Concerning this whole Rutgers coach thing….

I’ve been out of the loop on current events for the past couple weeks. When you’re entrenched in your own work, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening beyond your personal borders. That, and I don’t watch the news very often anymore. If I see one more story about the inherent danger of rattlesnakes inhabiting my plumbing, which have the capacity to swim through my toilet and bite my colon while I sit on said toilet, I’m going to disconnect my news stations on cable forever. Just saying’.

But this past weekend I got up to speed on a story that concerned a certain college basketball coach – the coach being Mike Rice of Rutgers (formerly coach Mike Rice, that is). Like any American man who has aspirations to send his kids off to sports camp one day, I decided to check into this story further.

Now, when I hear stories about college coaches, it’s not always in the best context. There’s a persistent pattern among these guys where some hidden scandal eeks its way into the light, thus exposing the coach for something other than a proper role model. Unfortunately, Mr. Rice fit right into this pattern. Some “leaked” security camera footage had caught snippets of Mr. Rice’s practices in the Rutgers gym. Conservatively speaking, Mr. Rice’s practice methods and routines were not the most “productive” or “uplifting”.

After watching the footage, which involved Coach Rice screaming profanities, shoving players, and literally tossing basketballs at player’s feets and heads, I was left feeling quite disgusted. He even went so far as to call players ‘f***ing fairies’ and ‘faggots’. Considering how large some college basketball players are, I’m surprised that no one turned and decked him right where he stood. Any one of the guards or forwards could have easily taken out this older man, but that’s just it – he had authority over them. Here was a guy with a position of authority, compounded by absolutely no sense of responsibility for holding that position, and yet every player, regardless of size or class level, did not retaliate because of Mr. Rice’s position. And so, Mr. Rice’s less than redeeming traits continued for a very long time.

Another sad story to chalk up among shady Division I collegiate activities.

You can probably guess what happened next: Mr. Rice was relieved of his duties, the school issued a formal apology and quickly set out to replace the former coach Rice. Bing, bang, boom – we’re off to the races as if nothing ever happened, right? Well, not really.

Since we live in America, we love to tell both sides of the story. The media allowed for Mr. Rice to give his side of the story via a short interview. This is the part I got to after watching the security camera shots. If you missed any of what he said, it was something to the extent of “I’m sorry”, “no excuses”, and “I have to face my family now”.

There was plenty of regret in his voice, I will admit, but there was something lacking in his statemtns. I missed any part where he might have said this: “I got caught and that’s why I’m sorry; not because I really am sorry. I’m just sorry for getting caught.”

That’s what he should have said. Instead, I got treated to the same regretful speech we hear from anyone who gets their hand stuck in the cookie jar. Any person is ashamed by an action that results in reprimand; that’s a no-brainer. But we are also too ashamed to admit how what we thought we were doing was ‘ok’ when we did it.

Rice’s vulgar taunts and poor behavior showed a complete lack of empathy for his players. In no way did he exhibit any of the characteristics one would ask of a mentor. He was a bully, plain and simple. I am sure he thought that by verbally and physically abusing his players, he could whip them into shape. Make them into hard-nosed ball players; the likes of which his opponents would fear and cower against. Because that’s what Rice’s style was about: coaching through fear and intimidation.

Did Joseph Stalin repent for his military tactics during the wars? Was Napoleon Bonaparte regretful in his last letters before surrender? And did Coach Rice really feel like he was doing wrong whilst he badgered and abused his players?

Well, in all honesty, that’s some serious gray area, but it makes you wonder. And by no means am I trying to lump a college basketball coach in with the likes of historically significant figures – I’m merely trying to prove a point. Often our blind ambition leads us into a sea of confused and ill-adivsed procedures. Some considered Stalin to be a tyrant while others praised him for his effectivness. Coach Rice may have thought his tactics as a coach would work in some similar way. That by being a dictator, he would be successful; he would implement his methods thoroughly; and he would be regarded as a respectable coach for his efforts.

Most third-party perspectives would disagree with this though, especially if they are in the business of teaching our youth (aka the staff at Rutgers University). Most people would look at the tapes and call the former coach a ‘monster’ for his actions. They would see the tapes and think, What if that were my kid he was yelling at? What if that were my kid he was putting his hands on and throwing basketballs at? Once they weighed these questions in their minds (and their hearts), they’d come to the consensus that Mr. Rice’s coaching style was truly skewed. That he was in no way a positive representation of what coaches are meant to be like; at any level.

But in his mind? Eh, maybe not so much. That’s why I’d be more impressed if the man actually came out and said, “Hey, I did what I thought was effective. Some people view it as wrong, but that was my style.” And THEN he could follow it up with, “But I see that this particular style of coaching is completely inappropriate. I’ve embarrassed all those around me and I am going to dedicate myself to learning to coach properly.”

Wouldn’t that be more sincere? And wouldn’t you take him more seriously? I don’t mean to single out Mr. Rice on this – he just so happens to be the latest tragedy in college sports scandals. But what I say holds true. By telling me that he watched the footage and had no excuses for himself – yeah, ok, that’s great BUT why not just say that you thought you were being a tough coach? At least then I could take you seriously. Even if I still thought you were a complete lunatic, I could at least respect you for being straight up about it.

Apologizing and saying you’re sorry just means you got caught doing what you thought was right. No matter how you may have justified the wrongdoing in your head – you still thought you were ‘ok’ in what you were doing. Admit that first and then you’ll actually see some change the next time around. That’s what needs to happen after such a lapse in judgment – a complete admittance of wrongdoing and need for character change.

And if I had kids of my own, specifically freshman to senior level basketball players on the Rutgers team, Lord knows what measures I would have taken to get a person like him fired. That’s the most politically correct way I can express that too. Just sayin’.

Downright Good Thought: Idol worship … why it will let you down.

In the fallout of Lance Armstrong’s confession, I felt the need to say something on the matter. Not that he’s a washed up liar or he’s “just like all the other pro athletes”; no that’s too easy. While many will rush to throw blame on him for being a horrible human being, we forget that in the grand scheme of things – we are all human. We are fallible; we make mistakes.

Unfortunately, in the case of Mr. Armstrong, his was on a very public and grand stage. His betrayal is enormous due to his Livestrong message. A message which encompassed a honing of one’s own strength to overcome all adversity. This message of Lance’s, albeit touching and uplifting, was eventually faulted for one reason: Lance Armstrong represented Livestrong; he was the brand of his own brand. He represented courage; he represented determination; but most of all, he represented hope. And hope is not a commodity to be thrown around when you have the weight of so many others upon you. Hope tugs at the hearts of those who are touched by it so to betray hope is to break the heart to pieces.

This is why Lance’s betrayal is so great. The hope that someone stood for and what they endorsed has been tarnished and thus, we must add another name to the list of dirty, little liars and cheats who tried to beat the system. It’s a disgrace to all parties involved (the fans included of course), but the experience should teach us a valuable life lesson. You shouldn’t place all your hope in one person: they will always, in some fashion, let you down. Yes, it is important to have role models, to look up to our mentors and be comforted by their strength, but never should we reserve our last hope in that of another human being. Our true strength, trust, and hope should reside in a much greater source: God.

If you are shaky on this statement or feel like I’m speaking in fluff, I ask that you to consider this for a moment. Do you or do you not believe that human beings are meant to bear the burdens of others? That we somehow, in some way, are meant to carry around the hope and strength of other people? We can encourage, yes; and we can support, lift up, even praise, yes; but we can’t expect ourselves to bring all the support necessary to help and change people’s lives. A changed life is experienced by the one who is transformed, not the journeyman who accompanied the lost traveler. But in addition to that, we should not idolize others to the point that we place our very livelihood and ideals in their image. A person’s image is breakable; like glass and when it is strained, it cracks. So when that glass shatters, its shards will cut all who gathered around it.

The message and hope that God brings is unbreakable and his image is always pure. There are no broken shards to shield yourself from. I feel badly for Lance and how this all went down – I really do and perhaps we as witnesses had something to contribute to his fall from grace. Somewhere along the line, he may have felt too much pressure to perform, like he had no way out; he may have forgotten what he stood for and what he was bringing to the people who believed in him. If he were able to “walk the walk” of his brand, then this never would have happened. So there is another lesson to be learned from this: if you are going to speak it, then you must also walk it. Plain and simple. Easier said than done? Well, of course.

Now, are all pro athletes who promote better behaviors or inspirational merchandise terrible human beings? No, absolutely not, but we must be weary of our “idol worship” as it pertains to these individuals. Even if he did cheat and lie about his PED use, he may have still touched the lives of millions, encouraging them to live better, healthier lives. And that idea alone is worth something more. It’s an ideal greater than any man or sports hero, most of all Lance Armstrong. Lance’s image may be broken, but the Livestrong message should not be. Will Livestrong survive this debacle though? I suppose only time will tell.

DGT: “Gun control? We need some bullet control!” – Chris Rock

For future reference, DGT merely stands for “Downright Good Thought” (I’ve gotten tired of always typing that out and plus, my pinky is still broken so any time I can type less, I’m going to take it).

This post will hopefully be quick to the point but bear with me if I get a little wordy. I wanted to start off with a quote from comedian Chris Rock who did a standup act quite a few years ago in which he talked about the state of gun usage in America. He addressed about how people could just walk around shooting up folks due to the right to bear arms and so forth. In order to parody the situation, he claimed that what we really needed was “bullet control”. One bullet would be worth a million dollars, or more even. That way, if someone was really out to get you, he’d know for certain that he wanted you dead due to impact it would have on his pocketbook. It’s relatively morbid humor, but I remember laughing along with Mr. Rock during this particular show of his. It was funny since who could imagine paying such a large sum of money just to have bullets in a gun? Honestly, who could?

However, in light of the recent tragedy befalling Chiefs linebacker Jevon Belcher and his now-passed girlfriend, it seems like the cost of the bullet really wouldn’t matter. If you are unfamiliar with this sad story, the former linebacker had apparently murdered his girlfriend last week and then promptly took his own life later that day. He did so right outside the stadium at which Kansas City plays their home football games as well. Yet another unfortunate and sad tale synonymous with professional athletes and the inherent pressures linked therein. I am sorry to those close to this family during a time of grievance. It’s something that no family ever dreams of or wants to endure.

Getting back to Mr. Rock’s argument, bullet control seems like the right answer here. Make the cost of something so ridiculously high that nobody could buy a dangerous weapon in the first place. For an individual who plays professional sports though, money can be an expendable thing. The cost of the bullet is of no consequence; only accessibility in retrieving said bullets. Any celebrity, pro athlete, or person of authority with enough capital could buy these so-called million dollar bullets at his leisure. There’s no denying that.

So what to do now? Following this situation, the Chiefs decided to go on and play their regularly scheduled game on Sunday, the 2nd of December. During the national broadcast, acclaimed reporter Bob Costas took a few moments to do something that most TV journalists never do – he spoke out on the issue from a personal level. He called for increased gun control across the States and if there were greater restrictions (dare I say, like bullet control) then these two individuals might still be alive today.

In hindsight, he may have a point, but that’s only hindsight speaking. What’s done is done.

I’m sure that Mr. Costas had the best intentions in mind when he made that statement to the public this past week. I’m almost 100% certain of that. Somewhere in his heart he felt compelled to voice genuine concern and since he had the resources available to him, he made a plea to do something about a growing epidemic in not just sports, but in all facets of American livelihood. I applaud Mr. Costas for speaking out but what I was really waiting to hear from him did not get mentioned at all.

You see, merely taking away the gun does not solve the problem at hand. True, if it were illegal to have these guns, then maybe this event wouldn’t have transpired. But it wouldn’t have happened via the use of a gun. It could have been a knife, or a sling, or who knows what. The point is, there was a deeper issue at hand which drove this individual to make such a rash decision. Regardless of having the gun at all, it was likely Mr. Belcher’s wish to inflict harm to not only himself but to another close to him.

The burning question left for everyone else then is this: WHY. Why did this happen? Who is responsible? And what can we do to alleviate this from happening in the future? Is it bullet control? No, we know that people will find ways around that since money is a material item which can be bartered for, worked for, or accumulated. Should we just take all guns away and outlaw them? No, we know that people will still commit heinous crimes without the use of a gun.

So where does this leave us? I’ve meditated on the subject and can only find one real solution: transformation of the individual. What does that mean? It means a change in the way we live our lives; all the way from the ground up. Our morals, our values, our beliefs; the whole nine yards and then some. It means proactively seeking those who are tortured and broken. Give this person the support he needs because we know, deep down, that this person matters. For if someone can feel love, then he’ll be awakened to alternatives that don’t spell the end of his own life (or the life of another). Am I asking people to sit in circles, hold hands, and sing “Kum ba ya” with one another? No, absolutely not. There is far more work to be done than simply telling a troubled person, “Hey, I care and guess what, you matter.” It’s much, much more than that, but we need to recognize this step first if we are ever going to turn potential tales of tragedy into retellings of rebirth and redemption.

My hope is that you would read this and understand what I’m talking about.