Wednesday, April 30, 2014


About a decade ago, my brother happened upon a bike that was locked to a tree. This in and of itself is nothing all that noteworthy. It happens all the time on campus where he was attending school, even though there are bicycle racks available. Some people just go for the trees. Whatever, it’s not really hurting anyone.

But this one was different. Instead of chaining the bike to one of the tall Georgia Pines that populate the campus, this student had chosen to lock his bike up at what can best be described as a slightly larger Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It wouldn’t have necessarily been easy to get the bike unchained from the tree, but it wouldn’t have been difficult either. All someone would have to do is lift the bike up to their shoulders and they could have easily walked away with the bike if they wanted it.

Had my brother just told us the story, it would have been an amusing story from his time in college. But luckily for us, he had his phone with him and was able to take a picture. Granted, this was 2004ish and phones on cameras weren’t all that great, but nevertheless, there was a photo of this tiny little tree and a bike locked to it as though it would be safe. Having the picture turned it from a cool little story to something I’ve remembered 10 years later.

I bring this up in the wake of the Donald Sterling comments recorded by his girlfriend and released over the weekend in which he admonishes her for having photos on her Instagram with Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp, who happen to be black. It should be mentioned that Sterling’s girlfriend is half-black, half-Latino, maybe a third his age (he’s 81), and, oh yeah, he’s still married. He also makes several other racist comments throughout the conversation that are also released on the tape.

These comments have led to an outrage that resulted in Sterling being banned from the NBA for life and it’s probable that he will be forced to sell the team. That’s all well and good, but Sterling has been a known scumbag in NBA circles for years.

This was written in 2006 and lays out the sordid tale of the NBA’s (and perhaps North American Sport’s) worst owner as someone charged with housing discrimination for refusing to rent to blacks and Koreans. Remember the outrage then? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss it. There wasn’t any. I can’t say for certain why that was, but I have a theory.

There wasn’t a tape. There wasn’t video of Sterling actively discriminating against people entirely on the basis of race. There wasn’t some audio recording for us to hear to be confronted with it. Instead there was boring court documents with legal writing and procedures to follow. That’s not fun. That’s not sexy. It’s not something the public can sink its teeth in to and feel morally outraged at.

But now we have a tape. We can hear the man saying things that no decent person should ever think, let alone say. So now we can get outraged and shocked with our righteous indignation and demand our pound of flesh, which NBA Commissioner Adam Silver provided yesterday with his punishment.

Silver also fairly dodged the question of why the NBA tolerated, if not enabled, Sterling for so long. Silver has only been commissioner for less than three months. And while he has worked in the NBA since 1992, it wasn’t his place to dispense punishments. But it does raise the question of why former NBA commissioner David Stern hasn’t been heard from since the tapes were released. There are people like me who would love to hear why the league did nothing to Sterling in the past.

Then again, I think I know the answer.

We had an audio recording now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Love and memories

It was to be the most memorable day of my life, at least to that point.

The day I got married to the love of my life, a special day in which we committed to spending the rest of our lives together, surrounded by family and friends. A special day that is documented with a far too expensive photographer so that in 50 years we can look back and remember a time when we didn't just want each other to stay on their side of the bed or to remember to start the dishwasher (or whatever we're using then) before falling asleep on the couch to Wheel of Fortune (which will still be there in 50 years, I have no doubts.)

So there we are on that hot August day, my new bride and I, standing in front of our loved ones during our wedding and while another friend is singing a song that I may or may not have forgotten, I look my wife in the eyes and with all the sincerity I have, I say to her "I wonder how Pujols is doing today?"

I think he may turn out
to be an ok player.
Pujols, as you may have heard if you're a sports fan, hit his 500th home run last night, making him just the 26th player in Major League history to do so. He, also, was a mainstay of my fantasy baseball teams in the early to mid 2000s, and while he was among the top 2-3 players in the league at that time, I managed to bungle my team management up and never actually win a title with him on my roster.

But at the time of my wedding, I didn't know I was doomed to failure as a fantasy baseball owner with Pujols on my team. I still had hopes and dreams and now I had someone who was contractually obligated to put up with those hopes and dreams.

So last night, after Pujols hit his 500th home run, I looked at my wife and told her about it. She looked as though she didn't care, though I attribute that to the fact she wasn't feeling well. Deep down I know Pujols holds a special place in her heart, if only because every time she hears his name she thinks "I could have said no. I didn't have to marry this guy and hear about baseball all the time."

Saturday, April 12, 2014


My wife works at a fairly large state university and last night they held their Relay for Life event. For years the school and the community held their event jointly, but recently, as is the trend, the school started hosing their own event. I enjoyed the fact that the school and community held their events together as it brought together people who might otherwise not have interacted and hope at some point in the future it can return to the way it was.

But this isn't about that.

This is about the event last night and seeing someone truly enjoying themselves without caring one bit what other people thought.

Some background. My son is extremely introverted. Like "He was scared of my brother and sister-in-law for more than two years because he rarely saw them and despite reassurances they were family he wouldn't go near them" level introverted. He takes a while to warm up to new people and places and while he's making that adjustment quicker and quicker, he's still clings to my side.

Last night at Relay for Life, he wanted me to walk with him 30 feet to throw a piece of trash away because he wasn't comfortable going by himself. But after a while of kicking a beach ball like a soccer ball and then throwing a frisbee with some of the students who work for my wife, he eventually warmed up to the situation.

Then, over the PA system, Pharrell's "Happy" started playing. At first he struggled to hear it over all the power generators there. I asked if he wanted to walk closer to the stage so he could hear it better. We slowly made our way up there and then got off to the side of the track.

And then something interesting happened.

He started dancing. Dancing like no one was watching (which was far from the case because college girls seem to love seeing young kids at events). Having the time of his life. Jumping up and down, punching the air, doing the kinds of moves you would expect from a 5-year old kid with rhythmically-challenged parents. But he didn't care at all. The song ends and another comes on that he knows, so he keeps dancing. And dancing. Another song comes on that he doesn't know. He looks at me and then keeps dancing.

I'm not sure how long he would have kept going but soon the host of the event starts talking, thus temporarily stopping the music.

It was fun to see someone experiencing such unbridled joy just dancing to the music. It was even better to see my introverted son being that person.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Baseball, Syria, and why the twain have met (for me.)

Sports are my escape from the world. A place where the competition is manufactured and the stakes, as high as we make them, are ultimately not that great. Sure I want my teams to win, but if the other team hits a ball and runs around a square to make it back to where he started more times than my team, I'm disappointed, but nevertheless grateful for the distraction from the politics and poverty and worries about my kid's school or if I'm going to be able to retire before global warming kills us all.

As I've gotten older I've spent less and less time watching pregame shows and have pretty successfully extracted myself from the day-to-day drama that fills much of SportsCenter and sports talk radio. If you want to debate if a certain player is "elite" or "more clutch" than another, go right ahead. They're both subjective terms anyway so someone who is elite to one person may not be elite to another.

Replacing the muck of sports talk in my life is still sports, but hopefully a more intelligent take on the games Podcasts, primarily, are how I've come to learn about the sports I enjoy. Fortunately, the internet is full of smart people talking about the things I enjoy, only they are much smarter than me so I can learn from them as I listen.

No longer can I watch an NFL game and take sheer delight in the massive collisions because I know now about the impact those hits can have in the brain and the increased potential for brain damage as a result. Nor can I watch a baseball game where the announcers advocate a sacrifice bunt when I know the run expectancy following a successful bunt almost always goes down. And even though I'm not a huge basketball fan, even I know taking a long two-pointer is, statistically speaking, a terrible shot.

One of the podcasts I used to listen to (I still would if they didn't stop producing new episodes) was The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe. Both were founding writers for Baseball Prospectus and were at the forefront of the statstical revolution exemplified in book and movie Moneyball. Their podcast would regularly stretch to two hours or more and regularly centered on details that unless you were a baseball fan who cared about the most efficient use of relief pitchers or the best way to construct a roster, you probably wouldn't care about it.

The Rany of that duo is Rany Jazayerli, a Chicago-based dermatologist and perhaps the most well-known Kansas City Royals fan, which I believe means he's willing to be publicly identified as a Royals fans. He also interviewed for a job with the Cubs but for various reasons didn't get the job. He's opened my eyes a lot to how I watch baseball and has given me a deeper understanding of the game, much to the frustrations of my wife who just wants to watch a game and not have it analyzed from every direction.

He's also a Muslim whose parents grew up in Syria. Through the simple act of co-hosting a podcast in which his religion rarely, if ever, came up, he helped expose me to stereotypes I didn't realized I'd held and forced me to examine how I viewed people different from me and what prejudices I hold.

More importantly for the world outside my own mind, he ended every podcast with a plea to "please pray for the people of Syria." I'll be honest, had it not been for Jazayerli, I wouldn't have had any idea anything was even going on in Syria. Or if I had read something about anything going on, I likely would have skimmed right over it.

And while I'm still not fully informed as to the best way to stop the three-year war that's been going on there, I know the idea of doing nothing isn't enough. My five-year old, who is extremely interested in geography right now, asks me every time he comes across Syria on a map or on the computer screen when he's watching a video, he asks me if there is still a war going on there. I pains me to have to say yes every time he asks. At night, we've taken Jazayerli's words to heart and prayed for the people of Syria. I knew he was getting it when, without prompting one night, he said we should pray for them.

Following PBS' Frontline's most recent episode on Syria, I reached out to Jazayerli on Twitter to ask him what, if anything, more I could do for the situation. He responded and not only seemed grateful that I would ask, but recommended Syrian Orphans as a way to help. I haven't donated as much as I'd like, but I do know what little I have been able to do is better than nothing. Of somewhat less importance but still significant, I can teach my son that while we may not be able to fully solve every problem we come across, being able to help even a little and not doing so is not acceptable.

So while I'll continue to use sports as my escape and will continue to vow to vote against any politician who runs an ad during any sporting event, I am thankful for this intrusion of real life into the sports world. There's a lot great about life and a lot to enjoy, but failing to take the time and opportunity to help those not as fortunate is not an option I want to consider.