Archive for April, 2013

Jason Collins and accepting who you are (and dealing with it)

April 30, 2013

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Jason Collins. Didn’t know he played basketball or that he played in the NBA. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it is just a fact. Didn’t know he existed at all, or that he was black. Or gay. And that’s probably a good thing.

Even if I did know who Jason Collins was, followed his career from time he was at Stanford through his 13-year career as a center in the NBA, it wouldn’t matter. Knew that he played in two NBA finals with the then-New Jersey Nets and that he signed a $25 million contract in 2004, it wouldn’t matter. Or, that since being traded in 2008, he’s become a vagabond backup, the 11th or 12th man on the bench. It wouldn’t matter.

To be fair, Collins isn’t the only gay athlete in the four “major” sports in America. Several have acknowledged it after the fact, but none during his career. As others have pointed out, there are more. It should also be noted that he is an unemployed NBA reserve center who says he wants to continue to play. As he should, as is his right. But we shall see.

The response has mostly been positive, but, as Evan Weiner on Examiner.com pointed out, how would it play in Oklahoma? (I can almost hear Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Sgt. Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman” – Only two things come from Oklahoma, boy. Steer’s and Queer’s. I don’t see no horns on you boy, so you must be a queer.”)

Collins, he says, “is no longer a “normal” player which is a sad statement on the mentality of people who shouldn’t care about these things. People like ESPN’s Chris Broussard who disqualified himself as a neutral observer reporting on basketball by blasting Collins’s announcement because as a Christian, Broussard doesn’t agree with homosexuality.

What ESPN does with Broussard is up to the “family friendly” Walt Disney Company, an organization that may not be as “family friendly” as it might appear. But Broussard is strictly a minor player and a lost voice in the media carnival barkers wilderness. The real test for just how enlightened the NBA think it is would be tested if Jason Collins had his contract assigned to the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball franchise. Since Collins will be a free agent, he will not be traded to Oklahoma City, but would Oklahoma City be interested in Collins who can deal with any of the 30 NBA teams?

“That,” Weiner concludes “might be the ultimate test in the embracement of Collins.” [1]

Two of OKC’s owners, Tom Ward and Aubrey McClendon, have contributed to anti-gay groups and in 2007 were fined for expressing their desire to move the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, but not for their political stances, tells a lot about what the NBA deems appropriate or not.

Earlier this year, Robbie Rogers, a soccer player who spent time in Major League Soccer and a couple stints on the US National Team, came out as gay. And retired. At 26 and in the prime of his career. Brittney Griner, the All-American basketball player from Baylor, acknowledged her sexuality earlier this year. The WNBA has had many lesbian players, so Griner’s career with the Phoenix Mercury should be a bit more smooth than that of Collins.

I sincerely doubt very much that Collins will ever play in the NBA again. As I have noted, he is an unemployed NBA player right now at the end of his 13-year career. And of the four “major” sports leagues, it ranks about a 3.5 on my scale. That the Pistons are a joke at the moment probably plays into that, but until the league addresses it’s competitive imbalance with more than just lip service, the league will continue to lose relevancy.

To be sure, there will be a racial aspect of this, also. That Collins is black and the black community as a whole looks at homosexuality as shameful and on the “down low”, is certainly going to raise it’s head.

There is also the fact that we allowed a whole generation of gay men to die out of fear and loathing is a stain that can never be washed out of our past. That people who were HIV-positive or had AIDS were looked upon with scorn and rejected, even after Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson.

Charles Pierce, perhaps the best sports/political writer since Hunter S. Thompson, wrote in Grantland.com today, ” Let us be humane and not make of him the vehicle of our hopes for a better world. Let us be, for lack of a better word, Christian enough not to make out of Collins’s undeniably brave decision to announce that he is gay the vessel into which we pour enough of our own precious tolerance to admire ourselves in its reflection. Let’s not make him more of a symbol than he wants to be.” [2]

That is the key right there. Do not make this out to be some sort of Jackie Robinson moment or something that it’s not. Robinson became the first black ballplayer not because he was the best, but because Branch Rickey saw character in him. Collins’ announcement shows a different kind of character, one that had reached a breaking point and he said “Screw this, I’m not going to pretend to be someone or something I’m not anymore.”

Most of us know someone or are related to someone who’s gay. I have a cousin who is and a step-cousin also. I know teammates on the US Paralympic Team who are gay and Lesbian. It doesn’t matter. What matters is being who you are and being comfortable with it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

1) http://www.examiner.com/article/jason-collins-and-sports-brave-new-world?fb_comment_id=fbc_563584957019971_6236647_563585350353265#f3a6ddfbc

2) http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9226543/jason-collins-comes-out

Alas, A Sports Post…

April 14, 2013

Five years ago today, my Grandfather died.  It was a Monday, the day after the Masters. He was 94 and one month, exactly.  Those of you who know me know I speak glowingly of him and what he meant to me.  He lived a modest life, lived in the same house for over 40 years before living with my Aunt the last two years of his life.  He survived his wife and a late-in-life romance with a woman who everyone loved.  He loved his family and we loved him.

But alas, this post isn’t about Rudolph Anderson or his life.  It is about legacy and what that means.  This morning, I made the mistake of turning on the TV and listening to the Napoleon of the Sports world, “Little” Mike Lupica start screaming about Tiger Woods and his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus.

Now, keeping in mind that Lupica is a well-known douche and Tiger is a world-re-known douche, there’s not much to really say in regards to these two, except in the Sports version of hell, there will be a special place for Lupica.   There’s something about the media’s desperate attempt to make Woods relevant again.  At 37, he is not the dominant force he once was, nor will he ever be.  But every April, June, July and August, the echos and the megaphones come out about Tiger’s quest to catch Jack.

Nicklaus won 18 Major’s.  He came in second a remarkable 19 times.  Woods has won 14, with five second place finishes.  There really is no comparison.  Woods might catch Nicklaus’ record, but since 2009, he has won zero majors and won’t win a 5th Green Jacket today.

My grandfather loved golf.  He also loved the Lions and all Detroit sports teams.  He always told me the Jack was the best and now, I agree with him.  Had Woods not “screwed” up his career a few years ago, he might have passed the Golden Bear’s record by now.  What  loudmouths like Lupica don’t understand is that Woods is just another golfer in the field these days.

Lupica is just another self-important New Yorker who thinks he is all that, when he’s not.  A friend of mine likes to tell the story of how he went to the World Series one year, and because of limited space in the Press Box, had to sit out with the fans.  “Don’t you know who I am?” he shrieked. This protesting kept on for a good half hour.  Finally, Dave Anderson, the great writer from the New York Times, came up to him and said, “They do, and they don’t care.”

Woods is still “important” because he’s who he is.  Lupica’s importance is only in his mind.

Life, regret and survival (Or something like that)

April 13, 2013

There is a part of me, at my age, that wonders what the rest of my life will be like.  There are days when I wonder what I am doing and there are days when I know exactly what I want.  And then there are days when I look at my parents and go “Hell no.”

Fifteen years ago, I was 39.  I decided to take a flyer and move to face the unknown.  Moved to a small town in Northwest Wisconsin to be with a woman whom I thought would love me and give me some measure of respect from those I was leaving behind.  It was so fast and weird that I sometimes wonder if it happened at all.  But it did.  And I have had to live with the consequences and regret of not understanding or knowing the hurt I inflicted on myself and others in the aftermath of my nine month Odyssey.

I think sometimes we see ourselves differently than others see us.  Or rather, how others see us.  I have always felt I was being viewed as a joke.  The butt of, not being taken seriously, of being the punch line.  I have been accused of being things that I’m not, of not being worthy of anything because of my choices.  Whether it was what I looked like  (“disheveled” is my favorite), my attitude ( “does not make friends,” “angry”, “self-serving”, and my favorite, from my step-mom, “Kent, you’re the most cynical person I have ever known.  You were cynical at 10 when I first met you and you’re even more cynical now.” I took it as a compliment), to the way I act, to my many failings with women.  I have been laughed at, rejected, threatened, and even driven to the brink by someone who “knew me” in my youth.

Somehow, I have survived all that and now can say what happened to me in that period of time has made me more honest and less trusting of anyone, male or female, whom I don’t know.  I trust those who come through for me, those who accept me for my faults and still love and care about me.  Do folks lie?  Like my dead dog.  I look back on my journey and experience not with anger, but with regret the kind that Aeschylus spoke of, where regret morphs into wisdom through the “awful grace of God.”

The best thing I can say is that I learned a valuable lesson.  That, as an adult, you can’t find unconditional love unless it’s through a child or an animal.  There are always conditions.  The fact that I was used in the manner of which I was isn’t the point anymore.  I allowed it to happen and I paid a price beyond money and loss could ever calculate is immeasurable in real terms.  I look at it as a hoax, a not-so-elaborate one that I couldn’t see it coming, but could do nothing to stop it.  One of the last things I said to her was this:  I don’t care that you lied to me.  You lied to my mother. ”

In the immediate aftermath, I hurt a lot of people and some have never forgiven me for that.  I “lived” at a motel 6 for almost a year, went through Bankruptcy, was badgered and hounded by people who I thought loved me.  Drifted and worked dead-end jobs in an attempt to sustain some sense of dignity. Between 1999 and 2004, I lived in seven different places, for a while, all I had for an address was a Post Office Box.  I got kicked out of one place just for having a window open and another place for who-knows what.

Along that journey, I learned something about myself.  Once you become aware of your mistakes and look back at them and say, “Geeze, what was I thinking?” Or better yet, the way Danny DeVito  put it in “The Big Kahuna”, “It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

I am older.  I am settled.  I know who I can count on and how much bullshit I can put up with.  I realize I am not perfect or without faults or a dark side.  I have no illusions or visions of grandeur any more.  I wish people were more accepting of me, and my life, but that’s their problem, not mine.  Do I still have dreams and aspirations?  Of course I do, but they are tempered with my reality and my limitations.

 

As much as I hope it will happen, my reality is quite different.  As The Keeper on Talos IV reminds Captain Kirk of Commodore Pike’s condition “Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant.”