I’ve been sifting through some of my older writings lately, and I’m astonished at how little things have changed. I wrote the first part of this in 2011, and the second part in 2018, and could have easily written it yesterday.

Part 1:

I’ve come to the realization that we no longer have a free press in this country. It used to be that members of the media were observers and journalists, more words on paper than celebrities in their own right, reporting in a hopefully unbiased way on the things people were already interested in. Slowly but surely, these journalists became entertainers, enjoyed their own celebrity, and integrity in the media gave way to money. Corporations with political agendas bought up news organizations as corporate geniuses realized there was huge money in controlling the information people were given.

The media no longer observes, it directs and orchestrates where our attention is paid. They (along with our politicians) participate in the circus to divert our attention away from real issues, and onto the latest inflammatory drama. The danger in the loss of our truly free press is that we as a society have lost the ability to exert any kind of “peer pressure” on members who behave wrongly because the sleaze in question is bombarded with attention, cameras, and “journalists” from around the world, making their idiocy into a career.

Part 2:

Little did I realize at the time how ill-informed I was. I recently came across this quote…and was completely shocked by the date at the end:

“There is no such thing at this date of the world’s history in America as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinion, and if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allow my opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before 24 hours, my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it, and I know it, and what folly is this, toasting an independent press? We are the tools and the vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the Jumping Jacks. They pull the strings, and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

— John Swinton, CEO, New York Times, New York Press Club, April 12, 1953.

All I could think was “What the F***???”  Really? The CEO of the NY Times knew this in 1953?  Why have I been laboring under this false illusion for so long?  When I wrote the item at the top, in 2011, I thought that the phenomenon of corporate control of the media, and the complete selling out, were coincident with TV journalism and the instant celebrity of all who looked at us out of the magic box. That the sleaze was post-Walter Cronkite.

All I can say is that I think we want to be lied to. If we wanted our journalists to be JOURNALISTS, we would insist on it. We love the Great and Powerful Oz, and don’t really want to know what’s going on behind the curtain. And that makes me sadder than I can say.

Culture of Violence

I originally posted this to Facebook in February of 2018…and nothing has changed.

Another school shooting…another mass shooting. I find myself completely numb to it anymore. Not sad or “tense” (as some of you will think) or even advocating for change. Numb. Numb because if I let the heart ripping grief back in, it will overwhelm me. The darkest part of me shrugs and thinks, “Maybe this is America’s choice for population control.”

The arguments are tiresome and somewhat sickening. Yes, the gun is just a tool. No, this isn’t about lack of disciplining by parents or kids not tattling on their friends in time. No, taking away all the guns isn’t the solution. Yes, it is somewhat about our broken mental health system. No, everyone being armed isn’t the answer. Yes, “thoughts and prayers” has become an empty and useless sentiment. No, wanting to fix something that feels so broken is not “politicizing” grief. Yes, there will always be bad guys who will find a way to do harm.

Our problem, deep down, is our culture, and we need to own it. Whether we ultimately fix it or just accept this as status quo, we need to own the fact that we are, at heart, a culture that embraces the idea of violence as a solution to our problems. Don’t get me wrong: I love my country and the ideals we were built on, but the reality has unfolded in a bloody way. Think about it: we brag about how our Founding Fathers fought and killed for their beliefs; we euphemistically call our period of genocide and invasion “Western Expansion” and celebrate those pioneers who took territory at the point of a gun; we continue to wave the flag of secessionists who brought about the bloodiest and deadliest conflict in American history; we romanticize the “Wild West” as a time when right and wrong were decided by street duels and death; we chose a National Anthem that is a celebratory ode to war; we cheer movies where the hero ends the story by blowing away the bad guy. We must face the fact that, flag be damned, we have raised the gun as our true symbol of freedom and righteousness.

Being me, I’ve tried to figure out WHY. Why is the 2nd amendment the only one we fight so hard to preserve? Why do we argue so vehemently and with such vitriol at any whisper of gun control? It is a little too simple to say it’s money and the NRA. The NRA would have no crop without a fertile field to cultivate. So why is it that Americans are so ready to go all in for this one amendment while we shrug and turn away at the violations of free press and free speech and equal protection?

I think it’s fear and uncertainty, combined with the tangibility of “arms”. People are scared of how fragile their life circumstances are. We feel vulnerable to a government that can take away our money through taxes and our property through the power of eminent domain, and insignificant and powerless to change that at the voting booth in the face of billions in lobbyist money. The abstracts of free speech and equal protection are cold comfort when you feel like you are one illness away from losing your home. But a gun. A GUN is something we can buy, something we can touch, something we can own, something we can hide, something that scares other people, and something that gives us a sense of power. We believe we can defend our safety, our livelihood, and our property EVEN AGAINST OUR GOVERNMENT with the power of a gun, backed by the Constitutional protection of the 2nd Amendment. It is our line in the sand against fear and feeling powerless.

The sad irony is that despite the ideals of our Enlightenment forefathers, despite the beauty of the ideas they penned into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, they chose violent rebellion as the mother to birth our country. That willingness to accept that the ends justify the means, no matter the consequences, and that blood must be the price of freedom, is embedded into our national DNA. We need to face it and own it, and then decide: do we fix things or accept the status quo?

The Level Playing Field

I think part of why we all love sport so much is that every game, match, or meet starts off even, with everyone having an equal chance to win. Teams of equal size, equal opportunity, the scores all at zero, the playing surface identical…a tableau of possibility and hope that we spectators can pour our emotions into, rejoice or mourn the outcome, then start fresh the next time.

As a coach, the absolute essence of competition was based around the idea that both teams were operating from the same basic framework of rules, events, and number of available lanes, with the only differences being who was on our team and how we chose to use our entries to maximize our chance of doing well. NEVER ONE TIME did any coach try to alter the rules in their favor, eliminate members of my team to gain an advantage, take away my assigned lanes, or outright cheat to win. Imagine your favorite sport:  your team shows up to play, and part of your team is barred from entering. Your scoring area has been reduced while the other team’s is larger. You’d be pissed, right? You’d scream, “NOT FAIR!!!”

That is exactly what is and has been going on in American politics for years. Gerrymandering has reduced the scoring area for Democrats across the country, which to my mind is just flat cheating, despite how “legal” it may be and no matter who is doing it. Writing cheating into law doesn’t make it right, and the concept of the winners getting to draw the districting map for voting was a BAD idea from the start. Gerrymandering has given a huge advantage to Republicans, who are now using that power to further abuse the rules of fair play.

Let’s think about this in terms of the NFL. All of the coaches get together to pass a rule that whoever wins the Superbowl gets to make a rule change that the rest of the league will live under. At the time, the coaches (all being confident in their ability to win the Superbowl) would think this was a great idea, and imagine some minor tweaks they would make. For a few years, the NFC and AFC trade wins, and the changes are relatively benign; then AFC teams win three or four years in a row, and the NFC coaches are disgruntled. A few of them get together, and decide next time one of them wins, they’re going to take advantage of the rule change ability to really make it hard for the AFC to win again. An NFC teams wins, and the rule change that year is that AFC players must play with their ankles tied together during the playoffs and Superbowl. It would be in the rules, but it would make it so no AFC team could ever win the Superbowl again. The level playing field would be gone.

Just this week, Republicans in Tennessee used a violation of a procedural rule (not a LAW, just a rule of behavior in their workplace) as an excuse to expel (not reprimand, EXPEL) members of the House who represent a large, mostly Democratic, portion of Nashville. They used their power to tilt the playing field in their favor and remove their competition and silence their “fans”. This idea offends me to my core. It goes against every single thing I operated under as an athlete and believed in as a coach.

I have to wonder sometimes if any of these Republicans ever played sports. If they did, they’ve certainly forgotten the lessons, and the concept of the level playing field.

If you have to cheat to win, is it really winning? If you have to bully to get your way, are you really strong? I have never understood how the people who do these things can possibly feel as though they’ve achieved something.

Where to Start?

I haven’t written in a while, and with everything going on, am struggling with where to start. To steal shamelessly from Julie Andrews:

“Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read, you begin with A-B-C…”

When I started this blog, it was intended to bring forward some life lessons I’d learned from coaching and apply them to life more broadly, and perhaps if I was lucky, be a bit inspirational now and then. I need to depart from that format for a while in an effort to try to make sense of what is going on in our world, and perhaps through talking it out, find a way to move forward in a way that feels positive and productive.

I read recently that Kansas has passed a law banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports…a law that apparently affects ONE person in the state. One. In a state of nearly three million people, THIS was the issue that rose to the top of the priority list for the time and attention of the elected officials of the state. THIS was the most important need to be addressed. Not the educational system (ranked 27th in the nation, with over 497,000 students in public school), or improving state-maintained roads and infrastructure (over 10,000 miles worth), but something that affects a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Really?

When I look at this, and at how legislators across the nation are spending their time and political power, I can’t help but wonder “why?” Why is so much effort being expended to stop people from expressing themselves freely, exploring new and different ideas, or taking care of themselves and their families in the ways they see fit? Why is this level of control being exerted?

When I was coaching, the teenagers always wanted to wear “technical suits” for their championship meets. These are suits that provide some degree of compression and water resistance, and the kids believed passionately that they wouldn’t be fast without them. No matter how much I assured them that it was the work they had done to prepare their bodies to race, and not the suit, they believed otherwise. Why? The suit was something tangible they could put their hands on, and it gave them a sense of confidence and control they didn’t have in themselves. The suit pacified their fear.

Coaching gives you the opportunity to observe people in a lot of different emotional states, and fear was one I saw regularly. I think humanity as a whole is particularly gripped by fear these days: fear of changes in our climate, fear of dwindling resources in an ever-expanding human population, fear of disease, fear of each other. These fears are real and valid and overwhelming, and hit at our deepest fear, which is our inability to fix any of them. When everything feels out of control, you seek to control anything you can.

I think leaders in churches and governments very sharply feel this fear of not being able to fix these things; they know they don’t have answers or solutions, and they share the fears we all have. Unfortunately, some are responding by inventing issues and targets that we can aim our fears at, that they can then “solve”. Like the technical suit, it provides a sense of confidence and control, as long as they can get us to believe that fixing these invented issues will pacify our fear.

Their solutions are lies because their problems are lies. Like the Wizard of Oz, they’re trying to distract us from the truth, and the real problems only get worse while they waste time driving us apart over who people love, how they dress, whether they choose to have a child, and what words are in books. They could 100% get their way in all of these things, and we would still be facing climate change, dwindling resources, possible pandemics, and even more fear of each other.

I find myself getting angry with the people who believe these lies and latch onto these invented issues as though they are the real problem and what is “destroying” America. When I feel that anger and frustration (and my own fear), I have to remind myself that they’re scared and overwhelmed too…they’re just more comfortable believing the comfortable lie with the easy answer than I am.

I believe we need to work harder to connect with each other directly and not fall into believing lies and easy answers. We need to not listen when a newscaster or preacher or legislator tells us how someone else feels, or what someone else is trying to do to us. It is not gay marriage or men in dresses or books about racism that are making our daily lives feel hard or the future feel hopeless. I have been trying to train myself, every time something elicits an emotional response, to ask “Why do I feel this way? What does the person telling me this gain from me being upset?” For me, it’s been a step in the right direction, and I’ve realized that most of the time the people telling me the bad things want my money or my clicks or my attention.

My other small step has been to try to listen and calmly respond when someone speaks out of their fear or ignorance or judgmentalism. I tell a story from my life that has shaped why I feel differently about what they said. If they don’t listen, or persist, or get hostile, I tell them we have to change the subject or I’ll need to walk away. It’s worked surprisingly well with some people, but full disclosure: it’s a work in progress for me to not just avoid the conversation to begin with. Introvert here.

I’m considering volunteering as a way to reconnect with community and do something tangible toward fixing the real problems we face. I’m not sure yet what that looks like, and am having a hard time figuring out what to do. More to come.

Whatever you can do to manage your own fear, find some peace, take a positive step, or rebuild community helps in this world. At a minimum, it helps your own stress go down. If you have good ideas, please share in the comments! Hopefully, I will be writing more soon.