Lebron James; Or You Can Call Him “Al”

Why was he called "Al" again?

Why was he called “Al” again?

It’s time to get some thoughts down on Lebron James, here, in the wee hours before the decision that has built up like a tsunami finally breaks on the shore (or riverbank) of one lucky city. And a tsunami is the fitting choice of metaphor here; we looked out from the end of the Heat’s season and saw much calmer waters, after all. Just two weeks later, out from somewhere in the depths, a rogue wave seems ready to roll in and extinguish all of the fires that burnt James’ wine and gold jerseys four years ago (if you thought I wasn’t going for that potshot, you’re crazy).

The polarizing, attention-grabbing, seemingly narcissistic (though he’s said not a word) fracas surrounding the 2014 version of NBA free agency has been talked and written and speculated to death. It’s all been punctuated pretty hilariously by Mike Miller’s incredibly conspicuous placing of a #23 Cavaliers jersey in his home gym as he “lets one fly.” Yes, of course he was trying to mess with us, and to that end he deserves a Bush-esque “Mission Accomplished” banner. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also foreshadowing Lebron’s likelier and likelier return to the Cavs.

I don’t think he knows anything. I think he hopes a whole hell of a lot of things. I also think, at this point, his hopes are fairly justifiable. So what now?

Well, in the me-centric world view that I enjoy visiting every once in a while, I like to think of the sports figures in my life as though they are here to help me get through the difficult times in life. We’re all the protagonists in our own stories anyways, right? Well in my story, Lebron has sort of been like Christopher Lloyd’s character Al in “Angels in the Outfield[1].” You all remember a fresh-faced Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and his guardian angel that helped the aptly named major league team from Anaheim make it all the way to the verge of the pennant; all so little Joseph could get his Dad back.

Lebron came to Miami four years ago and became the sports hero that I looked forward to watching in the Mays and Junes when I was (read: should have been) studying for law school finals. And since I get to draw my own connections between my life and the world of sports in this story, I get to look upon the 2014 NBA Finals as much more than simply “coinciding” with my graduation from law school. As great as making it out of law school was, it leaves me facing the real challenge: the Florida Bar.

And you remember the rule from the movie: the Angels had to win the pennant-clincher on their own. And maybe that’s what’s happening here. I’m going to face the Bar on my own.

So yea. Lebron is my Al. Is it a convenient rationalization for me to compare his time in Miami to a classic children’s film if he does decide to leave? Sure. But it’s my rationalization. What are sports if not just one more way to connect to the world, and to life, and make sense of our own experiences?

So Lebron, if you decide you’re headed back to Cleveland: Thanks. It was fun. No, it was more than fun. It was freaking divinely awesome. And if you decide to stick around?

I’m sure there’s some other rationalization I can come up with to fit that scenario, too.

Thanks, Al.

 

[1] Also featuring Danny Glover in his Lethal Weapon prime, the Tony Danza that Disney thought they were getting back when they made that Eagles field goal kicker movie, and a small but noticeable role from a young Matthew McConnaughey. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Admit It. You Like Soccer.

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That’s right. The jig is up America. We can no longer masquerade around as some outsider nation to the worldwide soccer phenomenon.  We’re no Brazil; it’s pretty unlikely that any widespread political unrest or urban violence will result if we are eliminated from the World Cup. But it’s safe to say that we like soccer here. A lot.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the fact that the stakes are impossibly high at the World Cup absolutely feeds the country’s interest in the sport. In America, we love the ultra-high level of competition in any sport; it’s why the WNBA struggles to find viewership, why the MLS routinely trails European soccer leagues in television audiences, and, of course, why nobody watches the Mets anymore.

 (Just kidding.)

 But there’s more to it than that.

And I know what you’ll say next, that it’s a chance to support the good ole’ US of A, a collection of moments that crystallizes the way sports can bring people, all people, together. It’s why one of the greatest sports films of all time was about the 1980 Miracle on Ice. It’s why we still remember Kerri Strug landing on one foot for a gold medal. It’s why we willfully forget the fact that a foreign company actually owns Budweiser.

But there’s more to it than that.

It’s in what we’ve seen on the field from our Men’s National Team these past few games. It was watching us play mediocre soccer for 80+ minutes and still pulling out a gritty victory against a confident Ghana squad. It was seeing the US severely outplay a Portugal team that was supposed to be the swinging scythe to Germany’s hooded figure in the Group of Death.  

It was the fact that we know what it’s like to watch us play well. Really well, in fact. It’s that we know what it’s like to see us score like a world-class team can.  And goals are the true addiction of soccer on any level; they are the results of lightning-like crescendos of passing and dribbling. It’s that electricity and rarity of the moment that soccer fans all over the world become junkies for. Don’t believe me? Type “USA Algeria Goal” into your browser’s search engine. What you’ll find is a video showcasing the sheer collective insanity that ensued after Landon Donovan buried a rebound in stoppage time to win the group.

It was a moment of more than pure, unadulterated joy; it was ecstasy, injected directly into our country’s sports jugular vein. And we loved every second of it. So much so that we will take off work, call in sick, close down the office, even stop freeway traffic like some apocalyptic movie scene, to see if we’ll get to experience another raucous, history-making moment.

So admit it. You like soccer. After all, they say that admitting it is the first step.

At least you’ve got everyone in America in your therapy group.

 

            

Redskin

By David Frantz

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We have heard, mostly in popular culture, notions of the so-called hive mindset of bees, wherein an entire population of bees functions with one conscience, one purpose, all centrally controlled by the Queen. Forgive the rudimentary nature of the science here; the accuracy of the notion is less important than its potential as an analogy for the way ideas course through society.

Take, for instance, the word Redskin, namesake of the Washington NFL team and a source of ongoing controversy in the seat of government in the U.S. as well as the seats of sports arenas across the country. Here, I guess Bob Costas is the Queen, as his monologue on one of NBC’s broadcasts of Sunday Night Football serves as a touching off point, not of the original conflict of course, but of the large-scale public awareness of the issue. Costas was incredibly matter-of-fact in his homily, exclaiming that “Redskin is a slur,” a conclusion only shoddily supported by real evidence.

It was that lack of evidence, namely that a large number of Native Americans were actually offended by the term, that led a federal appeals court to overturn a decision invalidating the cancellation of the Redskin’s trademark rights around 1999. There were a lot of consecutive words of negation in that last sentence, so allow me to simplify: In 1999, after a court cancelled the Redskin’s trademark for being offensive, a superior court reinstated the marks because they determined that the evidence presented showed too small a number of Native Americans that were offended by the term.

Easily ignored in the debate is this piece published by Slate.com, which presents the research of Ives Goddard, a Native American linguistic expert at the Smithsonian Institute. To summarize, Goddard controverts the fiction that the term originated as a slur with hard evidence, namely that the term was actually coined by Native Americans, among other revelations such as fabricated history about the word. I would be remiss if I did not also mention his assertion that the offensive nature of the word should be determined by modern feelings about it. But trotting out history in support of calling the term a slur is at best misguided, according to what scholarly peers have recognized as the “exhaustive” research of Goddard.

Goddard also mentions the mistreatment that the Oxford English Dictionary has afforded the term, labeling it offensive merely as an unfortunate result of violent U.S.-Native American relations over the past 300 years. But it is precisely at this point that more complex theories about perception and reality come into play; after all, if the argument is that the word is offensive because our veritable authority over the English language has called it offensive, how much of that has translated to truth in the present, even if it was baseless in the past? Commonly held notions, even ones that are demonstrably incorrect, can become prevalent enough in society that they become true; this is the hive-like function of society at work.

This sort of chain-reaction of public perception can almost render the true history of the term irrelevant, which is ironic considering the masses of anti-Redskins individuals who have been so eager to coopt history in opposing the usage of the term. But to go into a real analysis over whether the term has actually taken on the constructs of a slur within society would be to barge into an argument that is simply not for us “white people” to decide. After all, it’s only logical to gauge the offensiveness of a term based on whether or not the person the word represents is actually offended by it.

And so, by the same logic, it makes absolutely no sense for any person such as myself, who claims not a drop of Native American blood in my ancestry, to do anything but wait patiently on the sidelines while those actually contemplated by the word decide for themselves. It is not up to Bob Costas to proclaim that “Redskin is a slur” to a national television audience. It is not up to pundits or play-callers to advocate their own personal opinions on the word. It is, however, a symptom of our moralistic society that we tend to jump into the fray preemptively on issues like this, perhaps in part because speaking out on morality makes one feel, well, moral. But in our rushed crusade against injustice, I fear we have ignored what, and more specifically who, is really important here.

A friend of mine, with whom I have had impassionate debates about the subject, has always said one thing that I think no one could disagree with: If the name is truly offensive, it should be changed.

So, with our only real evidence to that point being the thoughts and feelings of Native Americans about the connotation of the word “Redskin” today, the one and only question is this:

How do they really feel?