Sunday, November 26, 2017

The More Consequential Farewell

As published in The County Time (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The reaction to the last “View from the Bleachers” – an editorial on Colin Kaepernick, social injustice and anthem demonstrations – was the most significant in the column’s nearly 10-year history.  It was also the most divided: every supportive comment was counterbalanced by one expressing staunch disagreement.  All were welcomed and appreciated. 

Setting differences aside, this overarching theme was clear: our democracy, freedom of expression and what it means to be patriotic are all deeply meaningful and unsettled matters.  This is why I wrote “O Say Can You See”; this is why many readers were compelled to react. 

Considering the different political structures around the globe, this wonderful ability to fuss and argue and shape our ever-evolving democracy should never be lost in the discord, no matter the intensity.  The right to thoughtful expression and the responsibility to listen earnestly to and respect those opposed – and work toward a palatable, majority-based resolution - should never be overlooked.  Those freedoms and that collective responsibility define us as Americans far more than the side we’ve adopted on the issue du jour.  

With that, I will scratch a personal itch with this “View”.  Bear with me.   

This weekend will mark the presumed end of a consequential NASCAR driver’s career.  It would be understandable if that lede was interpreted as a prelude to a farewell to Dale Earnhardt Jr., retiring legend of the asphalt and left turns.  But it is not.  This is about another NASCAR driver whose time behind the wheel could be ending: Danica Patrick.

Within the sport, Patrick’s career doesn’t compare to Earnhardt’s.  The latter has been the most popular driver for the last decade-plus and is a constant link to his iconic father; meanwhile, the former hasn’t won a race in an eight-year career.

But outside the sport, it is Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, that’s been more consequential.   
One of the hats I wear, and the one donned with the greatest responsibility, is that of a father.  More specifically, I have a daughter.  She’s old enough now to be keenly aware of gender and the limitations social stereotypes attempt to place on her…just because she’s a girl. 

I hate it.  I know this awareness was an inevitable and unfortunate part of growing up.  I also know I have the ability, thru open dialogue, to disarm foolish, sexist stereotypes, thereby ensuring she has the strength and confidence to transcend any artificial ceilings.  But I still hate it - to my core.  Because I know sexism exist.  Because I know she will encounter men who don’t see her as an equal and consider her incapable or an object for their manipulation (see the alarming #MeToo movement if you harbor doubts). 

Call it the curse of boobs.  Or is it the psychological corruption of testicles and testosterone?  PCT2, if you will.  Yes, I like that better. 

Despite my best efforts, I’m aware that my gray-bearded male pontifications against gender-based limitations likely do not provide her adequate reassurance.  But in Patrick, I have an undeniable example of a woman eviscerating such a stereotype.  Patrick stormed her way to the heights of both IndyCar and stock car racing – nearly entirely male sports.  She carried herself with confidence, never flinched, freely expressed her opinion and competed with an edge that is common in the still rough-around-the-edges sport of NASCAR.  Basically, Patrick acted like she belonged – and she did.  That she did all this in the troll-friendly social media age is a tremendous credit to her strength and professionalism.

Of course as time passes, it will still be Earnhardt, not Patrick, who will be the more frequent subject of reminiscent fans.  Which is too bad.  That’s not a knock on Dale Jr.  He’s been nothing but a class act throughout his career and a consistent supporter of Patrick.  But Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, carries more social significance.  A man unjustly overshadowing a female contemporary: label me disappointed but unsurprised.  But then again, maybe Patrick will find another NASCAR team and continue adding to her remarkable accomplishments.  I’m one dad of one young lady who isn’t ready for her empowering story to end.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

O Say Can You See

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It first appeared in this column in June with the nefarious reasons behind Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment.  It reappeared, either specifically or by gentle reference, in the last two entries.  “It” isn’t a deranged, sewer-dwelling clown but rather the various forms of protest/unity expressed during the national anthem before NFL games. 

The evolving topic returns again, here, just a few days before Veterans Day and a couple weeks before the holiday season – a time for peace and togetherness – because it remains an intriguing and important confluence of sports, politics and society. 

It also reappears because it remains unresolved: over a year after Kaepernick’s first actions, we are still wrestling with the original intent of his protest – racial injustice – and new tangential issues – be they organic or intentional diversions – such as whether protests are disrespectful and if the NFL can force players to stand (as Dallas owner Jerry Jones threatened). 

The wound continues to ooze, of course, because the socially inept NFL chose first to ignore what it hoped would wither away.  It then colluded, consciously or unconsciously, to freeze Kaepernick, the primary instigator, out of the league (my opinion).  When that failed and protests escalated to team demonstrations, owners begrudgingly, and in some cases disingenuously, participated in pre-game expressions of unity.  And when that didn’t prompt everyone to stand and ignore the gap between our Declaration, our Constitution and what many American minorities experience on a daily basis, a select group of NFL owners and players met to discuss the issue.

That’s right…roughly 14 months after Kaepernick first sat during the anthem last season, the NFL decided it was time to unclench its fist and listen to its players’ concerns.  And they didn’t even do that well: the unconscionable comments by Texans owner Bob McNair (“inmates”) and Washington owner Dan Snyder (96% are opposed to protests) indicate a mindset and an insulated perspective that perpetuates the societal flaws that originally inspired Kaepernick’s protest.  

For those annoyed by what they perceive as un-patriotic or disrespectful protests, I wonder how many have argued against encroachments on the Second Amendment while indirectly supporting convenient limits on the First and Fourth.  I wonder how many have embarrassingly chanted “O!” at Orioles games or take no issue with Kansas City fans yelling “Chiefs” in place of “brave” as the anthem has played. 

For those angered by the players’ actions, I wonder how many have researched the thoughts of players like Kaepernick to gain an understanding of the experiences that caused them to take a knee.  I wonder how many are white, exist in world where they’re almost always part of the majority and if they’ve contemplated life as a minority – be it at work, when applying for a loan, during a traffic stop or just sitting down in a restaurant for a meal.  I wonder how many have considered their own shortcomings, even if they are limited to unintended biases.

Don’t we owe our fellow Americans at least that?  In short, shouldn’t we be searching for ways to solve the problems that caused NFL players to kneel rather than ordering them to rise or shaming them – through some mischaracterization of their protest – into standing?

Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” speech on the Senate floor in 1950.  In it she speaks of poor leadership, rails against critical elected officials too thin-skinned to take criticism in-kind and govern, laments our country being psychologically divided by confusion and suspicion and reminds her colleagues of these “basic principles of Americanism”: the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest and the right of independent thought.  

Smith’s speech is a brilliant summation of our American identity, rights and the responsibility we have to exercise those rights to ensure the equal extension – in practice, not just words - of Constitutional liberties.  Despite its age, it offers sage advice on how to navigate NFL anthem protests and these most divisive times.  And because of its age, it stands witness to Colonial Williamsburg’s iconic slogan: “That the future may learn from the past.” 

May we be receptive to the timeless wisdom…

Toasting Tomorrow

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It is 12:46am on Friday, October 13, 2017.  The last Green Line Metro train leaves from the Navy Yard in 14 minutes. 

It is also just moments after Nationals OF Bryce Harper struck out to end Game 5 of the NLDS and to leave D.C. sports fans to digest yet another unimaginable, if predictable, playoff defeat.

I am…despondent.  Jason, make me your next victim.  I won’t put up a fight.  I won’t even run through the woods and trip in classic corny horror flick style.  I simply can’t take this anymore.

As my exhausted mind unwinds and my broken D.C. sports fan’s heart starts to heal, again, I ponder the greater sports landscape for something to ease the suffering.  There isn’t much; in fact, the two NFL Hall of Famers who come to mind make me feel worse. 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man who has employed and defended some of the NFL’s most dubious characters, is threatening the employment of any Cowboys players who continues to demonstrate during the national anthem.  So that’s productive.  I hope his bluff is called. 

But there’s more. 

Rarely outdueled for ultimate villain status, Jones’s insulated billionaire owner muscle-flex was one-upped by another NFL legend: Mike Ditka.  During a recent radio interview with Jim Gray, Ditka, the one-time hard-nosed player and coach turned lovable NFL icon, said “There has been no racial oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”  Wait.  What?

Ditka quickly apologized for the remark.  Fair enough…I guess.  Filed under “Forgiven, not forgotten.”

This was not the tonic I sought in the aftermath of another D.C. team being consumed by “The Darkness” – the evil sports curse enveloping the District.  No, that isn’t’ melodramatic.  Consider the resumes of the ‘Skins, Wizards, Capitals and Nats since the days of grunge: no championships since 1992; no playoff “final four” appearances since 1998; and a combined 4-14 record in the last 18 deciding playoff games. 

The Darkness is so powerful that the Chicago Cubs - the one-time poster franchise for curses and perpetual heartache – felt destined to be touched by game-winning good fortune.  What the billy goat and Bartman once were, The Darkness now is.

How did this happen?  The first twenty years of my life were a fan’s joyride: three Super Bowl wins by the ‘Skins, an Orioles’ World Series title in 1983, an always good if not great Capitals team and even a faint memory of the Bullets’ 1978 Championship. 

But since the ‘Skins’ 1992 championship, since becoming an adult, sports have brought me, in the immortal words of a growling Clubber Lang, “paaaaaaaaain”.  Like a spouse in a dysfunctional marriage, I watch knowing something bad will happen, but I can’t look away out of some unhealthy duty.   

I should have been prepared for this; the self-loathing is unjustified and a bit pathetic.  How many times did my parents tell me childhood and adolescence encompass the best years of your life?  That a rising personal odometer coincides with more aches and pains, responsibility and worry…and less resilience to deal with it all.  That with each year a layer of your youth-onion is peeled away, leaving you a little less carefree and little more cynical.  That time exposes you to the truth about our flawed (maybe fatally) species and the world’s very serious ills. 

In this way, we live in reverse.  Life starts and, for the fortunate, ends in diapers, but much of the goodness – at least the sustained, unbounded joy - is front-loaded.  I knew this already; it was unnecessary for my sports teams to so perfectly embody it.  But since I’m self-soothing with sports-life parallels, here’s another: both offer recurring opportunities to renew the pursuit of happiness.  In sports, it’s the rejuvenating and recurring hope of a new season; in life, it’s the promise accompanying each new day.   

I suppose I’ll find comfort in that and attempt to overlook the depressing site that’s now on my television screen: the Cubs enjoying a locker room champagne shower at my expense. 

A toast then, to getting older and to next season.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  Cheers.

Idiot Writer, Wise Coach

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A series of events can be an accurate predictor of future events or some larger societal shift; they can also be misleading samples that disguise an undercurrent of surfacing truth.  In this case, the latter is true.

Over the summer, a piece appeared in this column titled, “The Declining Consequence of Sports.”  In it, the confused writer/psychic – me – mulled the post-election environment and expressed displeasure in the sports world’s lack of organized resistance against a wave of top-down behavior that seemed committed to eviscerating all vestiges of human decency.

That was August.  It’s not August anymore.

This idiot got it wrong, thankfully - totally and undeniably wrong.  Since President Trump’s inflammatory “SOB” comment at a recent rally, sporting events are teeming with thought-provoking acts and athletes’ social media accounts are firing off political protests. 

Whatever you think of the recent response, the consequence of sports in our society has been dramatically reasserted.  Sports, as frequently has in the last century, is again serving as a catalyst for the discussion – no matter how uncomfortable - of liberties unconditionally extended to Americans but not equally enjoyed by all Americans.

While debating things like anthem protests, remember this fact: The actions by the sports world are rooted in the racism that still exists.  Every interlocked arm and player on a knee is a reaction to a series of disturbing events in this country and the growing post-election acrimony that has been aided and abetted by candidate and now President Trump’s proud divisiveness.  When you are consistently disrespected by an unrepentant leader and brazenly referred to as a SOB for expressing your thoughts on your professional platform (football field) by a man preaching from his professional platform (the presidency), it would be decidedly un-American to cower in passive silence. 

Politics, protest and tweets aside, most of us are quietly horrified by the trajectory of the rancor; this pace can’t be maintained until November 2020.  With the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War 40 to 50-plus years behind us, this is likely the most divided United States most Americans have experienced.  It is troubling, no matter one’s political persuasions. 

So now what?  Where do we go from here? 

In struggling with those questions and how to distill them into a coherent, actionable (at a modest, personal level) thought, I caught a pre-season interview with long-time San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.  It was an odd place to find answers to such complex questions, but these are strange times.  Popovich can be a fascinating interview when properly stoked, so when a reporter ignored the boring basketball script and asked for his perspective on this time where politics and sports are intertwined, it prompted a lengthy, on-the-spot monologue bursting with wisdom.

Popovich acknowledged these difficult times, the racism, the sexism, the fear-mongering and race-baiting.  He noted the source of the division and lamented how far the bar of decency has been lowered. 

And then Popovich offered this big-perspective, call to action: “We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall…or we can decide the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important and get down to business at the grass roots level and do what we have to do.” 

It is worth a watch in its entirety.  Popovich, an Air Force veteran, five-time NBA champion and three-time NBA coach of the year, is now a life-whisperer.  He captured exactly where we are and the challenge we face as fellow Americans and human beings - that is to rise above the childish, defensive rhetoric and commit to constructive dialogue, understanding, listening and interacting with shocking decency.  This is how the teardown ends and the rebuild begins.  This is how we find our footing, how we rediscover our shared American values and how we begin to re-stitch this recklessly and intentionally frayed mess.  An unprecedented wedge is being driven between us from the top down.  It’s time to start pushing back, in unison, from the bottom up.

Thanks for the clarity, Coach Pop.  

Costly Publicity

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last week, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill loaded her 140-character Twitter super soaker and hosed down 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with this political torrent: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/other white supremacists.” 

Whoa now.  Using Twitter against Trump is like deploying the Batmobile against Batman or Thor’s hammer against the son of Odin himself.  No one insults, creates controversy or manufactures chaos with the Twitter toy like the Trumper.  No one!

Oh, but Hill did and, predictably, sent the impulsive and proudly un-presidential Trump into a tizzy.  
Channeling The Dude from The Big Lebowski (doubtful Trump’s seen the iconic flick), you could practically sense The Great Comb Over exclaiming, “This aggression will not stand, man…especially from an African American woman!!!”  In true “kiss the ring” fashion, Trump demanded something he’s never offered to any group he’s offended (like African Americans and women) – an apology. 

And goodie for him.  We needed our leader to pause and corral this brazen ESPN personality while Caribbean islands are uninhabitable, Houston is rising from its knees, people in Florida are homeless or living in darkness and North Korea is firing missiles every other day. 

I trust the sarcasm is palatable.  As Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  So I’m taking my big league hacks.  How else to navigate this demoralizing post-election world, eh?

At the root of this latest Trumpian Twitter-war is a legitimate and increasingly pertinent issue: understanding the intersection between First Amendment rights and the consequences of constitutionally bequeathed free speech liberties.  Freely expressed thoughts are a decidedly American right (one of the few things left with overwhelmingly bipartisan support), but in this amazing(?) social media age, they can have lasting impact on relationships, reputations and, in Hill’s case, employment. 

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin attempted a discussion on the topic during a recent edition of her show.  To support the segment, Baldwin had two guests aboard: former ESPN writer Keith Reed and Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis.  Baldwin opened the dialogue by questioning why Trump, who has received similar criticism from numerous sources, chose to engage with Hill and ESPN and cued Travis for comment.  Less than a minute into his salvo, Travis dropped this gem: “I’m a First Amendment absolutist.  I believe in only two things completely: the First Amendment and boobs.”  When Baldwin asked for clarification, Travis confirmed the statement and added that the First Amendment and boobs are “…the two things that have never let me down in this country’s history.” 

This from a married father of three. 

The obvious: Travis’s statement was incredibly immature, demeaning and horribly misplaced.  To mock such a serious issue and reduce Hill’s struggles with this president, struggles she shares with many people from various walks of life, with a throw-away, frat-boy-around-a-keg comment is confounding.  Was Travis lost in self-promotion?  Did he feel emboldened by this administration to bring adolescent chatter onto a national stage?   

In a weird confluence of circumstances, I read a piece last week by Melissa Jacobs ( on former Rams QB Jim Everett.  A long time ago, a one-time provocative radio and television talking head by the name of Jim Rome had Everett on his show.  Rome, in what was then typical Rome fashion, sought to provoke Everett by calling him “Chris”, a childish reference to Chris Evert, the great female tennis player of similar surname. 

Everett took offense and warned Rome against furthering the charade.  Rome, with an irritated Everett in his midst (exactly what he wanted), pressed on with his “Chris” shtick.  Everett snapped, tipped over table and knocked Rome to the ground.  It was an embarrassment for all involved.  Testosterone run amuck. 

Rome has had a long career in sports media, but he hasn’t completely out-raced that moment.  It remains front and center on his resume, a self-inflicted antagonist typecast that’s pigeonholed his work into something forever short of serious journalism.

Clay Travis committed a similar error.  He’ll forever be “First Amendment Boob Guy”, a label he earned while goofing off during a conversation about the consequences of free speech.  The irony is omnipresent.    

My fellow Americans, speak freely…but wisely.   

The Gap Between Actions And Ideals

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Ed Cunningham was an offensive lineman on the 1991 Washington Huskies football team that won the National Championship.  He went on to play five seasons in the NFL and, in recent years, covered college football for ESPN.  Football was in his blood.  It was his livelihood. 

It isn’t anymore.

Despite his notable career, I didn’t know who Cunningham was until last week.  I didn’t even know that he covered college football for the worldwide leader in sports.  After he resigned from ESPN last week and announced that he would no longer be associated with the game of football, I can’t get Cunningham, this long-time stranger, out of my head.   

On the surface, it’s a peculiar move: Cunningham, just 48, immediately and voluntarily severed a lifelong connection with football.  But his explanation added a fascinating level of depth and complexity that has me racked with consternation.

Cunningham divorced football because of debilitating head injuries. 

In his parting remarks, Cunningham noted that, “…the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain.  To me, it’s unacceptable.”  Cunningham took “full ownership” of his involvement in the sport but reached a point, after considering the overwhelming connection between football and long-term brain injury, that he could “no longer be in that cheerleader spot.” 
A few years ago, Cunningham’s decision may have been met by snickers, raised eyebrows and, by the particularly boorish and emboldened, social media trolling. 

We’re past that now. 

There’s no denying what’s happening when 22 players, 11 on a side, line up year after year, week after week, day after day, play after play and try to knock the snot out of one another.  The data can’t be ignored.  The movie “Concussion” and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) being diagnosed in the brains of 121 of 122 former NFL players can’t be ignored.  The struggles of former players like Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon can’t be ignored.  The suicides of Junior Seau, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson, Cunningham’s former teammate, can’t be ignored.  As long as tackle football is played, the participants are at risk of severe consequences, ones largely realized long after the cheers have silenced.   

This new reality is having an impact.  Early retirements from the NFL are growing more common, a trend that touched both local teams this year.  Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel, 26, officially retired in July and Washington safety Su’a Cravens, 22, is currently on the exempt/left team list while he contemplates hanging up the cleats.  Players at all levels are likely pondering the same decision.  And how many parents are now conflicted about their children playing football?

Cunningham, though, is unique in that he might be the first contributor to the game to disassociate himself with football.  His decision wasn’t based on his health or his family, it was rooted in his heavy conscience. 

Cunningham’s brutal honesty and bold action bother me.  I have trouble watching football.  Every game results in injuries – players limping or being carted off, others being knocked woozy or out completely.  Every game, without fail.  No other major sport is like that.  I watched Maryland beat Texas last Saturday – a huge win for the Terps.  But all I could think about post-game was Maryland cornerback Antwaine Richardson who was carted off after sustaining a head injury.

But you know what?  I’ll keep watching, despite my guilt.  My love of the game blinds me.  I want to believe in new safety measures, equipment advances and improved concussion protocol.  So I filter reality and weave a twisted justification to pacify my conscience while continuing to consume the great football machine and sow the enormous pro football carrot.  And that’s what separates Cunningham from me and those similarly conflicted – there’s no distance between Cunningham’s actions and his ideals.  A lack of conviction maintains a gap between mine. 

Whether you agree with these thoughts on football, or don’t give a hoot about the game, there’s something universally inspiring about a person who boldly and authentically follows their beliefs - even the inconvenient ones.  

Especially the inconvenient ones.