#NoKaepNoNFL, week 10: love the players, hate the game (if you must)

I had a completely different post in mind. It was a rant. It was scathing! It was filled with anger and frustration! I was ready to rain down my righteous anger.

Then this story came out.

Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver for the rudder-less 49ers, makes a huge play, collapses to his knees in the endzone, helps his team get their first win…

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… and then announces after the game via instagram that he and his wife have lost their baby.

The story was gut wrenching. What gives a man the strength to play a demanding sport after such a loss? And not only to play, but to, apparently, play at a really high level!

It reminded me of one of the all time great quarterback performances I have witnessed. Brett Favre, on a Monday night game, the day after his father died, threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns in what felt like an otherworldly performance. He would throw a touchdown, celebrate briefly with his teammates, then go back to the sidelines and weep. It was, simply, unbelievable to watch.

This had the same feel. I was already moved just reading the story. Then this:

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This was the picture that Goodwin posted on his Instagram with the message “Unfortunately we lost our baby boy due to some complications, and had to prematurely deliver him early this morning around 4am. Although we are hurt, I am grateful for the experience and grateful that God blessed me with a wife as courageous and resilient as Morgan. The pain (physically, mentally, & emotionally) that she has endured is unbelievable. Please Pray for the Goodwin family”

I saw the picture and I lost it. I choked up, I couldn’t breathe. Something about that image…

I pray that I never know the pain of losing a child. It is my greatest fear. I don’t know that I would recover… I don’t think it is something from which one recovers. I can’t imagine this beautiful couples’ pain.

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It’s easy for me, slow, un-athletic, doughy me, to look up to these men who are incredible specimens of strength, speed, and athleticism. I’ve idolized these men. I’ve marveled on the occasions that I’ve met them face-to-face. I’ve put them on to pedestals. And yet, at the end of the day, they are men. Mere mortals. Human beings with thoughts, feelings, families, and dreams. No better and no worse than any of the rest of us, just gifted with physical skills and incredible discipline.

I can’t imagine what it has been like to be an NFL player this season. To work so hard to get to the pinnacle of your sport, to realize your dreams of getting to play in front of thousands of people on Sunday, but then to have that dream politicized in such a divisive manner. I rarely take the time to put myself in their shoes, but when I do, I feel great sympathy.

I hate to see religion and church maligned and misused by outside voices. Or even “insiders” who give the rest of us a bad name. I imagine it’s a similar feeling.

For a lot of the players, even the ones who support Kaepernick and the stance that he took, the scrutiny has to be obnoxious. Most of these men want to play the game that they love, support their families, and give something back to their communities. It’s got to be hard in that circumstance to then feel like you have to make a statement on behalf of your race, one that is perceived as being against your country by many. That’s not what any of these guys signed up for.

That said, I do think they should use their platform to support the things that matter to them. “With great power comes great responsibility” and all that. Speaking on public issues is a part of being a public figure, and like it or not, they are public figures.

But they’re humans. Some of them pretty young men who left college early to play a sport professionally. Some of them experiencing having money for the first time in their lives. While they should be given the same accountability as any adult, I don’t know if they deserve the levels of scrutiny they receive.

I’m sure it seems hypocritical for me to be talking about the humanity of NFL players when I seems to downplay the impacts of CTE on their lives. In light of the recent revelations about Aaron Hernandez’s brain damage, it’s hard to ignore what these men do to themselves. two things:  1) I own my hypocrisy  2) the freedom to do what we will with our lives, to pursue our passions even while knowing the risk, is part of being human. Let’s not fool ourselves, anyone who has played football at any level knows that getting hit in the head isn’t good. I’ve had my bell rung a time or two. But I’ll tell you what; even with what I know about brain injury, if I had the chance and skill to play a year at the NFL level, I would in a heartbeat. I’m sure there are some for whom I will never be able to explain that.

When it comes to the humans behind the game, I think it is important to go back to the man who has had such an incredible impact on me this year, Mr. Colin Kaepernick. I would strongly encourage you all to read GQ’s “citizen of the year” story on him. He really is a remarkable man who has had an influence far beyond the football field and the photography is gorgeous, especially where Kaep is pictured with children. He broke his silence for his interview with GQ because he wanted to “reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself”. The article reminds us the history of activism within the sports world and demonstrates the widespread impact that Kaepernick’s influence has had on popular culture, the media, sports, and politics.

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Athletes in our culture have an incredible opportunity to make social change because they are human. They bleed as we bleed, love as we love, and face loss as we lose. Harry Belefonte sums it well for GQ. “any person with a high profile has to consider their responsibility to help keep the nation honorable and honest. After all the courageous things that have been done by so many courageous people, it’s a cop-out to not speak up”.

Amen.

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#NoKaepNoNFL, weeks 8 and 9: Cold, Dark Days

Since the beginning of my NFL boycott, one nagging thought has plagued me:

What if the Steelers go to the Super Bowl this year?

This was one of the risks. I am spoiled. My team is a perennial playoff team. They’re always in the national conversation.

This year is no exception. Most power rankings have them listed no lower than the fourth best team in the league. My son has taken to giving me weekly game highlights. From a seven year old’s perspective, which I often share, they are a very fun team to watch right now.

Of course, it doesn’t help that one of the other league frontrunners is the Philadelphia Eagles. I am not an Eagles fan, but I have jonesed for a PA Super Bowl for as long as I can remember.

“The Battle for the Turnpike”

“Primanti’s vs. Cheese Steak”

“Winner gets to replace Harrisburg as the capitol”

I’ve run this scenario through my mind a bit over the years. Right now, it’s not looking too far fetched.

Is this the year that the PA Super Bowl is going to happen? Really, Football Gods?!

These are pretty typical midseason thoughts for me, and I have to confess… I didn’t see the boycott lasting this long. I thought injuries or trades would force some team to swallow their pride and sign Kaep. Several teams had the chance. No takers. The owners dug their heels in.

In the meantime, the NFL has become another front for the culture wars, both sides claiming victory. Conservatives say that slumping NFL attendance is because of the on-field protests. Liberals, those of us who care at all, point to loss of black fans and allies over the Kaepernick situation. It’s amazing the lengths that people will go to erase black influence on the culture, even electing a… never mind.

Kaepernick himself is taking legal action against the league claiming they colluded to keep him off the field. I don’t know what will come of it other than forcing owners to defend their indefensible position. Perhaps that’s the point. It feels like a move that will make him even less employable. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s the right move, but I do want to see him back in the league again. I can’t imagine what this fall has been like for him…

In the time since I last wrote on this subject, the weather has turned. It’s chilly and rainy and the beauty of fall is transitioning into the gloom of fall. Football has long been a part of how I overcame the gloom. Sweatpants, comfort food, football. Sounds perfect right now.

The last couple of days have been plagued by seasonal affect disorder and a bit of a cold. These are also fall rituals for me. The dark days take it out of me. My garden has gone from teeming with life to a kind of melancholy mud pit with a few tomatoes hanging on for dear life.

In retrospect, football has helped me get through these autumnal doldrums in the past; a shot of testosterone and adrenaline at the beginning of the week to help counteract the cold, darkening days.

A lot of this past year has felt like a slog through dark, cold days. The “on this day” feature on Facebook was probably not meant to be as triggering as it is, but being reminded that a year ago I was trying to make sense of how the country had just handed the White House to a man who has been as bad as advertised… it’s not fun.

But those fights through dark, cold days gave us what happened this past Tuesday, big electoral wins and a reaffirmation that bigotry and close-mindedness will not have the last word. Perhaps the takeaway here is that the cold, dark days don’t get to have the last word. Perhaps…

But those autumnal wins came from work done in the spring and summer, when people felt galvanized. Fall is harvest time, when we reap what we’ve sown then rest.

One of my favorite reads of the last few years was written by Michael Pollen, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. In his book “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education”, he summarizes his section on fall like this:

Autumn’s no season for defiance. You can dispute nature’s agenda all you want, play tug-of war till you’re blue in the face, but the duck party never wins, not really. So if I feel like giving up now, if I feel like shedding for a time the cares of this garden and following Thoreau out into that wider one, the October forest, then I will. To do so is not to forsake my garden, only to acknowledge the temporariness of my hold on it, and the inevitability of its demise. 

Pollon goes on:

A garden that never died eventually would wear; maybe gardens require a wall in time as well as space. The garden winter didn’t visit is a dull place, robbed of springtime, unacquainted with the extraordinary perfume that rises from the soil after it’s had its rest. That promise, the return every spring of earth’s freshness, would never be kept if not for the frosts and rot and ripe deaths of fall. 

Maybe that all seems morbid to you, but I find it incredibly hopeful. One of the damaging aspects of our industrialized world is that it has taken us out of natural cycles. We, in fact, are ramping up activity just as everything in nature is yelling “shut it down”. We start our school years then move into the frenzy of the holidays. The noise helps us to ignore what’s happening outside of our windows; cycles of life and death, the land going fallow, storing, gathering, and hibernating. All with the promise of a spring to come.

It makes me feel slightly more normal to know that nature is ramping down on these dark, cold days when I can hardly drag myself out of bed. Maybe this is the time when I’m supposed to power down, store up, and get ready for the work that will come next spring. And in the meantime, I can stop and reflect on the lessons of the summer that has just passed.

It’s hard to do that with football on in the background…

With all this talk of gardening, I wanted to highlight two things I cam across this week. One is the Smithsonian Gardens. While I’ve always known the grounds around the museums were immaculate, I didn’t realize that the Smithsonian also maintained several gardens for education and conservation. While most of them are ramping down, there are still year-round tours available for those in the D.C. area.

Also in the area is an organization called DC Greens. DC Greens does food education and food policy advocacy in the region toward the end of “Advancing Food Justice in the Nation’s capitol”. They work in schools equipping teachers and creating school gardens, they work with farmers’ markets to create greater access to healthy food, and they work with local lawmakers to ensure that food access and education are priorities in the region. I’ve absolutely loved learning about their work and I’m anxious to find more ways to get involved.

 

https://www.patreon.com/derricklweston

 

 

 

This can’t be “normal”.

I don’t know how you do it.

Maybe you’re faking it really well.

But it seems like lots of you are pulling it off.

Going about your day, acting like everything is okay.

I get it. I’ve only seen your social media. I’m sure you’re tweeting from your bed or updating Facebook from under your desk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming you. I’ve been trying to do it too.

I went to therapy. We didn’t even talk about the shooting. In fact, we talked about all the personal progress I’ve been making. Happy times!

I listened to podcast driving into work. i laughed.

But I sit down and any time I stop to think, any time I try to push it out of my mind and get to work, there it is.

Someone walked into a church, opened fire, and reduced the population of a small town by 5%.

They say it was domestic violence, not terrorism.

Ok, sure.

They blame his mental illness.

Most of the mentally ill people I know, my self included, are more likely to hurt themselves than others.

I blame our easy access to military grade weapons.

But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who we blame.

There will be no accountability.

There will be no sweeping change.

There will be no grand societal shift.

People will deflect from the issue of guns.

They will blame mental illness while defunding mental health.

They will blame domestic abuse while refusing to protect women.

Nothing will change.

We will have vigils and think pieces.

I wanted to write a think piece. I can’t. I wrote one three mass shootings ago.

Nothing changed.

Why?

Because we pretend this is okay.

Because we go back to work.

Because we don’t let these tragedies affect our productivity or our bottom lines.

Because we can’t miss that deadline. Because we have to make those widgets.

Because the show must go on.

Because this is normal.

That’s not okay.

Shame on me. Shame on us!

We should have all gotten up this morning and screamed at the top of our lungs:

THIS IS NOT NORMAL!!!!

We should have all called in to the office and said, “I can’t come in, I’m outraged!”

We should have taken a national day of “fuck this shit!”

This keeps happening because we don’t let it interrupt the flow of our day, we keep a stiff upper lip, we keep on truckin’.

There’s no room for grief, sorrow, or lament.

There’s no room for interruption of our regularly scheduled program, no room for deviation from our present course.

There have been more mass shootings in this year than there have been days.

I didn’t have time to get over Vegas.

We’ve let this become normal.

Through our numbness, through our apathy, through our hopelessness, we let this become normal.

Because we’re cried out, because of compassion fatigue, because it’s just all too much, we let this become normal.

Well, fuck that!

This can’t be our normal. It can’t be.

I work at a church. It doesn’t need to be my church for me to be outraged.

My kids go to a school. It doesn’t need to be their school for me to be outraged.

I go to concerts. It doesn’t have to be my kind of music for me to be outraged.

We’ve decided collectively that this is okay.

THIS IS NOT OKAY!

So close you computer screens.

Turn off your phones.

Go hug your kids and promise them they’ll be alright even though there’s no way you can ensure that.

Take time out to feel the fear, the anger, the sadness, the grief.

Make room for the big feelings that should accompany big tragedy.

Don’t bury your head in the sand.

Don’t do business as usual. Business as usual is what got us here.

Shed your tears, pound your desk, scream to the heavens,

“WHY GOD???!!!! HOW MUCH LONGER???”

Then, only after you have caused a bottleneck in the conveyor belt,

after you have missed the calls, after you have cried through the morning meeting,

then… only then…

smile bigger

hug harder

risk greater

love better.

 

 

 

Re: Married

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I like being married.

No, I love being married!

And not just the last three weeks, though they have been great! I loved being married before. I like having a partner. I like sharing life with someone. I love making a home with someone.

I’m also not well suited to being a bachelor. Partly because, as much I need my alone time, I don’t like being alone for long. This is the dilemma of a people-loving introvert. There was a time after my divorce where I thought I might be the swinging bachelor type. I am not. I was told by a woman I saw briefly in that period, “there are guys you marry and there are guys you fuck. you are the first type”. At the time, desperately wanting to be the second type, I took it as an insult. She didn’t mean it as one. I don’t think…

I’m assuming she meant that I’m the kind of guy with whom you can have long, meaningful conversations, share laughter as well as sorrow with, and that I’m generally good company.

That’s how I’m gonna take it.

In any event, I’m better as half of a couple and it’s nice to be that again officially.

I’ve been thinking about writing this since the big day and I’ve stopped myself on a couple of occasions. Other things have come up about which I wanted or needed to write. That’s part of it. But there’s also the fact that this wasn’t my first rodeo.

I got married… again.

There are almost unavoidable temptations to compare the first wedding to the second, the first marriage to the current one. That seems unfair to both my current and ex wives and yet it also feels somewhat inescapable. I don’t want to dishonor either, especially my ex.

I have a friend who refers to his first marriage as his practice marriage. It makes me laugh every time, but it’s not a sentiment I can share. A marriage that produced two amazing kids can hardly be called “practice”.

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No, my first marriage was just that… a marriage. Filled with more joy than pain, more laughs than tears, more good times than bad, it ultimately ended because in some ways we both stopped being an “us”. I take most of but not all of the blame for that. It takes two to tango. When one person wants to keep tangoing while the other wants to start a waltz… I’m not going to continue on with this metaphor. You get my point.

I don’t regret my first marriage in the least. Yes, I got married way younger than I would advise most people to get married, but I don’t think that was the problem. We both changed. I don’t think we changed together. And I don’t think we particularly liked the ways the other changed. And we didn’t talk about that enough.

She might disagree with my diagnosis. <insert shrug emoji>

While I don’t consider my first marriage “practice” I bring a lot of lessons learned into this new phase of life. I’ve learned a lot about myself, what I need in a partner, and what I have to offer someone else. I’ve also learned a lot about my own capacity for selfishness, apathy, and cruelty.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is not to be scared of big emotions, mine or my partner’s. Shannon has big emotions and expresses them in big ways. I love that about her! There’s was a time when it would have been “too much”. I would have felt smothered. Now, I can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather be smothered by…

…I stand by that statement.

I’m not afraid of my own big emotions either. Some things make me really angry. Some things make me laugh uncontrollably. Some things make me cry now that would have gone unnoticed only a few years ago. I’m growing comfortable being someone more oriented toward feelings than thoughts, a big shift for someone who always liked to be thought of as cerebral. I love that Shannon can pull feelings out me, even if it is a slow, tedious process at times.

Our couples therapist said to us that getting married again after all we’ve both been through was a major act of hope and faith. Maybe. I see what she was saying. It would be easy to be calloused, hardened by unmet expectations, disappointment, and betrayal. To make yourself vulnerable to yet another person after you know how badly you can be hurt is difficult.

But faith and hope imply a lack of empirical evidence. We’ve been challenged a lot over the last couple of years, some by our own demons, some by outside circumstances. We’ve managed to forgive, love, and reconnect through all of them. I’ve learned more about grace through Shannon than any scripture, sermon, or commentary could teach me. Together, we’ve learned that we can overcome just about anything as long as we stay in the room with each other. So yes, I take the strength of our marriage on faith, but it has also been tested and proven strong.

I write this shortly after our second batch of wedding photos has arrived. It was a perfect day. We invited only folks who know us as couple which made some friends and family (mostly mine) pretty angry, but I hope that those who were angry will take the time to get to know us as a couple.

The pictures remind me of the perfection of the day. It was a day full of love and family, and friends, and laughter, and good food, and drinks (lots of drinks), and grace, and yes, hope. Hope that two broken people could come together to live one life. Hope that two broken families could come together to be one, big, silly family. Hope that the demons of the past would not be the obstacles of the future.

I love being married.

I love being married to Shannon.

I love our family.

I love our life together.

An right now, I love life!

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“Night” and Day: What do we do with Elie Weisel?

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Ever since the accusations against Harvey Weinstein emerged, women have felt empowered to raise their voices against powerful men who have sexually assaulted or harassed them. The perpetrators have ranged from other Hollywood elites like Ben Affleck to journalist Mark Halperin, to former President George H.W. Bush. It seems any time we men are given a little bit of power, we use it against women.

Kudos to the brave women who have stepped up and named the perpetrators knowing that their names could potentially be dragged through the mud next. Many of the men being accused now are, at the very least, owning their misdeeds, apologizing, and at least in the public sphere, facing some consequences.

That’s a good thing.

One accusation hit me harder than some of the others, though, and I feel like I may have to go into some unpopular territory to work through it. Please stick with me.

Earlier this week, I read Jenny Listman’s article, plainly titled, “When I Was Nineteen Years Old, Elie Weisel Grabbed My Ass“. Even writing that here makes my brain and my heart hurt. What a surreal world we live in.

Before I go any further, let me say that I fully believe Ms. Listman. I say that without equivocation or qualification. I believe you, Ms. Listman! Thank you for being brave enough to share your story!

So now… what do we do with Elie Weisel? What do we do with any powerful man who has produced great work, done great things, contributed to society at large and still commit heinous acts?

What do you do especially with someone like Weisel who has had an incredible impact on shaping our collective moral compass since the end of the second World War?

I don’t have easy answers. To me, Night will always be a must read. I will never shy away from posting Weisel’s words, words such as:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
To me, those are strong adages to live by. But as any of us who have any kind of public platform know, we must be diligent in practicing what we preach. It’s Weisel’s own words that force me to speak against him here.
Weisel died just last year. I don’t know what would have happened if he had lived to read Ms. Listman’s accusations against him. I want to believe that he would have owned his mistake, apologized to his accuser, and done what he could to make amends for his frankly cowardly act.
I want to believe that.
But that door has closed.
What’s left is the tarnishing of a great man’s legacy, brought about by his own willingness to use his power against a vulnerable person.
I suppose this is where I’m supposed to go into Calvinistic, total depravity territory. I hate that language. We’re all imperfect, but I still start from the framework of all of us being created in the Divine image. At the end of the day, we all carry good around with us.
As the “woke” kids say, all of our “favs” are “problematic”. MLK was an adulterer. All of my favorite rappers have used homophobic or misogynistic lyrics. Every pastor I know has unhealthy coping mechanisms.
We’re all complicated.
That’s not to let anyone off the hook. People need to be called into account for their actions. I do think there are cautions that we should observe as we think about how we approach these kinds of scandals.
I’ll start with where I think many may disagree with me: I don’t believe that bad behavior disqualifies good work. Like I said, I still think Night is a must read. Harvey Weinstein still executive produced Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, and most of Tarentino’s films. MLK is still… well, MLK.
No piece of work has ever been produced by an uncomplicated person. Great work does not vindicate a person, but we run the risk of throwing out a lot of babies, which should never happen despite how dirty the bath water is.
That said, we also have to be aware of our own triggers. Personally, I can’t watch The Cosby Show right now. It’s an amazing, groundbreaking show, but I can’t look at Bill Cosby without being a little sick to my stomach. Ms. Listman may not be able to read Night again, and I think that is within her right. We need to respect that people will set the bar at different places.
So here’s the other unpopular thing I’ll say: we have to talk about sexual assault in terms of degrees. In our current climate, we have a broad definition of sexual assault. Sexual assault can range from an unwanted touch to rape. I don’t disagree with that all, but unless a whole lot of information comes out about Weisel in the next few weeks, I can’t put Weisel in the same category as Weinstein.
That may be unfair to the victim of a Weisel. It may seem like it is discounting Ms. Listman’s experience of being violated. That is the last thing that I want to do. She has every right to be heard and were it possible and her attacker should have been held to account. The difference is that Weisel should have been shamed and forced to apologize and maybe make financial restitution to Ms. Listman. By all accounts, Weinstein and Cosby should be in jail.
Part of this conversation needs to leave room open for abusers, men or women, to grow and that isn’t always something we do well. Again, looking at the breadth of the accusations against him, I don’t take Harvey Weinstein’s week long “sex rehab” very seriously. That said, I do believe that people are capable of doing better once they know better.
Men, including some who have been caught up in the recent scandals, often make the claim that having a daughter has changed their perspective on how they have treated women in the past. I think that can be a positive thing as long as it is not tied to a desire to control their daughters’ sexualities.
For some men, the recent #metoo campaign has been an eye opener. While it shouldn’t take knowing someone personally to take sexual assault seriously, nor should it take the knowledge that the experience of harassment and assault are nearly universal, but for many, these realizations are the beginning of positive change.
Since I started writing this, accusations have come out against Kevin Spacey, one of my all time favorite actors. In Spacey’s case, his “apology” and subsequent coming out may have done more harm than good. Disappointed as I may be, I can’t see myself not watching The Usual Suspects, Baby Driver, or House of Cards ever again. I side with the victim but I don’t discard the work. It’s complicated…
I wish I had a nice bow to wrap this up in, some sunshiny “and the moral to the story is…” ending that would make us all feel better. I don’t. People are messy. All people are messy. Power adds to the messiness considerably. I believe in grace and redemption. I also believe in accountability and siding with victims. Sometimes it feels like those sets of beliefs come in conflict. I believe that the evils of powerful men, even great men, need to be brought to the light of day so that victims can heal. Our ultimate goal, I believe should be restoration to community, first for the victim, then for the oppressor.
What does that look like?
We’d better start coming up with answers because these revelations will only become  more frequent…

#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 7: The Death of Fun

I peeked.

I was sitting in a bar, waiting for my wife and my friend to join me for lunch. I didn’t intentionally sit where I could see the screen, but…

… I peeked.

I saw scores. I saw highlights… and it was glorious. I miss the NFL. I don’t know if I can explain this to a non-fan, but I miss my Sunday ritual. I miss the game. I miss all the commentary. I miss managing a fantasy team. I miss wearing my gear. I miss it all.

I miss the Steelers.

During the highlights, they showed the scoring plays from the Bengals vs. the Steelers. Immediately after one of the Steelers’ touchdowns, Le’Veon Bell and rookie wide receiver JuJu Shuster-Smith did an end zone celebration that was essentially a mock game of hide and seek. It made me giggle to watch. Despite the No Fun League cracking down on player celebrations, the Steelers have been defiant in their willingness to make asses of themselves after they score.

Sigh… I miss that.

They beat the Bengals, which is in and of itself a good time, and they did it in Heinz Field. Good times. I miss it.

Watching Roethlisberger throw laser-accurate passes to Antonio Brown, watching Le’Veon stiff arm Bengals defenders, watching the defense swarm to the ball for an interception…

UGH!!!!

I hate this!

And yet…

When the protests began across the NFL, one of the common refrains was “stick to football, don’t get involved in politics!”. The implication was that the enjoyment of the NFL audience was more important than the issues being raised by the protests, more important than the lives of black men and women lost to brutality and those whose lives have been affected by harassment…

Yeah… fun isn’t the most important thing in the world.

There’s another side to this, and I have to be honest here: I never expected this thing to last this long. Last week, Aaron Rodgers got hurt and I thought “oh, thank God, I hate this moral high ground thing!” I was sure the Packers would be calling Kaep. Then I saw this…

@Edwerderespn

Are you kidding me? Packers! Sign this man!

Nope. They decided to go with… (checks NFL.com) Brett Hundley? Who the hell is that?!

It probably didn’t help that Kaep decided to bring a lawsuit against the NFL last week. I’m sure he doesn’t expect to win, but I get the principle. He’s been blacklisted unfairly and a light has to be shined on that fact. Still… I bet he’s kicking himself a little, launching his lawsuit the week A-Rod gets hurt. How’s that for timing?

I expected this to be over by now and it looks like it won’t end this season. I wonder if football will ever be as fun for me as it once was. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the NFL again without thinking about this season. I won’t be able to watch without thinking of the influence Trump, Jerry Jones, and Roger Goodell have had on my enjoyment of the game. I won’t be able to watch without thinking of comments that I’ve read on websites about how “entitled millionaires” (niggers) need to shut up and play. Something about the game has been fundamentally lost this year and I wonder if I can ever get it back.

I know a lot of my friends would read this and say “good, you should have given this mess up long time ago!”.

I really wish those friends wouldn’t.

I get that you don’t have the emotional attachments I have, but please try to respect what this has been like for me. It’s not fun.

A lot of things have been less fun since November. I sincerely think that the latest season of “House of Cards” was sabotaged by the election. I think Negan was a little too Trump-esque for the last season of “The Walking Dead” to be fun. Had Cersei Lannister’s hair been a bit worse, maybe “Game of Thrones” would have been lost too. When shows like “West Wing” and “Newsroom” feel escapist, you know that the world is in desperate need of release.

I think that’s part of what’s frustrating right now: the horrible, orange man that half of the country decided should be president has infected so many of the things that I use to love. His influence feels inescapable and I feel like that’s exactly what he wants. It disgusts me.

So I get my life these days where I can: the little bit of fall gardening that I can do, planning next spring’s garden, podcasts made by black people who are as geeky as I am, Bourbon, my work, my friends and family who have been bombarding me with love lately… Oh, and The Roots are coming back to town after Christmas!!!!

The weight of what’s happening in the world feels enormous and our personal need for entertainment can’t get in the way of taking notice of what’s happening in the world. Last year, Essence magazine posted a list of 13 organizations leading the fight against police brutality in cities across the country. When the very first organization is in the city that I currently call home, it’s hard to ignore the realities that are right down the road from me.

It’s ironic for me to write this in the middle of one of the most fun months of my life.Fun need not be dead in this era when everything feels like a matter of life and death. It’s just that the joy that is to be found in the world in these days is the joy that can be found in relationships and community versus the joy found in those things that we consume.  It likely should have always been that way. Perhaps I should be thankful to Supreme Leader Trump for bringing my focus back to where it should have always been.

Yeah… no.

 

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#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 6 – Toxic Masculinity

Going into the 2011-2012 season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault. Put more bluntly, “Big Ben” was accused of rape. For at least the second time. The evidence in the incident in Georgia was mounting against number 7 when the defendant decided to dismiss the case. The young woman didn’t want to be dragged through the media ringer. My guess is that she was already receiving threats and finding herself on the receiving end of nasty accusations. After all, she was drunk. She had it coming. Because of the violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Roethlisberger, received a four game suspension. The Steelers went 3-1 in his absence. Then he came back and lead the team to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. Since then, Roethlisberger has had to rebuild his reputation. He and his wife Ashley were married in the same church as my first wife and I. The family recently welcomed their third child. My most standards, Roethlisberger is considered among the NFL’s elite as his position. Since his return from his suspension those years ago, I have cheered for him. I cheered for him, sometimes while holding my nose, but often in full throat. I sometimes rationalized that I was cheering for the players around him. As a dyed in the wool Steelers fan, I was cheering for the team, for the city. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good redemption story. By all accounts, Roethlisberger has genuinely turned his life around. He’s a father, husband, team leader, and good citizen. The Roethlisberger saga, redemption and all, allowed me to live with the cold comfort of knowing that, at the end of the day, the league was a meritocracy. All could be forgiven on the field.

This year, of course, has put the lie to that and so much else of what the league has stood for. It seems that the act of speaking out for racial justice is far less excusable than the act of sexual assault. Or domestic violence. Or even murder… allegedly. This week, the quarterback who beat Roethlisberger in that aforementioned Super Bowl was injured. Part of my boycott has been distancing myself the league news as much as possible, but my understanding is that Aaron Rodgers may be done for the season. I’ve waited a couple of days to write this, hoping that I would have a happy “Kaep got signed, boycott over!” post to write. I do not. The Packers, a perennial favorite to win the NFC will trust some lesser known talent to lead them to the playoffs because the NFL is not a meritocracy. It is a tool of empire.

As I watched my Facebook timeline fill with #metoo’s yesterday, I couldn’t help but ask myself how much the NFL has contributed to cycles of violence against women and the overall ethos of toxic masculinity in this country. Many have tried to link CTE to instances of domestic violence. While I’m not sure that there is sufficient evidence for that yet, I think the effect goes beyond the field. After all, the rates of domestic violence in the league essentially mirror those in the nation at large. But American football is the most macho of macho sports. Star athletes have always been seen as somewhat untouchable when it comes to the “he said, she said” cases of sexual violence that emerge in these situations. Stories of sexual assault against women at the hands of football players are familiar in most American high schools and colleges. Only the ones where the athletics  program itself was involved in either the assault or the cover up, like Baylor, seem to rise to the surface. In no way am I suggesting that the NFL is the source of our nation’s toxic masculinity epidemic, but it is one of the major normalizers of it.

As I’ve taken a step back from the league I love to watch, I have had to confront the ways that I have supported a league that often gives lip service to caring about women (note all the pink apparel floating around for breast cancer awareness this month) but does little to protect women off of the field. I appreciated the campaign, lead by Steelers cornerback William Gay against domestic violence in the wake of the jaw dropping video of Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancee, now wife. Gay, whose own mother was a victim of domestic violence, and other players around the league spoke up forcefully about the need for men to do better. It was a start that quickly lost momentum once Rice’s situation was out of the headlines. Millions of women are NFL fans, but I know a good percentage who have been alienated by the Roethlisbergers and Rices in the league. Rice has been out of the league since the video emerged, but the fact that his name was floating around for several years as after as a “good option” for several teams shows that there at least the notion of sweeping yet another incident of assault under the rug.

As I think about how I can do better by the women in my life, I have to confess my complicity with a league that has often devalued the lives and worth of women. In response to the #metoo’s that began circulating, a female friend suggested that we men might want to confess something like the following “I have harassed, abused, or objectified a woman to her face at some point in my life”. While that’s a good start, it feels like just scratching the surface. I think we have to confess all of the ways that we as men make women feel vulnerable, unworthy, and less than human in this world. I personally confess that I have manipulated, gaslit, lied to, and undervalued women in my life, including both my former and current wife. That my wife has stuck with me through my unhealthiness, that we got to the altar at all, is a testament to how strong women often have to be for sake of the men that they love. My experience has been that women are often willing and able to forgive men’s indiscretions for the sake of maintaining relationship. In my case, my wife was able to see past the hurt and pain that I was projecting on to her to see the future that we could have together and she was willing to fight for me and fight for us.  It is a burden that men unfairly place on women that we love.

Instead of highlighting another activist or group of activists this week, which no doubt would have been another unsung female hero, I want to call upon my male readers to be activists in our own lives. We need to speak up and advocate for women’s safety in the spaces that we occupy. We need to live with integrity so that the safest women we know are the ones who live with us. We need to call out bad male behavior where we see it. We need to own our shit when we are called out on it and do everything in our power to make things right. We need to raise our sons to see their mothers, sisters, and classmates as equals. We need to teach our sons that they have no rights to a woman’s body. We need to teach our daughters that they owe no man their body. We need to change the public image of masculinity from one of aggressor to one of protector, friend, and supporter. There is so much more that i can say about this. Men, we must do better! Derrick, you must do better!

I will end with one last word to my female friends and readers: sexism and misogyny, like racism and white supremacy, are so deeply engrained in our culture and psyche that men often overlook the ways that we are falling short. Call us out, but if and when you can, please extend grace. When you encounter those men that you deem are earnestly trying to do better, give them the room they need to grow. Don’t excuse bad behavior. Don’t sweep anything under the rug. Don’t act like you weren’t wounded. I only ask that, in those cases where it is safe to do so, stay engaged. It is a lot to ask and I understand why you would want to retreat into your safe spaces. And there are times when that it is absolutely necessary. But I deeply believe that the places where growth happens are in the spaces where we can be in relationship. That is how I endeavor to engage around issues of race, hard as that has become. I simply offer that as a request, knowing that I’m asking a lot, that you not disengage. Thank you, Sisters!

 

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