What the hell’s going on out here?
“What the hell’s going on out here?!?”- Vince Lombardi
Let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t care about Colin Kaepernick. I don’t care that he refuses to stand for the national anthem. I don’t care what he thinks about the state of race relations in this country. I don’t care that he seems to equate Malcolm X and Fidel Castro with justice. I don’t care about his promise to continue his protest until some vague “change” occurs in America. I don’t even care that he’s likely only doing all this so he can disingenuously point to it as the cause when the 49ers inevitably release him, if they can’t trade him away.
I wrote in this space a number of months ago on politics in sports, although at the time it was specific to baseball. The NFL has traditionally been slightly more risk averse where political statements by players or teams are concerned, often to a ludicrous extent. The NFL is a private organization and can react or not react to Kaepernick’s antics however they like, although I suspect their stance will mirror the milquetoast statement of the 49ers, “recognizing” Kaepernick’s right to protest but “disagreeing” with his method. The statement is technically defensible as far as it goes and also just so happens to skirt offending either those inclined to agree with Kaepernick or those inclined to vehemently disagree. In modern corporate America, it’s really the only stance the NFL can take.
Personally, I’m not even much interested in whether or not Kaepernick’s perceived grievances are true, or even truly his. Abandoned by a black father and white mother and raised by an adoptive white family, it would be natural for him to seek an explanation why, and easy for him to find some form of systemic racism to blame for his father being unable to raise him, thus absolving his father of guilt. But that’s pop psychology. Speculation that Kaepernick was, in a sense, “Jimi Hendrixed” on racial issues when he reached the NFL isn’t all that interesting, either.
Kaepernick’s stated reasoning for his protest, that the U.S. is a country “that oppresses black people and people of color,” has drawn the expected fire, mainly in the form of statements to the effect that Kaepernick is disrespecting veterans and that he is showing support for anti-police factions with his comment that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He has been painted, justifiably, as essentially a spoiled recipient of the very privilege he is protesting.
In their statement the San Francisco 49ers say: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in the celebration of the national anthem.”
It’s easy to say “well sure, when it comes to a left wing cause of course the NFL is all for freedom of speech but when Tim Tebow wore his Christianity on his sleeve the NFL wasn’t quite so gung ho about it.” That’s a fair criticism. There certainly does seem to be a double standard at times. But that doesn’t make the 49ers statement any less true. It’s the position we should all be taking. Trying to make Kaepernick out to be anything other than what he is (essentially a black male Jane Fonda) just gives him what he wants, more mics in his face in the press conferences.
Not standing for the anthem is a juvenile and ham-handed method of protesting, especially when what you’re protesting is largely a myth. But calling Kaepernick a traitor, using the “if you’re so oppressed just leave” line, these are equally ham-handed. Because Kaepernick is an American citizen. He is free to protest whatever stupid cause, in whatever stupid way, he sees fit. That fact, that ideal, should be something we all recognize as a glorious thing instead of debating who’s a “real” American and threatening boycotts depriving ourselves of watching a sport we love because of what one idiot backup quarterback believes.
One of the great tragedies of modern America is that the government has intruded into the lives of citizens to such a great extent that people can no longer shrug off political disagreements because political control of the government by the ‘other side’ actually DOES have the potential to affect lives. Kaepernick is protesting cops (the government) in California, of all places. So maybe Colin needs to take a deeper look at what the real problems might be. He might find the answers aren’t to be found in more or better government. If he really wants to feel oppressed, he should look at his tax returns. Then he can really start hating the Man.
It has become popular this year to criticize our two horribly deficient major party presidential candidates. I guess that sort of happens in every election, but in this year, the criticism seems to be particularly loud. On the one hand, we have a decrepit leftover with a disproven world view and the ethics of a payday lender. Her opponent is a raging narcissist and possible sociopath with a penchant for fabricating facts and awkwardly ogling his own daughter.
320 million people, and we came up with these two?
Equally popular this year is apportioning blame for the lack of quality in our final two contenders for the highest office in the land. At one point or another, I have seen pieces blaming any combination of the following:
I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to me off the top of my head. It does, however, leave out the most culpable but seemingly least-often blamed group: people that vote.
That’s right, folks, I am turning the blame cannon squarely at you in a way that an elected official (who, obviously, needs your vote and therefore would never be such a bitch about it) never, ever will. You’re at fault. I’m at fault. We’re all at fault. Everything else is a sideshow: we did this to ourselves.
Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for exactly one reason: he got the most votes. Of all of the people who walked into a voting booth to render their preference during primary season, more of them chose that bramble-headed buffoon than any of the other candidates. The voters, in relatively overwhelming numbers, decided that he was the person in that field of candidates that they most wanted to serve as president. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee because the voters (of both the superdelegate and non-superdelegate variety) that decided to cast a ballot decided that, warts and all, she was the person that they most wanted to serve as president.
Stop blaming others and start owning your own culpability and the culpability of your friends and families. We got what we (collectively) wanted.
Frankly, this is not an isolated phenomenon. We have quite a habit of distributing blame for things that we, as Americans, shoulder responsibility. Why do we have a $19 trillion dollar Federal debt and barely-calculable unfunded obligations? Why has the Federal government spent more money than it received in every single year since 1957? Because that is what we voted for. The electoral message that has consistently thrived in both parties at every level of government since after WWII is “I will give you more and more government, and I am not going to make you pay for it. I will deliver to you benefits that we can all collectively decide will be paid for by your children and grandchildren.” (Oh, but Millennials are the lazy freeloaders, amirite?)
Our elected officials have given us massive new departments of Education, Energy and Homeland Security, an explosion of military spending, and expansion of Medicare and Social Security and growing subsidies for a variety of activities and products, all while cutting the overall tax burden across the breadth of taxpayers. We have rewarded that behavior by electing those who promised to do more of it, and re-electing those who prove to be particularly good at it.
Why do we have a health care system that can’t control the explosive growth of its cost? Republicans will tell you that it is government intervention and malpractice attorneys. Democrats will tell you that it is evil profit-driven insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Well, I have bad news for all of you…the problem with the American Health Care System is Americans. Aging, fat, sedentary, impatient and entitled Americans who want to be able to see any doctor they want at any time in a world-class hospital and be prescribed any designer drug they can think of for every minor ache, pain or inconvenience. And not only do we want “someone else” to pay for all of it, but outside of smoking, we even refuse to require payment for our own risky behaviors. Voters continue to respond to candidates who promise them that they can maintain revoltingly disgusting personal habits, receive world leading care and enjoy unfettered access, all on someone else’s dime.
The first step in any self-improvement initiative is to recognize one’s own culpability in whatever has gone wrong in their life. This applies to the collective as well, and it is time that we start taking responsibility for our own actions. Congress sucks because they do exactly what we want them to, and we want them to do really sucky things. Our presidential candidates suck because we suck at picking presidential candidates. You can talk until you’re blue in the face over the outsized influence of the alt-right or whichever of George Soros or the Koch Brothers represents your political enemies. But at some point, we have to own our own failings.
Sometimes It Rains
Alex Rodriguez played his final game for the New York Yankees, and likely his final game as a professional baseball player, Friday night in New York. He went 1-4 with an RBI double as DH, although manager Joe Girardi let him finish the game in the field, at third base. It seemed an ignominious end for a man who once was on a certain path to being the greatest baseball player who ever lived: a few charity at-bats, one more turn at the hot corner, and released prior to the end of the season by the most storied franchise in sport. So how does one write the obituary for a great athletic career when that career could have been so much greater? How should we view a man touched by the gods, who by all statistical measures was one of the greatest who ever lived, when we know beyond any doubt that but for his human foibles and character flaws he could have been The Greatest? Is he a tragic figure, or a cautionary tale?
First, the numbers: in 22 seasons he had 696 home runs (4th all-time), 2086 RBI (3rd all-time), 3115 hits (19th all-time), was only the 3rd player to steal 300 bases and hit 500 home runs, won 3 AL MVP awards (one of only four players to win an MVP at two different positions, SS and 3B), 10 Silver Sluggers, 14 All Star selections, and 2 Gold Gloves. Rodriguez holds the career mark for Grand Slams with 25. He is the only player to hit 150 home runs with 3 different teams. These statistics place him in the pantheon of baseball, alongside the legends. He is a lock as a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Except he isn’t.
Drafted first overall in the 1993 draft by the Seattle Mariners, Rodriguez debuted the following year at only 18 years of age. In Seattle he won a batting title and a handful of Silver Slugger awards, and was a perennial All-Star. His public image problems arguably started when, after the 2000 season as a free agent, he was signed by the Texas Rangers to the largest contract in baseball history, a 10-year, $252 million deal which was highly criticized by both fans and baseball insiders and is still viewed by many as the worst contract in the history of the sport. In fact, A-Rod has the distinction of being the man signed to possibly the two worst contracts in the history of baseball.
He played well in Texas, winning an MVP award, although the team never made the playoffs in three seasons and his contract was seen as an albatross around the neck of an organization. But the complaints were largely muffled by the Texas heat in a football obsessed market. Then, after the 2003 season, he was traded to the New York Yankees. It was under the lights of the New York media that A-Rod’s personal faults would not only be magnified, but would precipitate one of the farthest falls from grace in American sports, probably surpassed only by that of Lance Armstrong.
There were the tabloids splashing the front pages with details of his personal life. Rodriguez was seen as a guy who wasn’t “clutch”, wasn’t a guy who came through in the big spot. In short, for the money, he was often viewed as a bum. Sure he won two more MVP awards and graciously (at least publicly) accepted a move to third base from his natural position at shortstop, but the Yankees only won one title. And of course there were the steroid allegations. But those allegations only serve to shine a light on A-Rod’s real flaws.
In a sense fate was unkind to A-Rod. When the Mitchell Report was released in December of 2007, most of the players mentioned had either retired or were close to it. Rodriguez, not mentioned in the report, still saw fit to go on 60 Minutes and deny any prior steroid use. Two years later, in February of 2009, Sports Illustrated broke the story the Rodriguez had failed a 2003 drug test while with the Rangers, for an anabolic steroid. His press conference later that month admitting to the allegations is a weird amalgam of blame shifting and an attempt to reiterate that he was no longer on steroids and had never taken them in New York.
But just a year later, in February 2010, the New York Daily News reported that Rodriguez had been linked to Anthony Galea, a Florida doctor arrested for drug smuggling and intent to distribute, among other things. One of the drugs in question was human growth hormone (HGH), a drug Rodriguez had previously specifically denied using. In December 2012 it was announced A-Rod would undergo a hip replacement and would miss at least half of the 2013 season. While recuperating, it was revealed Rodriguez was tied to the Biogenesis scandal, a case of another Florida clinic accused of supplying athletes with HGH and other drugs. In August of the year, A-Rod was suspended by MLB for 211 games, later reduced to 162, or the entire 2014 season.
It is an incident in 2009 which may best demonstrate Rodriguez’s fatal flaw. He had announced at his mea culpa press conference he had joined and was supported by the Taylor Hooton Foundation, an organization formed in 2004 and named for a teenager who had committed suicide due to steroid use. The Foundation’s mission was to educate young athletes, coaches, and parents of the danger of steroid abuse. A-Rod cynically attached his name to the cause, seeing it as an opportunity to rehab his damaged image. The Foundation cut ties with him after the 2013 Biogenesis revelations.
Between the time missed due to injuries and suspensions Rodriguez missed in essence two full seasons of baseball. For a quasi everyday player, that equates to 650 or more plate appearances per season. The possibilities of the numbers he could have put up, should have put up, boggle the baseball mind. The speculation that steroids led to injuries, particularly his bothersome left hip, costing him at-bats in other seasons as well is just that, speculation. But it seems at least a likely possibility.
So why is Alex Rodriguez so disliked, so viewed as a disappointment? It can’t only be the steroids. Plenty of players are going to have to wait to be elected to Cooperstown because of steroids, and they don’t engender the same visceral dislike. Some of it may be the feeling that A-Rod threw away something by missing all that time, and that he ultimately failed to put up the numbers he should have achieved. It may be the money that he is still owed on those contracts, with only the one ring to show for it.
It can’t be that we hold greatness on the field to a ridiculously high moral standard off it and blame them when a failing keeps them from being as great as we believe they should have been. But people loved Mickey Mantle, with all his very human faults, even though those faults arguably cut his career short. Maybe his faults we could see in ourselves, though: the alcoholism, always striving to live up to his father’s expectations, especially after his father’s death, and always feeling he couldn’t quite reach them.
A-Rod’s failings are much harder for American sports fans to forgive. He is, in short, a narcissist. Not in the preening, physical aspect (although he is that, as well), but in the clinical definition of a personality disorder. The arrogance, the lack of empathy, the obvious need for adoration. All the lies he looked into the camera and told knowing not only that they were lies but believing he would actually get away with it. All that ever really seemed to matter to A-Rod was A-Rod, and American sports fans, especially baseball fans, need to believe you love the game as much as they do. That you would play, as Ray Liotta put it as Shoeless Joe Jackson, for “food money”. At the end of the day Alex Rodriguez was a special, special baseball talent. By the numbers he belongs in Cooperstown one day. He had the arm, the speed, the glove, the bat. But he never seemed to find the joy in playing. He lacked the one thing baseball fans cannot forgive him for lacking. In the end, he just didn’t have the heart.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.