I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

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The System

In college basketball-crazed Kentucky, being a fan of the NBA makes me something of an anomaly. Most of the time when I mention I like professional basketball, the responses will almost always be the same…

“They don’t play any defense.”

“It’s a thug league.”

“Too much one-on-one basketball.”

“I don’t have time to follow it.”

Almost all of those assumptions are untrue. Defense in the NBA is actually pretty intense on most nights. Yes, there may be some thugs, but show me any professional sport that doesn’t have its share of bad apples (I’m looking at you, NFL.). There are some isolation plays, but no more than you would see in the average college game these days. And with the internet, apps, and 24-hour sports television, a person can basically be a follower of any sport they want.

san-antonio-spursTo me, the best example of how entertaining the game of professional basketball can be is the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Spurs have not quite been the juggernaut they were in the NBA Finals last June when they were steamrolling the Miami Heat, but they do still possess the sixth-best record in the loaded Western Conference this season. But, my goodness, the Finals! I don’t know that I have ever seen a basketball team, professional or otherwise, share the ball like the Spurs did in that series. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

I had a chance to watch the Spurs play the Chicago Bulls today on ABC, and I was reminded of that series. In addition to the ball movement, though, I remembered another thing that always amazes me about the Spurs – the way they can fit nearly any player into their structure and turn him into a valuable part of the team. I’m not saying players like Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Patrick Mills aren’t talented, but would they have the kind of impact on another team that they do for the Spurs? It’s difficult for me to imagine they would.

Even though I feel like the term is overused these days, the Spurs certainly posses a “system” of some sort. Everyone seems to know their roles. They seem to get along with one another. They don’t mind taking a backseat to each other. They don’t appear to be selfish. And despite the fact that they’re getting older (by NBA player standards), they keep on winning. Whatever the system is in San Antonio, it works.

I’ve wondered for years how certain people can be total failures in one place and then go on to success somewhere else. I think maybe my bewilderment stems from never quite feeling like I fit in. Everyone has weaknesses, everyone has flaws, everyone has strengths, and everyone has areas they excel in more than others. Somewhere inside me, I’ve always felt I work better as a part of a team, drawing upon the strengths of others to make up for where I am lacking. I have been looking for a system.

There are definitely times when we are forced to stand on our own. For instance, being a writer forces you to put yourself out there in a very individual kind of way. Even outside of work-type situations, though, there is a system somewhere we’re all looking to plug into. It may be a lifestyle regiment to bolster us. It may be a support network of friends. It may be a regular routine of giving. Whatever it may be, it involves accentuating strengths and reducing weaknesses. It reduces selfishness. Most of all, though, it wins.

I haven’t found my system yet. I’ve caught little glimpses of here it here and there, but it never seems to last. I either break it down myself or someone or something else does along the way. When I see a system working, though, it gives me hope that the right one is out there for me somewhere. It may take me a while longer yet to discover. Even the Spurs weren’t always the way they are now, and they don’t win a championship every year. A system that works, though, is a winner every time, if you ask me.

Epilogue

I like books. I don’t mean I just like reading books. I mean I like books. It just feels wrong to me to read a book off of a computer screen. I like to turn the pages. I like to feel it in my hands. I like to find some odd piece of scrap paper or some random bookmark to hold my place until I can start reading again. I like to see books sitting on my bookshelf, whether I actually read them or not.

Because of this, I love to randomly cruise bookstores. I hardly ever buy anything. It’s odd. I can watch a movie multiple times and not get tired of it, but once I finish a book, well, I’ve finished it. I don’t pick it up and read it again. Nevertheless, I still like to rummage through bookstores, and occasionally I will actually spend a little money on something to read.

beyond beliefOne of my purchases last year was Josh Hamilton’s autobiography Beyond Belief. The book had been out for several years, so I was able to snag it cheap at the local Books-A-Million. Hamilton was still a member of the Texas Rangers when the book was published, before he signed a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012. I had a little money with me and had always wanted to read it, so I bought the paperback edition.

By now, even non-baseball fans know Hamilton’s story of being a five-tool prospect to bottomed-out drug and alcohol addict who was booted out of baseball completely to born-again Christian who rose from the ashes of his own story to return to the major leagues and become a star player. It is a truly inspiring story, a light of hope for anyone who has ever sank to the depths of addiction and wondered if they could ever recover again.

On the left side of the book’s cover, there is a small, red circle. Typed in white letters are the words “Includes a New Chapter Updating Josh’s Journey.” This update comes in the form of an epilogue added to the end of the book. In the epilogue, Hamilton and his wife, Katie, recount his 2009 relapse, during which he was photographed shirtless in an Arizona bar with several women.

Unfortunately, the events described in that epilogue would not represent the last time Hamilton would relapse. Major League Baseball officials are currently debating whether or not to suspend Hamilton for admitting to abusing alcohol and cocaine this past February. At issue is whether the incident constitutes a violation of the drug treatment Hamilton was required to be a part of to be reinstated to baseball in 2006. He could be facing up to a year’s suspension from the game.

We Christians love heroes. We love to celebrate stories of recovery, and we love to push those who have those stories out in front of the crowd. When one of them falls, the public fallout can be vicious. Christians and non-Christians get angry. At the heart of their anger is this: That person claimed to be one thing and turned out to be another.

Obviously, Hamilton’s latest relapse is a stark reminder to Christians everywhere that no one is above a fall from grace. It is also a reminder of why people become Christians in the first place. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to stumble from time to time. Sometimes we may not even be stumbling; we may just want to leave the narrow way for a while. Whatever the case may be, we are not going to be perfect.

A greater issue to me, though, is the point I mentioned earlier about the image Christians attach today to their heroes. Barnabas Piper wrote the following words in article for WORLD Magazine:

Christians often try too hard to find heroes. There is a distinct difference between appreciating someone’s story of redemption and making them a poster boy of faith. In doing so we put the emphasis on their lives and their works, and take it off of God’s grace. Grace is the differentiating characteristic between Christianity and every other religion, and when we downplay it we actually lose our witness. So how do we respond when one of our heroes relapses? We see ourselves in it and recognize the universal, deep need for God’s grace. This is what sets us apart and it’s what Josh Hamilton (and you) need now.

I remember talking with a friend once about this particular issue. I told him I thought it was interesting that all of the Christian testimonies I hear are from people who have totally overcome their issues. Wouldn’t it be odd, I asked, to hear a speaker say that they were still struggling with sin? No one would want to hear that, even though it would be totally identifiable for scores of people. People forget that Josh Hamilton had to be accompanied by a handler everywhere he went, couldn’t have cash on him, and had to submit to weekly urine tests to keep his job. It’s not like he was an addict and walked away scot-free. That seemed to be how we all wanted to view him, though.

There could always be an epilogue to anyone’s inspiring story. King David did a lot of wonderful things … then he saw a woman bathing on her roof. Noah was the only righteous man on Earth … then he got drunk. Hamilton’s story continued after the epilogue. Everyone’s does, even if they fall a thousand more times. Whatever Hamilton’s ultimate punishment may be, the grace that saved him will always be there. Just like it is for the rest of us.

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

Super Weird, Part 1

(As I’m writing this, I’m at home with either the flu or strep throat. Tests for both came back negative at the doctor’s office yesterday, and I’m currently on medication for both. I don’t think I’ve been this sick in a long time. I meant to have this up yesterday, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. So no “Tuneful Tuesday” today. Just pretend it’s Monday with me.)

I used to write every now and then on the blog I maintained before this one about how I had basically given up on watching the Super Bowl. The main reason for this was because I just don’t like watching football very much. The game is too slow, I don’t get the rules half the time, and I hate the way people in America are utterly obsessed with watching it all the time. The secondary reason is that people just sort of stopped inviting me to Super Bowl parties, which were really the only way I saw any of the games at all. Perhaps they figured out my main reason. Hmmm…

This year, however, a good friend and co-worker invited me over to his house to watch the Super Bowl, so I thought I would give it another shot. I am no fan whatsoever of the New England Patriots, but I did appreciate the Seattle Seahawks taking down Peyton Manning last year, so deciding which team to root for was a fairly easy choice to make. Maybe one day, I’ll explain the dislike I expressed in that last sentence, but that’s probably another post for another time.

By now, primitive tribes in the deepest heart of Africa probably know how the game ended, but just in case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: Seattle has the ball on the 1-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game and decides to run a pass play, despite having three downs to get the ball into the end zone and Marshawn Lynch, one of the most feared running backs in the NFL, in their backfield. Patriots intercept the pass, massive brawl breaks out on the next play, Patriots get to move the ball out of the end zone, take a knee, game over.

I may have mentioned a dislike for Peyton Manning earlier, but I’ll give the guy credit for one thing: He controls his pete carrollown game. Why in the world Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t audible out of that play the second it was called in to him is beyond me. Since he didn’t, though, that only leaves one person to blame – Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about professional sports is the almost insanely high confidence level of the people who coach and play them. Did Carroll back down from the call he made at all? Nope. Not in the least. “We had a terrific call, but it didn’t work out,” he told a reporter after the game. The man actually used the word terrific. Even if I did not regret my decision one iota in that instance, I would never, ever use the word terrificTerrific calls win games. No, Coach, this was not terrific.

As I was driving home from my friend’s house, I began thinking about how I would respond to making a bad play call like that, one so completely wrong that it cost my team the goal it had been working toward the entire season. My conclusion didn’t take much thinking, because I know myself; I would still be on television, radio, the internet, whatever, apologizing to anyone who would listen to me and self-flagellating myself to an endless degree. I don’t know if I could call another play again. I might just leave football altogether.

Yet, there was Carroll, a man who has won a collegiate national championship and a Super Bowl, talking about his “terrific” play call immediately after his team lost the big game. Where does that confidence come from? Is it born out of a complete aversion to reality, or is it the makeup of someone who is completely comfortable in their own skin and able to live with their own decisions? I grew up believing that type of confidence was pure arrogance and should be avoided at all costs, and in many instances it is and it should be. There is a definite elasticity to it, though, which allows people to shake off their mistakes and move on to whatever happens next.

Before anyone thinks I’ve lost my mind, I’m not advocating that we all try to be more like Pete Carroll, because most of the time I think the guy is a pompous jerk. What I am saying is, we could probably all stand to go a little easier on ourselves and not wreck ourselves over every mistake we make. Yes, professional athletes and coaches sometimes display irrationally high levels of confidence, but they’re able to move on to the next play, the next possession, the next game. I guess, in a weird way, I do want to be more like Pete Carroll.

Tomorrow, Part II: Commercials!

My Basketball Diary (Go Get It)

NCAA Basketball:  MAR 11  Cal Poly at Long Beach StateIt seems as if a large majority of my life these days is revolving around basketball. My two oldest daughters are playing for a local private Christian school and practicing three nights a week (unless one of those nights is a game night, in which case they are, obviously, playing a game), and my oldest son just started playing his first season of Upward Basketball, which consists of one night of practice a week and one game every Saturday. These two factors combined mean our family could potentially be involved in some type of basketball-related activity five days a week, every week.

The irony of this is that, at one point in my life, basketball nearly destroyed me. The elementary school and little league years were enjoyable enough, but pretty much from the seventh grade on it was a near torturous experience every year. Just so I don’t have to recount the whole saga again, just go read this earlier post. I was (and still am) severely apprehensive about letting my children play any type of sports, mainly from the fear they will have an experience similar to mine.

I feel so foolish for still flashing back to those days and letting them having any type of hold over me, but all this basketball lately has caused me to dredge them up again. This time, though, instead of feeling silly for recalling them, I’ve begun to see that they really do still have a hold on me. This isn’t some tale of an old guy lamenting his lack of glory days as a jock, though. This is the story of how perceptions formed as a teenager or adolescent can follow someone into their adult life and cause them all kinds of problems along the way.

My oldest daughter, in my opinion, has the potential to be a very good basketball player. She has a good skill set, a rapidly developing shot, decent speed, and enough size to get by. The only thing I’ve seen that is holding her back right now is she is not aggressive enough. Some people might even say she’s not mean enough. She doesn’t look for her own shot. She prefers to pass off to the older, more experienced players. She shies away from physical contact, which limits her on defense and rebounding. I feel as if she is right on the cusp of becoming someone who could get more minutes on the floor, if she only assert herself a little more.

I am absolutely terrified to tell her this, though.

Why would a father be afraid to dispense some potentially helpful advice like this on to his child? Because that is the same thing he was told when he played – over and over and over again. I cannot recall how many times I was told I did not want “it” bad enough. “It” could mean a number of different things back then. “It” could mean more playing time. “It” could mean a rebound or a loose ball. “It” could mean simply that my attitude didn’t seem up to par that day. “It” basically became everything I couldn’t – or, in the eyes of my coaches, wouldn’t – accomplish.

Now, I am not going to lie and say I have never missed out an opportunity because I didn’t try hard enough. preview_minEveryone has had to learn that life lesson at one point or another. What I heard from all those admonishments from coaches, however, eventually translated into this for me: You do not have it in you to accomplish what you want. I never realized until recently how I took this line and ran with it. I’ve backed away from opportunities for years, always thinking the reason I missed out was because I just didn’t want “it” bad enough. In reality, though, I was simply going along with what I was told; I didn’t have it in me to succeed. I wasn’t aggressive enough or talented enough to achieve anything.

As a result, I’ve lived a life of “almost” successes. I’ve been pretty good at a lot of things, but never great at any of them, mainly because I never believed I could be anything above average. Most days, I still feel that way. How, then, can I look at one of my kids and tell them, “You’re pretty talented, but you just need to try harder”? Sometimes that’s necessary, but not when they are giving something all they’ve got, like my daughter is doing with basketball right now. She needs to have a chance to figure this out on her own, not be endlessly told how she’s “just not getting it.” Because if you’re told that long enough, you start believing it.

Do I “get it” today? I don’t know. Most days, I don’t feel as if I’m trying hard enough, that the majority of my failures come from a basic flaw in my personality that can’t be overcome. I don’t believe I have what it takes to succeed. I have let a decades-old opinion of me dominate a large majority of my life. Can I break that pattern now?

Depends on how bad I want it, I guess.

Burying The Hatchet

Four years ago, thank to Dan Gilbert and LeBron James, we all found out what Comic Sans font looked like.

dan-gilbert-letter1-e1278686140652-550x275Shortly after “The Decision” was made by James to leave the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to go the Miami Heat via free agency, Gilbert fired off one of the most bizarre hissy-fit letters in the history of , well, ever. Typed in Comic Sans font, Gilbert’s post-Decision tirade included ill-placed quotation marks, plenty of words in all caps, and a heavy dose of vitriol aimed squarely at King James himself. Oh, and it also included a guarantee from Gilbert that the Cavs would win a title before any team with LeBron ever would.

As ridiculous as even the mere existence of such a letter sounds, up until two days ago it was still posted on the Cavs’ official team website. To put that into perspective, James has won two titles with the Heat since that letter appeared on the internet, and he went to the NBA Finals the other two years. Cleveland, meanwhile, has had a lot of success in the NBA Draft Lottery, which is a nice way of saying their record has sucked every year since LeBron skipped town.

What apparently was enough to take the letter off the website, though, might have been even more unthinkable to me: LeBron James may actually be thinking of returning to Cleveland as a free agent. I know James is from Ohio. I know there is a certain allure to “coming home.” I know the Cavaliers could throw a lot of money his way.

But … Comic Sans, man!

A grudge is a difficult thing to let go, as evidenced by the fact Gilbert’s letter was only taken down this week. I couldn’t imagine David-Lee-Roth-Eddie-Van-Halengoing back to work for a man who publicly called me a traitor just hours after I left his team. I also wasn’t able to imagine the Van Halen brothers ever playing with David Lee Roth again. Or Hillary Clinton agreeing to serve as Barack Obama’s secretary of state after a fairly brutal campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

If James returns to Cleveland, though, all these things will have happened. Personally, I don’t get it. I always thought you were supposed to get as far away from the people who hurt you as possible. If someone wronged you, you didn’t go back to them. I’m still holding grudges that are years and years old, not out of spite but for protection. Been there, done that, ain’t gonna happen again…

That philosophy would be all well and good if not for this: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This may be Old Testament scripture, but it lines up perfectly with New Testament theology. Vengeance isn’t mine. I was forgiven much, so I should be just as ready to forgive much. There may be wonderful opportunities locked away in some of those old grudges. The only thing keeping them there is, well, me.

Still don’t know if I could get past the Comic Sans, though. Some fonts are just too much to overcome, you know?

Need For Speed

Every writer worth his or her salt is always on the lookout for the perfect metaphor. You know, something along the lines of “Life is like a box of chocolates…” … which is actually a simile … which might explain why I haven’t too many writing jobs lately.

Anyway, whether I’m a decent writer or not, my mind always seems to think in terms of comparisons or symbolism. I don’t 891571_10152688604630217_856290955_oconsider myself to be an expert cyclist by any means, but I like to get out and ride my bike whenever I can. Aside from the obvious health benefits, cycling provides many challenges that can reflect how we are forced to deal with the trials of life. Endurance, preparation, will power, and, of course, speed.

I don’t mean speed in the sense of how rapidly we can complete tasks (although that could certainly be applied as well). Perhaps a better word would be momentum. Here’s an example: This weekend, I was coming up on a semi-steep hill I had ridden up before, so I knew roughly the amount of speed I would need to get up it. As I started up the incline, I suddenly realized, “Crap, I’m not going fast enough.”

Whenever I’m out cycling and this revelation hits me, my immediate reaction is one of despair and self-condemnation. “I should have hit it faster,” I think to myself. “Now I’ll have to work even harder to reach the top.” Then the options go through my mind: I can either give up and walk the bike up the hill; I can turn around and go back the way I came; or I can push through it and pedal my way up the hill.

Option number one always feels like a cop-out to me, like I somehow wimped out and the ride is a failure. Option number two usually doesn’t make much sense, mainly because there are just as many hills to climb to go back as there are to continue forward. That pretty much only leaves the third option, and even though I know going into it I’m not prepared like I should be, I somehow always seem to make it up the hill.

I’m sitting here tonight thinking of all the different hills I’m facing, and I don’t feel like I have enough momentum to get up any of them. I didn’t build up enough speed, and now I’m not sure I can keep going. And even if do manage to keep going, I’m going to be slogging along, taking longer than I meant to and having to work extra hard to make up the slack. I know, though, that if I keep pedaling, I will eventually make it to the top. I know because I’ve done it before.

Tony-Hawk-01I was reading recently about skateboarding guru Tony Hawk’s vicious injury in 2010 that left him with a broken pelvis. As expected, he said his main mistake was that he hadn’t built up enough speed to pull off the trick he was attempting. In addition to the devastating physical effects of the injury, Hawk said he was left with a lack of confidence and trust in himself. He described how it was a while before he could skate at the level he was before the injury occurred.

So even the pros sometimes don’t have the momentum they need. Even if they crash and burn, though, they can come back like a … like a … eh, well, I’m still working on that simile/metaphor/comparison thingy.

Reclaiming The Beauty

rick reillyDamn you, Rick Reilly.

First of all, you made me curse, which is something I’ve been trying to cut back on. You did it, though. You unsettled me enough with your farewell column that those were the first words I thought of. Second, why did you have to go there? Why did you have to write about how sports can make you a better person and can inspire you and can create families for those who don’t have them?

And, third, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.

Jocks aren’t going to like this post. My old coaches and guys I played with probably won’t enjoy it, either. Heck, I don’t even want to write it. But Rick Reilly made me do it, with his stories about father-figure coaches, teammates who supported disabled teammates, and athletes who cared enough about a disabled fan to drive him back and forth from games. He painted a picture of sports as a place where beauty could exist, where miracles could happen, where people could rise to the occasion not just as athletes but also as human beings.

That was not my experience with sports.

One of my earliest sports memories is from a little league baseball game. I was small and timid, and my coach pulled me aside before one of my at-bats and told me not to swing. I was short and had a small strike zone, he said, so I would have a good chance of drawing a walk. I can see how in an adult mind this strategy would make sense, but I was a kid; I wanted to swing the bat, to prove I could get a hit. He was adamant, though: Do … not … swing.

Translation? There’s no way you’re good enough to get a hit, so pray they walk you.

I became a decent baseball player in the years after that, and I was actually a pretty good pitcher until I overused my arm and basically burned it out. I also played basketball and ran track for a couple of years in middle school. My downfall in track was simple: I wasn’t fast enough to outrun anyone. This kind of failure was fairly easy to take, mainly because I didn’t like running all that much anyway because of my flat feet. Giving it up was a simple decision.

From the seventh grade on, though, basketball was a form of pure torture for me. I loved the sport, and I still do, but it nearly drove me insane before I eventually decided to stop playing in the tenth grade. Some players thrive on coaches riding them; I wasn’t one of them. I was always skinny, and no amount of time in the weight room ever seemed to change that. I wasn’t aggressive enough, I was told over and over again. I had an assistant coach was decided to call me “Cheryl” for an entire year. I guess they were trying to toughen me up. All they did was break me down.

I remember in the eighth grade running this ridiculous drill that was basically a free-for-all to try to get the ball. Ever hear of a DDT,jake the snake the wrestling move made famous by Jake “The Snake” Roberts? Another kid did one on me, driving my head into the gym floor. In high school, an upperclassman elbowed me on the bridge of my nose, cracking the bone. My nerves were shot, and my stomach was upset constantly. I was embarrassed at who I was.

As I said, I quit basketball after my sophomore year of high school, and not making the baseball team my freshman and sophomore years effectively concluded my adolescent athletic career. Looking back, I wish I had quit everything sooner and been in the band. Somewhere, though, that kid who was told not to swing was still inside me, and he desperately wanted to prove he could get that hit. But he never did.

I’ve always known how that anger carried over into my sporting life since those days. I don’t know how many tennis rackets I’ve destroyed in frustration through the years. I actually had to apologize to my wife before we were married after she attended a basketball scrimmage I was taking part in because I was so inconsolable about my performance that I wouldn’t even talk to anyone afterward. In those moments, it’s always the same: You ought to be better than this. You’re letting everyone down. They’re all mad at you. Look at how well everyone else is doing. You’re going to lose … again.

What I didn’t realize, though, is how my past had colored how I view sports in general. In my eyes, no one in sports is a good guy. The ones who appear to be must be hiding something, or they must have sacrificed their families to get where they are. Every college coach is cheating, every professional athlete is greedy and disingenuous. If the team I want to win is losing, I get angry, and if they’re winning, I almost can’t stand to watch because I’m afraid they’re going to blow it. I hate arrogant and cocky players like Kobe Bryant, and I want them to lose so badly it hurts.

So, no, Rick, sports did not exactly better my life.

Upward Basketball LogoSomething started to change in me about two years ago, though, when my oldest daughter started playing Upward Basketball. She smiled when she played. She didn’t beat herself up for mistakes. She seemed to genuinely love what she was doing. “How can this be?” I thought. She challenged the bitterness I had built up inside me. Then I watched the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA title over the Miami Heat last week, and I had the same sort of feeling. They played together. They weren’t selfish. They were beautiful to watch. “How can this be?”

And then, Mr. Reilly, I opened up a link to your column this morning, and I felt myself fighting back the tears, just like you probably did when Sox Walseth put his hand on your shoulder all those years ago. I saw how sports were supposed to be, and I lamented the fact that it wasn’t like that for me. Then I realized I had to put those events of my life behind me, just like you had to put the bad man you were behind you to become a great sports writer and, more importantly, a better man. “Never let anyone tell you sports doesn’t matter,” you wrote, and I realized it had mattered to me all this time … for all the wrong reasons. And I also realized it wasn’t too late to forgive, forget, and reclaim what I had lost.

Damn you, Rick Reilly.