What I Think About the National Anthem Protests: NFL Players Can Kneel & Trump Is a Bum

A grandfather, father and son; three generations of William Sabia’s; three generations of Philly sports fans used to go watch 18 baseball games every summer. We watched them together from our right field seats all through my younger and more vulnerable years. We watched the best years with the mullet brigade of 1993 that lost the World Series to a bunch of Canadian hosers. We also watched the worst years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. The years when future Hall of Shamers Von Hayes or Steve Jeltz were the best players, the years when the stadium was a non-descript, circular, multi-purpose green hole called Veterans Stadium. The floors were wet even on sunny days, the food was limited to soggy hot dogs or stale pretzels and the bathrooms were intimidatingly filthy, but my memories of those summer nights remain as pure as Kevin Costner’s plan in Field of Dreams.

We’d eat a big Italian dinner at Dante & Luigi’s then make our way to the parking lot. (Later we’d relocate from that eatery to Medora’s Mecca due to an attempted mafia hit in 1989.) The games, as all American sports, began with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” I used to take off my hat, stand at attention, hand over heart and peek up at my grandfather who served in the Navy during WW2. He seemed to be rather emotionless and more excited to mark down the bases and strikes in the program book. The song reminded me of him, and my other deceased family members who served.

It was my feelings that I can more surely remember. Beyond the excitement of sitting with my Naunu and Dad with their undivided attention on me and whatever phase of young problems were bothering me at that moment, I was definitely moved by that song every time. To this day, the goose bumps still raise my sparse arm hairs, chilling each nerve during the final crescendo of that contrasting anthem to war and freedom.

Playing Pee-Wee football in my little town, we couldn’t afford helmets or pads newer than the 1970’s dress-up kits in which we used to be outfitted. Thus, our little crappy speaker system, on which my Italian surname was consistently and variously butchered, played a very weak instrumental version of the national anthem. Nevertheless, we all stood, swimming in our oversized helmets and one size fits none shoulder pads. Most of the time, the flag lay limp on the pole, a far cry from the 100 yard flapping inspiration held taught by veterans we see on Sunday Night Football. The “flag was still there” is the way to understand it. We play contact sports under the lights and under the flag. We zone out while pledging allegiance to it. Cheesy American backpackers during the Bush era used to sew Canadian flags to their rucksacks to avoid political conversations about Iraq. The flag is there, even when you don’t notice it or try to hide it.

The flag is boldly symbolic of our unity and passively suggestive of the manifested destiny of struggles our past has provided our future. It means different things to all, just like our country. Some immigrants imagined America as paved with gold, a metaphor for golden opportunities for their children. Other forced “immigrants” found a world of cruelty and enslavement. The “flag was still there” through all those rounds of foreigners coming voluntarily or vice versa. The stars kept growing and history kept moving. The American flag is a visual expression of our pride, or our pain. Surely, we can all understand both sides.

The benevolent peace I experience from the national anthem as a white male, non-veteran yet proud American may be starkly divergent from my cultural opposites. I’ve seen the cellphone videos of police brutality and I watched in disbelief through the Rodney and O.J. affairs. I recently watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th (Netflix) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon). They are eye-opening glimpses of an American experience where the stars and stripes provide a twisted pride. A pride of earned freedom but never escaping from under a racist thumb, people rising as a Phoenix from their historical ashes only to sink again under the destructive weight of racist oppression.

Enter Colin Kaepernick in 2016, a Super Bowl caliber NFL QB confronting his American confusion from within his bi-racial skin while growing up adopted in a white family, part of an all-Black college fraternity, blessed with superhuman sporting skills and cursed with a mind too curious to just keep his mouth shut and cash the checks. He lives in a world where Obama is president to only half the country, Black men’s murders are being caught on video at a terrible pace and here he is, making millions, wondering what words or even what right he may have to use his celebrity to say something.

He takes a knee. Like the proverbial ripples on a still pond, his kneel reverberated. The ripples cost him his job. The ripples have now flowed from the Bay Area to D.C. This week, our disgraceful 45th president, who never misses a chance to take an uneducated, unthinking, unsophisticated gut reaction into the public without any semblance of nuance called Kaepernick and anyone else kneeling a “son of a bitch.” He called American men, American athletes, American protesters, American heroes—sons of bitches. He called them that because they are looking to enact change, or at the least bring awareness to a decades old problem—some police see Black men as dangerous. Let’s ignore the fact that Trump speaks the way kids imitate their drunk, racist grandfather and just acknowledge that he is a boring, tactless, race-baiting, impulsive, spiteful, incurious, douchebag. His opinions are as useless as a bikini in Saudi Arabia. His face is as paunchy as a hippo duck facing a selfie. Instead of being sympathetic or simply ignoring this story, he blew moonshine into the bonfire.

Johnny Cash was the man in black. “I wear it for the poor and beaten down, living on the hopeless, hungry side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of the times.” These football players are men in black, men whose blackness defines their life, but not their identity. Many of them came from that hopeless, hungry side of town. Many of them may know someone in prison for a victimless crime like marijuana. Johnny Cash wore black; they are choosing, like Kaepernick, to take a knee, to show that America has not fully reconciled its slave-holding past. We have not fully committed to our motto, E Pluribus Unum. Thirteen letters, thirteen original colonies, thirteenth amendment. America is trying to move forward. Trump is a gold plated, bone spurred step backward.

We all must try to understand that black lives matter doesn’t negate other lives. Taking down Civil War statues doesn’t negate history. Kneeling before the flag doesn’t negate others’ sacrifices. The NFL players are allowed to kneel for the song. The flag will still be there. It reflects what we project upon it. Whatever you see within those Stars & Stripes probably reveals part of your own personal American history, standing, sitting or kneeling.

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USA Wins Big, Again!

The U.S. women have just won their third world championship fulfilling their self-described boast as “one of the best teams ever”. This is a huge accomplishment and something to brag about to your friends around the world. They will say it’s not the real World Cup, and they’re basically correct. (They’re correct the same way that you can say eating chocolate covered raisins isn’t candy because it’s dried grapes. It’s true, but wrong. I think the broken English phrase, “Same, same, but different” is slightly more fitting.) Although it does require the qualifier “Women’s” World Cup, the excitement and national pride exists just as passionately in this tournament. Carli Lloyd’s midfield shocker in the final, Abby Wambach’s flying kick against Nigeria or Kelley O’Hara’s game sealing goal against the talented German squad let us know that these ladies are magic. And yes, now that you asked, they are attractive. Their appeal comes from both thrilling athleticism and robust beauty.

There are haters. My dad told me a direct quote from one of his friends as, “If you’ve got time to watch women’s soccer, you’ve got too much time on your hands.” Well, if being the best team in the world isn’t reason enough to watch, then maybe you just don’t like soccer. (Either way, bugger off ya wankah.) The reason women’s soccer is as good as men’s is because it’s a finesse sport with just a hint of chaos. There is plenty of physicality, so these girls are tough, but the difference between a male or female cross into a header is negligible. Though I’m no connoisseur of fútbol, I think that’s a fair comparison. The American men’s team is making changes and looking more competitive but even their coach acknowledges they are far from winning a tournament. The American women are the best side in history! 3 of 4 Olympic titles and 3 of 7 World Cup titles have been won by USA. They dominate, and I’m happy to call myself a fan.

In 1999, I was living at the Jersey Shore, partying and preparing my stomach for the upcoming four years of outrageous university life. Those games were on in the background of many blurred memories, including the memorable Brandi Chastain Cup winning sports bra incident. In 2011, I was unemployed and watched every minute of every game of that tournament. I shaved my hair into a glorious mullet in an inexplicable gesture of solidarity and support for our girls. They came up short to the tsunami-ravaged nation of Japan who probably needed that win for the country’s collective sanity. But this year, this team, looked really different in the knockout stage. They were cool but fiery in attack, shrewd and swaggering in defense, a formidable foe for any team. Carli Lloyd played out of her head in the final three games scoring five goals and Hope Solo and the back line were able to avert most challenges.

In the years to come, U.S. soccer will continue to improve until both the men and women are perennial challengers for the Cup. One day, in my lifetime, the American men’s team will crush the machismo of South America, stifle the diving masses of Europe and sprint past the speed of Africa to their first World Cup title, thus ruining the sport for the world. Until then, the American girls are running it again. Let’s celebrate their accomplishment and be happy in the victory.

**(Also, let’s hope the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation ruts out the corruption in FIFA, so we can continue to enjoy these amazing tournaments without worry of systemic bureaucratic corruption.)

U.S.A. Women Win World Cup 2015

How to Fix Boxing in 3 Easy Steps

Floyd “Money for My Lawyers” Mayweather and Manny “No Birth Control” Pacquiao recently fought to a unanimously boring decision in Mayweather’s favor. A total of 229 punches were landed in the fight, which averages to six per minute or 19 per round (a small number compared to the real “fight of the century” Ward v. Gatti in 2002 when those punch-happy crowd-pleasers combined for a staggering average of 17 punches landed per minute and 51 per round). None of Mayweather’s or Pacquiao’s shots were able to induce a knockout, knockdown or even a stumble. People paid tens of thousands of dollars to see the fight live, or hundreds to stream it to their living room. They deserve to see more than jabs, sidesteps and clinches. If that is the best that boxing can provide, it’s safe to say the sport needs help. Yes, that was probably the payoff for the sendoff fight for both elderly pugilists, but can you name two other boxers fighting today that could legitimately provide a “fight of the century?” Boxing hasn’t been entertaining since Ali, it hasn’t been intriguing since the golden days of the 80’s, and it hasn’t been interesting since Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear. Let’s take a look at a few quick fixes.

1) Make the Gloves Smaller:

Boxing gloves provide lots of additional power. Because of the added weight, they prove more devastating upon impact. Yet, they also provide a way to defend oneself. Let’s get some nice small gloves so that the hands can’t hide the face or body so easily from power punches. Viewers want to see punches land. We watch boxing for the knockouts or for the dazed fury of a comeback. Who wants to pay to watch someone who can dodge a punch? It’s not exciting, nor does it satisfy the bloodthirsty Roman in us to watch boxers “dance.” There’s plenty of crappy reality dance shows for that (Mayweather was on one in 2007). “Wow! Did you see him avoid getting hit?! That was awesome the way he didn’t get a swollen eye.” Nobody cares that you can move out of the way; we want to see how many punches you can give and take!

*Side note—if you dodge all the punches and then knock somebody out with a counter, all is forgiven; however, just avoiding hits for a half hour and then winning on points is not entertaining.

2) Enough with the Punching Already:

Let’s see some kicking and elbows and body slams! Yes, punches can hurt. You know what else hurts? A knee to the gut, an elbow to the nose, a shin to the thigh, a backfist to the temple. We want to see some action, like a real fight. (The unwritten rule in male street fights is nothing to the balls and no pulling hair. Street fights aren’t sweet science; they’re ugly and brutal and the reason why they’re filmed on cellphones and dispersed all over YouTube.) What if there was a sport like that? What if there was a sport where people could use all the beautiful defense of Karate, the marauding attacks of Muay Thai, the grappling techniques of wrestling and Jiu-jitsu, the takedowns of Judo and added them to the subtle ring knowledge and punches of boxing? Imagine Floyd tying up Pacquiao (in a typically boring, completely legal boxing procedure) to slow him down after a long barrage by clinching up, only to see Manny release a head grabbing uppercut or knee strike in retaliation! Imagine a fighter who can anticipate and move away from all the hand strikes, only to be felled by an unexpected, lethally quick front kick to the jaw. That sounds like something I’d like to watch.

3) Rounds Need to Be Longer:

As soon as someone is getting tired and dropping their hands to be open for counter-attack, BELL Rings! Opponents need to be able to abuse that tiredness and weakness. What if instead of twelve 3-minute rounds, we made, say, five 5-minute rounds? It would be a similar amount of total fight time, but then, we could find out how deep the fury and fiery the heart of the fighter really is. How deep can they dig to pull out that final onslaught of ferociousness to finish the fight? Have you ever wrestled with a friend about stealing the last cold beer in the cooler? You’re probably winded after those 30-seconds that felt like an hour. Imagine that times ten!

I know this is wishful thinking, but I think it could help restore the appeal of boxing. Hopefully, someone in a position to fix things takes these ideas seriously and saves boxing before it’s too late and we all start watching something else to satisfy the cruel savages of our baser selves.

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Super Bowl Surprise

It’s my third Super Bowl in Korea. My third big game watched after work on Monday night like some kind of schnook eating spaghetti with ketchup and imitation Doritos, washing it down with a Ramen Cup. Football is the most American of all sports. Like most of us mutt based Americans, it’s a mixture of lots of different sports. But, it was always the sport that brings young boys desperate to hit each other a chance for semi-organized mayhem. Therefore, it was one of my favorites. Like soccer, all you needed was a big field and the requisite ball. But the big difference being in football you can smash your friends once the game starts.

My British and Canadian co-teachers didn’t understand my desire to go Internet, Facebook and cell phone blackout so as to prevent seeing the score before actually watching the game. Alexander was the prime mover of this little charade. “Oh, yeah, the Super Bowl. Broncos won in a nail-biter. You mean you didn’t watch it! Oh, sorry bro.” He was also the same mugg who robbed me of being unsurprised when the Eagles lost their playoff game in true Philadelphia fashion a month ago. It’s okay. I was expecting it being the only American at my school. I just kept my head down and put in my 9 hours.

I left a rather enjoyable day at school (my first day in two full weeks without feeling the effects of the nasty Korean flu) and headed to the chicken wing shop. I was surprised to hear the man spoke decent English. I put in my order for “red wings” and virtually sprinted down the street to pick up my cheese crusted pepperoni pizza. I had planned everything so that I could get the pizza just in time to run back down the street to pick up the wings as they were being individually and lovingly dusted with spicy sauce. Everything was coming up Milhouse!

The Jack Frost infused wind was biting my nose with the last breath of winter. BBQ meat, the ubiquitous perfume of Seoul, was wafting all around me in a warm smoky way. My pizza’s steam was heating my right hand and I had that anxious yet comfortable pre Super Bowl tension. Will Manning be able to handle the Seahawks nightmare secondary? Will “Beast Mode” come out running hard? Will Richard Sherman get a pick-6 to silence the haters? Will the big running attack of Denver bust up the Seattle D-line? Whatever happens, I’m ready because I don’t know and surprise is the element of sports that I crave. The revelation of winning is always surpassed by HOW they win. In every game, there is a winner and loser, but what will happen before the final buzzer?

So, my natural high of anticipation carried me, slightly panting, into Kyochon Chicken, a little hole in the wall delivery place to pick up my overpriced, but satisfactory wings. I had managed to avoid the KBS news broadcast in the pizza place and waited outside until the ajumma walked out my pie with a mixed smile of confusion and generosity. I had made it the whole day not looking at a computer or a cell phone and was almost home. I had 20 wings being put into a box, a pizza, chocolate, corn chips, an apple and beer. The game was queued up on the website and everything was ready to go. It’s a feeling American Football fans only get once a year. It takes patience to recreate it in a foreign land. I handed my card to the young man who was, as some are wont to do, eager to practice English. He said, “Hey, Shehawkuh! Football. Shehawkuhs win! Right?”

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Hunting, Hemingway and Eating Meat

The Internet helps us keep up with trending topics such as Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s amazingly embarrassing but slightly humanizing descent into crack-smoking, drunken hilarity, awesome viral videos like JCVD doing badass splits on the side mirrors of two massive big rigs, and moral outrage through informative posts about gay bashing, dolphin killing or suffering in general. Sometimes there is a post that comes through the newsfeed on Facebook that touches me, or hurts me, or makes me LOL (:>) Sometimes it’s a dog and bird playing nicely together. Sometimes it’s a baby dancing. And sometimes it’s some random chick with a rifle posing with a majestic lion that she had recently killed for fun.

How is hunting fun? I’ve never understood it. I still say Ernest Hemingway is a sadistic twat for bragging about killing all those animals on safaris because it’s such a manly pursuit. I’ll bet he wore ivory cufflinks and ate black bear gall bladder to get a hard-on. I’ll bet he made his lovers lay on his tiger skin rugs and growl during coitus. I’ll bet he thought shark fin soup was delicious. He also loved the remarkably cold, callous art of bullfighting and often indulged in the adolescent adoration of binge drinking. He was a great writer with a laconic style of delivery and wrote candidly about his brutal experiences in life; but unfortunately, his honesty doesn’t save him from being full of bullshit machismo. Yes, he was in a terribly ugly war, and saw countless acts of courage, cruelty and brutality, but shouldn’t that make him want to avoid that type of behavior in the future? (And, to be fair, he owned some animals, famously, his promiscuous six-toed cat. And anyone who owns cats can’t be all bad.) Obviously, I’m speaking out of my arse right now, seeing as how I’ve never been in war, but I have killed things. I was a teenage boy once.

Before we get to me, let’s stay with Hemingway, the most famous hunter I know. So, he was a great killer of large animals. Do men destroy what we love, or do we love what we fear—and then shoot it with a gun? Either way, he hunted and fished for sport. His talent was prodigious. He caught a record 1200lb marlin. He killed lions and elephants and rhinos. He had four wives he allegedly abused, a transsexual son and fought Germans in both World Wars. He had quite a life and was the original “Most Interesting Man in the World.” There are endless, amazing stories about him. But, despite all the thrills, chills and delights in his life. Despite his celebrity and his passion to survive through war, disease and plane crashes, he finally ended his life by hunting himself…with a rifle barrel in his mouth. It was a suitable, yet depressing end to a celebrated life.

I remember hunting in my backyard with my Red Ryder BB gun when I was but a wee lad and eyeing up a squirrel on a branch. I looked through the sights, adjusted for wind and fired. The squirrel fell out of the branch. His legs were flailing as he dropped. I went to check on him but he was gone. I imagine my air-powered fun-gun wasn’t enough to kill that ever so hardy species of brown tree squirrel, or so I hope. But, my overall feeling was one of guilt and displeasure. I wasn’t proud of my aim; I was disappointed in my desire. Why had I wanted to kill that little creature? What was the benefit to me or to the world? Was I aiming to kill out of instinct, out of masculine murderous lust, or because that’s what you do with a gun? I burned ants with a magnifying glass. I poked dead birds with sticks. I tortured bugs and spiders by pulling off legs and wings. So, it wasn’t just a gun that made me aggressive and violent. Perhaps it is the testosterone inside me, forming the impetus that made me want to smash people’s faces into the ground when I played organized sports. Perhaps it was proving myself as stronger and larger than my tiny, prepubescent frame displayed me to be. Perhaps it was youthful energy without a sufficient or appropriate outlet. Perhaps it is just my composition. But, luckily, all my Martian ying was complemented by the Venutian yin. I outgrew those vibrations and found my Libra balance much later in life. That balance could also be called hypocrisy. For, I hate violence toward all animals and people; however, I eat factory-farmed meat. I am well aware of the toll on the workers’ minds who are employed at these 21st century Matrix style consumptive plantations. I am well aware of the disgusting methods of storage and awful devices of death therein. So, why do I continue my carnivore ways? Because I want to eat meat. I want that taste, I crave it. I’m not ready to give up my selfish hypocrisy of decrying hunters for shooting animals for fun and implicitly accepting the suffering of other animals for my dietary benefit. I can be honest with myself by saying that if I had to chop off the head of a clucking hen, pluck it, disembowel it, separate the tasty parts and then cook it in oil, it’s safe to say I might never eat another buffalo wing. Since I am removed from the suffering, since I am far from the production line, I don’t see my food with a face. I see sustenance, vitamins and protein.

Maybe hunters, with a sufficient amount of determination and mercilessness, can look beyond the dark black eyes of those wild beasts, and beyond their own personal demons that led them to joy killing. Maybe they see trophies where conservationists see living beings in nature. Maybe since we are not the only carnivores on this Earth, and predators have the same right to eat as their prey, it is the natural way of things to kill. Maybe it is my own sentimental anthropomorphism that feels too much for each pointless slaying of a big, beautiful cat or a gentle elephant. It seems that eating an animal at least satisfies a need, while hunting an animal satisfies a want. That crazy-eyed woman who posed with the dead lion has a website where she is posed with a slain crocodile, boar, zebra, bear and antelope among others. I couldn’t imagine why killing those animals is more exhilarating than watching it live, but she might have an answer for us. I think the euphoric, stoked faces of humans posing with their lifeless prizes or the smug pride felt when wearing a fur jacket, or the superiority we get from daily meat consumption is desensitizing us to the pain of our animal companions. Or maybe, the truth lies in the opening quote of the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the aphoristic Dr. Johnson, which says: “He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

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Steroids Are The Future

It’s old news now that Lance Armstrong, the promoter of the LiveStrong campaign, the man who won a grueling 2,000 mile bicycle race 7 times in a row, lost a testicle to cancer, and still had the balls to leave the mother of his children who supported him after the cancer treatments to get together with Sheryl “Horse-face” Crow, is a lying, doping, remorseless man. He repeated ad nauseum about how he was racing clean and didn’t need any performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Then, he told Oprah, who told us, that he did in fact use them. It reminds me of Bill Clinton with his infamous “that woman” speech. Both should have just been honest, but we know perjuring yourself usually seems the better option until you’ve been caught. I was let down because I really believed he was the special kind of human with supreme natural abilities. It led me to wonder, as a professional, are the natural abilities the most important part of the game?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about PED’s and I don’t think they are of that much assistance to athletes in all sports. Also, I think their negative effects are more self-inflicted than upon society. The arguments I’ve heard during the baseball steroid trials are about setting a good example for the young athletes, and the sanctity of sports. What a bunch of crap! Hardly any athlete is a good example for kids. They always go to the team who offers the most money, they rarely graduate college, and they are sometimes arrested for murder, manslaughter, DWI, assault, possession, drug dealing and sometimes rape. No, not all athletes fit this bill, but not all athletes use PED’s. Athletes are modern gladiators, not role models. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t seen as role models. No matter how bad their behavior may be, as long as they win, they will inspire youngsters’ sporting fantasies. Remember in the Kirk Douglas movie, when all the men stood up and exclaimed, “I’m Spartacus!” I bet at the Staples Center, on a random Friday night, if the lights went out, all the guys would rise and scream, “I’m Kobe Bryant!” Steroids won’t help Kobe put the perfect touch on a game winning 3-pointer. Steroids won’t help Tom Brady put the delicate arch on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Steroids couldn’t have helped Barry Bonds see the spin on an 80mph curveball or even to put the bat in the right place to hit a homerun. Steroids won’t help soccer or hockey goalies’ agility in stopping a sudden shot. From what I understand about steroids, they help in the building of muscles and also in the turnaround or the rebuilding phase. So, yes, it helps muscles, which athletes use. But it doesn’t help passion, agility, reaction time, or game knowledge.  

Alex Rodriguez said that his huge contract with the Texas Rangers back in 2001 made him feel very pressured to play at a high level, so he starting juicing. He should feel pressure; a big salary obliges effort and results. If we are paying top dollar to watch sports, we want our athletes to be the best they can be. So combining the muscle magnification of steroids with their own innate abilities, we can be treated to quite a spectacle of sport. But, NFL is cutting back on big hits, NHL is trying to stop concussive hits, MLB is testing for steroids, and the NBA made a one year in college before drafting to stop high school hopefuls. It’s a nanny state for sports. It’s good to prevent career ending injuries, and perhaps with bigger, stronger, juiced up dudes playing, there might be more devastating hits. Why are we always worried about the children? There will still be delusional hopefuls, dreaming of glory, injecting themselves and ruining their own lives despite our best efforts to prevent that behavior. As the amount of legal PED’s grows, so will the players and concurrently will the concussions and homeruns grow. I know that athletes are people too, but we, as paying spectators, deserve to see their best, which is sometimes augmented by PED’s.

Now, back to Lance Armstrong. Riding a bicycle is something everyone can do, not like throwing a 50-yard spiral accurately or dribbling a sick crossover or hitting fastballs. In competitive riding, your performance is decided by both your conditioning and determination. Maybe, with a winning attitude and the right cocktail of enhancers, sport riding will get more competitive, instead of the guy who knows how to best dilute his urine winning 7 years in a row. Armstrong was certainly given an edge by his use of drugs. BUT, what if all the others were on the same drugs? If the field were level, then we could be sure it was just his strong will and perhaps his knowledge of wind currents in the Loire Valley that gave him the victory. My idea is let all drugs be legal in all non-contact sports. So, football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse etc.—sorry, stay clean. But finesse/normal sports, like basketball, baseball, soccer, car racing, riding, etc., let the ‘roids fly. Steve Nash will not be better because he puts on 100 pounds of muscle. It’s science, we made something that helps us and are scared to use it. Oh, Viagra, no, I want to be aroused naturally. Xanax, no, I want to keep my panic attacks refreshingly uncontrollable and unpredictable. I think one day, we will see leagues full of human gorillas competing. Then, sporting events will be like going to the zoo, except all the animals will be active, instead of sitting on logs, licking each other and picking at orifices.

Football Runs on America

Most sports fans in America are a fan of two sports, football, and any one of the others. I know I’m generalizing, but it is certainly the most popular sport in the USA. Living abroad, the NFL season appears out of nowhere. We are not subject to the onslaught of misleading preseason games, training camp dramas, draft day projections or constant SportsCenter coverage. It’s not to say I wasn’t unaware that it was approaching, it just wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. Football is the opiate of the masses in America. It is the great pacifier of the American male. As long as they have NFL games on Sunday, they could never assemble into government attacking militias, and I think those powers that be understand this fact. They would never have allowed that strike to happen at a time when unemployment is high and houses are being foreclosed. It is a desperately symbiotic relationship.

I watch the games onDemand through the Internet. The season opening game of defending champs NY Giants and the Cowboys of Dallas began as most games do, with the national anthem. It is the rallying cry for unity in the stadium and in the homes before the brutal, concussive combat and geographical animosity expressed by the colors of the jerseys turns average men into anxious Romans at the Coliseum salivating for violence on God’s day of rest. We know the feeling of testosterone surging and the way we catch ourselves gritting our teeth on 3rd and long or 4th and 1. We know the way we hate a player and know he is a disgrace—until he plays for our team. We know that Sunday is for football; it is comforting. The national anthem is that unifying moment where we all can remember it’s just a game and that it’s freedom that makes it possible. What is a little too symbolic is the flyover.

“Please rise for the singing of the national anthem…followed by a flyover of three Blackhawk helicopters,” said the announcer. Queen Latifah had a cool, new, hip-hop version of the song, which surprised and slightly annoyed me at first, but quickly grew on me. I like that it can be updated. And any excuse to repeat the favorite line of armchair singers “…home of the brave,” will be a desired change. The helicopters flew over the giant, glistening MetLife stadium in North Jersey after the last goose-bump inducing line was delivered, and a wild roar surged from the crowd. I realized they were cheering because those flying machines were on our side. They were cheering for how safe having those flying machines make us feel. They were cheering because war, and the elements of war, makes us feel something. It makes us feel a strange humility bred with arrogance for our great nation. Americans alive today have grown up on warfare and only had a handful of years when some foreign war was not involving the USA. We have tacitly given consent over the last half-century into the military-industrial complex. It is our economy. We produce beautiful celebrities and beautiful weapons. I’m not quite sure where it’s leading us, but being involved in two wars, the purposefully endless War on Terror and the fact that Hollywood will never run out of a pretty face to manipulate, makes it a safe bet that behavior continues. Beyond the subliminal jingoism of a flyover, it also reeks of an unintentional indoctrination though. It’s as if some invisible powers are telling us: “These jets and helicopters make this game possible, so don’t worry about the inconceivable amount of tax money we spend to keep them shiny and updated, and just enjoy the game.”

It’s completely natural to respect your country’s military. It’s natural to feel a bit of flag-waving patriotism when you see the might that is our arsenal. Somehow it just felt like a commercial when those helicopters flew over the Meadowlands.

You never get a second chance.

Missouri football coach, Gary Pinkel, said he believes it’s “wrong” to place sole blame on Joe Paterno for the colossal clusterf#$% that has happened at PSU. He believes Joe would act differently if he could; that if he could “do it all over again” he would have acted differently and done more. Unfortunately, nobody gets that option. If you did have the chance, you wouldn’t make mistakes because you would know through hindsight what was the right decision. If Napoleon could do it over, he wouldn’t “get involved in a land war in Asia” and Bush has said repeatedly he would do things differently if he could go back. Nobody is afforded that luxury, which is what makes life so hard, you aren’t given second chances, ever.

Sci-fi movies have looked into this idea on many occasions, hardly ever with a positive outcome. Although theoretically, the idea of relativity posits time as an unending line of outcomes whereby the past, future and present exist in one eternal moment, and all your choices have already been chosen, by you, so if we can bend it by speeding rapidly between two points on that line, we could move through time. However, we are far from the light speed, or even “ludicrous” speed necessary for such travel. Until then, we are left in our limbo of present.

I believe it’s unfair to place sole blame of child abuse on Paterno. He was not the one responsible for it, but he did not stop it. Paterno ran that show; he could have had them erect ten statues of him on campus. As soon as he found out about wrongdoing to children, he should have ended it, because that is what you do when you have power to end suffering. But, anyone old enough to have moved past the powerful naiveté of the post teenage years knows that once you have power, you are more susceptible to misconduct. Look at politicians who harass, caress and sexualize the women around them. Look at priests who do the same to the alter boys around them. Look at the CEO’s of AIG or Lehman Brothers who duped their stockholders, but kept their jobs because they were in charge of hiring and firing. It takes a special kind of person to remain judicious and fair once given the keys to a kingdom.

I’m so upset by this scandal, and how a man who I used to watch (with great admiration) on Saturdays, all my life, could have had such indifference to one group of people, while having such misplaced dedication to another. He reminded me of my grandfather; he was such a goofy looking guy with his giant (hipster before hipster was fashionable) glasses, huge Italian nose and floodwater rolled khakis. Appearances can be deceiving. He lost his truth in the vacuum of fallacy that is modern college athletics. Division 1 football is a moneymaker, and once money reaches a certain priority, it is protected at all levels, at all costs. Although the good he did cannot be erased by what he failed to do, it is marred and scarred forever.

Today, I finished reading the biography of Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, written by his wife, Terri. I was always a fond fan of his shows, his Australian patois, his ceaseless energy, his complete love of all wildlife and his dedication to conservationism. I knew how the story ended, I knew almost all the events, but it was nice to get the inside version of how it happened. Throughout the book, I learned that Steve had premonitions of not making to age 40. He was committed to making each moment count. I cried when I got to the death section, even though I knew by the title it was coming. I tried to remind myself, here was a man who lived his life, how he wanted to, with pure energy and elan, and presumably had no regrets. It got me thinking.

I used to think I wanted to live my life with no regrets, but as I am learning—that is impossible. I regret not talking to this or that girl who passed me in the street. I regret not seeing the Musee D’Orsay. I regret not spending more time with my 3 deceased grandparents when they were alive. I totally regret not seeing Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo when I passed through Brisbane in 2003. He might have been there and I might have seen him do a show in the “crocoseum,” his specially built gladiator ring to show off the big “salties.” Beside the Museum in Paris, I missed those chances. Regret is just another part of the anxiety of life, unavoidable at times. It is remorse we must avoid.

Steve Irwin won’t be remorseful for diving with those stingrays, he did it before; he also wrangled venomous snakes and fish, wrestled four-meter crocodiles, chased down emus, and climbed trees with orangutans. He did it for a living, and he knew he couldn’t last long with those odds stacked against him. He may regret leaving his young children and true love behind, but he loved them while he could. What early, untimely death isn’t filled with that stinging regret of lost time to give more love where it was needed? He died leaving his love spread as wide as the outback.

Paterno has a different culmination. He most certainly died filled with remorse. He was probably a good man, lost in that vacuum that supreme power can create. He probably let the regret of keeping Sandusky around bite into him every day until it became a cancerous mound of remorse. I know he was 85, and had lung cancer, but he died three months after the indictment of Sandusky. Could the regret have metastasized into a cancerous form of deathly remorse?

One of my favorite Beatles songs, “Within You, Without You,” written by George Harrison, has a line that seems apropos to this situation. “And to see you’re really only very small, and life flows on within you and without you. We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold and the people who gain the world and lose their soul.” Poor Joe definitely had the world of football in his hands: respect, awards, championships, and unbreakable records. He lost his caring, giving soul (the one that must have led him to coaching) in the process of reaching those dizzying heights of success.

The Dalai Lama understands people, and the human condition; he feels the flow of the universe in his veins. Steve Irwin understands animals this way. You can tell he actually believes that that cobra in his calloused hands is “gorgeous,” or that the thorny devil with her mottled brown spots and scaly exterior is truly a “pretty little bugga.” I have cried during every single “Crocodile Hunter” episode I’ve ever watched. At some point in his bush excursions, Steve would come upon a dying echidna or a kangaroo that was hit by a car, and you couldn’t help but be affected by Steve’s genuine concern for them. He would sit by them, stroking and consoling them, but realize they were too far-gone and tell the camera, “It’s too late, all we can do is stay here as long as we can and make them as comfortable as possible.” I remember one episode where there had been a huge bushfire due to drought conditions, and Steve and Terri ran around frantically collecting spiders from the burning charred desert landscape. He cared so much for the plight of wildlife, and it was contagious. Steve Irwin is a recognizable and legitimate hero. I don’t even want to think how let down I would have been to find out that Steve was arrested for allowing people at his zoo to sell crocodile skin for tacky shoes or shark fins for some overpriced soup.

Who is Penn State?

The abuse scandal at Penn State has new findings. Former FBI director, Louis Freeh, interviewed hundreds of people, went through millions of emails and came to the startling conclusion that Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley, the four highest posts at State College, blatantly covered up Sandusky’s behavior, thereby making them culpable via sin of omission. Whatever minimal effort they may have put into alerting child safety officers or police, they didn’t solve the problem. Several boys were raped after the “four heads” learned of Sandusky’s deviant sexuality. They knew that to fire him, and bring criminal charges against the architect of “Linebacker U” would be accepting a deathblow to the football program and ultimately the university that was built through that same football revenue. They allowed Sandusky to retire in 1999, leaving him with keys to the Lasch building, a 170K$ severance payment, and “emeritus” status. This child predator was given a license to perpetrate his heinous sickness. I don’t believe the “four heads” knew exactly what was happening with their actions, which would be a malicious act against the children who were harmed. I do believe they wanted to sweep as much as they could under the rug, hoping nobody would ever check for dust.

The culture of capitalist America, the idea of making and selling your brand can be a successful idea. However, it rarely comes without a cost. Nike sells 100$ shoes, made for quarters in sweatshops in Indonesia. Martha Stewart listened to stock tips outside the general knowledge and served time for it. Their brands were damaged but not ruined. Penn State’s brand of hard-nosed football and strong defense, pioneered by the legendary JoePa, is now a brand that is showing the detrimental effects of what protecting that brand over natural morality can do. I’m wondering if PSU can come out of this.

I’m becoming rather numb to the ridiculousness of modern life. The mortgage scandal of 2008, the lies of explanation for the Iraq War, this new LIBOR problem that I definitely haven’t wrapped my mind around are all part of rich or powerful people thinking, while isolated in their own warped worlds, that something is a good idea and in their best interest. People will always act according to their best interest. Bankers thought they could make a pile of money on credit-default loan gambling, Bush thought he could make a name for himself as “the great liberator” of Iraq, ensuring a 2nd term, and I’m certain LIBOR is about some wealthy idiots trying to make more money than they already have. Paterno probably thought he was protecting his image by hiding his knowledge and sticking his head in the sand. The point is that people are flawed individuals. Sandusky is flawed, Paterno is flawed, government, banking, even society is flawed. We are all imperfect and trying to live our own way. Sandusky, in many of his interviews, admits to naked “horseplay” with showering pre-teens the way someone might admit to eating sardines, they know it might sound weird to others but it’s normal to them and they like it.

It’s a terrible story; it’s a story that should never have existed. It’s a story that could have ended back in the 20th century when the patriarch of Pennsylvania found out that his creepy eyed, vampire toothed LB coach was accused of sexual impropriety with children and removed him from the PSU program in all forms. Granted, it’s hard to see someone you’ve known as a friend to be such a pervert, but sometimes people pull their wool over you. JoePa’s responsibility was to make a good football team; he did, with two national titles and over 400 wins. His responsibility was to make sure his student-athletes graduated from school, he did, PSU has the highest graduation rate of any major D-1 football program at 89%. He also has a responsibility to set a good example, which he did not do. All the millions of fundraising dollars for the campus, all the wins, all the bowl games do not forgive this oversight of justice. People are furious on ESPN, people are furious who read the Freeh Report, people are furiously writing about a dead man who has never given his complete side of the story. Joe’s son, Jay Paterno, when interviewed, came across in a rather stuttering, lawyer-speak version of “Let’s wait until all the facts are in,” type of manner. Joe will never get to speak and that may be a good or bad thing. We are left with only questions to his part in this mess, the worst collegiate scandal we have ever seen. He had a long, prolific, honorable sporting career, but as two wrongs don’t make a right, two rights can’t undo a wrong.

Penn State students, who rioted back in 2011, after the unceremonious firing of their hero, look quite foolish in retrospect. The video, only nine months old, looks so tragic to see smart, energetic young people filming and cheering with extreme delight in the fatuous mind of herd mentality. Screaming their chants in confused rage while flipping news vans interspersed with support for Paterno was only an emotional response to an emotional subject. They were wrong to blindly support based on faith. Would those students ever come in such numbers to the aid of one of their teachers, or priests who were fired by phone? He was the face of Penn State and by firing him in such a hasty manner it was like the students were told all of Penn State is to blame. It is important to remember that Paterno was not the perpetrator of the crimes, merely a subdued ally.

We are Penn State is the rallying call of “Happy Valley.” They should remain so. The good people who teach, coach and run that school should feel no shame for their institution. It was merely a failure of that institution’s former leaders to stop this ball from gaining the momentum it has now accumulated. Unfortunately, this hideous ball of undeterred child molestation is now rolling over the entire university. Criminal and civil cases will be part of the campus news for the next 20 years, if not longer; and that is if the school can handle the negative press that will be thrust upon it, not to mention the financial strain inherent in such scandalous occasions.

Having dozens of friends and family who graduated from the great institution of Penn State, I can only imagine the pain they feel seeing their alma mater being dragged through such a muddy, disgusting road. I can only imagine the pain of Sandusky’s family knowing he was so troubled and injured mentally. I can never imagine the pain of the children whose lives are forever changed after their encounters with that grey-haired, twitching wretch of worm excrement. Lives, careers, legacies, universities and ultimately sports, will be changed now.

I have long believed that morals, all morals, are subjective. There is a long list of things you can say are intrinsically wrong, yet the prisons are filled with those who commit those very same crimes. Do they all believe what they did was wrong, not all of them. We all must act according to our own morality judgments. We must all be judged by our actions. If we judge on conscious action, we must also judge on conscious non-action. There is only what is done and what is not done. Joe Paterno, in one chapter of weakness and egoism, set among a lifetime of strength and charity, falls under the not done column.

Greatness Incarnate

To be truly dominant in your sport must be an incredible feeling. The Jordan’s, Gretzky’s, Jeter’s and Montana’s of the sporting world must feel great looking back at their legacy of accomplishments and excellence. Although they were only one (arguably the largest one) member of a team sport, they are known as some of the best in their game. They were respectful, talented leaders and won several championships to solidify their winning reputation. No matter what happens off the field to them, they will always have their playing record to shut down any personality vs. success arguments.

America loves the underdogs, but relishes the dynasties. We have never had kings or queens and therefore celebrities have become our royalty. Some may be the actors or politicians that appear larger than life with their gifts of speech or propriety, but athletes seem to be the most heralded due to their tangible and obvious skills inducing our collective envy. Few boys grow up dreaming of success in the political arena. Those that do most certainly live out Thoreau’s adage of life in quiet desperation. For what can be more desperate than the ingratiating compliance of politics. Many more envision hitting the 9th inning home run or throwing the 2-minute drill bomb pass. Sports create a world where fantasy becomes reality. Those same dreams may not become fully realized unless you consider the reason why we watch those sports—to imagine we are the ones in the athlete’s shoes.

We watch and cheer for our home team. We watch and cheer for our favorite players, smiling with them as the confetti falls over the field while they thank God and pick up their tiny offspring in a climactic crescendo of completion.

Recently, we saw two of the most dominant athletes of the modern era in individual sports compete. Roger Federer and Anderson Silva had titles on the line this weekend. Roger reclaimed the number 1 seed and his 7th Wimbledon championship in four sets after losing the first to a charged up Andy Murray. Silva defended his belt for the 10th consecutive time by shoving his fists and knees into the bile-spewing mouth of Chael Sonnen before a referee stoppage in the 2nd round. Both matches, I felt, were overhyped and anti-climactic, seeing as how they were viewed as a chance for a changing of the guard for a new champion. The fact is, they are the best and they showed it. There will come a time when they will lose or simply retire on top, cascading away into the unimaginable, shadowy realm of distinction that us mortals only imagine. There will come a new batch of silver armed, fuzzy green ball whackers or pugnacious pugilists, and they will inevitably be compared to those who came before them. But until then, we have our champions. Federer and Silva are never to be underestimated and never to be equaled. All things are debatable, but can you argue with the results? The Swiss master has 17 Grand Slam wins and a myriad of other records. The Brazilian spider has never lost in the octagon. They are the pure essence of domination and we were all privy to their reign.

I have enjoyed watching the perfectly placed forehands of Federer right down the line, as well as the perfectly placed fists of Silva to his opponents’ foreheads. It’s a great pleasure to see such talent on display. It’s a testament to their hard work and a lifetime of refining ones talent. We can all aspire to their greatness in our own professions. I like to think of myself as giving backhands of knowledge and flying knees of wisdom to the younglings’ domepieces. But in all probability, they’re more like misplaced lobs and sloppy jabs of education. Nevertheless, we beat on, boats against the current.