Guy Fawkes and a Concert in Manchester

Guy Fawkes in an illustration by Cruikshank (Wikipedia)

In 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes planted an enormous cache of gunpowder in a plot to blow up the English Parliament. In response, Russia banned all Protestants from entering Russia because of fears of importing English style bombing violence.

“Wait,” you may say, “that makes no sense. Guy Fawkes was a radical Catholic, and it was the entirely-Protestant English Parliament that was the target of his plan. It makes no sense to blame Protestants for that.”

You would be correct, and Russia did no such thing. To many in the Western or Western-influenced world, we are able to make that distinction because we readily can tell the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant. Why is that? Familiarity. We in the US all know several Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians. We don’t lump them all together (at least, unless we are talking about ecumenical issues). For many in the US, we don’t know many Muslims or many Middle Easterners, and tend to lump them all together and fail to readily distinguish between Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between Christian people from the Middle East and Muslims (and Yazidis and Mandeans and Jews).

In the USA, most of us KNOW more people who call themselves Methodists than who call themselves Muslim. We KNOW more people who are Dutch Reformed, who are Unitarians. We don’t lump them together. I argue that we shouldn’t lump the violent and genocidal brand of Islam that ISIS and Al Queda represent with the Islamic traditions of Sufi Mystics, with the Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan, or with Ahmed who lives down the street.

I guess the last one in the last is the big one, huh? I HAVE a guy who lives down the street named Ahmed. He’s a good neighbor. His kids need to pick the toys off the sidewalk more often, but they’re a great family to have on the block. I can’t lump all Muslims with the murderous bastard who bombed the concert in Manchester, because the majority of interactions with Muslim men and women in my life have been positive. One of my kid’s teachers is a Muslim lady. The guy in my old fantasy football league who won every other year is a Muslim. They shouldn’t have to bear the moral weight of a guy killing children in England. Not all Muslims are good neighbors, of course; Ibrahim from high school was a prick back then and he was a prick at our reunion, and Miriam from college always wanted to borrow other people’s notes and never gave you any of hers. My friend Samuel is from an Assyrian Christian family in Northern Iraq, and the Muslim neighbors he knew his whole life laughed and taunted his family when ISIS came to town and they all had to flee to the US and Canada. Muslims are good people, kindly people, and they are assholes and collaborators with evil, just like every. one. else. on. earth.

I can’t say “Islam is the cause of all this extremism” because I know too many Muslim people, barbers and cardiologists and cab drivers and stay at home moms and school teachers and liars and angels. Is Extremism an evil that the Muslim community has to contend with? Yes. And we all who oppose extremism, violence, and misogyny need to stand with members of the Muslim community who also oppose those things. For example, there are Muslim men and women in Pakistan who are fighting against persecution of non-Muslim minorities and apostates out of Islam, and we need to support them in their fight against increasing theocracy. Malala Yousafzai is a Muslim, and our familiarity with her story prevents us from lumping her in with the Taliban bastards who shot her. It should be the same for all people, Muslim or not, who are fighting their oppressors. It will take familiarity with Islamic philosophy, history, and with Muslim individuals for us to see the same differences within that community that we see between the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Franklin Graham, and David Koresh.

Don’t forget: it would be unjust for the English crown to blame all Catholics for Fawkes’ gunpowder plot. Punish the murderers and their accomplices; don’t punish people who are not the murderers. The enemies we must fight are murderers, are fascists, are those who dehumanize others to justify their own violence and tyranny. A peaceful Christian has more common interest with a peaceful Muslim, a peaceful atheist, and a peaceful Jew than any of them have with a murderer. The later must be opposed without demonizing any of the former.

 

*Ahmed is not the real name of my neighbor, and I’ve anonymized all the other names of people I personally know.

Fastball Hymnal

“Ok Mark, I believe in you. We need this run, but don’t worry about the two outs, don’t worry about the loaded bases, just focus on the next pitch, got it?”

I nodded. The batting helmet, two sizes too small for my head, fell off. Again. The only helmet that fit my head was the one we inherited from the junior high kids, and David Rezick always used it because he knew that if he got a hit I’d have no helmets that could stay on my head. Rezick was standing at second base.

Coach R picked the helmet up out of the dirt and brushed it off. “You can do this. If you can just get one run in, we tie the game, ok? I put you in the number two spot in this lineup for a reason, you know that? You deserve it. You’ll deserve it no matter what happens in this at bat. Just play your heart out, you’ve got a big one.”

I rubbed my nose. “I’m pretty sure a big heart is a health problem, coach.”

“Shut up, Mark. Just get on the Goddamn base, ok, big guy? Get on base.” He trotted back to the dugout, spitting in the ground as he got there. Five or six of the 10-year-olds sitting the dug out spit in response, a Greek chorus chomping on Big League Chew. I stepped up to the plate.

The umpire looked me in the eye. His eyes narrowed to slits, remembering me from the last two at-bats. Randy Stein’s older brother Adam was a sophomore and had classes with the ump, and Randy said he was a jag-off, so we took it as gospel that he was obviously, then, a jag-off. Jag-off, as in, “this jag-off better call the game fairly.”

“PLAY BALL” the jag-off yelled, pulling his facemark on.

I stepped up to the plate, right to the very edge of the batter’s box. I saw my father standing up, shielding his eyes with his right hand. My mother was sitting on a lawn chair next to him, my little bother was in his baseball uniform sitting on the grass. The t-ball league ended earlier in the day, so he was eating whatever snacks my folks had packed and picking at dandelions. Or maybe he was picking at the snacks and eating the dandelions, I don’t know. What am I, a high elf ranger? My eyes are terrible, I can’t see that far.

I can make out the sound of my family cheering for me, but the helmet is pinching my ears.

I look up at the pitchers mound. The pitcher is tall, the tallest 6th grader in the league. His fastball is so strong that it was whispered that he once broke a catcher’s hand, like Dwight Gooden. It was so fast that, to hit it, you had to start swinging before you even stepped up to the plate. When we heard which team were facing for this game, we knew exactly who would be pitching: John Moon. John Moon, the biggest arm in Morton Grove Little League, the terror of Mansfield Park.

I wiped my brow, caking my hand in dirt and sweat and gatorade. I was nervous, a kind of nervousness that only baseball players feel, the nerves that come from being alone against the storm. There are reasons why poems are written about being at-bat; its a microcosm of life, you know? I had to have absolute concentration if I wanted to have any shot at all of

“STRIKE ONE!”

What the heck oh crap, geez, really? C’mon Mark, pay attention, I thought, punching myself in the hip.

“HEY MARK PAY ATTENTION WILL YA?” Coach R yelled from the third base dugout, adjusting his cap. I had played for him for three straight years, and about once a year he would show up to practice without his ball cap and we would all be surprised that he was bald, all over again, every year.

Alright, I can do this. I can do this. I turned to face John Moon, the Howitzer of the North Shore, gripping the bat tight as I steeled my nerves. I’m gonna be a hero, like Frodo or Peter Parker or Willis Drummond, and I just had to focus on the moment and not think about how itchy this jock strap is and

“STRIKE TWO!”

A collective groan came up from the Greek chorus. Coach R folded his arms and spit again. A voice cried out “That was three feet out of the strike zone, jag-off!”

The ump whipped off his facemark and wheeled around to face the spectators. “I will kick you out of here if if you use that language again, do you hear me?” the ump yelled, pointing his finger at the stands on the first base line, “and I mean it, ma’am.”

“MOM SIT DOWN,” Rezick screamed from second base.

I squared my stance, spitting into my hands. The spit helps to remove dirt that can decrease your grip, so the bat is easier to control. Aluminum bats can be really painful if you connect on a good swing, which makes it weird that little leagues tend to use them. I guess its because of their durability? Or the lower expense? Maybe there is, like, an aluminum conspiracy or

“PAY ATTENTION THIS TIME, BUDDY, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.” Coach R called, soft chirps of agreement coming from the dugout.

John Moon looked at the signal from his catcher. We all used signals, even though no one was allowed to throw anything but a fastball. Curveballs can hurt your arm development, so the league outlawed them. He stood up, exhaled loudly, then started his wind up.

I tightened my grip on the bat, inhaled as hard as I could and did what I had done many, many times before, what I did better than anyone else in the league, maybe in the whole Chicagoland area: I crowded the damn plate.

A wet smack, louder than you’d expect, and my hip felt like it was on fire. My helmet fell off and I dropped my bat.

“TAKE YOUR BASE” yelled the jag-off, “…AGAIN.” The crowd roared, or as much as about a dozen people can roar.

The ball had struck me on the thigh, on the meaty part, and I left out a manly yell. Or, in my head I Let out a manly yell. I was told later that I screamed like a little girl, but that’s ok. I knew my job, and I did it.

“YEAH! YEAH! Way to go, Mark!” Coach R was jumping up and down. The dugout was a mass of jumping, cheering, and sunflower seeds.

“Way to go, Ma-Mark! Way to go!” my father yelled, clapping his hands and high fiving my brother. “Tie game!”

My mother was clapping, smiling, and shaking her head. “Why does he never get out of the way? Why is this always happening to him? No one else gets hit like this.”

I picked myself out of the dirt (when did I fall?) The third base runner came jogging into home plate, fist pumping. We high fived, and he said “Great job, Mark, I knew you’d get hit.” I smiled and whimpered a “damn right.”

I limped to first base, holding my helmet in my hand. I gave a thumbs up to Rezick at third.

John Moon’s first baseman looked at me, his grimace softening into a smile. “Nice job. You’re crying less than you did the last time.”

“Thanks, man,” I replied, “That’s what I said to your mom last night.”

Maybe no one told you

Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American eagle is a phoenix.
It hurts to see our country turn away the poor, the sick, the abused; to close our door to victims of war.
It is painful to see the nation say to the world that only people of some religions deserve help, aid, and comfort.
It is terrifying to see people you love, you work with, and you share a bed with, cheer the hatred of other people because of their country of origin, their faith, or the papers they possess.
That’s ok. You are allowed to feel hurt, to feel pain, to feel the terror those poor people must feel. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American eagle is a phoenix.
This is a dark time, because the US government is muzzling scientists.
This is a dark time, because the US government is declaring war on journalists.
This is a dark time, because the US government is taking a harder stand against Chicago and Philadelphia than against Moscow.
That’s ok. Its dark. It can be dark; it’s ok if you don’t see how we’re going to get out of this, if you don’t see any fire or candlelight out of this. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American Eagle is a Phoenix.
There is a person in your town who is Muslim, or Middle Eastern, or African, and they need you to stand up for them against the thugs and bullies. They need you to stand up for them whether they are there or not. In your street, in your break room, in your church and synagogue and mosque and knitting circle and school parking lot, stand up for the people in front of you.
There is a person in your town who does not have papers, and she needs you to treat her like a human being. She needs you to be kind to her children, to pay her a living wage, to call the cops for her when she is too scared to involve the authorities because of her legal status.
There is a person who laughs at the plight of the refugee, who unwittingly quotes neo-nazis, who passes lies on like a collection plate. We need you to love truth and facts more than he hates them. We need you to support newspapers as much as he hates them. We need you to embrace kindness as much as he rejects it.
That’s ok if it’s difficult, you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to carry the world on your shoulders, you have to care for yourself first. You will stand at the right time, you will march at exactly the right time, you will spread your wings at exactly the right time. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American Eagle is a Phoenix.

Hulk Hogan and Atticus Finch Race to the Bottom: How Racially Charged Remarks Felled These American Heroes

In the fading months of this annus horribilis, America received unwelcome word of two distasteful nods to its pop cultural past. Excommunicated wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan has been contacted by WWE (according to his daughter’s comments to TMZ) regarding WrestleMania 33 this coming year. And earlier this month, plans were announced to revamp the hometown of Harper Lee into a tourist destination through creating the Harper Lee Trail, a collection of attractions that would feature a museum and replicas of three homes set in her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Both proclamations met with a mixed reception. Washington Post reporter Travis M. Andrews writes that, while “it’s impossible to guess how Lee would have felt about the trail, it’s not a stretch to claim” that the famously private author “likely wouldn’t have been pleased.” Literary critic Sarah Churchwell goes so far as to warn that the Monroeville, Alabama project could create “a Disneyland for racists” nostalgic for a bygone age. As for the Hulkster, he spent most of 2016 under the wing of this delusional benefactor (Brother!).

These foreboding announcements harken back to last year, when two paragons of American virtue were bodyslammed by the unexpected release of racially charged content long kept from public view. Yes, for devotees of Hogan and southern trial lawyer Atticus Finch, July 2015 was the cruel summer when it came crashing down and it hurt inside. Hogan fell into ignominy when audio was released from a recording (made several years ago) that caught the Hulkster making racist remarks – some of which involve theoretical suitors for his daughter. WWE swiftly cut ties with the “Real American”, even erasing mentions of its former top star from the company’s website.

This controversy followed an even more shocking release that took place ten days earlier: that of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published, writes Eve L. Ewing in The Atlantic, when Lee was “at the eve of her death and beset with a dementia that some say enabled her attorney to take advantage” of her condition. Although written prior to her debut novel, Watchman functions as a companion piece to that beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning story. Or, as denounced by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, serves as “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” In this book, Atticus Finch expresses segregationist views and attends a Citizens’ Council meeting.

Suddenly, the most famous wrestler of his generation and the legal demigod of what Oprah Winfrey proclaimed “our national novel” have seemingly been exposed as bigoted blowhards. How could these emblems of American idealism fall so far, so fast? Join us as we investigate the rise and fall of “the steward of the nation’s conscience” – and the man who gave the world Hulkamania.

Tale of the Tape
Atticus: Middle-aged and bespectacled; seersucker suit; poor indeed, but not as poor as the Cunninghams. Member of Alabama state legislature.
Hogan: 6’7, 303 lbs.; yellow spandex trunks with bandanna and tear-away shirt; net worth dependent on future sextape-related legal proceedings. Star of Santa With Muscles.

Professional Accolades
Atticus: Academy Award for Best Actor (as awarded to Gregory Peck for his portrayal in the 1962 film adaptation).
Hogan: Six-time WWE Champion.

Biggest Fans
Atticus: Other attorneys. As the American Bar Association gushes, “To lawyers, he was the lawyer they wanted to be. To nonlawyers, he fostered the desire to become one.”
Hogan: Hulkamaniacs. These fanatics adhere to the teachings proselytized by Hogan himself in this worshipful song.

Tag Team Partners
Atticus: Family cook (and surrogate disciplinarian) Calpurnia.
Hogan: Wrestling manager (and megaphone enthusiast) Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart.

Finest Hours
Atticus: His eloquent yet fiery trial defense of Tom Robinson.
Hogan: His eloquent yet fiery title defense against Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.

Toughest Opponents
Atticus: Racist Jury; Social Injustice.
Hogan: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

Finishing Moves
Atticus: The Closing Argument.
Hogan: Atomic Leg Drop.

Hero Worship
Atticus, as praised by Thane Rosenbaum, Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law: “Babies are named after him. Indeed, despite his many parental shortcomings, he is the father many wish for themselves.”
Hogan, as praised by WWE announcer Gorilla Monsoon at WrestleMania VII: “Our national hero… An unprecedented winner, three times, of the World Wrestling Federation title. The gold once again around the waist of that incredible individual. And put it all to rest, the war is now officially over. Keeping his promise good to his nation, the immortal Hulk Hogan.” Note: Donald Trump cheered on Hogan from ringside during this match.

Fight for the Rights of Every Man
Atticus: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Hogan: “But just like Donald Trump, Macho Man, I hope you’re ready, brother. Because Donald Trump has questions in his own mind… Donald Trump, don’t worry about my Hulkamaniacs. They’re survivors! They’re ready!”

Epic Challenge to His Peers
Atticus: “I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”
Hogan: “Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?”

Best Advice for the Next Generation
Atticus: “First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Hogan: “Train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, be true to yourself, true to your country. Be a REAL American.”

Heel Turn
Atticus: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
Hogan: Uhhh … you can read all that here.

Enemies List
Atticus: The NAACP and U.S. Supreme Court.
Hogan: African-Americans and online media companies.

Definitive Response
Atticus: From Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, who swore, “I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.”
Hogan: From WWE, which released a statement noting that Hogan’s contract had been terminated, and claiming a commitment “to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

Kneejerk Reactions
Atticus, as bleated in this Daily Mail headline: “It’s like finding out Santa beats his reindeer.”
Hogan, as pleaded by Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan): “Oh my gosh, please forgive me. Please forgive me. I’m a nice guy. I’m not the Hulk Hogan that rips his shirt off and bang, bang, bang, slams giants. I’m Terry Bollea. I’m just a normal man.”

Public Defenders
Atticus, as defended by Harper Lee biographer Charles J. Shields: “We could turn this into a plus in our national conversation about racism and the Confederate flag. It turns out that Atticus is no saint, as none of us are, but a man with prejudices.”
Hogan, as defended by The Rock: “I was pretty disappointed with what I heard, like all of us, by the way… I’ve known Terry for a lot of years, my dad helped train him in Florida in the ’70s when he was breaking into the business… I have not known the man to be racist.”

Character Witnesses
Atticus, as represented by Peggy Noonan: “Atticus, now in his 70s, holds views the reader will reject, yet he is patient, sincere—more human as a character than his daughter.”
Hogan, as represented by his daughter, Brooke, in a poem posted online: “If you knew my father, you would know how hard he fought… and the way it brought a smile to people light, medium and dark.”

Strike That from the Record!
Atticus: The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt babbled the following: “Freedom can be ugly business and sometimes you need a man in a suit with a steady hand who can shoot a rabid dog. It doesn’t matter what his opinions are on black people or white people. He just has to be able to shoot straight.”
Hogan: Retweeted a message about President Obama not being similarly vilified for using the N-word, context be damned.

Following their top-rope swan dives from grace, both Atticus and the Hulkster have experienced comebacks of sorts. HarperCollins Publishers announced that Go Set a Watchman is now the fastest-selling book in the company’s history. Meanwhile, Hogan settled his litigation with Gawker Media for $31 million last month. He also expressed interest in serving as the running mate for his old buddy Trump – a low to which even a newly Alt-Right Atticus would hopefully never stoop.

Armistice Day

Soldiers in Flanders. Credit: History.co.uk

Soldiers in Flanders. Credit: History.co.uk

Nov. 11, 1918. At 11:11am, I will stand as a sign of respect for the men and women who lost their lives in World War One, when Europe tore itself to pieces and the old world died.

We get a lot of WW2 history in the US, and rightly so, given the long shadow it casts. It is important, though, that we devote just as much time to the study of the causes of the first Great War. It does not have an obvious bad guy, certainly not as obvious as its sequel, but that’s precisely why it should be examined in detail.

It was the story of the military juggernaut of Germany and the aging husks of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, versus the British seawall, the latest of a succession of French republics/kingdoms/republics, and the somehow still-medieval Empire of Russia.

It was the invasion of neutral Belgium, the rise of the demon of chemical warfare, and destruction of the social fabric of the West.

It was the seedbed of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and America the Superpower.

If you can, I highly highly recommend you listen to Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon series. It is one of the best and most accessibly series on WW1 around.

The war was supposed to be over within weeks; it took four years and 39 million casualties, military and civilian. It was supposed to be a fine and dandy display of national pride; it would became the morass of corpses, mud, and blood that inspired the land of Mordor to JRR Tolkein.

Nothing the generals, politicians, or businessmen promised before the war came true, for either side. Men with white gloves and cloth hats charged into machine guns on faulty orders, Empires that lasted for centuries fell apart like cigarette ash, and the modern world was born via untrained cesarean section.

The decisions made by the men and too-few-women prior to world war one were made for the most banal of motives: this hedgerow belongs France, this farmstead belongs to Germany.

The errors were made for the most personal of reasons: the madman who healed the Czar’s son convinced the Czar to go to the front, leaving behind petty nobles and the royal family to the tender mercies of Vladimir Lenin. The Kaiser was born with a deformity of his arm and demanded military credits and accomplishments to prove his manliness and worth after the death of his Grandmother, Queen Victoria.

The effects were even larger off the battlefield: A young veteran sees the vengeance taken by the allies on Germany and filters it through a warped and vile soul, eventually writing Mein Kampf. London Banks are unable to finance the long war so the Allied governments take out loan after loan from the only source of capital: New York, and the transfer of authority, prestige, and cash in the West was began.

A geologist and self-made millionaire who spoke Mandarin used his considerable fortune and organizing skill to provide food relief to abused and flooded Belgium, catching the attention of President Woodrow Wilson. That Herbert Hoover fellow, Wilson must have thought, he knows how to fix things.

Read about WW1. And if you are devastated or exulted by the election of an American president, that’s appropriate and rational, but remember that children fifty years on will live in a world built by the actions you take, or fail to take, now. Have humility in victory, and have courage in loss. The roads on which our grandchildren will walk will follow a path based on the walls and bridges we choose to make here, in this time. As in World War One and at all times, we stand on the fulcrum of history; we *must* push the lever, we have no choice except to decide the direction.

On Living A Life Rich and Strange: Part 1, Introduction

On Living A Life Rich and Strange:
A open letter to my child from an unprepared parent

Part 1, Introduction

“God writes straight with crooked lines.” – Original author unknown

Little one, you can’t read yet. You can’t stand, you can’t feed yourself, you can’t identify sarcasm, you can’t crack a knowing smile, you can’t eat fries while driving, you can’t doubt your own worth. You will do all those things, someday, and that day will come far, far too soon for your poor father and mother.

We can’t shield you from the world, even though there is a scared, wet-eyed part of me that wants to.

I can’t do that, though, and your mother and I can only do one thing, and that is try and give you the tools we’ve managed to fashion for ourselves to deal with this great, terrible, wonderful and atrocious world we all find ourselves in. They’re the tools we used, and some of these tools are like Damascus steel: beautiful and strong. Others are like flint arrowheads: crude, homemade, and usable. Some of these tools were handed to us by your grandparents, some we stole from other people along the way. They’re what we’ve got to give you, and, when the sun sets on our own lives, maybe they’re the only things we ever give you. These tools, and our Love; that’s all of it, really.

I’m going to throw advice at you, advice you never asked for. Over the course of your life with us, we’re going to teach you skills that are vital (how to read graphs and charts with a critical eye) and skills of dubious worth (how to de-bone sardines). Some of it will be practical (how to get a front-wheel drive car out of the mud) and some will be social (how to look like you belong when you feel like you don’t belong at all).

As you read this, though, please never forget one thing: I will most definitely be wrong on some (most?) things, and in these cases you will need to fashion your own tools. I hope your mom and I give you enough in this life to help you to make your own tools strong and sharp, even when the time comes for you to ditch the tools we made and handed down. Don’t ever feel like you are letting us down if you have to turn your back on the Way We Do Things. We love you, no matter what. You cannot let us down. We may expect you to be better, kinder, braver, more curious in the future, but while we may sometimes be disappointed in your actions, you yourself will never be a disappointment. Stand and fight, we believe in you. Turn and run, we believe in you. Grow up and accept our principles and our history and our philosophy and our theology; we are proud to be your parents. Grow up and reject our ideas or all we ever taught you; we are proud to be your parents. Use our tools and then make your own; don’t be afraid.

One last thing, by way of introduction: please forgive me for making parts of this letter public. I am loud, I am obnoxious, I overshare, but those stem from one small fact about your father: I am scared. I am scared that all of this will go unsaid. I fear that if I don’t write this publicly, or at least part of it, I’ll forget to tell you all these things that I really hope to tell you. I’m worried that I’ll let the day to day concerns of life make me neglect this letter, that in the putting on of shoes, the paying of bills, the washing of dishes, the Please Just Get In the Car We’re Running Late, I’ll let the chance to tell you these things pass. Maybe the social accountability of writing these publicly will help remind me to tell you. Maybe, someday, the public nature of this letter will help remind me who I was when I wrote it, when fatherhood and motherhood and you, yourself, were new. Maybe the people who love your mother and me, the people who will also love you, maybe they will remind you of these things when we are not around.

No one thing any of us do or create defines us, not the worst thing we do and not the best thing we do. We are the sum and mean of all our actions and stillness. What I write here, what I teach you, is only part of my story; what I actually do is another. What your mother does in her role as Your Mother is only part of her story; her hopes and fears before you came along is another. Your story is being written every day, and I hope that what is written here will be a useful footnote in your life.

Next at bat: Part 2 of this letter, “How to know what you know.”

– MCN

 

Copyright © 2016 Mark Nabong

30 for 30 Rock: How Sports’ Biggest Suits Follow Jack Donaghy’s Lead

By Kyle Schmitt

(Twitter: @KyleRadioviolet)

You can’t blame Alec Baldwin for gradually morphing into Jack Donaghy. He’s starred in perhaps the funniest television comedy of this millennium, won Emmy and Golden Globe Awards, and waged heroic battles against photographersairline attendants, and rude, thoughtless 11-year-old girls. With the tumultuous end of his MSNBC show, however, it appears that megalomania has won the day, and the foremost Baldwin brother has now sworn off public life. The blurred line between the actor who engaged in mortal combat with the “fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy” and the boardroom shark who authored the book Jack Attack: The Art of Aggression in Business has finally disappeared.

But Jack Donaghy is more than just a man who “goes to Sbarro when he’s angry, the New York Stock Exchange when he’s horny, and Christie’s Auction House when he’s depressed”, as Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) refers to him. He’s also a gifted athlete who played football and baseball at Princeton University. Even as Jack exploits his mind-grapes to become head of NBC, he remains an avid sportsman who hits the links with his bourgeois buddies, takes in Knicks games via private skybox, and competes with Ryan Lochte for the attention of their shared paramour. Plus, he’s got inside information on how his cousin Tim fixed those NBA games.

Much as he mentors Liz, Jack provides business and life lessons to his fellow titans of capitalism in the sports world. As America mourns the sad death of his onscreen mother, Colleen Donaghy (the late, great Elaine Stritch), as well as the sad continued existence of Donald Sterling, we honor the ways in which sports’ biggest owners and front office talents have emulated Jack over the years. So put on your after-6 p.m. tuxedo, pour a glass of Donaghy Estates Sparkling Wine, and enjoy as 30 Rock’s top exec shows Chicago Typewriter how business really gets done.

Dual-Hatting Leads to Disasters

 Perhaps no team owner is more Donaghy than Dallas Cowboys honcho Jerry Jones. Jack could appreciate more than anyone the hubris that takes physical form in Jerry’s World, as well as the leadership instincts that drive Jones to serve as owner, president, and general manager of his team. Unfortunately, under Jones’ guidance, the Cowboys have won just a single playoff game since the 1996 season. And Tony Romo and Jason Garrett seem as permanently affixed to Dallas football as the 30-million light-bulb video screen hovering inside AT&T Stadium.

Jack Donaghy was once like Jerry Jones. He foists himself onto the TGS with Tracy Jordan writing staff, observing their work and then participating against their wishes. His script suggestions include co-opting the cartoon strip Dilbert into the show’s comedic fare and developing each nascent sketch by first coming up with a catchphrase, then working backward (his best offering, “Beep Beep Ribby Ribby!”, narrowly outpaces “Nuts to you, McGillicuddy!” and “Who ordered the wieners?”). Immediately after this chastening experience, Jack endures a TGS sketch appearance in order to support General Electric’s (GE) product placement directive. After these setbacks, he finally admits that he’s not qualified to perform these jobs, stepping down to allow trained professionals to do their work. Following Jack’s lead could allow Jerry’s team to once again dominate the NFL. But not bloody likely.

 Gender Relations (as practiced by Manhattan-based business tycoons in four easy steps)

  • Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks President of Basketball Operations, is accused of sexually harassing a team executive.
  • Knicks owner James L. Dolan fires the executive, allegedly for making accusations about said harassment.
  • Madison Square Garden foots the bill.
  • All truck parties are postponed until further notice.
  • Jack Donaghy: “Lemon, I’m impressed. You’re beginning to think like a businessman.”

Liz Lemon: “A businesswoman.”

Jack: “I don’t think that’s a word.”

  • Jack: “I like when a woman has ambition. It’s like seeing a dog wearing clothes.”
  • Jack: “I’m tired of talking this much to a woman I’m not having sex with.”
  • Jack to Liz: “Fire her. And don’t ever make me talk to a woman that old again.”

Take a Look, It’s in a Book

Only the Zen Master himself could teach Jack Donaghy something he didn’t already know about personnel management. New York Knicks President Phil Jackson is renowned for educating his star players by giving them books tailored toward their roles and personalities. For Kobe Bryant: Sun Tzu. For Shaquille O’Neal: Nietzsche. For Lamar Odom: a Walter Mosley book called “The Right Mistake”. What else could be expected from a former NBA player who once yearned to be a psychologist, and who titled his own 1995 book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior? His literary leadership influenced even Jack’s coaching style.

Jack speaking to Tracy Jordan (Morgan) about his little league team from Knuckle Beach, the worst fictional neighborhood in New York: “Phil Jackson likes to give books to his players to inspire them. Which biography of Winston Churchill do you think would improve Rashid’s bunting?”

Unfortunately for these coaches, Michael Jordan and Jerry Seinfeld are not walking through that door. Despite their high-minded applications of the written word, Jackson and Donaghy are stuck directing punchline franchises whose best days are far behind them. Even worse, they must supervise two self-destructive goofballs (J.R. Smith and Tracy Jordan) who now appear to have been separated at birth.

 Race Relations

Donald Sterling: Did some stuff. For a long time. Then someone finally took action.

Jack’s advice to Tracy’s Knuckle Beach little league charges: “Baseball is a wonderful sport, boys. I remember when my high school team won the Boston city championship. Everyone told us we were gonna lose, because our team was all white, and the other team was completely … uhh … uhh … ahh-anyway, we won, and I learned that anything is possible.”

 Avoid Explosive Promotions

This summer marked the 35th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, which proves that even the sharpest business minds can strike out on planning promotional events. Former Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck gave baseball its first hitting little person, brought back Minnie Minoso to take a few at-bats in 1980 so the former star could boast of playing in five separate decades, and allowed St. Louis Brown fans to help manage a game. As his tenure wound down, however, Veeck allowed his son (Mike Veeck) to greenlight the notorious Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. Scheduled to take place between games during a July 1979 doubleheader, this promotion offered 98 cent admission to any fan bringing a disco record to the ballpark. The event drew an estimated 90,000 fans, many of them inebriated and some sneaking in with the use of ladders. After a radio personality blew up the offending vinyl, a legion of fans “stormed onto the field, tearing up clumps of sod, burning signs, knocking over a batting cage and flinging records like so many Frisbees.” The ensuing chaos led Detroit Tigers player representative Rusty Staub to claim, “I’ve never seen anything so dangerous in my life.” The White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader to the visiting Tigers, and the debacle became a public relations nightmare for the organization.

Jack also makes the mistake of setting off explosives in a major American city. Sensing a younger executive encroaching on his turf, Jack dreams up his own promotion: the Rockefeller Center Salute to Fireworks. What he fails to understand about a show involving three hours of continuous fireworks, however, is how they will look exploding in the midtown Manhattan skyline post-9/11. His signature television event is shut down almost immediately after a phone-call from the mayor. The resulting disaster costs Jack his oversight of the GE microwave division and earns him a stern talking-to from his boss, CEO Don Geiss (Rip Torn).

Rebounding from the Agony of Defeat

Not Like This: “As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment… “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”

Like This: “I’m certainly not perfect. No, no, no, it’s true. I’ve made mistakes, sacrificed happiness for a job I don’t think I’m ever going to get. We all have ways of coping. I use sex and awesomeness.

Watching the Detectives

 Whatever you do, don’t hire anybody on the down low to help undermine your own employees. George Steinbrenner learned this lesson the hard way when he paid a gambler $40,000 to turn up dirt on his own star player, future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Their arrangement went public when Steinbrenner’s new employee repeatedly asked for more money, leading to his conviction and prison sentence for extortion. Steinbrenner himself was banned for life from day-to-day operations of the Yankees, but reinstated in 1993.

 Similarly, Jack discovers that a man in his position cannot trust others to do his dirty work. When page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) accidentally receives Jack’s bonus check and finishes squealing at the number of zeroes, he instigates a strike to reclaim his colleagues’ lost overtime pay. Jack responds by hiring private investigator Lenny Wosniak (an extra squirrelly Steve Buscemi) to infiltrate the uprising and bring it down from the inside. This strategy fails as spectacularly as Steinbrenner’s dirty deeds. Everything Wosniak tries – including his effort to siphon off sympathizers by organizing a competing viral protest on “Tweeter and YouTubes” – fails miserably, leaving Jack to resolve the issue on his own. He is finally forced to comply with the page’s demand to sign a piece of paper admitting that he is “a big ol’ liar.” The moral is clear: never hire a PI who attempts to thwart a strike by cross-dressing (as “nympho coed” Charlene LaRue) and attempting to seduce its ringleader.

 

Proverbs from America’s Greatest Leaders of Men

On Values:

Vince Lombardi, former general manager and coach of the Green Bay Packers (as appropriated from UCLA football coach Red Sanders): “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Jack Donaghy: “Money can’t buy happiness, it is happiness.”

On Faith:

Vince Lombardi: “There are three things that are important to every man in this locker room. His god, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.”

Jack Donaghy: “I have faith, in things I can see and buy and deregulate. Capitalism is my religion.”

On Country:

Vince Lombardi: “It is and has always been an American zeal to be first in everything we do, and to win.”

Jack Donaghy: “When our founding fathers first set out, time and time again, our nation horizon. Prosperity, dreams, freedom. But, the spirit, journey, destiny. Mitt Romney values, Jenna values. I’ve met people. For this generation, and generations to come: Thank you, America.”

Reality Bites

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is an entertaining, personable impresario who searches out businesses and products for potential investments in the ABC reality series Shark Tank. But he made a poor business decision himself when he elected to tape episodes of his TV show instead of meeting face-to-face with free agent Deron Williams in 2012. Despite the fact that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson were both present for the in-person pitch to Williams, it was, as Ball Don’t Lie writer Eric Freeman stated, “fairly shocking that Cuban won’t be present on a day that could change the course of the franchise for a decade.” Many observers thought that Cuban’s absence would be insulting to Williams and lessen the chances that the star point guard would sign with Dallas. After committing to remain with New Jersey, Williams himself confirmed these suspicions, stating, “I think (Cuban) would have been able to answer a lot of the questions me and my agent have for him that really didn’t get answered that day pertaining to the future.”

Clearly, Cuban missed Jack’s regrettable appearance on the Bravo reality series Queen of Jordan. An ill-timed fall, a plausibly deniable bout of gas, and a misinterpreted retelling of his collegiate athletics career (all caught on camera) lead to his casting as “Gay Jack”:

Jack: “Yeah, I was an athlete. Very graceful. Sports stories, I got some… When I was at Princeton, I played baseball and football. And back then, football players went both ways.”

Dot Com (Kevin Brown): “Really? So you went both ways?”

Jack: “Yeah. We all did. It was the 70s.”

Dot Com: “So, when you played baseball, were you ever on the DL?”

Jack: “Yeah… I was on the DL most of my junior year.”

Dot Com: “Hmmm.”

Jack: “When we were on the DL, we spent most of our time in the whirlpool – getting rubbed down.”

Dot Com: “You were a switch hitter?”

Jack: “Switch hitter. Pitcher. Catcher. Whatever the boys needed.”

Donaghy eventually disavows this “idiotic” show, proudly proclaiming that he is not a “clumsy gay flatulent.” If Cuban followed Jack’s lead, perhaps the Mavericks could win their first playoff series since the team’s 2011 NBA Championship.

What’s in a Name? (race edition)

Daniel Snyder on his Washington football franchise: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.” Note: this remark was made before news reports that the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe in Arizona rejected finances from Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation, stating, “We know bribe money when we see it.”

Jack Donaghy: “I’ll tell you who has it the hardest: white men. We make the unpopular, difficult decisions, the tough choices. We land on the moon and Normandy Beach, and yet they resent us.”

Kenneth Parcell: “Well, sir, I’m sorry to disagree, but I am also a white man –“

Jack: “No, you are not. Socioeconomically speaking, you are more like an inner-city Latina.”

A short time later, after Kenneth attempts to shoot himself in a stuck elevator to allow fellow passengers to breathe his share of oxygen:

Jack: “Well, Kenneth, I give up. I thought pure morality died with Chuck Heston, but you proved me wrong. You are better than all of us. You are one Latina Fantastica.”

 Steer Clear of the Political Arena

Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon has been bitten by the political bug – and it is a costly illness. McMahon staged two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012, spending nearly $100 million total to run as a Republican candidate in deep-blue Connecticut. Presumably because there is no Senate seat to lose this year, she and husband Vince McMahon have donated almost $1 million to support their favored political candidates and causes in the current election cycle. Judging by Vince’s recent stock market losses, however, the first couple of the squared circle may want to hold off on signing any more checks for the time being.

When he’s not dating Condoleezza Rice and Skyping with Mitt Romney’s dressage horse, Rafalca, Jack Donaghy also dips his toes in the murky waters of political star-making. He decides to back independent candidate Steve Austin (John Slattery of Mad Men) in a Rhode Island congressional election against incumbent Regina Bookman (Queen Latifah), who opposes his desired NBC/Kabletown merger. Jack knows that his candidate is crazy, but is willing to sell out and support Austin’s platform of bringing back unpaved roads and building casinos on the moon in order to benefit his company. His change of heart is coerced by Liz reciting two of Tracy’s greatest movie lines – one of which is, “Die, werewolf zombie!” He urges Slattery, who is sequestered to avoid being heard in public, to speak his mind at a fundraiser and engage in verbal self-immolation. Contemplating the decision to erase his personal guilt by undermining vital business interests, Jack muses, “Letting morality get in the way of making money. I might as well go and … be a teacher.”

Tell ’em Who You Are

 San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt crowing after his team wins the 2014 NBA Championship: “The best people in the world, we’ve got ‘em. We’ve got the best fans, we’ve got the best city, we live in a great state, and we are in the United States of America! The greatest country in the world!”

Jack Donaghy psyching himself up before a public speaking engagement: “Well, buddy, here we come. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth. Are you gonna step up? Oh yeah. Because it’s winning time, you magnificent son of a bitch! You go in there and show them. Make Mommy proud of her big boy because he’s the best! Just do it! Is it in you? I’m loving it!”

Fix a Major Sporting Event

This level of accomplishment takes masterful skill and unsurpassed egotism, so only the most elite authorities should even try. It helps to be FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who responded to a reporter’s question on corruption earlier this year by snapping, “Listen, lady, when you speak about corruption, then you have to present evidence.” There have long been allegations that the World Cup can be bought, and the locations of the next two tournaments do nothing to disprove this belief. The 2018 and 2022 tournaments will take place, respectively, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Qatar, the latter of which currently hosts migrant workers dying to build up the necessary infrastructure. New Republic piece goes so far as to state that, “After Brazil 2014, unless there is urgent and fundamental reform of a kind that would seem unlikely, the tournament is finished.”

For his own coup de grace, Jack helps to stage fake Olympic events so Team U.S.A. can win more medals. America’s success in synchronized running and octuples tennis raises patriotic spirits as well as NBC’s ratings. This scheme is nearly exposed, though, when the silver medalist in tetherball threatens to expose the lie. Fortunately, Jack buys his silence by offering him a role as the voice of Knight Rider (“the film”), then ensures Kenneth’s discretion by providing him with a free television and an opening to steal cable. Jack proves the only way to cover up massive ongoing fraud is with outright bribery – sadly, a lesson that both the business and sports worlds have learned well.

 Beware the Power of the Press

 Marge Schott on, uhh…“Everything you read, when he came in he was good… They built tremendous highways and got all the factories going… Everybody knows he was good at the beginning but he just went too far.”

Jack Donaghy: “You know how the media are. They wait for a mistake, and that’s all you are. It happened to Hitler. No one eeee-ver talks about his paintings.”

Negotiate Ruthlessly

Owners and general managers deal constantly with greedy employees. Tight ends asking you for wide receiver money. Coaches demanding the payments that you guaranteed them. NFL players accusing you of illegally dispensing narcotics and NFL cheerleaders alleging that you are paying them less than minimum wage. These interminable issues can lead to holdouts, strikes, lawsuits, and acquiescence to give Allan Houston and Amar’e Stoudemire nine-figure contracts to observe games from the sidelines. Such are the fates awaiting each team’s front office – unless they follow the Jack Donaghy method of negotiating with their franchise talents:

– Utilize blackmail (preferably photographs involving the talent and an *NSYNC member frolicking at SeaWorld)

– Make a $1 pay raise offer (then lower it to 75 cents)

– Provide ridiculously uncomfortable office chairs for each contract discussion (then take them away)

– Fawn after their competitors to remind your stars that they can always be replaced

– Poison the well with any other prospective suitors looking to recruit the talent

Finally, give them an ultimatum of no extra money, ban them from pursuing any other career paths, and restrict their religious observances to one Jewish holiday per year. With these techniques, you’ll force even the whiniest superstar to degrade himself by performing the worm and yelling out five reasons why you’re better than him.

***

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRadioviolet

Tragedies and Statistics

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in "The Fisher King."

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in “The Fisher King.”

Robin Williams died yesterday, killed in what was reported as a suicide. My breath caught when I heard, but I made a small mental readjustment and thought, “Nah, it’ll be like all the other fake celebrity deaths; I’ll go on eating my burrito.”

When later the Responsible Media (TM) started reporting it, I deflated. I don’t think I was the only one to shrink a little; my social media was swamped with tributes, statements of sadness, and memories of Robin Williams and his work. It was filled with something else, too: a counter-reaction.

There was a collection of people who lamented that there was so much attention being paid to the suicide of one druggie comedian instead of some other major world event, like poverty, Gaza, ISIS, police brutality, etc. I actually think theirs is a reasonable reaction, as the loss of one man cannot be equivalent to the loss of scores of people, so let me explain why I think my sadness at William’s death is just as reasonable.

In a nutshell, Robin Williams was like a friend, who popped into and out of my life with each movie, routine, and painful story of drug use or loss that I saw or read about.  If I lost a loved one, a cousin, sibling, or parent, no one would question my right to grieve, because we know that I “know” them, they were in my life and I in theirs. The loss of Williams is obviously less, since he was a performer and I was a stranger to him, but like most of my favorite authors, musicians, and artists, he was no stranger to me.

Many of my friends in stand-up have been able to meet and get to know Robin Williams, something I’ll sadly not be able to do. Even without that secondary personal connection, though, his movies mirrored my emotional development. I was a kid when he made Aladdin, I was a student when he made Good Will Hunting, and I knew grief when he made The Fisher King. With his passing, I feel like I lost an reliable emotional touchstone, like an old restaurant in your hometown that has somehow stayed in business decades longer than it should have. Was he a friend of mine? No, he was not, but he was there when I made friends, and when I lost them.

With a celebrity like Williams dies, it is easy to dismiss the crass celebrity culture that exists in the US, which celebrates the trite, the superficial, and the pretty over the deep and meaningful. The news cycle should have more substance and less style, more analysis and less Hollywood gossip; this is a totally valid, and damning, critique on modern celebrity culture. In the case of Robin Williams, though, feeling less bad about his death does not mean we would feel more bad about the loss of civilians in a civil conflict; I’d argue that becoming more callous about the loss of anyone, even just some actor, just gives us a little more practice in the art of callousness.

If we intend to be more empathetic with strangers across the world and in our own hometowns, the solution is not to ridicule people who feel emotional about the loss of a famous celebrity; it is to give us more reason to feel the loss of the non-famous, the anonymous.

When Robin Williams died, we saw a person who made us laugh, an actor who could make us cry, and the face of a loneliness and depression that far, far too many of us confront in the dark, alone. We know that face, we see in our family, in our friends, and in our mirror.

If we want more of us to feel the loss of the family in Aleppo shelled by mortar fire, or the baby in the hospital in Gaza who died from a rocket attack, or the young man caught in a Molotov cocktail attack on his synagogue in Frankfurt, then we have to tell their stories, too. Don’t simply pass on a news report about a nameless, faceless refugee camp; find one of them and tell me her name, tell me his dreams. Tell me what they wanted out of life before the men with guns came, before their home became a war zone. Tell me how they lived before they died.

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

“500 dead” is just a number, a collection of bodies. We are not just bodies, we are the souls and hopes and dreams that live in those bodies until the moment our hearts stop. We know what Robin Williams looked like when his heart was beating; we know how he smiled and we know how he spoke. Can we try to say the same for the Tsunami victim? For the flood victim?

Don’t get me wrong; we should care about the dozen that died from X, and the thousand that are fleeing for safety in Y, even if we don’t know their stories. But if we know their stories, then we are not just mourning a number, we are mourning a person, a person that could have been our friend, a person that could have been us.

People will shed their tears for strangers, but they will shed their blood for their friends. We should give the unnamed names, put faces on the faceless, because that is the only way we can start to see the friends we have, hidden in the numbers.


12 Aug 2014
by Mark Nabong

The “Decision” that Built a New World Order

How LeBron James and Hulk Hogan Legdropped Their Fans and Changed their Sports Forever

By Kyle Schmitt
Twitter: @Kyleradioviolet

LEBRON

This week marks the anniversary of two shocking moments that altered the history of their sports – LeBron James fleeing the Cavaliers to create Miami’s Big Three and Hulk Hogan’s declaration of a New World Order. Both superstars were the top talents in their industries, but chose to backstab their lame franchises – Cleveland and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) – on live television for a chance to win greater glories with cooler cliques. These epic narratives of alliance and betrayal, which climaxed one day apart in 1996 (July 7) and 2010 (July 8), upset the balance of power in their industries. James and Hogan defined their careers with these actions, transforming from fan favorites into the biggest villains in their sports.

Join us as we revisit the Decisions that changed professional basketball and wrestling forever.

The Settings

LeBron: ESPN’s “The Decision” TV special, broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club, Greenwich, CT

Hogan: WCW’s Bash at the Beach 1996 pay-per-view event, broadcast from the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, FL

The Prologue

2010 – James had just finished his seventh season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but had still yet to win an NBA Finals game. The Cavs were knocked out of the 2010 playoffs by the Boston Celtics, led by their Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. While James earned regular-season MVP honors and recorded a triple-double in the deciding game, Cavaliers fans dreaded their homegrown superstar’s impending free agency. During the summer of 2010, James embarked on a recruiting trip, meeting with six different franchises to determine where he would sign his contract. Following this courtship, news broke that James would announce his destination on a prime-time TV special airing on ESPN.

1996 – WCW was being terrorized by two ex-WWE superstars formerly known as Diesel (Kevin Nash) and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). Wearing a denim vest, Hall interrupted a televised WCW match on May 27 and spouted the instant-classic line, “You people, you know who I am. But you don’t know why I’m here.” He concluded his snarky monologue with a direct threat to WCW: “You want a war? You’re gonna get one.” He and Nash followed up on this boast by launching several sneak-attacks on rival wrestlers. Finally, a WCW all-star team consisting of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger combined their muscle at the annual Bash at the Beach event to fight Hall, Nash … and a mystery “third man”. Hall and Nash walked to the ring alone, but after they had laid out their opponents, a familiar face showed up to confront them …

Warning Signs

Basketball insiders immediately noted the significance of James removing his tank-top upon leaving the court following Cleveland’s season-ending loss to Boston. Play-by-play man Mike Breen wondered if this was the last time James would ever take off a Cavs uniform, providing epic foreshadowing by intoning, “If he leaves, it would be a disaster of enormous proportions for the Cavaliers.” Hogan showed similar signs of restlessness, shedding his trademark red-and-yellow garb in 1995 and sporting black wrestling gear to display his darker side. After losing the WCW World Championship at Halloween Havoc 1995, Hogan made sporadic in-ring appearances in 1996 while devoting time to his acting career.

Spoiler Alerts

While sports media fed an avalanche of rumors surrounding James’ free agency, Stephen A. Smith broke the news 10 days before “The Decision” that James and fellow Eastern Conference All-Star Chris Bosh would join 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade in Miami. Similarly, WCW color commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan sounded the alarm during Hogan’s walk to the ring at Bash at the Beach, repeatedly demanding, “Whose side is he on?” Fans still refused to lose hope in their saviors, disregarding both warnings as unthinkable.

Dirty Deeds

James jettisoned his organization and abandoned his diehard fans to join forces with Wade and Bosh in Miami. He ambushed his home-state team on national TV, telling the world that he was signing with the Heat. His announcement broke the hearts of a Cleveland fanbase that viewed James as the Chosen One who would lead their long-suffering city to a championship. His actions helped to establish the Heat as the presumptive frontrunner for the 2011 NBA Championship, while decimating a Cavaliers team that went from 61 wins in the 2009-2010 season to 19 victories in the 2010-2011 campaign. “The Decision” drew nearly 10 million viewers, and turned James into perhaps America’s most polarizing athlete. His move heralded a new era in which the league’s most talented stars would take less money, even in their primes, to combine forces with other great players for a better shot at winning titles. Suspicion persisted that James, Bosh, and Wade rigged the system to converge in a place of their choosing, reclaiming power for the players even as a new collective bargaining agreement eroded their share of basketball related income.

Hogan jettisoned his organization and abandoned his diehard fans to join forces with Hall and Nash. He cleared the ring of Hall and Nash to raucous cheers, only to double-cross WCW by leg-dropping a prone Savage. The Outsiders joined Hogan in decimating his co-Mega Power as a stunned crowd came to grips with what it had seen. Hogan then gave an interview to a livid “Mean” Gene Okerlund, proclaiming a New World Order (NWO) and telling his fans that “if it wasn’t for Hulk Hogan, you people wouldn’t be here.” His actions helped to establish Hogan as the presumptive frontrunner for the WCW World Championship (which he won a month later), and decimated a WCW stable reeling from the loss of its marquee talent. Hogan’s heel turn marked a sea change in professional wrestling, not just by having the most beloved wrestler of his generation break faith with millions of fans, but by signaling the end of an era of clearly defined heroes and villains and pointing the way toward the adult themes and grey shades of the Attitude Era.

The Outsiders

Both LeBron and Hogan formed an iron triangle with their top peers, colluding with a superstar widely detested by his colleagues (Wade/Hall) and a wisecracking 7-foot center (Bosh/Nash, the latter of whom played three seasons for the Tennessee Volunteers and enjoyed a professional basketball stint in Europe before entering the squared circle). Teaming with these Outsiders, King James and the Hulkster built the crews that would dominate their landscapes for years to come.

Media Presence

ESPN reporter Jim Gray, who asked James the preeminent question, “The answer to the question everybody wants to know: LeBron, what’s your decision?”

WCW reporter ”Mean” Gene Okerlund, who asked Hogan the preeminent question, “What in the world are you thinking?”

Signature Kiss-Off

LeBron: “This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”

Hogan: “You fans can stick it, brother!”

The Big Reveal – or, “What the hell is going on here!?” – WCW color commentator Dusty Rhodes

LeBron: “I can’t say it was always in my plans because I never thought it was possible. But the things that the Miami Heat franchise have done to be able to free up cap space and to be able to put themselves in a position this summer to have all three of us, you know, it was hard to turn down. Those are two great players, two of the greatest players that we have in this game today. And, you know, you add me, we’re gonna be a really good team.”

Hogan: “Well, the first thing you gotta realize, brother, is this right here is the future of wrestling. You can call this the New World Order of wrestling, brother.”

Why It Happened – or, “For you to join up with the likes of these two men absolutely makes me sick to my stomach… You want to put yourself in this group?” – “Mean” Gene Okerlund

LeBron: “I think the major factor and the major reason in my decision was the best opportunity for me to win. And to win now, and to win in the future… It’s about joining forces with the other two guys who I feel like I respect their game the most, and I feel like we have a great chance of winning and winning for multiple years.”

Hogan: “As far as Billionaire Ted goes, Eric Bischoff, and the whole WCW goes, I’m bored, brother. That’s why these two guys here, the so-called Outsiders, these are the men I want as my friends. They’re the new blood of professional wrestling, brother.”

Best OMG Moment of Realization that the Linchpin is Gone

Heenan: “Now what happens to us? What happens now to WCW? … What do we do now?”

Realist Fan on a Cleveland street talking about the Big Three: “They’re about to win a championship.”

But Really, How Bad Is It?

Heenan on the New World Order’s (NWO) formation: “Probably the lowest shot ever given to professional wrestling.”

Distraught Fan in Post-Decision Interview: “He’s one of our own; that’s what makes it so painful. Art Modell, you know, he was 65 years old, he went away and the Browns came back. LeBron can never come back.”

Ill Will and Bad Tidings

Rhodes: “A career of a lifetime, right down the drain, kid. I hope you love it – you just sold your soul to the devil.”

Angry Cavs Fan: “For him to go in there and drag us through the mud for seven years and stab us in the heart, he deserves everything he gets. I hope he never wins anything in Miami.”

Least Dignified Display of Physical Aggression

WCW Fans: Turning the Bash at the Beach ring into a landfill in their efforts to pelt Hogan with trash

Underemployed Fans: A protracted effort to burn Witness t-shirts and a Cavs #23 jersey while some guy off-camera mutters, “No integrity. No integrity.”

Least Dignified Display of Non-Physical Aggression

WCW Play-by-Play Announcer Tony Schiavone: “We have just seen the end of Hulkamania… Hulk Hogan, you can go to hell. Straight to hell.”

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert channels his petulant inner seven-year-old in an infamous open letter, which condemns the “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own”, calls James out for deserting the region, and contains the immortal phrase, “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.“

Verdict of the Legends

NBA legend Michael Jordan on LeBron’s actions: “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry (Bird), called up Magic (Johnson), and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team.’”

NBA legend Charles Barkley on LeBron’s actions: “If you’re the two-time defending NBA MVP, you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous.”

Retired WCW wrestler Larry “The Living Legend” Zbyszko on Hogan’s actions: “Unmanly.”

Highspots

Both James and “Hollywood” Hogan won multiple world championships due to help from their two new friends. The Big Three reached four consecutive NBA Finals, winning championships in 2012 and 2013. Hogan would win numerous WCW World Championships with the NWO, exploiting a hip new persona to jumpstart his stagnant career. The Heat and the NWO became simultaneously the most popular and hated teams in their sports, and they sent ratings and merchandise sales skyrocketing for their organizations. Despite millions of fans rooting for their comeuppance, victory always seemed assured for the red, white, and black bad guys. Strangely, both men battled the NBA’s best: while LeBron made quick work of Kevin Durant and Paul George, Hogan tag-teamed with Dennis Rodman and faced off against Karl Malone.

Best Braggadocio

LeBron: “Not one … not two … not three …”

Hogan: “Not only are we going to take over the whole wrestling business … we will destroy everything in our path.”

ODB Memorial “Wu-Tang is for the Children” Shout-Out

LeBron (in a letter to a Cleveland city councilman regarding the charitable funding stemming from advertising proceeds related to “The Decision”: “I am so excited that the renovated gym, new floor and computer lab at the Broadway Boys & Girls Club are finished, and I’ve been told that everything looks amazing. These additions are great for the neighborhood, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to give back to the Cleveland community.”

Hogan: “I held my head high. I did everything for the charities, I did everything for the kids.”

The Bench

To pad out their rosters, LeBron and the Hulkster relied on help from a motley cast of roleplayers. Both squads featured the following personnel:

Declining Veterans Willing to Forgo Personal Gain for Team Victories: Ray Allen and “Macho Man” Randy Savage

Tattooed Blond Big Men: “Birdman” Chris Andersen and “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner

Follically Blessed Executives: Pat Riley and Eric Bischoff

Unloved Whipping Boys: Mario Chalmers and Syxx, who claimed he was fired by Bischoff via a FedEx delivery because the boss was mad at his friends Nash and Hall

Canaries in the Coalmine: The acceptance of David Flair into the NWO vs. the Heat’s reliance on Michael Beasley in a Finals game

Biggest Jerk Moves

LeBron and Wade mocking Dirk Nowitski’s illness during the 2011 NBA Finals.

Hogan, Nash, and Hall attacking countless WCW wrestlers before spray-painting them with their trademark NWO tag.

Most Grandiose Displays of Divine Power

Miami’s Big Three being deified at a pep rally that eerily resembles a pro wrestling event.

The NWO remaking the WCW Monday Nitro set in its own graven image.

Best Bodyslam of Haters

LeBron: “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”

Hogan: “As far as I’m concerned, all the crap in the ring represents these fans out here.”

Tapping Out

LeBron’s low point: Losing a humiliating five-game series to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. San Antonio’s dominance led Bosh to confess, “They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.” Worse, James’ supporting cast collapsed during this series, prompting comedian Chris Rock to tweet, “When did the Heat become the Cavs.” (SIC) This lopsided defeat precipitated the Big Three opting out of their 2014-2015 contracts, leaving the future of Miami’s New World Order in doubt.

Hogan’s low point: The Fingerpoke of Doom, a match that saw Hogan “beat” Nash in a manner that has been debated as “the biggest mistake WCW ever made”. On January 4, 1999, Nash defended his WCW World Championship against Hogan. Although the two men had become bitter enemies during the past year, the match ended almost immediately when Hogan tapped Nash with his finger, causing the giant to drop like he’d been shot. Hogan proceeded to pin Nash as pro wrestling’s Big Three reunited to once again wreak havoc on WCW’s do-gooders. This ill-conceived “match” is widely considered to mark the beginning of WCW’s downfall, throwing the organization into a creative tailspin that ended only when Vince McMahon bought the organization in 2001.

The Way Ahead

LeBron James has two options: he can do what Hulk Hogan did in 1999 by reforming the Big Three and taking another stab at dominance. Or he can do what Hulk Hogan did later in 1999 after seeing the (scripted) light. The reformed Hulkster took a stand for heroism once more, reclaiming his yellow-red-white-and-blue babyface character and ultimately defeating his former blood-brother Nash to retain the WCW World Championship. The Hulkster’s babyface comeback shows there is still hope for James to return home as the prodigal son, and finally prove himself a Real American.

Reinvention and the Power of Community

Reinvention and the Power of Community
Five Lessons from Greendale’s Finest Students

Guest post by Kyle Schmitt

College is a time of personal growth and discovery, especially at Greendale Community College, where teenagers and seniors alike converge to seek education and learn who they really are. Greendale, the setting for the NBC sitcom Community, also serves as a haven for losers on their last chances. Called a “toilet” by its own students and promoted by the slogan, “You’re already accepted!”, the school provides a constant reminder of its denizens’ past failures and lack of opportunity for the future.

Greendale is a place, however, that allows for hard-won self-improvement. Some metamorphoses are just lateral movements – witness Ben Chang (Ken Jeong), who transforms from an incompetent Spanish professor to an incompetent math instructor. But the “Greendale Seven” study group members draw on themselves and their fellow students for courage and support in becoming the people they want to be.

Community shows how we all possess the power for personal reinvention. Here are five lessons the study group teaches us about how to become more ideal versions of ourselves:

Set your goals and pursue them vigorously. Shirley Bennett (played by Yvette Nicole Brown) entered Greendale after a traumatic event in her personal life. When her husband leaves her and their two sons for a stripper, she decides to attend community college to gain independence and a life outside of being an unappreciated homemaker. Shirley gains experience in cooking and promoting her own products. Her efforts culminate in the opening of Shirley’s Sandwiches, a small business she starts on Greendale’s campus. While she eventually reconciles with her husband, Shirley achieves personal growth and finds her own happiness by taking chances and discovering new skills that empower her.

Don’t be afraid to change paths. Annie Edison (Alison Brie) is your typical high-achieving, straight-A student – minus the Adderall addiction that landed her at a bottom-tier community college. She takes academics seriously and keeps a laser focus on the lucrative hospital administration career waiting for her after Greendale. We see periodic signs, however, that Annie is second-guessing her plans for life. And when a class-project yam is destroyed, causing the study group to band together for a Law & Order-style criminal investigation, she realizes a new interest. After graduating and finding no fulfillment in her healthcare industry job, Annie re-enrolls in Greendale to pursue her passion for forensic science. She throws away the rulebook that has restricted her throughout life, and embarks on a new journey that excites and challenges her.

Keep your values along the way. A disgraced lawyer who lost his job for lying about his non-existent college degree, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) creates the study group merely to hook up with his first recruit, Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs). His egotistical attitude leads him to act aloof and aim sarcastic barbs at group members who look up to him as being cooler and better than they are. Even after growing close with the other students, Jeff often struggles to prioritize his friends over his own selfish desires. His better angels consistently win out, however, as Jeff routinely postpones whatever he’d rather be doing to serve as a father figure to a group desperate for his leadership. He makes time to support Annie’s creation of a Model U.N. group, provide Shirley with pro bono legal help, and throw fellow group member Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) a Pulp Fiction-themed birthday party. Even when he gets his life back on-track, Jeff maintains tight connections with the classmates he once treated with contempt. These outcasts become a surrogate family for a man who finally learned to prize friendship over wealth and professional achievement.

It’s never too late to become the person you want to be. Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) serves as a constant reminder to his younger cohorts of where poor decisions and failed relationships will eventually lead. He treats his fellow study group members with disrespect, then complains that the study group leaves him out of their outside activities. This vicious cycle leads him to act maliciously toward his friends, further driving a wedge between himself and those who should be closest to him. After his frustrations boil over into physical aggression between himself and Jeff, Pierce begins to let others into his heart. He sticks up for his fellow students when he believes they are being bullied, dials back the racist/sexist comments, and even saves Greendale from financial ruin by winning a campus-wide paintball competition, then giving the destroyed school his prize money. Pierce waits until after his own death, however, to openly share his feelings with his friends. In his written will, Pierce posthumously tells Shirley that he admired her business acumen and strength of character, and reveals that Britta’s passion for her various causes inspired him. He also provides a life-changing opportunity for Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), who realizes that Pierce saw something in him that he never saw for himself. Accepting the friends he once kept at arm’s length, Pierce makes continued progress (even into eternity) in becoming a more considerate and appreciative person to those who care about him.

Challenge yourself. The show’s biggest transformation is made by Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), an obtuse ex-jock whose stated ambition is to wait until his best friend Abed strikes it rich with a social media innovation, then sue for a cut of his fortune. While the other study group members mature, Troy remains content to watch unwatchable b-movies and co-host Troy & Abed in the Morning, an early morning television program that no one bothers to film. But his stagnancy is shattered when Pierce offers him $14 million in stock options if he successfully sails around the world. Pierce tells Troy that he sees in him the “heart of a hero”, and challenges him to become the man he knows he can be. Whether induced by the lure of money or the opportunity for personal growth, Troy accepts this offer and sets sail with co-voyager LeVar Burton (per another provision in Pierce’s will). True to form, Troy cannot say goodbye to Greendale without playing an increasingly ridiculous game of “The floor is lava” that symbolizes his rite of passage into manhood. But, eventually, he sheds his lethargic state of no expectations and evolves into an adventurous adult whose best years are just beginning.

Reinvention doesn’t require enrollment at a community college that prides itself on its “Straight A’s” (two of which are “Air Conditioning” and “A Lot of Classes”) or which offers “certificates of completion” due to being legally prevented from awarding diplomas. The Greendale study group members demonstrate that setting goals, keeping an open mind to new ideas and opportunities, and recognizing the worth of those around you can help you live the life you want.

 

The author can be reached at kyleschmitt81 (at) gmail dot com.