struggling Midwestern city of St. Louis delivered a huge blow with the Rams’ pending relocation to Los Angeles, California. Despite valiant efforts by city leaders to make staying in place an attractive deal for the team, shitbag CEO Stan Kroenke trashed the Lou, and per Sports Illustrated, “the NFL and its ownership followed the money.”
  • And as a female fan weary of the league’s blatant, rampant misogyny (see #3 below), I can’t even deal with it’s misappropriation of the breast cancer awareness pink ribbon without actually raising funds for research.

The long-term injuries

It’s true that the NFL agreed to a $1 billion concussion settlement with thousands of former players, stemming from the brutal sport’s catastrophic injury record. It’s also true that there is serious doubt about whether this amount can ever be enough to reimburse a steady stream of former athletes for their medical bills and ruined lives. Just this month, former Steelers star Antwaan Randle El opened up about his struggles with memory loss and balance. He’s a mere 36 years-old and was never seriously impaired during his playing days. Yet he says, “I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids.”

This is a tragedy and there are too many human stories like it. A fellow writer and friend recently observed, “I said in a blog post once that I wonder if, in the future, our support for the game will be seen as barbarian.”

It’s getting tough not to feel barbaric for continued support of a system that allows an unacceptable number of men to commit suicide as pain relief.

The chauvinism

I wish I had a stronger word for this last one, but I already used “misogyny” and I don’t like to be linguistically repetitive. Ray Rice and thousands more overpaid, entitled, criminal cases like it – spoken and perhaps just as often, hushed. The New York Times titles the sport’s unchecked – and frequently unpunished – violence against women,”a quandary.” Once again the nomenclature seems feebly understated.

The Super Bowl is a national event and millions are looking forward to a Patriots-free contest, while relishing the commercials and spectacular half time show. Including me. But it feels different in 2016, much more bittersweet. I don’t know how if my engagement can survive the offseason into the fall. The NFL is going to have to do some work over the next six months to demonstrate less cynicism. The lack of currency involved may not matter to Roger Goodell and the league, but continuing to ignore fact is bad business for my moral conscience.

Penalties, Dynasties and Benched QBs: Inside the NFL

NFL

“I don’t think I’m alone in finding this NFL season rather surprisingly, terribly, excruciatingly boring. Maybe we lost interest before it started. Back in early May, the draft broadcast ratings were down 25 percent year over year. The Bears are not in contention, and my fantasy team is a hot steaming mess, but that’s the annual state of things. I still manage to have fun. But I’m not this year.”

Click here to read the full article on the Contemptor website.

 

Are We Still Ready for Some Football (October 9, 2014)

It happens each time I pull out my Chicago Cubs-branded debit card to pay for a transaction, especially if traveling somewhere outside of Illinois. The look of disgust, a glance of pity, perhaps even an outright laugh from the bolder amongst them. I’ve come to regret having ordered the damned thing from Bank of America in headier, more optimistic days.

As any member of Cubs Nation well knows, ours is a long-suffering lot. It was 2008 the last time the Cubbies made the playoffs, 2003 when we came close to the World Series (still so painful to recall) and 1945 the last time we actually appeared. And with the recent conclusion of the 2014 season, it has now been 106 years, longer than anyone living could possibly recall, since the Cubs won the World Series. As a child growing up in the 1980s, the whole “Lovable Losers” thing was all in good fun. But that’s also when bleacher tickets cost $10, and youth permitted indulgence of the “Wait ‘Til Next Year” fantasy shared by fans.

Many broken hearts, one upwardly mobile corporate takeover of the Friendly Confines and an elimination of David Berg hot dogs from the concession stand later, I found myself in search of a new fix for sports cravings. It wasn’t just the Cubs latest post-season embarrassment that broke me in the fall of 2008. It was years of corrupt performance enhancing cover-ups, the mid-90s strike which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, etc. Baseball felt used up and broken.

I started paying closer attention to the NFL during the 2006-7 season, the last time the Chicago Bears made a trip to the Super Bowl. True we were humiliated in epic fashion by Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, but at least we were there! And of course many native Chicagoans of my generation are still huffing the contrails left by the glorious 1985 Monsters of the Midway. Some denizens of this fine city may never recover from the pinnacle of the Ditka/Ryan era. ‘Da Coach, a near Illinois Senatorial candidate in 2004, remains a Christlike figure wherever he travels across the state.

Bear fever aside, I wasn’t sure football could hold my attention. To begin, the game is insanely complicated. My track record for staying engaged in activities I don’t understand is rather spotty. I’ve been a devoted Sunday disciple for eight years and I still only comprehend 60 percent of what takes place on the field – on the best day. But the good news is I learned that I really don’t mind. The promise of future expertise gives me an ideal for which to strive.

Secondly, I can’t see the players’ faces during the action. This may seem like a bizarre reason for avoiding a sport, but as a writer, critic, former youth stage actress and singer, emoting is an important part of any experience. I need to feel it. My favorite childhood baseball moments: former Coach Don Zimmer kicking dirt at umpires while yelling his face off, the usually calm and professional outfielder Andre Dawson tossing equipment onto the field from the dugout after being unjustly ejected from the game, Ricky Henderson’s not-so-humble “I am the greatest!” proclamation.

For me, baseball was all about the passion, the commitment..until it wasn’t. Though the sport is trying desperately to recover from two decades of fake records created by cynical, juicing bastards, it may have forever forfeited its special status as “America’s favorite past time.” And as I grew up, it became clear that Cubs ownership knew it was sitting on top of a sellout goldmine, so why spend money on trying to win? Schedule a game at the Wrigley Field, one of Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions, and they will come. Not exactly a great way to treat loyal fans left pining for competitive respectability.

At this point some of you may be thinking to yourselves: “Way to jump from the money grubbing frying pan to the fire Becky! The last time I checked the NFL was hardly a nonprofit operation, and they have plenty of violent, scandalous and cynical troubles of their own.” All true. I shall not disagree. My point is this. The 2014-15 NFL season is starting to look an awful lot like the MLB of the early aughts: a gut check moment of internal assessment and criminal player purging, leaving many a loyal fan wondering if all the concussions, abused women and children, bullying and weapons violations are worth it.

I can’t stand the Ginger Hammer of bald-faced moneymaking, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s a huge part of the league’s current PR problem. Similar to the follies of the MLB, he’s been willing to look the other way at a laundry list of disgusting behavior until fans and the media alike were brought to attention by a disturbing video of Ray Rice punching out this then fiancée. But dollars decide and as long as Goodell continues proliferating them for league owners, he’ll remain in charge.

Rehabilitation of the NFL’s image is not off to a smooth start, but if the league wants to avoid the fate of previous favorite American sport, baseball, this season’s high ratings suggest there’s still time. We await your next move Ginge.

Not Sari (October 5, 2014)

I was in the middle of managing an NFL Sunday iPad media center when I came across the news item. The 21st Century’s answer to the society pages, Facebook, unveiled the conclusion to a suspenseful mystery I wasn’t necessarily looking to solve. For a split second, time and reality were suspended. I broke out in a flush and gave in to the stomach drop, the momentary equilibrium imbalance.

I suppose that the acceptance of an event as inevitable is not quite the same as being prepared for it when it actually arrives. As I started to reclaim my bearings, I admitted I’d been nursing a delusion that I was unforgettable. There might be a second act but it would never be the same. Staring at the photographic evidence, I realized I’d been right in ways unimagined. Whatever else it is, it’s more than cultural expediency. There’s an ease and confidence we never had.

I’m trying on some new ideas in 2014. One is a world in shades of gray as opposed to the black/white, right/wrong, good/evil conceits that long served as a ready, but terribly flawed approach to categorizing human decisions and behavior. Including my own.

The second concept I’m engaging is that accepting tumult and working through it organically causes a lot less longterm damage than pretending, of trying to enforce arbitrary logic. Soldiering through like a drone until reality catches up and the inevitable breakdown ensues is the sad, tired narrative arc of a repetitive emotional story. Finally seeing that strategy as the loser it is created some fear. I have to be OK with not feeling the “right” things, perhaps even laying down and rolling around in the ugliest ones for longer than feels morally comfortable.

But a little experience in staying still and letting the storm blow through, as opposed to running futilely away from the inevitable, has proven a painfully reliable precursor to recovery. So I took the album out and showed it to all the people who’d been asking for three years or longer to see it.

I told the stories that go with the pictures over and over again, and didn’t try to tidy observances that I looked unhappy, lonely and lost. I didn’t wear the shame of secrets and untruths surrounding those days, and refused to cringe from a highlight reel of denial. We all did the best we could with what we had at the time. It was a tour de force effort in trying to fit mismatched pieces. That was what we needed to do then. There was also genuine love.

I opened the suitcase and consulted someone with experience in this sort of thing. It’s time to unwrap, to quite literally unload the remaining baggage. Those colors were never mine and I’ve stopped letting people dress me. But as I smelled the uncased scents of the past, I had to own that I was more than willing to serve as mannequin, a tabula rasa, and a good deal of my previous resentment was unjustified. How I expected people to know what I’d want and fight for it under pressure, when I was clearly unable to articulate and defend those needs. It was too much to ask.

It’s a fuller, more hurtful and dizzying view when I look at the world in 360 degrees. But when the spinning stops, its easier to shake off the vertigo and notice other opportunities. To see a different path that I couldn’t before, one that’s crooked and unconventional, but apparently the right road for this journey.

Two weeks of funnel clouds and the storm receded. Things are as they should be, as they must always have been. The next time we meet could be the last. With no regret, snark or ill-will, and as briefly as possible, genuine good wishes. Then keep moving.