Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sports, Politics, Religion and the myth of the rivalry; what the heck are we fighting for?

“We fight and love so much sometimes I get confused with who we are. Maybe if we just stop and chat a bit we’ll find out who we are.”

Lyric from: We Fight/We Love from the album The Renaissance
Written By: Kamaal Ibn John Fareed
Performed by: Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq
Photo from

My father once told me that religion and politics are two of the most divisive elements of the human experience. Even if you disagree with his use of the superlative here, I think you would agree that, at the very least, the two subjects are to be avoided at all costs in workplace conversations.
The fact is that neither matter leaves much room to be lukewarm. People are very passionate about their chosen deities and their legislative deal breakers. As such, it is hard to disagree without being offensive and difficult to keep an open mind when the very desire to do so seems to challenge your deep rooted, personal belief set or worse, wreaks with the guilt of blasphemy.
A few years ago, however, I began to contemplate the illusion of opposition and rivalry. In 2005 I attended a Public Relations Society of America luncheon featuring a talk by Skip Rutherford, Chairman of the Board for the William J. Clinton Foundation in which he shared the story of the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR.
During his presentation he noted that  former President Bill Clinton had spoken with former President George H.W. Bush on a few occasions leading up to the event. Sensing the shock in the room, Rutherford explained that these men were a part of the exclusive fraternity of former Presidents of the United States of America and that a respectful bond between them was not only plausible but warranted.
Later that year, the entire nation became privy to that bond as the two joined together in a campaign to rebuild homes and lives following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, raising $100 million for relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.
That’s quite a turnaround from 1992 when Bush called Clinton a “bozo” on the campaign trail.
Earlier this week, Ryan Clark treated NFL fans to a shocker.
Clark, 11-year pro and defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, revealed that despite public opinion to the contrary, the Steelers don’t hate the Ravens. He alluded to the fact that the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has ultimately been defined by the fans and not members of the respective teams.
Clark even talked about having worked out with Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, over the summer and said that Suggs was “a cool dude”. That doesn’t seem too far-fetched when you consider that NFL players belong to an exclusive fraternity as well.
With that revelation I revisited my thoughts on rivalry’s illusion and have wondered if the guys who get paid to do this stuff only hate each the two or three weeks out of the year that they play each other, why then have fans been so invested in these rivalries over the years?
Perhaps our hatred is more mobilizing. Maybe the only way that we can truly love is when we are motivated by hate.
Clark’s admission comes to us this week as we also heard reports about a 5-year old who was forced to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside out in his Oklahoma City school district classroom and this Packer fan who went online in search of some support for evicting his tenants who had lied to him about being Chicago Bears fans.
Just as much as we are passionate about our religious beliefs and our political affiliations, we are no doubt steadfast and unmovable in our sports loyalties as well.
All the better for the media to tease us with.
If fans started the fire, networks have stoked many a rivalry’s flames. These guys hype up the tension in the name of viewership. They profess the excitement of the “can’t miss game of the week” featuring two of the game’s biggest rivals (insert any rivalry of any sport, college or professional, here). And of course there’s a reason why viewership matters-ad revenue.
And there’s a reason why leading up to this year’s presidential election President Obama’s campaign ads will tell you more about why you shouldn’t vote for Governor Mitt Romney instead of why he should be re-elected.
The awful truth is that we often fare better when we can define our love by our hate. Without the latter we might not ever go to the polls or root for a team.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Ode to August 16th: A little birthday love, a little sports, some Elvis and me.

“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready. Now go, cat, go.”

Lyric from: Blue Suede Shoes from the album Elvis
Written By: Carl Perkins
Performed by: Elvis Presley

Titans WR Kevin Dyson tackled at the 1 yard line by Rams Linebacker Mike Jones, Photo AP

I have always shared a somewhat morbid kinship with Elvis Presley. Our connection indeed reinforces the relationship between life and death.
Exactly one year to the day of my birth, Elvis-one of the biggest stars in music ever and the King of Rock and Roll-was pronounced dead at Baptist Hospital in Memphis, TN, the same hospital in which I was born.
Add that to the fact that my mother has been singing and playing piano in church since she was 10 years old along with the fact that my father was awarded a music scholarship to college and, it would seem that I was destined to become a music lover. It is almost as if I had no choice in the matter.
The beginning of my love affair with sports, however, is far less choreographed and slightly more scattered.
It’s hard to know when I first became interested in basketball but, my mother loves to tell the story of the time that she took me to a basketball game at the school where she taught in West Memphis, AR. As a four year old I apparently spent the entire game yelling “get the rebound boys”, a phrase I had picked up from listening to my brother as he watched the sport on TV.
However humble its roots, my interest was no doubt cemented by the rich tradition of Memphis Tigers' basketball in my hometown via the likes of Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and more recently, Derrick Rose.
My father had lived in Chicago for a few years as a child and so my earliest awareness of baseball was fostered by his, sometimes unrequited, love for the Chicago Cubs. Growing up, Ernie Banks had been his favorite player and, he was beyond thrilled when I got to meet “Mr. Cub” when he played in a golf tournament I coordinated for work.
After graduating from college I found a new reason to pay attention the sport and a new team for which to root. Albeit a bit shallow, I had decided to love the New York Yankees because I loved Derek Jeter because I had learned that his father, Dr. Charles Jeter, and I shared the same alma mater. The elder Jeter had played shortstop for my beloved Fisk University.
There is nothing shallow, though, about the circumstances by which I fell in love with football. We were first introduced in 1999 and, we’ve been inseparable ever since.
Before ’99 I had never watched a football game-professional or amateur, not on TV nor in person. So I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when a friend of mine told me that he had scored tickets to the Tennessee Titans season opener as a birthday gift to me.
Right from the opening kickoff, I was hooked. It was love at first sight.
I was a novice then so most of what happened that day during that game to start the season was a blur to me. Nevertheless, I remember the way that season ended with poignant clarity.
A magical playoff run that began with the “Music City Miracle” against the Buffalo Bills ended one yard shy of a chance to defeat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
From that point on I was singularly focused on learning everything I could about this game I loved so dearly. I had to understand everything that happened on the field, all the rules of the game, the purpose of each position and the details around every opportunity to score points.
Pretty soon my dedication to closing my knowledge gap in football drove my desire to close that gap in the other sports as well. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or at the very least, it’s the history of the making of this blog.
Elvis once famously said, “I’m so lucky to be in the position to give. It’s really a gift to give.”
And so on this day, my 36th birthday, I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity to give through my words by way of this blog.
It’s truly the best birthday gift ever.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

To Be Young, Black and an Olympian: What that's got to do with Three 6 Mafia and Jason Whitlock

“You know it’s hard out here for a pimp. When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent.”

Lyric from: It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp from the album Hustle & Flow Soundtrack
Written By: Jordan Houston, Paul Beauregard and Cedric Coleman
Performed by: Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson

Three 6 Mafia, Getty Images

In 2006 Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia made history with the first hip hop performance ever at the Oscars. They immediately topped that historic feat with another. The group’s song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp”, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that evening, the first ever win for a rap group in the category.
As a native Memphian, this was a big deal for me.
At 15, I was allowed to go on my first date and, my boyfriend’s car was outfitted with all of the southern-favored, bass-heavy stereo equipment that made the trunk rattle and the passersby stop and stare. How better to showcase one’s sonic investment than with Three 6’s bass-laden tracks. Their music was a fixture in his ride. Therefore, as our relationship grew so did my appreciation for the group.
On that night in 2006 that win meant a lot to me as a woman for whom her roots as a little black girl who had grown up in North Memphis were a source of pride, who had “bumped out” to Three 6 Mafia in the car with her boyfriend on her very first date.
As group members Jordan “Juicy J” Houston and Paul “DJ Paul” Beauregard made their acceptance speeches that night I tried not to notice the faces in the crowd. But I couldn’t help but notice. The mostly white faces in the audience that evening were wearing expressions that were mixed in countenance from horrified to angry to annoyed to smiles filled with trepidation.
Terrence Howard probably anticipated those haunting faces and maybe that’s why he chose not to perform the song that evening or at the very least, why he may have been advised not to perform.
Those faces became the cause of my discontent and in a mere moment I went from “YAY!!! Three 6 won an Oscar” to “Oh Gosh, Three 6 won an Oscar”. 

Ah yes, the dichotomy of being black.
It is the great divide we experience as descendants of an oppressed people. We must balance at once our pride in our differences and our desire to be accepted as the same.
This is not an easy cross to bear.
The pride is nearly automatic at this point, again, a mostly knee-jerk reaction to a unifying but horrifying history of oppression. The acceptance, most blacks would say however, is still a work in progress.
The burdens of this work have often played out in two ridiculous, costly presumptions of Black Americans. The first being that every black person represents the collective state of the entire race at all times and secondarily, that the actions of every black person, more often than not, directly correlate to the fact that they are black as if a cultural mainstay.
And both blacks and non-blacks alike have bought in to this conjecture.

This is why the media insisted on Gabrielle Douglas speaking for an entire race of little girls hoping to become gymnasts. And why her broader historic achievement as the first American gymnast ever to win gold both in the team competitions and the individual all-around at the same Olympics has nearly been overshadowed by the fact that she is the first African-American gymnast to win gold in the individual all-around competition.
It is also why some black women were likely the loudest critics of Gabby’s hair throughout the events. We hold our race’s star-turned delegates to the highest standards because we can’t shake the notion that with our still limited, even in 2012, opportunities to shine in the national spotlight we must look, speak and act in a manner that would not confuse, offend or turn off whites.

Growing up as black girl in the South I am painfully aware of the nonsensical opinion that lighter skin is prettier. This theory was no doubt rooted in the slavery-old estimation that the closer one’s skin is to white, the better the experience on the plantation and the better the lot in life. Unfortunately, that theory was not thrown out with slavery’s bath water. Its remnants persist in black communities all over America today.
As such I am painfully loath to admit the possibility that more than anyone else, blacks are likely in favor of and more comfortable with   Lolo Jones' designation as media and marketing darling instead of her darker skinned teammates.

I must strongly disagree, however, with Jason Whitlock’s allusion in this piece that Ms. Jones’ lighter skin is the primary driver of the reason her USA Track and Field teammates, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells who took home silver and bronze medals respectively in the 100 meter hurdles final,  have chosen to despise the fourth-place finisher. Despise is such a strong word and, this declaration fits right in to the foolish notion that because Ms. Harper and Ms. Wells are black that their possible frustration with Ms. Jones is best defined as a “black thing”.
Could it simply be that as medalists they are irritated that a non-medalist is getting so much, if not more, attention than they are? As childish as you may think that is, I would implore you to consider it a more reasonable explanation than the one offered by Mr. Whitlock.

After all, no one myopically claimed that female tennis players despised Anna Kournikova simply because she was a blonde bombshell.

And white Americans probably weren’t squirming in their seats when Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself”, the first ever win for a rap artist in the category, three years before Three 6 Mafia’s win.  

They likely weren’t relieved when he was a no-show for the event because they had been concerned about how his actions or words might have influenced the overall perception of the white race.
They had no great divide with which to contend.
As far as this dichotomy goes, blacks are on our own and it will never be an easy cross for us to bear.