Why Michael Sam Makes My Husband Cry…OK, and Me Too

One of my favorite things about my Mate is that he’s a total softie when it comes to sentimental stories. The fact that most of his choke-up moments come while he’s watching TV sports means nothing; that’s pretty much all he watches.

Since I’m a total softie about almost everything, all he has to do is call me in, “Oh, you gotta see this,” and pretty soon we’re both wiping our eyes and laughing at each other.

The other night, Michael Sam got both of us. I blame the ESPYs.

For those of you who may not know: Michael Sam is the former University of Missouri linebacker who announced in February that he was gay. The ESPYs are ESPN’s version of the Oscars. “Best Athlete,” “Best Team,” “Best Moment,” yeah, those are fun, lots of great highlight film. But the real meat of the evening, for people like me (and I imagine most others, else why would ESPN devote so much time to them?), are the handful of inspirational awards.

Like the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, awarded to Michael Sam. A mini-documentary walked the audience through Sam’s childhood–single mom, a brother and a sister dead, two brothers in prison–adversity that would be mind-boggling if it weren’t so wretchedly common among Black American boys.

Then, the clincher: in college, where he went to play a sport he identified as life-saving, a sport emblematic of macho, homophobic culture, Sam discovered the truth about himself. He was gay.

At the end of his junior year, Sam revealed his truth to his team. And they embraced him.

Sam played like a demon his senior year, a consensus All-American, winning the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year. All through these months, he kept his truth within the Mizzou “family.” Until February, when, knowing the spotlight of the NFL draft would soon be upon him, Sam announced to the national media that he was gay.

In May, the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam…just barely. He was the among the final eight of over 200 players drafted. His emotional reaction, sobbing into the phone when he finally, finally–after three days of waiting!–got the call, had me and the Mate in tears.

But that was nothing compared to his acceptance speech of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. I’m going to let Sam’s words say it all:

“This year I have a lot of experience being part of something a lot bigger than myself. At times I’ve felt like I’ve been living in a massive storm, and I know the storm will end. I’m here tonight to tell you that the lessons I learned about love, respect, and being true to yourself will never leave me.

The late great Arthur Ashe wasn’t just courageous, he was brilliant too. He put all the wisdom in the world into three great sentences: ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ Those are words to live by whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.

…’Use what you have.’ What I have is the privilege to play a game I love with all my heart. Football raised me, taught me about hard work, about discipline, and about teamwork. Whatever passion or talent you have, follow it. I followed mine and it got me all the way to this stage here tonight so I can look out and see so many of my heroes looking back at me.

Finally, Arthur Ashe said ‘do what you can.’ Those have been very meaningful words to me, and the way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly.

To anyone out there, especially young people feeling like they don’t fit in and will never be accepted, please know this, great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.

 Recently a friend asked me to talk to his sister, a young woman who was considering killing herself, rather than sharing with her loved ones the fact that she was gay. When we spoke she told me she would never consider hurting herself again and that somehow my example had helped her. It’s amazing to think just doing what we can we can call touch, change, and even save lives.”

The day after watching this speech and analyzing my own emotional reaction, I came up with these truths:

1. Seeing other people suffer makes me cry. For far too many, for far too long, gay and lesbian folks have had to suffer rather than be themselves. Sometimes the suffering is emotional, sometimes physical. It’s suffering, either way.

2. Seeing a wrong finally righted makes me cry. The fact that the Missouri Tigers and their fans, then the St. Louis Rams, and then the larger, glitzy, TV sports community itself, celebrate Michael Sam’s courage instead of bashing him…it’s right. Just like Jackie Robinson slowly becoming a hero for breaking the color barrier, something wrong is finally becoming right.

3. Redemption makes me cry. Knowing suffering has not been in vain, knowing all those gay kids’ futures will be easier because people like Michael Sam have stepped forward…I feel hope for my country.

The Mate and I weren’t crying about football. We weren’t crying about sexual identity. We cry about freedom, love, acceptance, harmony, possibility. If a Black, gay football player is honored for courage–what else can we accomplish together? That’s OUR America.

Do you cry from joy? Hope? Relief? Or are The Mate and I just weird that way? (It’s okay; we already know.)


Brandon Marshall and The View: Why It Pays to Have a Personal News-Hound

You know how some people have personal trainers? Personal shoppers? I have a personal news-watcher: my husband.

Don’t laugh–it’s a necessity! Now that I only drive a couple of times a week to work –the rest of the time I’m on my bike–I don’t get my former daily dose of radio news. Same with listening to the news while making dinner, as I used to: these days, with just the two of us, it’s leftovers more often than not, so there’s barely enough time to turn on the radio before, hey–dinner’s ready!

We don’t get a daily newspaper on the island. And I haven’t been able to make myself watch TV news on a regular basis since the days of Walter Cronkite. So I can easily get a little behind.

Thank goodness for The Mate. Not only does he keep me updated on real news like the war in Syria, the upheaval in Ukraine, and the (horribly upsetting) abduction of girls in Kenya, he’s also my go-to guy for all things sports and scandal-related. Sports scandals are even better (thank you, Donald Sterling!).

So when I came home the other day and found him laughing at the TV, I asked why. Turns out he had been watching some news program, and they’d switched over to show a football player signing a mega-million-dollar NFL contract on…The View. Wait–what? NFL and The View? Isn’t that kind of like tuning into the fishing channel to watch a story on make-up tips? 

“I was annoyed,” The Mate said. “Why’s this guy making such a big deal of signing his contract, flourishing his pen and all in front of these adoring women? I almost turned it off.”

Until he heard Brandon Marshall explain to ESPN why he chose to sign his Chicago Bears contract on The View. Turns out Brandon Marshall has suffered from mental illness. Brandon Marshall credits his football talents with getting him the help he needed to survive and grow through his disease. Brandon Marshall wants to reach the widest possible audience who might care about helping other people like him, people without multi-million-dollar contracts.

Oh, and by the way, he’s donating a million of those dollars to research on mental illness.

The Mate was laughing at himself for his own knee-jerk reaction to what appeared to be something all too common–yet another spoiled, self-involved athlete–an turned out to be something very rare: an athlete with great personal courage risking an unpleasant stigma to step onto an unfamiliar stage, just to help other people overcome hardships of their own.

And me? I’m grateful to my husband for watching, otherwise I would never have run into this heartening story. Congratulations to Brandon Marshall. Yay for The Mate. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make dinner, so keep your eyes out for more of these kinds of stories, willya?

How deep does your cultural literacy go? Do you rely on others for news tidbits, or do you glean ’em yourself? Or…do you know more about Mr. Marshall? Chime in, please!

Teachable Moments: What Richard Sherman Said To Me

I’ve jumped on a bandwagon and I’m not embarrassed to say it. Richard Sherman, you’re cool in my book. And I’ve learned a lot about myself from thinking about my own reaction to your post-win rant after the NFL Divisional Championship.

For those of you who a) lack Seattle or San Francisco ties, b) couldn’t care less about the NFL, or c) are very smart, thoughtful people who get outside more than the rest of us and enjoy freedom from the death-grip of American capitalism don’t own a TV, let me briefly catch you up.

The 49ers were moments away from beating the Seahawks and heading to the Superbowl. In the end zone, Richard Sherman caught the ball intended for 49er receiver Michael Crabtree, and Seattle won the game. In the immediate-post-game interview conducted by Erin Andrews of Fox, Sherman yelled, “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. […] Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”

Don’t worry if you missed the video of that interview. You’re probably going to see plenty of replays between now and the end of the Superbowl.

I watched the game–uncharacteristic of me, but hey, I love my town! To me, Sherman sounded angry and childish. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “Well, that’s a shame. That really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” I went on to say something about being Sherman being a poor role model for kids.

If my reaction had been all that immediately lit up Twitter, it still would have created a Teachable Moment. But of course the Twitterverse was far uglier. Hiding being anonymity, people posted horrible comments comparing Sherman to an “angry monkey” and calling him a “thug.” To my horror, I realized my own distaste was magnified a thousand times by those who saw the issue as one of race rather than simply maturity level.

The very next day, a former colleague whom I respect put a Huffington Post article on her Facebook page.  It went into detail about Sherman’s background, from growing up poor in Compton, CA to graduating from Stanford with 4.0. More powerfully, it challenged those who decried Sherman to think about their own reactions.

I did. I’ve read a lot since then, and watched some interviews. And I’m going to hand the mic over to the Huffington Post on this one:

Sherman suggests being labeled a thug is another way for a segment of the white media to call African-Americans like himself the N-Word. He feels a segment of the media contingent has unfairly labeled him something he’s not.

Is Richard Sherman really a thug?

By definition a thug is a person who engages in violent and/or criminal behavior.


Did Sherman kill someone?

Did Sherman rob, deceive or steal from someone?

Has Sherman served anytime in prison for acts contrary to the law?

I characterize his behavior as a display of passion. Sherman was exhibiting behavior in sports that few African-Americans having the platform are willing to use. He was simply talking trash about an opponent whose game he does not respect.


I agree. And in a later interview, Sherman calmly taught me what I should already have known, if I hadn’t gone solely with my gut reaction in those post-game moments:

It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday. To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

Reading that makes me feel like the childish one. Thanks for the reminder, Richard. I may not be rushing over to the mainland to buy myself a #25 Seahawks jersey like the rest of Seattle, but I’ll be rooting for you, in the big game and in general. 

OK, gonna open it up now. Want to share your own reactions? Talk about the use of the word “thug”? Make a prediction for the Superbowl score? Share your favorite guacamole recipe? I’m listening!

There It Is Again, That Darn Seahawks Pride

The stupid thing is, I don’t even LIKE football. I’ve never been able to understand how any mom or dad could sit and watch their beloved kid getting mashed like that. They must be tougher than me.

And pro sports? Meh. Occasionally the supreme grace of the athletes or the adrenalin of a close game can cause me to forget my cynicism about the whole nasty nexus of money and steroids and over-hyped, under-educated teenagers that forms the base of the pro sports pyramid…but only occasionally.

So how can I be so damn proud of the Seattle Seahawks?

[IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE here for those who know me well enough to be asking  at this point, “Hold up–she’s a complete Carolina Tarheels nut. Where does she get off complaining about the ‘nasty nexus’ of anything sports-related?”

My response: No comment. But it’s the Tarheels–they’re different. If God is not a Tarheel, why’s the sky Carolina Blue? I do see your point. Collegiate basketball fans, like, well, any fans, are not rational beings. Now may I continue?]

As I was saying: I’ve never cared for football, I’ve never cared for pro sports, therefore I’ve REALLY never cared for the NFL. But this weekend’s matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the watchamacallems, the San Francisco Gold Diggers, has me quite excited.

My raised pulse has nothing to do with football. OK, it has a little to do with football. I’d like to eat Marshawn Lynch’s arms for lunch. (Actually just one arm would do fine. For me and about a dozen of my girlfriends. Have you SEEN his arms??)

(orig. image courtesy fansided.com)

(orig. image courtesy fansided.com)


Really, though, I’m just excited for the city. Seattle is not a sports town, historically. It’s not really an anything town, historically, unless you want to go way back to 1919 and the International Workers of the World (only successful General Strike in US history! Go Wobblies!) Yeah, it’s famous for grunge, and expensive coffee, and more recently, public pot-smoking. But those interests leave a lot of folks out in the rain. (Ooh! Seattle weather pun!) Nothing brings together folks from ALL walks of life better than a winning sports team.

That folks-coming-together part? THAT I like.

I love seeing Facebook pics of northwestern friends, far from home, still gamely decked out in Seahawks blue and green.

I love all the media chatter about which city is better, Seattle or San Francisco.

(Orig. image courtesy city-data.com)

(Orig. image courtesy city-data.com)

I love chatting with people in the market about Seattle’s killer defense.

I love reading that Seahawks fans are the loudest in the world.

I love seeing other folks’ eyes light up when I mention Marshawn Lynch’s arms…or the rest of him, for that matter.

So call me a fair-weather fan if you want. When it comes to football, I fully admit that’s true, despite the lack of any fair weather in last weekend’s victory over the Saints.

But when it comes to bringing people together? I’m ALWAYS a fan of that.

How about you? If you’re a fan, is the civic pride aspect of your fanaticism important to you? If you’re not…how DO you put up with the rest of us?

Why I’m Glad That Richie Incognito Isn’t Incognito

“Big man bullied: Jonathan Martin reminds us that victims aren’t always the little guys.” 

That’s NBCNews.com’s take on the current NFL scandal involving Richie Incognito. The article goes on to mention Martin’s 312-pound frame to underscore their point that bullying is more psychological than physical.

Point taken, NBC. But let’s look at the point you missed, shall we? This bullying was more about RACE than anything. Martin is Black; Incognito is White. The violent, threatening texts and phone messages received by the 2nd-year Miami Dolphins lineman were laced with vicious racial slurs and epithets.

That’s called hate, people. It might be combined with bullying, but it’s still hate. 

Laying the two men’s career paths side by side provides such a textbook good boy/bad boy template, it’s almost a caricature. Martin, the son of a professor, attended Stanford; according to National Public Radio, had he gone with Harvard (his other choice), he would have been the first 4th-generation African American to attend.

Incognito (according to Wikipedia) was suspended from the University of Nebraska team, transferred to University of Oregon, and dismissed a week later. Yahoo!Sports reports that at least two NFL teams had listed Incognito on their “DNDC” list:  “Do Not Draft Due to Character.” Nice guy.

(Courtesy ditlo.com)

(Courtesy ditlo.com)

When I first got wind of this story–not being the least bit of a football fan, but being married to someone who embraces ALL sports–I expected the usual “boys will be boys, hazing happens” kind of reaction among the NFL. At first, I wasn’t disappointed.

ESPN.com quotes New York Jets quarterback David Garrard, a former Miami teammate of Incognito’s, describing him this way:

“I would just say he’s a jokester kind of guy,” Garrard said. “A good guy, but like all of us, you want to have your fair shake of pranks and stuff like that. … It’s unfortunate. You never want it to get to a point where guys want to leave the team. You would hope other guys in the locker room would help police it. It’s one of those situations that’s sad to see.”(ESPN.com)

Yeah, real sad. Now can we get back to some football?

But here’s what’s cool. That sadly predictable reaction has been all but drowned out by the rest of the NFL, who are, to my amazement, taking this disgusting episode with the full seriousness that it deserves.

Take it away, ESPN.com:

“Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins on Sunday night for conduct detrimental to the team. Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reported Monday that the team plans to cut ties with him.

“He’s done,” a team source told the newspaper. “There are procedures in place, and everyone wants to be fair. The NFL is involved. But from a club perspective he’ll never play another game here.”

In a statement announcing his suspension, the Dolphins said, “we believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time. As we noted earlier, we reached out to the NFL to conduct an objective and thorough review. We will continue to work with the league on this matter.”

Never thought I’d say this, but: You GO, Miami Dolphins.You actually get it.

That’s why I’m glad that Incognito, and the racist brutishness he represents, is no longer, well, incognito. When I grew up in North Carolina, segregation still flourished. I attended the first integrated school in NC because my parents co-founded it, not wanting their girls to go to segregated schools. They refused to accept the norm.

When I first taught English and we read To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out loud, that ol’ n-word filled the classroom and we all just shrugged away anyone’s discomfort. Ten years later, we started challenging that norm, saying “n-word” instead. A few years after that, I instituted the phrase “black gentleman” as a substitute, to make an ironic point. My students, of all colors, loved killing that racist norm, one word at a time.

(Courtesy thestarlite.com)

(Image from To Kill a Mockingbird film, courtesy thestarlite.com)

Once upon a time, not that many years ago, a slug like Richie Incognito would have made barely a ripple in the news. Now he’s about to get fired by an organization that pays people to beat on each other. Weird as it sounds, I call that progress, and I thank Mr. Incognito for being so “out there” with his racism that we can now use him as a benchmark.

What do you think? Is this event a step forward for mankind, or backward? Want to weigh in with your thoughts? As always, I’d love to hear.

Seattle Seahawks + Guiness Book of World Records = Ridiculous Case of Civic Pride

I am not a pro football fan. True, I’m not quite as bad as some of my island friends who claim not to know what “NFL” stands for, but, in the overall range of not-fan-ness, the only reason I’m not one of those annoying spectators who demand to know “Wait, why’s that guy doing that?” when you take them to a game is that no one’s ever going to take me to a game.

So I should be embarrassed to admit that I’m proud of “my” Seattle Seahawks because they set a world record last month. Well, not them, exactly. Their fans–a.k.a. “The Twelfth Man.” (See, if I were a COMPLETE and TOTAL not-fan, I wouldn’t know what that meant. So maybe there is hope for me, or no hope, depending on how you look at it.) They set a record for NOISE.

Yep, it’s official, folks. 136.6 decibels, breaking the previous record by 1.6  And the previous record holders, the hardy fans of the Galatasaray Soccer Club (that’s in Turkey, in case you were wondering) can suck it try again next year, jolly good luck and all that.

Want to hear what 136.6 decibels sound like?

What’s funny is, hearing this story gave me a rush of civic pride that continues to bubble up anytime anyone mentions the topic. How in the world can this be? Am I such an insecure Northwesterner that world attention of any kind that doesn’t mention “the Battle of Seattle” or the wimpiness of Steve Ballmer automatically pumps me up?

Gotta admit…I was just in New England, and I found myself keeping score: “There’s a Dunkin Donuts. But ha! There’s a Starbucks right across the street. We’re catching ’em! Oops, there’s another Dunkin Donuts…dang.”

Civic pride, anyone? Do you fall victim to it over silly stuff? Or do you save your “I Left My Heart in ________” moments for something more real, like when Boston rallied after the marathon bombing? Or maybe pride is pride and love is love, and it doesn’t even matter why?