By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Believe it or not, Ripley, this column debuted in January 2008. So happy 10th anniversary my loyal, random or accidental readers. What’s the tenth, tin? Only 40 more to go for gold.
To offer some perspective on late 2000-aughts sports history and the space-time continuum, the first “A View from the Bleachers” covered the retirement of ‘Skins head coach Joe Gibbs. That dusty timepiece makes the passage of 10 years feel like, well, 10 years; in the abstract, though, the last decade passed in the blink of an eye. Such is the psychological trick of grains of sand slipping through the hourglass.
The 260 or so Views since have traversed the sports landscape – college and pro football and basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, broadcasting, NASCAR, MMA, hockey, lacrosse, the Olympics and the Little League World Series.
The list of featured individuals and topics is long. LeBron James. PED usage. Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. Joe Paterno. CTE. Serena and Venus Williams. College sports championships vacated under scandal. The increasingly uncomfortable name of Washington’s football team. Olympians behaving badly (Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps). Gregg Popovich. Tom Brady. LaVar Ball. Colin Kaepernick. Numerous uplifting stories of athletes setting positive examples and serving their communities. Heartfelt farewells to Bob Feller, Abe Pollin, Jim McKay and Dean Smith. And, of course, a lot of group therapy lamenting the latest debacle in the gloomy world of D.C. sports (The Darkness, as I’ve come to call it).
In telling these stories, there have been weird/creative (choose your perspective) connections to history, pop culture and music. Charles Darwin, Anthony Bourdain, Bruce Springsteen, Atari, Duke Ellington, Rocky, Bob Dylan, John Muir, “The Big Lebowski”, Jimmy Buffett, “The Karate Kid”, Sam Cooke, “Gladiator”, J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”, James Brown, “Star Wars”, George Orwell’s “1984”, The Rolling Stones, “E.T.”, The Jetsons, “Hoosiers”, Nirvana, Prince, “Back to the Future”, Hunter S. Thompson and, of all people, places and things, Milli Vanilli have all been used to accentuated points or sprinkle a little humor on whatever serious business was being addressed.
I started the column in the bottle-and-diaper phase of parenthood. Those days are long gone, but my parental journey is chronicled through various references to kid-culture: Care Bears, Steadfast Tin Soldiers, Barbie, Charlie Brown, Wile E. Coyote, Dr. Seuss and The Wizard of Oz. They were all authentic, autobiographical windows into my other on-going life as a father.
What to make of all these Views and the decade together? At its best and worst, the column recklessly breaks modern rules. The titles are often deliberately vague. The lede is consistently and hopelessly buried for the sake of storytelling - the poor reader often burns through 500 mysterious words on sports, music, etc. before getting to the point of the madness. It’s an unfair (and unintentional) test of the reader’s commitment and, no doubt, an occasionally fatal flaw (how many readers have aborted 100 words in?). Click bait this column is not…for good or ill. For those who stubbornly stick with me, thank you. For those who routinely abandon your perusal of the latest View, I understand.
The point of all these pieces has always been more about life than sports. Sports are used to illuminate some encouraging, inspiring, difficult, uncomfortable or controversial part of life. In this column, sports assume a long-held role in my life: a great teacher. The subject is irrelevant – economics, relationships, career, diversity, nostalgia, sportsmanship, growing up, compassion, respect, accountability, decency, fear, ambition, responsibility, love and, yes, politics. Beyond the scoreboard, sports teach. Sports = Yoda. Listen we should.
I’ll offer this one last parting shot. My mother-in-law started all this. She passed away in August 2007 after a long battle with breast cancer. In the months after her death, my father-in-law shared some excerpts from her personal diary kept during her illness. Her words moved me to do something meaningful with the written word - no matter how small or insignificant compared to her powerful memoir. This paper gave me a seat in the bleachers and this platform. I hope you’ve been challenged and entertained. I hope my mother-in-law is proud.
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