Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Simply Having a Wonderful Chirstmastime

Dear Santa,

I've been a moderately good person this year. I'm sure there was more I could have done in several circumstances, but I also tried to volunteer and be better this year than I was last year.

I don't want a lot for Christmas this year. Continued health and happiness for me and my family, a Cubs World Series appearance (and if you're feeling generous, a win in the World Series) and for more people to embrace Stephen Colbert's "Another Christmas Song" as part of their holiday music should about cover it this year.

Have a safe trip this year.


Today's Christmas-themed links:

Where to Say Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

FiveThirtyEight mapped the War on Christmas to find where people prefer Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas.

The Forgotten Story of Peter Paul Dolata and the Worst Christmas Ever

The newspaper headline in this story from 1937 was is "Santa Claus drops dead as 100 children await him." This is a tragic story, but also one of some quick thinking by other adults there.

Yes, Virginia, there is a NORAD

The story of how NORAD came to have a Santa tracker (which, more than anything else, is my kid's favorite part of Christmas.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

What's in a name and the best journalism of 2015.

I was born in what should have been a prime time for naming boys Luke. Between the release of Star Wars (and Luke Skywalker) in 1977, the Dukes of Hazzard (and Luke Duke) debuting in 1979 and Luke and Luara drawing 30 million viewers for their wedding on General Hospital in 1981, the name Luke was primed to be incredibly popular, drawing from geek, country and stay-at-home mom demographics simultaneously.

But in 1976, just before Star Wars burst on the scene, the name Luke was the 222nd most popular name in the United States. By 1980, the name still showed considerable growth, jumping up to 97th, which, while impressive, isn't nearly as much of  a jump as I might have expected. Shouldn't the name have crossed demographic lines to become more popular?

Yet, somehow, I was the only Luke I knew growing up. Never had any other Lukes in my classes or even that I remember in my schools. I was the lone Luke out there, having the responsibility to shoulder all the expectations for that name for years and years.

It fell back below 100 in 1981 and stayed around there until finally cracking the top 100 again in 1992. From then on, it has slowly marched its way up the naming charts until 2014 when it was the 28th most popular name in the country. Now my kid has two friends named Luke in his grade.

One man's picks for the 150 best journalism of 2015

Just one link today, but if you like to read, you're in for a treat. Richard Dietsch (Richard was the 19th most popular name in 1976 and has tumbled down to 141 in 2014) is the media reporter for Sports Illustrated and compiles some of the best articles in his weekly media column. For this week's edition, compiled his 150 best links of the year. I've read about 40 of them and saw a dozen others that I'd saved at some point but never found the time to read.

For those celebrating this week, have a wonderful Christmas and/or Kwanzaa.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A reading App recommendation, then Trolls, football and dog mushing in NYC

One more batch before my break starts.

One of my favorite Apps on my phone is Pocket. It basically lets you save articles and read them later rather than going "what was that article I saw that looked interesting?" and then hoping Facebook hasn't changed their algorithm when I go back to look for it.

It lets me read while I'm standing in line at the grocery store or if I'm early for a meeting. It's also got a feature that will read the story to you, though the lack of inflection in the voice makes it difficult for me to listen to.

Anyway, if you've found yourself thinking that any of these articles I post look interesting but you don't have time, save it to Pocket and read it later.

You Can't Just Ignore The Trolls

I can't imagine being a woman in an online world filled with the vile insults women regularly get. And being a woman of some prominence has to make it even worse. So how do you deal with trolls? Julie DiCaro takes a look at how she and others in similar positions handle it.

One Man's Quest to Bring Dog Mushing to New York City

Because, why not?

 How Football Pulled The Trigger: Zack Langston's Family Reflects on His Tragically Short Life

Patrick Hruby, the author of this, has been writing about the dangers of football for a while. Here he looks at the life of Zack Langston and how it changed after his college football days were over. Zack shot himself when he was 26 and was found to have similar brain injuries to that for former NFL player Junior Seau. Set aside some time for this one.

A quick programming note

So a programming note.

After today, I'll be off work until January and when I get back, things are going to be extremely busy for a week or so. While off work, I'll be doing holiday things and being a semi-responsible parent, which means less time to write and, of equal importance to this blog, to read. The frequency of posts will go down considerably during that time.

I hope you've enjoyed the new format. It does two things for me. First, it lets me share some of the great articles I read, but it also forces me to write, however short, some kind of introduction.

Have a great holiday break and if you're celebrating this season, I hope it's a wonderful time for you and your family.

And with that said, here's what I found most interesting since my last post:

An Unbelievable Story of Rape

An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That's where our story beings. 

Set aside some time to read this story. (It's long.) It's the story of a woman who reported being raped and when people doubted her story, she recanted. But then tried to take back her recanting. It's a powerful story.

The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power

When you've always experienced privilege, equality can feel like oppression.

How to get the Pete Rose decision 100% wrong

I wasn't quite old enough to know the ins and outs of what Pete Rose. I remember being a 10-year old baseball fan who didn't start following the game until after Rose had retired and was now managing. I remember the Sports Illustrated cover after he was permanently banned and I remember reading the article but not fully understanding it. That we're still discussing his actions and his ban 26 years later is crazy, but this a pretty convincing argument as to why Rose, under the current rules, is not being treated unfairly.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Awakening the Force

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens tonight. Lots of people are excited as they've been waiting for years for a new episode in the franchise that has defined moving going for generations.

I'm not one of those people, but this isn't about me. It's about the people who have had this date circled on their calendar since the date was announced, or more likely, have had the date plugged in their phone as no one hangs calendars anymore.

For people this excited about the movie, my guess is they're going to like it no matter what. And that's cool. While critics have so far been positive about The Force Awakens, they were also positive about The Phantom Menace when it first came out too. So the movie may be great, it may not be so great, but that's not what's important. What is important, however, is that people who enjoy the movie enjoy it without worrying about if it was a "good" movie or not.

Today's links: 

Can Kentucky's New Governor Undo Obamacare?

Short version: Campaigning against something is easy. Actually undoing that thing is hard.

Why is the NFL's most infamous quack still involved in its concussion program?

Or, why you shouldn't believe the NFL when they say they're getting serious about brain injuries.

 Concussion, Inc.: The big business of treating brain injuries

More awareness of concussions is a good thing, but untrained or unqualified people treating concussions can do a lot of harm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Best Award Ever

I enjoy people who are clever. Not people who are clever in the scheming kind of way, but people who think just differently enough to make something fun.

So when I heard that University of Minnesota punter Peter Mortell created another college football award to recognize the best holder in the game and then gave the award to himself, I couldn't help but smile.

College football has a lot of awards. Like a lot lot. But one skill they don't recognize is the holder. You know, the guy who catches the ball and puts in on the ground for the kicker. Mortell saw that position wasn't properly recognized and he sought to fix that.

So let's all take a moment to recognize Peter Mortell, the 2015 holder of the year and the creator of the holder of the year award.

On to today's links:

Death Penalty Dysfunction

Among other facts I learned in this article, roughly 10 percent of people on death row are veterans.

 The "Jihad truck" one year later

A year after it became a punchline, how has the plumber who had his former work truck end up in Syria handling what happened?

Global Supermarkets selling shrimp peeled by slaves

Let these stores know that this isn't acceptable. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

A podcast recommendation and today's links.

This week's "On the Media" podcast as an shortened version of a documentary on the New York Times reporter who contracted AIDS and then used his position to bring the illness more to the public consciousness. It's a humanizing look at what it's like to live and die with the disease. If you've got an hour, I highly recommend it.

For what it's worth, if you have an hour a week, I recommend you listen to every On the Media podcast (or find it on your local NPR station.) Week in and week out, it's the smartest thing I listen to.

Anyway, on to today's links. 

Pay the players, even if they make what you see as poor choices

The restriction on paying college athletes is based on a number of fallacies. Chief among them is that if you pay college players, they'll just waste it, as though adults never waste any money. (The University of Georgia, for example, is paying in excess of $14 million to have Mark Richt not coach their football team.)

The courage it took to bring down a police officer who sexually assaulted black women

This is as good a review of the Daniel Holtzclaw case as I found.

In the NFL, December is Anything but Merry 

It's a brutal game, and one I still find myself uneasy about watching because that makes me complicit in some way in the damage done to these player's bodies and brains. Here's a first-hand account of what it's like in the NFL at this time of the year.

Friday, December 11, 2015

No one knows what they're doing

One of the writers I follow on Twitter is Jesse Spector. He's a baseball writer for The Sporting News and while he obviously takes his job seriously, he doesn't appear to take life (or Twitter, anyway) all that seriously.

So when he posted that there are times he feels like an impostor when he compares himself to the other baseball writers he meets and has as colleagues, I was kind of surprised. I mean, you don't rise to the level of writing for the Sporting News without having immense talent.

But I realized I do the same thing as an adult. I walk around and act like I know what I'm supposed to be doing, but the truth is I've got no idea how to be an adult. I feel like an impostor in the world of adults, hoping no one realizes I'm completely winging it when it comes to life.

On to the stories. 

My run-in with hate speech at a Minnesota Vikings game

A first-hand account of what it feels like to be the victim of hate speech, and the fear that comes when no one stands up to challenge that speech.

The Cubs are a Destination Club

The Cubs are going to be good and I can't wait and I'm really excited and it's going to be fun and can you tell I can't wait for April and it's going to be awesome and I can't wait.

Life After Baseball

A former major league pitcher went from being a top prospect traded for a future hall-of-famer to battling addiction and being out of baseball opens up about his life now as an Uber driver at baseball's winter meetings.

Enjoy your weekend. Hopefully we'll be back Monday with more of the things I've found interesting. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What's old is new

So are we liking these posts? Have you found anything you've found interesting to read?

Would you rather them be weekly with more links and less of my commentary?

Just looking for a little feedback to see what your thoughts are on this? I enjoy doing them (it helps that work is slow now so I'm actually posting more often than I will once I'm home with my kid for Winter Break, but overall, how's the format?)

Today's stories:

A centruy ago, a popular Missouri newspaper demonized a religious minority: Catholics

"OPEN ROME'S PRISON HOUSES IN AMERICA!" blared one headline for a December 1911 story that claimed the church was murdering the babies of nuns and throwing the infant corpses into a pit."

And later ...

"There was a widespread belief that Catholics were waiting for the day the pope would put into motion a campaign to make the country Catholic, and in the meantime amassing [stockpiles] of weaponry that would be used when that day came," Davies said.

But the entire article is worth reading for the parallels to today.

Black and Blue.

I've never experienced child abuse. But I have no doubt that people I know were victims.  It's likely they, like the writer of this article who now plays in the NHL, grew up thinking it was normal. As he writes, he didn't publish this to get people like his father to stop abusing children, but he wrote it for people who suspect something to stand up and say something. I hope, if I'm ever in that situation, I have the courage to say something. I hope you do too.

What the heck is a catch in the NFL anyway?

I read fun stuff, I promise. To prove it, here's the best explanation yet as to what is considered a catch in the NFL.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Shootings, suicides and stereotypes

A friend of mine was talking to me about college football recently and he had an interesting idea.

"We should bring back the tie," he said.

I told him this was a crazy idea and invoked one of my favorite postgame quotes, "You play to win the game." Someone wins, someone loses. This is how we've set it up. We had ties, we decided we didn't like them and, at least in college football, set up some sort of quasi-football-like structure that kind of resembles football but not really to determine a winner.

"But soccer has ties," he continued.

Yeah, but no one likes ties in soccer either. And no one likes settling championship matches with a shootout, but at least we get a winner out of it.

"Yeah, but sometimes in life things are just equal," he went on.

This is true, but sports aren't life. They're artificial scenarios we've created and since we've created them, we want a winner and a loser. So I'm firmly anti-tie, both in sports and the neck variety.

On to the links:

Arthur Bremer shot Gov. George Wallace to be famous.

 This happened before I was born, so other than knowing Wallace was shot, I hadn't thought much about it. The author finds out the gun used in the shooting is for sale and from there takes on a journey through Bremer's life. 


Scott Weiland's Family: 'Don't Glorify This Tragedy'

 The ex-wife of the Stone Temple Pilots singer makes a plea to all of us to not glorify the tragedy of his death, but to take the time to do something for kids who may not have a parent there for them.

Let's choose to make this the first time we don't glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don't have to come with it. Skip the depressing T-shirt with 1967-2015 on it – use the money to take a kid to a ballgame or out for ice cream.

Stop  Immediately Linking Violence to the Perpetrator's Beliefs - Islamic, Christian or Other

People are complicated. I'm not sure I can tell you why I decided to drink a Cherry Coke instead of Dr Pepper the other day. There are simply too many factors that motivate humans. And we're not robots, so what motivates me one day might not motivate me the next. And that's for me. I can't begin to try to explain what motivates someone else to act in their everyday life, let alone when they do something horrific. So let's stop with the simplistic answers to complex problems. We're better than that. 

In an unrelated note, I need to read happier things. Sorry for the depressing set of links today.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Gladiators, Survivors and the Last Black Football Player

I hope you had a good weekend. I got to cover a Class A (smallest classification) Georgia High School semifinal game that saw one team have eight chances with a goal-to-go situation and were unable to get the touchdown they needed. Facing a 4th and 7 with about 90 seconds remaining, the trailing team thought they'd scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass to the far side of the endzone. However, after officials met to discuss it, they changed the ruling to incomplete. It was a really fun game to watch as someone who had not seen either team play and had absolutely no rooting interest in the outcome. Unfortunately for me, my story doesn't appear to be online anywhere.

Anyway, on to some of the best things I read over the weekend.

Are Football Players really Modern Day Gladiators?

Comparing football to the gladiators has nothing to do with ancient savagery, and everything to do with modern anxiety.

Pretty much all headlines that are questions can be answered with "no." Spoiler alert, this is the case here. But rather than skip the article, read to find out why today's football players are more similar to chariot racers than gladiators.

A Survivor's Life 

When the shooting in Oregon happened, I, like everyone, was shocked and horrified. But as the days went by, we all did what we've been conditioned to do. That is, we moved on with our lives. Or at least on to the next shooting. It's become routine that at this point. We react in horror, we post The Onion story about how we're the only nation where these types of shootings happen and that nothing can be done, and we move on. It's what we do.

But for the survivors of mass shootings, it's not as simple as just moving on. From having to post signs not to knock on the door (because it's still traumatic to hear noises that could resemble gunshots) to people not sure how to act around you and whether they should ask you about the shootings or not, moving on isn't as simple as it sounds. This well-reported story in the Washington Post looks at one shooting survivor's tale.

The Last Black Man in Pro Football

 The NFL wasn't always integrated. But it wasn't always segregated either. Which means someone had to be the last black player in the NFL before it became a white's only league. That man was Joe Lillard. Here, VICE Sports looks back at Lillard's journey to the NFL and his exclusion from it. (This may shock you, but the founder of the Washington NFL team had something to do with it.)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sports: shaking us from complaceny, inspiring us and the dark side

Three sports-related stories to end your work week, though truthfully, none are actually about sports themselves, but the role sports play in our lives and the impact those games have on people. Because as much fun as the games are, they are often more than just games.

This is Not A Game -

My sister-in-law works 11 miles from where the shooting in San Bernardina took place. She and her family are safe. It was a little disconcerting to know she was so close to the most recent shooting. But there's going to be another shooting. And another one after that, and another after that. I don't have all (or really any) of the answers as to how to stop this, but doing nothing doesn't seem to be working. More to the point, the mass shootings are now just background noise in our lives. This shouldn't be normal, and it may be up to sports to shake us from our complacency.

Race Against Time - 

Andrea Duke was working in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A few days after that, a colleague asked her if she wanted to go for a run to escape, briefly, the stress resulting from the terror attacks. That turned in to running marathons for fun. Now, at age 36, Andrea is competing for a spot on the US Olympic team against competitors against competitors 15 years younger. She makes me feel bad about myself for not doing more than going for walks between one and three miles.

 Homeless and Mentally Ill, a Former College Lineman Dies on the Street

While I can't say conclusively that football causes permanent brain damage, there's mounting evidence that it does something to the brain. And helmets, for as great as they are, are designed to protect the skull, not the brain. That's an important distinction. So I have no way of knowing if former North Carolina lineman Ryan Hoffman would have suffered from mental illness had he not played football, but I can't say he wouldn't have either. This story (and the linked story within from March) tell of what Hoffman went through following his playing days at UNC-Chapel Hill.

I still watch football, though not nearly as much as I used to. I'm uneasy knowing that a game being played for my entertainment may result in serious mental damage. I can't break myself fully of the habit, but I'm getting closer.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Stat Geeks, Donald Trump, and Feminism.

The goal is to do this two to three times a week. It really just kind of depends on how many things I find interesting and how much time I have to compile it on here.

One thing before I go on. I forgot to include something I wrote this week. It's my attempt to critically deconstruct an absolutely terrible column. Here's the link for that.

Now, on to today's links.

Fast Times at SABR High

 A high school class about analytics or about the history of baseball? I'd have died to get a class like this when I was in school. I tried to sign up for statistics my senior year thinking it would help me understand baseball numbers, but not enough kids signed up for it and the class didn't get offered. I was lazy in college and didn't take stats because didn't have to. I'm remarkably jealous of these kids getting to take either of these classes while in school and hope there's something similar offered for my kid by the time he gets to high school. 

 The Real Reason the media is rising up against Donald Trump

 I was among those who thought Trump would fade as the campaign went along. I've been wrong. Here, David Roberts takes a deep look at why he hasn't faded and how Trump has circumvented the traditional unspoken media rules. I'm not smart enough or politically astute enough to know how this plays out. Like all primary elections, it'll depend on how well organized the Trump campaign is in individual states when it comes time to get out the vote. 

Porn for the Privledged

Still working out my thoughts on this, but an interesting look at Choice Feminism and its implications for sex workers. Certainly worth a little bit of your time.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Something New

I need to write more. I know this.

But I love to read. A lot. Like time I used to spend writing on here has transitioned to time spent reading. Mostly I blame Twitter. As I think I've mentioned before, I follow a lot of professional writers who tweet out not only their own stories, but articles they find interesting. And since I follow them because I find them interesting, the odds are they articles they send out will be things I find interesting.

But I need to write more. So how do I fix this? But collecting some of my favorite things I read and posting them here for you to possibly enjoy. Ideally, I'll have three different articles to post for you each time, with some quick thoughts on what I've read.


How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs

 This remains the best thing I've read in 2015 so it should be the first article I post on here. For everyone who says people can't change their mind because of social media, I tell them that a devout member of the Westboro Baptist Church (the ones who picket the funerals of homosexuals and military members, you know the ones) was led to question her beliefs and ultimately leave the church. It's worth your time.

 Rosa Parks is the name you know. Claudette Colvin is a name you probably should

That teenager, Claudette Colvin, became the first of several women arrested for refusing to abide by the state's segregation laws and social codes of racial deference. Nine months later, Rosa Parks did the same. But today, mention the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the work of integrating public facilities, to anyone — regardless of their politics — and two names are likely to come up. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. That is all.

 I love learning new things about our nation's history. I'd always assumed Rosa Parks was the first person to get arrested for not giving up her seat. That she wasn't was news to me. That Claudette Colvin is a name we don't know is a disappointment. Her actions need to be remembered.

How Mighty Ducks the Movie Became Mighty Ducks the NHL Team

I was 13 when The Mighty Ducks came out. It was a typical Disney sports movie about sticking together and overcoming the evil other team. But even then, I thought it strange that a new NHL team would name itself after a kids movie. Erik Malinowski is one of my favorite writers and he does an excellent job detailing the process of how the Mighty Ducks came to be.

This remains a work in progress and we'll see how it goes. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Coach Speak

So for the past four seasons he's played, I've coached my son's soccer team. It's fun, most of the time, it's a chance for me to give back and share my knowledge of playing soccer competitively for years and it's also a chance to spend some extra time with my son rather than just being on the sideline while he plays.

We only play for about two months, which now that I type that out, seems like a long time for six and seven year olds. I mean, that's one-sixth of the year, but we only have six practices and then about 10-12 games. There's always a routine throughout the season, no matter the age of the kids. The first practice all the kids are super excited to be there. They're hoping they have one or two friends from school they know on their team and they're a bundle of pent up energy from sitting at school all day.

It's my job, as a volunteer coach, to direct that energy into something that's both productive and educational (learning and improving their soccer skills) and fun for them. I'm never sure if I succeed or fail, but looking at past teams I've coached, it looks like 80 percent of my previous teams have continued playing. If the goal of youth recreation sports is to encourage participation, than keeping 80 percent of five and six year-olds playing seems pretty good.

This season was my first coaching in the Under-8 age group, the Shane's Rib Shack Red Bulls. Before, I could basically go out there with enthusiasm and run around for 45 minutes and the kids had a good time. This season, they were a little older, so that idea didn't exactly work. They still wanted fun, but they wanted to learn and be challenged a little more (though I learned after the first practice not to call the drills "challenges" as one kid got really upset about it.).

Over the course of the season, we got to know each other. I learned who had friends on the other teams, what they enjoyed doing, what their favorite ice cream flavor was. As much as I enjoyed the games and watching the team slowly get better in their skills, I enjoyed just as much the times when they weren't in the game and were just hanging out on the sidelines waiting their turn to play. Somewhere along the way, a few of them started making "grass salads" where they'd pull the grass up and pile it up into a "salad" which would then make it's way on to my shoe while I was busy actually coaching.

Coaching is basically yelling "spread out" constantly in different ways trying to convince six and seven year olds to share the ball and pass. 

Hunter - Of everyone on the team, Hunter was by far the quietest. He was also one of the smallest kids on the team, but he came to every practice, tried hard and improved significantly. He loved playing goalie more than any kid should.

Zoe - Zoe was a spark plug. I'm not sure she ever gets tired. It didn't matter if she was on offense or defense, she would run the length of the field even if it meant she was out of position. Despite my best efforts (as well as those of her parents) she was a ball hawk who wanted to be in the middle of the action.

Kevin - In our first practice, I was offering minimal defense as we were working on dribbling. Kevin pulled off a move I'm  not sure I could do at 17, let alone seven, and I knew I was in trouble. Kevin is a gifted soccer player who, at times, looked bored on the field. I'd let him score two or three goals in a game (often in the first two minutes he played offense) and then ask him to see how many assists he could get.

Kelly - I've seen Kelly on other teams over the past few seasons and was excited to have her on our team this year. She would do anything I asked her to, was always excited, and was the originator of the grass salad. She would always ask if it was ok if she went to sit with her parents when she wasn't in the game, but as the season went along, she started spending more time next to me on the sidelines and we got to talk alot.

Parker - Parker, it turns out, lives in our neighborhood. His dad came up to me after practice one day and asked where we lived and after I told him, he said he thought he recognized me from my walks. He also practiced with the wrong team the first day of practice (each team had half the field, and he went to the other half.) Parker loved playing goalie and was always enthusiastic.

Billy - Through no fault of his own, Billy was my most challenging player. He was so high energy that it was sometimes difficult to keep him under control either during practice or games. Like Zoe, he would chase the ball all over the field regardless of his position. But as the season progressed, I saw Billy's energy as a blessing as he always kept me on my toes and made sure I was ready to do what I needed to do.

J.B. - I played soccer with JB's dad when we were in high school together. JB is an excellent defender who is every coach's dream in that he just wants to do what he can to help the team. In our second to last game, he wanted to be goalie but I couldn't work out the player rotation, so I promised him he could be goalie to start our last game. As soon as he got to the field for that last game, he said "coach, I'm goalie, right?"

Jayden - I'm not sure Jayden liked me at the beginning of the season. Or maybe he was just adjusting to a new team like everyone else and was struggling with that adjustment. Either way, he was frustrated with me after two practices. But then something clicked and he was excited to be at every practice. He really didn't like when players would leave their position to chase the ball. I saw him away from the fields this week and he made sure to say "Hi Coach Luke" and gave me a high five.

Andrew - My son, who is the entire reason I coach youth soccer to begin with. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it this year, thinking it would be nice to sit on the sidelines, cheer for him and the team and just enjoy the games. But about two weeks before the season start, I asked him if he wanted me to coach. He said he did, so I let the recreation department know. It's hard not to show favoritism and I wonder if sometimes I didn't go too far the other way, not starting him more often than not because he was the coach's kid. He never complained, though he did emphasize that he did NOT want to play goalie.

My son, Andrew, with his medal following our season.

There were times during the season that I really just wanted to be able to sit at home. Whether it was a long day at work or (more likely) me staying up too late the night before watching baseball, sometimes I didn't want to go. But once I got out there and saw our team, it was so much fun.

After our last game, Andrew wanted to watch his friend play in the game after ours. One of the players on that team was a girl I'd coached my first season of coaching. I went over to say hi to her and her parents and her dad told me how much both she and he enjoyed that season and ever since then, he judges his daughter's coach in comparison to how I did.

"You did such a good job of not only making it fun, but also teaching them something," he said. "Not all coaches can talk to kids but you're really good at it."

That, obviously, made me feel good, and it was fun to watch her and the rest of the kids playing.

I'm looking forward to not coaching basketball or baseball (the next two sports my son will most likely play as the school year progresses) and just being a sports dad, but when next Fall rolls around, it'll be time to coach soccer again and I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

(S)he who conquers that fear

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
- Nelson Mandela

So Caitlyn Jenner will be honored at this year's ESPY awards with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. This has people upset. For those who don't know, Jenner is the former Bruce Jenner, an Olympic athlete who, at the age of 65, is a transgender woman who appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with the headline "Call Me Caitlyn." Predictably, some were ok with this while others were not.

But then, for some reason, people who have never cared, or even knew about, the ESPY awards were outraged (because the Internet runs on outrage and if we stop being outraged, the internet will stop) and saying what Caitlyn Jenner did wasn't courageous or isn't deserving. My Facebook feed was full of pictures of soldiers who lost limbs with captions saying they were courageous while saying explicitly or implicitly that Jenner was not.

This is not to say that people who go off to war and fight are not courageous and are not heroes (though I haven't heard anyone say Lynndie England is a hero in quite a while). The overwhelming majority of soldiers are courageous. Just as the overwhelming majority of firefighters are courageous for running in to burning structures or, for those of us afraid of heights, for climbing up ladders to rescue cats out of trees, which I assume is still done because my knowledge of firefighters comes from 1950s television.

But to limit courage or heroism to only those types of actions is either being willfully ignorant or it's pushing an agenda.

There are people who would tell playing a game of baseball is not courageous, but when you're the first black player in Major League Baseball and you're getting death threats for daring play the game, you're both courageous and a hero. Riding a bus doesn't seem courageous, but when you're Rosa Parks and you refuse to give up your seat to a White man, it's an example of courageous living.

The middle school boy who stands up to the kids picking on the unpopular student is courageous and likely a hero, at least to the unpopular student. But there are those who post on social media who would say that student is not courageous because he didn't go off to war. There's the four-year old who is scared to death of learning to swim but takes the first steps into the pool to overcome her fears. That kid is courageous, but there are those who want you believe that child has not displayed courage because it doesn't fit their narrow definition of the word.

So again, there are people who will try to limit your understanding of what courage is. I urge you to not listen to these people on this issue. They may be very friendly, very smart, very caring people. But in this instance, they are simply wrong. Simply because they choose to ignore other meanings of the word does not make it so, any more than people who tell you racism doesn't exist doesn't make it so. Courage comes in many sizes, shapes and colors.We all have our own fears and we all have the capacity to be courageous in our own way when we take the step to confront and conquer that fear. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Thread

More than a month ago, a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook about the NCAA. It caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, I've come see how much of the NCAA is built on the myth of the "Student Athlete" and how much we (myself included) take what the organization says as the truth when in reality they are perpetuating their own myths to sustain their current model. Secondly, the person who posted this isn't what you'd call a huge sports fan, at least when it comes to his social media presence so I was surprised to see such a question from him.

Now normally, I'm not one to engage in debates on Facebook. It's not that I don't have opinions (sometimes even strong ones) on things. It's that I don't know how much, if any, the debates will have on changing anyone's mind. I also worry that I don't know enough about a certain topic to be able to say definitively things are one way or another and by the time I'm able to research a given topic to get a better understanding of it the topic has disappeared from my Facebook feed.

But for whatever reason, I figured I had a pretty good handle on the NCAA's myths and had the time to discuss the topic, so I jumped it. It was a fun discussion and I was able to pull from several things I'd read on the subject to counter a lot of the misinformation being presented. I didn't really think any more of it after a few hours, but as the day went on, the thread kept going. Unlike a lot of internet discussions, this one never descended into being mean spirited despite the disagreements that developed over the topic.

One tangent led to another, and another, and after a few days, the original topic was all but forgotten. It meandered from one thing to another, seeming to eventually settle into a comic book/Sci-Fi/Pop Culture discussion as many of the participants would likely self-identify as "geeks." But the cool part about it is the thread just kept going. Hour after hour, day after day, the same people kept coming back. It was, in a sense, like the TV show Cheers where it just became the place to gather and talk about whatever was going on. New friendships were formed. I learned new things about old friends.

A few days ago, it hit 10,000 comments. A PDF of the thread would be more than 500 pages. I have no idea how long the thread will keep going, but it's been a fun month getting to meet new people and discuss anything and everything, even if a lot of it things I don't understand. (I may be the only participant who not only hasn't seen the new Avengers movie, but the only one who wasn't super excited about it coming out. For some reason, they still let me hang out there.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Numbness finally wearing off

If it was one season it would have been frustrating.

If it was two seasons it would have been discouraging.

Three seasons just became depressing.

After that, I'd kind of grown numb to it.

It, in this case, was losing. For the past five years, the Cubs have done a lot of it. Like a lot lot. You know how when you're in those early teen years and you tell your friends you like a girl and they ask if you just like her, or if you "like her" like her. Losing was like that for the Cubs. They didn't just lose a lot, they lost a lot lot.

From 2010 to 2014, they lost a minimum of 87 games and never won more than 75. And yet I watched. Year after year. I'd subscribe to the Major League Baseball package online and despite the fact I could watch pretty much any game being played, I'd watch the Cubs. Granted, by mid-August I'd turn my attention to the playoff races and starting watching fewer and fewer Cubs games, but I watched a lot of losing baseball.

By 2013, I'd grown numb to the losing. I still enjoyed watching baseball, but I can't say there was a lot of joy in watching the Cubs. Fortunately, their broadcasts are among the smartest in baseball, so even though the team was losing, they were having discussions about the game to make me a smarter fan. There were times I'd turn on the game almost out of obligation of being a fan, like it was something I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to do.
To be fair,  I had low expectations. I knew the teams weren't going to contend. In the early stretch of losing, the team was getting old and had overpriced veterans that were tough to trade for prospects. A new regime was hired in 2012 after the team lost 101 games, but they preached patience as they sought to overhaul the team. And overhaul they did. Pretty much anyone who had any value who could be traded was. The team did get better in 2013, "only" losing 96 games.

My wife all but gave up on the Cubs. She'd ask every now and again how the game went, but the losing really zapped her interest. We got married in 2003, which you may remember as the year the Cubs came within five outs of reaching their first World Series since 1945. You may not remember that, but if you're even a moderate sports fan, you know that as the Steve Bartman year. (No, it wasn't his fault.) My enthusiasm for the team got her excited. The next year the Cubs went back to the playoffs and she became a fan. But by the time the losing started, we'd had a kid and she'd moved up the ladder at her job and had more responsibilities. Watching a losing team wasn't really a priority for her and as you noticed above, it'd almost become a chore for me. Life's short and there's only so much time you can spend watching a losing team before you just start tuning it in as background noise for your summer.

But here's the thing about all that losing. There was a method to it. Instead of losing with higher priced veterans, the Cubs were busy signing players to short-term contracts and then trading them to teams contending. The losing also meant higher draft picks. Coming in to the season, the Cubs had the top collection of prospects in all of baseball. They will likely all not reach their potential, but what they represented was something Cubs fans haven't had in a while - hope.

You could dream on the prospects. They are young, talented, and all coming up to the team around the same time. Not only was there hope for the future, there was excitement. The first couple of them came up to the team during the second half of the 2014 season. Now, instead of watching winning teams battling for the playoffs, I was watching the Cubs on their way to an 89 loss season.

Hopes were high for the Cubs going in to this year, and so far they haven't disappointed. They had their first winning April since my son was born (he's six now). But for me, the excitement is back. I look forward to watching the games. It's obvious to say winning is fun, but it's even better to have any kind of feelings again watching my team.

More than anything, it's fun to get frustrated again when a guy grounds in to a double play or doesn't field a grounder cleanly. It's fun because there's an emotion attached to the game that I haven't felt in a long time. I'd honestly forgotten how much fun baseball can be when you're team's winning. Instead of tuning in to a game expecting to lose, I watch now with an expectation of winning. The team has an offense that is fun to watch. They hit well, get on base and play aggressively. Up and down the lineup the Cubs have hitters, not just guys filling out a roster. It's exciting.

As I was writing this, I was watching the Royals and Tigers play (the Cubs already played today, yes, I watched at work) and was exchanging tweets with a Royals fan I'd met on the site. They Royals had a more tortured recent history than the Cubs, but had an improbable run to the World Series last year that has rejuvenated the fan base. During the game, the Royals were up 4-1 but the Tigers had the bases loaded and Miguel Cabrerra, one of the game's best hitters, at the plate in the late innigs. This friend tweeted "A plate appearance on May 1st is taking months off my life." I replied "Nice feeling, isn't it."

His response, "This is awesome."

It is awesome to feel something again. It's even better to wake up looking forward to baseball.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Death and Community


Today was not a good day. Five nursing students from Georgia Southern University (my alma mater) were killed this morning in a traffic crash early this morning commuting approximately an hour away to Savannah, Ga. I didn't know any of them and I'm not sure I know anyone who knew any of them. Yet I'm saddened for the loss of the lives of five students who were studying so they could have a career helping the sick.

So I'm saddened by the loss of life from these students who woke up this morning thinking they had many years ahead of them. I'm more saddened than I would have otherwise been had they been four students from another university or if they were four young people who weren't attending college but instead going to work.

 As best as I can figure, the only reason this crash and these students have me feeling more grief than I otherwise might is the tenuous connection we shared. I was never in school at the same time these students were. At best, we may have been in the same football stadium a time or two watching the Eagles play, but I wouldn't have known them and they wouldn't have know me.

What doe that say about me? Am I so jaded that I only care about a tragedy when it tangentially affects me? Why don't I care as much for the others who tragically lost their life today?

My best guess is that we're wired to feel connection. Take 10 people and split them into a green team and a yellow team and people on the same team will feel a connection to each other even if they didn't know each other beforehand and the teams were chosen at random. This connection to a team probably helped our ancestors as they worked together to try to form societies that worked for the protection and health of the group. Outsiders represented a threat to their survival as they competed for scarce resources, so a sense of connection and belonging ultimately worked to ensure their tribe continued.

But I don't live in a time where outsiders need to be viewed as a threat. As a middle-class American in the 21st century, I have an abundance of resources (more than my fair share). Yet the centuries and centuries of feeling a connection to my group still exists as an innate part of the human experience.

I'm certainly not trying to diminish this feeling and say, either implicitly or explicitly, that the grief so many of my friends feel from this tragedy is unwarranted. That's not the case at all. It's reasonable and natural to feel grief over the loss of people from your group. And clearly losing a close friend or family member is different some losing someone who went to the same school you did more than a decade after I graduated. Instead, I'm hoping I can start feeling more empathy for people who didn't also attend the same college or cheer for the same team or even just share my name. Just because they were not a part of any group I identified with doesn't make their life any less important and their trials and tragedies any less meaningful.
*I've seen some unconfirmed reports that a sixth student died, but haven't seen anything official to that effect. My apologies if got the number incorrect.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An open letter to Braves fans

Dear Braves fans,

First off, let's get this out of the way. I fully recognize the absurdity of a Cubs fan offering advice to you, a fan of one of the most consistently excellent teams of the past 20+ years. From 1991 to 2014, the Braves had three losing records, won a World Series and won, by my unofficial count, 48 division titles in a row over that time. The Cubs, meanwhile, have had only eight winning seasons over that time, winning one playoff series and finishing an average of eight games under .500 over that time. The Braves won more than 100 games six times during that span while the Cubs best year was a 97 win team that was swept in the first round of the playoffs.

So you know all about winning and have been a model franchise. I know all about below average teams and hope. And that's where my experience following and loving a losing team comes in. You see, when the Braves traded Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Jason Hayward and Craig Kimbrell before the season, they pretty much were telling everyone they were in a rebuilding mode.

Rebuilding, for you Braves fans who are unfamiliar with the concept, is when teams trade away players on their current team for younger, cheaper players who they hope will develop into the stars of the future. Allow me to provide an example from my team. Last year in July, the Cubs traded All-Star pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics for a minor league shortstop named Addison Russell. This made the Cubs worse in the short term. However, the front office of the Cubs already knew the 2014 team wasn't going to contend for a title and keeping a star pitcher who could be a free agent soon wouldn't help the Cubs in the long run, so they were able to acquire Russell who is, according to most experts, one of the top five prospects in all of minor league baseball. When the Cubs are ready to contend (hopefully next year), the Cubs are hoping Russell can be a part of that team.

What this means, and as you've seen, is that players you like are likely to be traded away for some player who will hopefully help in the future. The Cubs made a habit of signing guys in the offseason, getting a good first half out of them, and then trading them for prospects. I was a fan of Ryan Dempster. He got traded. I was a fan of Matt Garza. He got traded. I liked watching Samardzija pitch. He got traded. My son was a fan of Alfonso Soriano. He got traded. It happened often.

But I didn't get upset. Even as the losses mounted (and they did, losing 89 or more games each of the last four years), I didn't mind. Because I knew there was a plan. Not only was there a plan, I could see the plan coming together. While the major league team was losing, there were players in the minor leagues who were catching the eyes of talent evaluators. Coming in to this offseason, the Cubs had the top ranked minor league system in baseball. Some projections had them with four of the top 21 prospects.

You see, one of the benefits of losing is you get a higher draft pick. And higher draft picks mean a greater likelihood of being able to draft the next star player. And while every prospect isn't going to pan out, I'll take my chances betting on superior young talent than older players who comprise a team that won't contend. (Braves fans may remember Andy Marte who was in the Braves system before being traded away. He was a can't miss prospect who missed.)

While we can't predict the future, baseball has come a long way with their projection methods and usually have a pretty good idea where teams will finish. There's a lot of math that, frankly, I just don't understand, that goes in to these projections, but essentially they look at how many runs a team will score, how many their pitchers are projected to give up, run a quick calculation and come up with a projected record. While it's not exact and anything can happen, based on their talent level, the Braves are projected to finish 75-87 this year, ahead of only the Diamondbacks and Phillies in the National League.

On the bright side, you have at least recognized the need to rebuild. Philadelphia is still clinging to some misguided hope of returning to what they had when they won five straight division titles.

So here's my advice. Watch the team, but don't get too upset when they lose. They're going to lose more than they win. And come July, if there's an older player or two that doesn't fit in the teams plans for two or three years from now, don't be surprised when they get traded. In fact, you should hope for this. Again, it won't help your team this year, but teams aren't always about this year. Hope for trades, and then find out about the prospects you get back in return. Get excited about them.

Also, find a player on this current team likely not to get traded and enjoy watching him play. I might suggest Andrelton Simmons. He may be the best defensive shortstop ever to play in the major leagues. Don't take for granted the beauty and grace with which he plays the position. Marvel at his brilliance, even if it doesn't always translate in to wins. I wasn't lucky enough to have someone like Simmons to watch. I found myself enjoying players like Luis Valbuena (since traded, of course) or getting excited about Chris Coghlan having a breakout year four years after winning Rookie of the Year. Neither of them are as exciting to watch as Simmons.

Finally, know it's going to be a long year. But baseball is like pizza. Even bad baseball is still baseball, just like even bad pizza is still pretty good. You get to watch your team play for 153 more times this year. Enjoy watching and find the little things to enjoy as you grow numb to the losing.

Also, it wouldn't hurt to learn the phrase "wait 'til next year."


Your friendly Cubs fan

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Facebook Drama

It apparently started with a Facebook comment.

Well, that's not entirely true. It started when Mark Zuckerburg began Facebook, but we're going to skip ahead to this morning when the actual important part of our story takes place.

One of my high school friends posted something on Facebook. Another friend posted a comment that disagreed with the sentiment of the original poster. One thing led to another and Friend A blocked and unfriended Friend B.

Both of them then proceed to post their interpretations of what happened and explained their point of view on the matter. I, meanwhile I, being the person I am, did my best not to make snarky comments to both of them because as fun as it would have been, it probably wouldn't have been appreciated at the time the way you and I would have taken it.

But here are the larger points.

1. I'm not a very good writer because if I was, I wouldn't have to explicitly say what the larger points are.

2. The idea of closing off your worldview to people you disagree with, even strongly disagree with, seems to lead to a less fulfilling life. I'm not suggesting you have to surround yourself with racists (unless you're wanting to join an Oklahoma University frat - ok, that was a cheap shot, but I had to be snarky somewhere, right?). In fact, you're probably better off not associating with racists on a regular basis. But refusing to even listen to someone else's point of view makes it highly unlikely they would then be receptive to hearing your point of view. If you want a racist to stop being racist, cutting them off so they only interact with other racist people seems like a bad long term plan. If you only surround yourself with like-minded people, don't be shocked when someone outside your circle thinks differently than you.

If you want someone to listen to and consider your perspective on things, be it advanced stats in baseball or the role of the federal government to the best ice cream toppings, you have to be willing to have your mind changed as well. It's a risk. It means your world view that you've spent years with and developing could be wrong. It takes a lot of psychological energy and effort to change how you see the world. But if you refuse to be open to that, don't be shocked to find out other people don't want to listen to you.

3. If you're not willing to have a discussion about a topic, probably don't post it on social media. As its name implies, social media has a social aspect to it. When this post gets posted on social media and someone disagrees with me, I'll be happy to talk about it (and equally happy someone actually read it.) In fact, it's possible we could not come to an agreement about things. But so long as you're respectful, I'm ok agreeing to disagree. It won't be the first time and it hopefully won't be the last. But posting something and then refusing to engage with people who have differing viewpoints means you're looking for an echo chamber more than you are looking for social media.

4. This is more a personal opinion after reading the comments under both posts - NEVER READ THE COMMENTS - but joking about driving over state lines to commit violent acts against someone you disagree with seems in poor taste.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TV Endings and How They've Changed

So about three weeks ago, I finally gave in to my curiosity and started watching the BBC police drama "Luther" staring Idris Elba. I'd read good things about Luther and knew of Elba from his outstanding work in "The Wire." I was looking for something to watch one night on Netflix and figured it'd been on my list for a while and I should go ahead and give it a shot.

Not to overstate things, but it is fantastic. It is the first show that I can remember verbally saying something after a dramatic turn in the series. It's an intelligent, well-written show that I ... well, binged isn't the right word as I never watched more than two episodes at a time, but basically any time I had an hour to myself, I watched an episode. I guess it's the parental form of binging in that you watch it nightly for a few weeks after your kid(s) go(es) to bed. Overall, it hasn't been since I watched "The Wire" that I enjoyed a drama as much as I've enjoyed watching "Luther." And if you asked me now, it'd probably be second only behind "Psych" in terms of enjoyment of shows I've watched recently.

But those of you who watch BBC shows know there is one major difference between a British series and an American series. Here in the States, you can get anywhere from 13 to 22 episodes of a show each season. If a show goes six or seven seasons, you're looking at anywhere from 70 to 150 episodes and stories of the characters you grow to know and love. Not so in Britain. In their model, they have much shorter seasons, so a show may only have six episodes at a time. Such is the case with Luther. All three seasons on Netflix consist of a total 14 episodes.

Granted, this is 14 hours of gripping television. But when it ended, I was legitimately saddened. I wanted more time with the characters. I wanted to see what happened to Detective Chief Inspector John Luther after his the last case we saw. Unlike some shows (How I Met Your Mother springs to mind) where I'd pretty much seen all of their lives that I wanted to see, I felt like there was something unfinished about my time with the characters in "Luther."

One of the biggest reasons I feel this way, I think, is the Netflixification of television viewing. When "Seinfeld" ended, we all watched at the same time and went to work or school the next day and all had the shared experience of watching it. Seemingly everyone was talking about it and you could relive it with your friends, classmates or coworkers as you worked through the disappointment of a show ending. With more and more people forgoing cable in favor of streaming options (full disclosure - our family falls in to that category), the shared experiences are fewer. Odds are someone else finished watching the last episode of "Luther" the same night I did, but it wasn't anyone I knew.* I had to deal with the end of the show alone, and by alone I mean by telling people on Facebook and Twitter how much I enjoyed it. A few had already seen it, at least one said he'd probably start watching it, but ultimately that was it. No long discussions about it.

* I feel I know my wife's television tastes pretty well by now and know she's not one who would enjoy Luther. Sadly, she also doesn't find "Psych" funny, so I end up watching that alone too.

I'm as much to blame as anyone regarding the disappearances of shared pop culture experiences. Like I said, I don't have cable so I'm usually several months to several years behind the television culture. But as television and entertainment options continue to fragment, fewer and fewer shows or events bring everyone together to talk about it the next day. (Go back and look at the ratings for shows in the mid-90s and compare them to today. It's fascinating to see how we were all watching generally the same things during that time.) At this point, short of big sporting events, awards shows and The Walking Dead (which I don't watch), there isn't much that pulls us all together to watch the same thing.

On one hand, I'm completely ok with this because I appreciate the on demand availability to watch what I want when I want. And I've watched shows I otherwise would have missed or not even heard of had I not subscribed to Netflix. On the other hand, what we gain in flexibility, we lose in our shared pop culture experiences. Overall, I think the trade offs are worth it. Anything that allows people to explore their interests and hobbies at a time that's convenient for them is a good thing. And I'd never have watched a lot of the shows I've found because of it.

But I am a little saddened by what we miss out on by not having the experience together. So if you all would like to get on my schedule as I prepare to watch the final five "Psych" episodes, that'd be great.