Friday, December 25, 2020

Blind Date

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

My cousin, a dashing younger chap, is, like me, a sports junkie rooted in the 1980s and 1990s. As NBA fans – a bug easily caught growing up in the Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Dream Team era – we absorbed and regularly recount artifacts of that golden age. One personality that is permanently filed in our RAM for quick and frequent access is Marv Albert, a great voice of that period.

If upon hearing that name, spectacular toupees and sexual deviancy come to mind, I understand.  But this reference has nothing to do with bad hair or moral failings.  No, this is about Marv’s late-game catch phrase.  If Magic’s Lakers or Jordan’s Bulls were in a tight affair late in the fourth quarter, Marv would often introduce the decisive possession with a haunting, “And it comes down…TO THIS.”  The pacing and pause before the emphatic, “TO THIS”, were classic.  It is part of late twentieth century NBA basketball’s soundtrack and signaled that an epic ending to a battle among titans had arrived.    

You are likely reading this just before New Year’s.  As for the final days of 2020, Marv’s dramatic phrase is in my ear - and I am so thankful.  I don’t care if Bird hits a buzzer beater, prompting a Marv “YES!”, or if Jordan delivers a Marv “FACIAL” dunk, two more of Albert’s classics, in 2021 – figuratively speaking, of course.  I just want this year to end…like no other year in my life.  Be gone 2020.  Don’t bother saying goodbye.  Pack your things and go.  Normally I am a faithful recycler, but everyone has my blessing to burn their 2020 calendars.  To my optometrist, I don’t even want 20/20 vision again.  Ever.  I’ll deal with a little blur in my life. 

Of course a descending ball, an expired year and a new calendar can’t cleanse all troubles.  Problems aren’t just magically wished away (see the White House’s national COVID “plan”).  Only real, concrete solutions will provide deliverance.  Fine.  But don’t spoil my punch with all that responsible nonsense, okay?  I’m going on pure hope, here – a new year, big changes.  Period.  Don’t debate me.  Don’t fog the message with the reality.  I am pouring a drink.  Then another.  Maybe…probably…even more.  The 2020 bird in the hand keeps pecking me in the face; I will gladly gamble on the contents of the bush.  So give me 2021 - a blind date with a year I’ve never met. 

I can’t continue to be desensitized to 3,000 Americans dying every day.  Enough of the floods, fires and violent tropical weather.  Maybe we can get over the disturbing national compulsion to find or manufacture destructive discord, to take the bait of intentional political divisiveness and use it as faux fuel to hate, fear and threaten our bedrock – a common humanity and American cause.  We deserve better than a deranged president, his stream of Twitter madness and his abandonment of job responsibilities for preposterous self-interests.  And I’m tired of anxiously viewing Doppler radar as another deluge of rain bears down on Southern Maryland.

Here’s what I’ll be wishing for when 2021 champagne showers rain.  I want full sports seasons, no COVID-ravaged rosters and a football team with a name…or at least a new owner.  Death to bubble cities.  I am dreaming of packed stadiums and authentic crowd noise, not the fake stuff, pumped through television speakers.  Live marching bands should be ripping through fight songs and cheerleaders should be tossed in the air after big plays.  Most of all, I want youth sports back.  The experiences lost at the rec league, high school and college levels – impactful, precious, brief and irreplaceable moments for athletes and families – is painful for this middle-aged sportswriter to ponder.

Sports, of course, is small by comparison to gentler weather, stable leadership and public health, but if our stadiums, fields and courts return to normal, it is a good indication that the more significant aspects of life are in a better place too.

Ah yes, 2020, it indeed does come down to this.  I bid you adieu with a relieved smile and a hearty good riddance. 

Victory's Price

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Oh yeah, back in the saddle…or the bleachers (sparsely populated for safety, of course).  It was swell of Uncle Duke to pinch hit and do his “nephew” a solid last week.  What a read!  Clearly he whipped himself into a familiar literary (and actual?) frenzy to rip off 700 words of, depending on the reader’s perspective, wisdom or irritating nonsense.  Where the individual reaction fell on the ledger was, as always, immaterial; what matters is you felt something – that is when words flirt with art. 

What injected the Corona pathogen with the best of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds’ special steroid sauce?  Was it Thanksgiving?  Is the fat dude in the red suit on the short list to receive the vaccine?  Are flying reindeer immune?  These numbers…in Maryland and across the nation…are racking up like a pinball score or any NBA team playing against the Wizards’ minimalist defense.  Governor Larry Hogan sounded like a disappointed parent recently when he barked at us to “Wear the damn mask.”  So much for the dude in the White House declaring no one would even talk about COVID after the election.  For once I was hoping his diatribes connected with the truth.  But alas, the wooden nose continues to grow…

Remember how well those hockey and basketball bubbles stopped the spread?  Well, things are not going so well for bubble-less football teams.  Colleges are cancelling games weekly, others are playing without key stars and there’s some question if Big Ten schools, playing only conference opponents due to a COVID-delayed start, will get in enough games to be viable for a conference championship game or the college football playoff.  Things are not much better for the NFL.  Last week, the Steelers defeated the Ravens’ backup team…on Wednesday afternoon.  The Sunday prior, the Denver Broncos, the proud franchise of John Elway, played without a rostered quarterback.  Think about that. 

This here column is about sport imitating, inspiring and reflecting real life.  Well, with fluid schedules, ravaged rosters and evolving quarantine lists, sports are looking a whole lot like our unpredictable, fatiguing, unprecedented and frustrating pandemic lives.  Distanced learning, maximum telework, Zoom church and virtual family visits have modems and routers working harder than Southern Maryland sump pumps during the 2020 monsoon.  Directional arrows and spacing signs in stores are giving me flashbacks to strict elementary school lines.  Canceled events are stacking up.  Holiday traditions are on pause.  Takeout containers and delivery boxes are overwhelming garages and recycle bins. 

But we’re all adapting – athletes and regular Joes and Janes.  The thing is, while our nine-month battle against this pandemic flattened the first curve, we are worse off now than ever.  It seems all the gains made from personal sacrifices, distorted lives and masking up have done little more than maintain status quo until science bails us out. 

Ladling this harsh reality over sports, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.  First, there was a leadership void.  The head coach’s message meandered from dismissive, to half-hearted, to inconsistent with medical professionals and was eventually exposed as purposefully misleading.  As for what we – the players – could control, some bought into the strategy, ran the plays with discipline and sacrificed for a greater, common cause.  But some didn’t, especially after the initial crisis waned.  Too many teammates freelanced and undermined opportunities with dubious decisions. 

The summer was like a series of home games against inferior opponents.  We ran up a few wins, beat the viral marauder back and slacked off.  Now we’re on the road and getting our a---s kicked by a formidable opponent that has regained the momentum. 

Fortunately there are several more rounds on the calendar.  We’re trailing in the late innings, but we have a couple big bats left on our bench, courtesy of Pfizer and Moderna.  They are getting loose but aren’t quite ready yet.  Until then, we – all of us - have to bear down, tighten up on defense, stick to the fundamentals and limit the damage.  There is no choice.  See, this game doesn’t mercifully end.  We will win, eventually.  The only variables are time and victory’s ultimate price. 

Voice of the People

As published in The Country Times (

By Duke Radbourn

Greetings and salutations good people of the world.  It has been a while – years even – since our paths have crossed in this here column.  Your regular writer is a blubbering pile of Coronamotions at present - so many life events have been altered or lost to the viral giant stampeding, again, throughout the country.  The aging, but still young lad (given my company anyway), asked for an assist from old Uncle Duke.  Wordless, I guess is how he found himself.  It happens, especially when improperly lubricated.  Stuck with me are thee.

Did someone say lubrication?  Where’s my courage?  Ah yes, never more than an arms-length away – because I am a professional.  There we go.  Sitting there all brown and appealing with those dancing ice cubes, it could be taken for a harmless glass of tea. Oh, but that would be a mistake - the kind that could land you on the bathroom floor later, fumbling through the medicine cabinet for headache helpers and firmly in the doghouse of some other human that naively expected so much more maturity and self-control from you. 

No such judgment here, though, my friends.  This is the safe zone.  Sinners and saints are welcome alike.  Besides, as Jimmy Buffett once said, there’s a thin, often indiscernible line, between Saturday night and Sunday morning.  So come as you are.  Be you, unapologetically…at least until you see flashing lights and someone is screaming to put your hands above your head.

On to business then.  Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson once crooned, “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys”, suggesting instead that you, “let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such.”  Well that didn’t age well.  Our poor doctors are once again drowning in COVID cases and putting their health on the line after “smarter-than-science” sections of the country turned America into a bio-hazard zone.  And as for the lawyers…sheesh…a whole lot of them are billing hours supporting zany lawsuits and sweating through their hair dye.  Does a cleared check clear one’s conscience?    

You know what craft Waylon and Willie should have suggested to mammas?  NBA player.  Have you seen these free agent NBA contracts?  It is good to be tall, athletic and possess elite handles and a sweet shot – or just one of these attributes!  Mason Plumlee got three years and $25M from the Pistons.  Jordon Clarkson scored four years and $52M from the Jazz.  The Trail Blazers gave Rodney Hood and his repaired Achilles two years and $21M.  And the Wizards re-signed Davis Bertans for five years and $80M.  This mere mortal cannot comprehend this math - a greater power is at work.  All praise be to the free market economy.  Hallelujah! 

Here is something else your favorite Duke has been celebrating over the last few weeks: scoreboards.  The decisiveness is all the jazz.  You win.  You lose.  Now run along.  Thanks for participating.  Victors celebrate, recount the success of carefully crafted plans and acknowledge their good fortune.  The defeated fuss and moan a bit - bad bounces, missed calls, blown opportunities – but regroup, reassess, learn and, most importantly, accept the loss gracefully. 

All involved know it is what it is.  I don’t have my scoreboard and you don’t have yours.  There is one, cold and unbiased judge.  The result - the final accounting of the best each competitor had to offer - is sacred and unquestioned.  When the competition ends, everyone kisses the scoreboard’s ring.  It is a stone tablet, not a blackboard that can be erased on a whim – or in a juvenile fit – and a different outcome created for consumers lusting for an alternate reality.  Championships shirts can’t be recalled, champagne can’t get put back into the bottle and recorked and history can’t be re-written.  We clear? 

What’s that?  What if the scoreboard could be retroactively manipulated?  Chaos, people.  More chaos than I could describe even if this entire bottle of “sippin’ tea” in front of me was suddenly in my belly and massaging my brain.  Sports would break.  Cease to exist. 

(Duke takes a long, slow swig)

Look, imagine if the heart of democracy was hijacked by bandits...    

Sports Reaffirmed

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The idea was simple: sports offered a continuous scroll of life lessons so vast and rich that it could, with adequate storytelling, support a regular column.  With that, “A View from the Bleachers” was born.  In the years since, athletes, coaches and teams, from various levels of athletics, have taken turns at the lectern.  The audience is us – the writer and the readers.  We consume initially as fans of competition and with a keen eye on the ultimate judge and jury – the scoreboard.  But beyond that final accounting is a transcendent meaning.  In the competition we see ourselves – as we are or want to be - and glimpse the world - as it is, as it could be or as it should be.  The experience can inspire a flood of conscience, hope, frustration or motivation – but always reflective thought that leaves residual wisdom on the human existence.   

My faith in this belief and in one of the great teachers of my life – sports, has wavered recently.  I never doubted that lessons were still being taught.  But was anyone – or enough of us – still paying attention? 

When I think back over the years, mine and those of history, many lectures stand out.  In 1984, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, at the height of their powers, were growing basketball into a national behemoth.  Meanwhile, a Chicago Bulls rookie and one-time cut from his high school basketball team – Michael Jordan – was preparing to inherit Bird and Magic’s crown and take the game global.  He eventually handed the throne to a baby who was born in Akron, Ohio – LeBron James.  For nearly 40 years, these four icons have been dropping knowledge on unselfish play, grace in the public eye and an insatiable competitive determination.

My mind then turns to football and the New England region.  The Patriots have taught much over the years – hard work, dedication, team above individual and a laser focus on doing your job within a broader initiative.  Ah, but there’s a dark side too.  When you don’t follow the rules – Deflategate and Spygate – it violates trust, creates doubt about your accomplishments and permanently tarnishes your reputation.

Likewise, PED use cost baseball an era of great players.  MLB was conspicuously disengaged while players were seduced by the fame and fortune of juicy, drug-aided performance.  Now Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens roam outside of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, branded forever with the scarlet “S” for steroids.  And MLB, for its lack of oversight and courage to guard the integrity of the sport, is left with a soiled record book.  Roger Maris and Hank Aaron deserved better.  We all deserved better.

With all due respect to The Great Courses, sports’ greatest course has been a near century-long seminar on race.  Jackie Robinson, Bobby Mitchell, Serena and Venus Williams, Arthur Ashe, Doug Williams and Colin Kaepernick all reminded us that a ball doesn’t know or give a darn if it is hit or hurled by an African American or a white athlete.  Their courage and accomplishments thumbed a nose at stereotypes, wagged a shameful finger at racism and made us think deeper about the world and ourselves.   

The lasting lessons of these and other sports stories remain strong and relevant.  Treat people right.  Be unselfish.  Sacrifice.  Work hard.  Do things the right way.  Be courageous and steadfast.  Dream big.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Don’t point fingers or deflect blame.  Be a person of honesty, integrity and humility.  Lead by example.  Extend a hand to fellow competitors, not a fist.  Win and lose with grace.  Respect the game, acknowledge it is bigger than any individual and work to leave it a little better than you found it. 

This is what I have learned from sports.  For a few years there, I wondered if the lessons had grown antiquated and lost the crowd.  Last week, America reaffirmed itself and the education its sports have offered.  So now, we turn the page and life moves on.  But we’ll continue to file into a classroom for courses that never end.  Meet me back here often to compare notes.

Farewell, Beast

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

30 October 2019: An ace pitched on guts and guile, a cagey veteran launched a home run off the foul pole, an unheralded mid-season acquisition closed out the game and Max Scherzer, Howie Kendrick, Daniel Hudson and the Washington Nationals won the World Series.  It seems like yesterday in some respects, years ago in others.  Either way, it is an heirloom from a different reality.

Every New Year’s Eve, my family does a year in review (much to my children’s chagrin).  We talk about our trips, accomplishments, experiences and obstacles overcome.  The tone and topics will be quite different this year.  The list will include many things that didn’t happen – vacations, school plays, band concerts and sporting events; those that did – wildfires, George Floyd’s murder, nationwide protests and the local Isaias floods – will be difficult to revisit. 

Certainly nothing has been normal in the world of sports.  The year has been marked by long pauses in play, bubble cities, abbreviated regular seasons, rescheduled games and weekly COVID outbreaks.  Our World Champion Nats didn’t get to take a final bow in front of a packed house at Nationals Park.  With all the fits and starts, empty stadiums, cardboard cut-outs, injuries and opt-outs, the Nats’ 2020 season, which was supposed to be their victory lap, doesn’t feel like it happened at all.    

Then COVID took another shot at D.C. sports.  It was easy to miss amidst the chaos of life, election madness and a historically packed sports calendar – former Capitals goalie Braden Holtby signed a two-year, $8.6M free agent deal with the Vancouver Canucks. 

“Former Capitals goalie” - that was hard to type. 

There are two sports photos gracing the walls in my man-loft.  Together they capture the biggest single plays in D.C. pro sports history (or at least in my lifetime).  The first is a painting of John Riggins’s famous 4th down run in Super Bowl XVII.  The second is Holtby’s improbable…impossible before he did it…late third period save against Alex Tuch of the Vegas Golden Knights to preserve a one-goal lead and ultimately secure a Game 2 win in the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Caps, on the verge of being down 0-2 before Holtby’s save, went on to win four consecutive games and hoist the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. 

I attended a Caps game several years ago and the give-away was a “Holtbeast” figurine, a Teen Wolf-ish version of Holtby.  It was a goofy promo, but Holtby deserved the overdue plug.  On a team where Alexander Ovechkin understandably dominates the headlines, Holtby, who quietly manned the pipes for the Caps for a decade, and did tireless charity work for the LGBTQ community, was an underappreciated star. 

Now just over two years after winning the Stanley Cup, salary cap constraints and a talented understudy – G Ilya Samsonov – have ended Holtby’s incredible run in Washington.  Unfortunately, the curtain fell on Holtby’s decorated Capitals career in a Toronto bubble, in front of no fans and with a team that had lost its way under now former head coach Todd Reirden.  Holtby deserved so much more. 

The last few months have been a humbling journey.  There is so much that I assumed would remain static or predictable components of life’s tempo – flawed pre-COVID thinking…suspect I’m in good company.  I did not give Holtby’s decade of steadiness, reliability, decency and character its due.  Now he’s Vancouver’s prize. 

One day, post-COVID (that world exists, right?), the Holtbeast will return to a standing ovation at Capital One Arena.  The adulations won’t come when or how they should have.  But what else has happened on-plan with the naïve, no-globetrotting-pathogen schedule spun in our minds these days? 

When we emerge from this fog, I suspect that the present will be appreciated for its fragility and that the future will be assumed wrought with variables.  If that means players like Holtby, and once routine events like attending hockey games with 20,000 “friends” are celebrated with a bit more enthusiasm, then something good will have been salvaged from this sordid chapter in history.      

What will remain a sour memory is Holtby’s departure - and the Holtbeast figurine offers little consolation.

The Curious Case of Edward Patrick

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Edward Patrick, Eddie for short, hails from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s, Eddie had the good fortune of experiencing the heyday of 49ers teams coached by Hall of Famer Bill Walsh and, his successor, George Seifert. 

Walsh was the mastermind behind the then innovative West Coast offense and built the 49ers into an absolute juggernaut.  Between 1981 and 1994, the 49ers won five Super Bowls and were NFL darlings.  Aside from the strike-shortened 1982 season, San Francisco never won less than ten games between 1981 and 1998.  That is…ridiculous.  The Washington Football Team hasn’t won more than 10 games in any season since 1991!

The 49ers players from that era are an embarrassment of talent – Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Dwight Clarke, John Taylor, Ricky Watters, Roger Craig, Fred Dean, Charles Haley, Brent Jones, Randy Cross, Deion Sanders and, maybe the best overall player in NFL history, Jerry freaking Rice. 

The trained eye likely caught an omission.  Eddie’s favorite all-time 49er was QB Joe Montana.  How could a kid not love number 16?  Montana was elegant and a cold-blooded slayer under pressure.  No ordinary Joe, Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls and never threw an interception on the game’s biggest stage.  He outdueled Dan Marino in San Francisco’s Super Bowl XIX win over Miami, authored a last minute, game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII and routed an over-matched Denver Broncos team 55-10 in a signature performance in Super Bowl XIV.

Eddie proudly rocked a number 16 49ers jersey in the 80s and likely re-enacted Montana’s most amazing plays in his backyard, as did most Bay Area kids.  But for Eddie this was no transient childhood fascination.  He so idolized Montana that he became a youth quarterback of some consequence himself.  Eddie made it way all the way to big-time college football, carving out a solid, if not spectacular career at a blueblood program.

Eddie wasn’t athletically gifted, but he had a mind for the game and, most importantly, a competitive drive of rare intensity.  Passed over many times on draft day, he still scratched and clawed his way onto an NFL roster.  In a modern-day Wally Pipp-Lou Gehrig moment, injury offered Eddie a shot to start in the league, an opportunity he seized and never relinquished.  He won a bunch of Super Bowls himself, defied father Time and grew into an icon of the sport.

Eddie’s legacy is a complicated one, though.  He never completely harnessed the competitive drive that buoyed his success.  Eddie was demonstrative on the field, frequently berated teammates, would bend the truth about his shortcomings and spin stories about the tricks he would pull to maintain a competitive edge.  Suggesting that he was a bad teammate or compromised the integrity of the sport might be a stretch, but the accusation wouldn’t be completely unfounded. 

There is an argument that Eddie is the best ever; the back of his football card would almost certainly lead to the conclusion that his accomplishments have surpassed that his idol, Joe Montana.  But there are off-flavors to his bowl of chili.  Neither he nor his organization always did things the right way, and once doubt is created, questions seep into character and integrity cracks. 

The sports sleuths have likely identified Edward Patrick.  He is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.  Or just Tom Brady.  He has won six Super Bowls and might be the greatest player of all time.  But equally as real as the Super Bowls are his frequent, theatric lashings of failing teammates, “Deflategate” and his mysteriously destroyed cell phone, and his curious relationship with trainer Alex Guerrero and his unprecedented longevity.

Which is okay, I think.  Short of blatant cheating or some other egregious personal transgression, athletes, especially football players, are ultimately judged on wins and losses.  But it is good Eddie…errr…Brady found his way in sports and in football, particularly.  Deflecting blame, random petulance, a lack of transparency, occasional dishonesty and bullying tendencies are unacceptable leadership traits in most other walks of life. 

Or at least they used to be.

Chunky Soup and Bubbles

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

During my, ahem, illustrious athletic career, I ran onto many diamonds, courts and fields with sparsely populated bleachers.  Despite free admission, there was little to draw patrons to that level of competition other than family obligation, an adolescent crush or sheer boredom.

Over the last few months, the greatest athletes in the world have been living the modest rec league athletic experience.  Due to COVID rules, mostly or entirely empty venues have greeted men and women accustomed to competing in packed houses with raucous fans providing vibrant feedback – positive and negative – on their performances.  Now the cheers and boos are manufactured and the faces in the stands are peculiar virtual representations or cardboard likenesses. 

Such are these strange times.

With several sports months into bubble life and the NFL nearing its quarter-pole, I often ponder the athletes as much as the scoreboard.  What must this be like?  Certainly all are grateful to be employed and have the means afforded professional athletes.  But this has to be an incredible grind – the restrictions, risk of contracting COVID, distance from family and eerie game-day experiences.  No amount of money can relieve the psychological burden.  And regardless of political leaning, there’s the added weight of national events ladled over these bizarre daily operations.

So I watch and wonder.  Where does LeBron James find motivation?  Drew Brees or Tom Brady?  What about Max Scherzer or Bryce Harper?  Or Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, whose wife just had their first son, a child he won’t hold until Boston’s season ends?

The Undefeated recently published a fascinating piece on Miami Heat big man Udonis Haslem.  Haslem, 40, is a 17-year NBA veteran and three-time champion.  He can’t possibly need the paycheck or relish any aspect of bubble living – a suggestion validated in the feature.  Haslem discussed his approach – purposefully avoiding interaction with other teams’ players, approaching every day with discipline and an edge; in other words, being a little salty to cope with salty circumstances.  Haslem then dropped this fabulous bubble-life quote: “I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I didn’t want to feel like home. I don’t want to get relaxed. I want to keep my edge. I want to stay focused on the task at hand. So, I’m sleeping on the couch right now, dog, with a room full of Chunky soup.”

Udonis Haslem is now one of my favorite athletes. 

So why are these guys doing it?  Brady and Brees – why, at 40-plus-years-old, are they going through this implausible season?  Why is LeBron, at 35, laying it on the line in front of virtual fans?  Why is Haslem locked in his room eating Chunky soup on his couch/bed?

The easiest answer: an athlete’s professional lifecycle is finite.  Father time allows for only so many opportunities to cash professional checks, build tenure and make championship runs; a season is just too precious to forfeit to a virus.  If you can play, you play. 

There are two more common, non-sports-specific reasons. 

The first is duty – to self, team and profession.  James knows the Lakers can’t win a championship without him.  Same for the Saints, sans Brees.  Haslem, while not a major on-court contributor, is the Heat’s captain.  Brady no doubt feels an obligation to his new organization and teammates.  So, to a man, they play. 

The other is the opportunity to be the standard – an example.  Staying limber - of mind, body and spirit - while facing an uncertain and evolving world, surely affords athletes a way to use their platforms in a transcendent way and without the condescending and naïve “stick to sports” criticisms.    

Our individual adaptation to pandemic life, no matter how effective, has undoubtedly had moments of great challenge.  A sense of duty to self and employer, and a responsibility to be an example for our families – personal and professional – has no doubt provided inspiration.  For the sports fan, an added source of encouragement has been seeing athletes doing the same. 

So thank you LeBron, Brees, Brady and, of course, Udonis Haslem and his Chunky soup.  Thanks for keeping me…us…sane through all this madness. 

From my bubble to yours – cheers, fellas. 

Toxic Take

 As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The seeds for these columns are usually a headline, story, experience or passing thought.  Words are scribbled down – names, artists, athletes, song titles, etc. – and wait to be featured content.  Brief phrases follow to add construct.  Then it’s writer, blinking cursor and these good bones.

With this week’s exploration completed, the term “toxic masculinity” stared back menacingly from my notes.  My brow raised to offer a quizzical and slightly annoyed reply - not that I deny its existence, but that the buzzworthy-ness of the term threatens to oversimplify a complex issue.  Would this world, with its addiction to click bait and allergy to deep, open-minded research, really take the time to understand masculinity?  More directly, would behaviors associated with toxic masculinity be correctly identified as the effect to multi-layered, culturally sowed causes? 

Be strong – physically.  Don’t cry.  Stiffen that upper lip.  Don’t back down.  Process feelings internally.  See hill take hill.  Encounter wall run through it.  Absorb the world – its pain and imperfections; absorb your own self-doubt and anxiety.  Emotionally project none of it - that would be…soft.  You must be a rock.

That’s what boys were taught, directly or implicitly.  That’s what was expected of men.  In some situations, unconsciously or conveniently, it probably still is.  No, it definitely still is, right Skip?  Hold that introduction.

The names filled my notes.  Some were perfect synonyms for toxic masculinity – Bob Knight, Harvey Weinstein, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Kareem Hunt and, at the risk of losing a few readers, Donald Trump (politics aside, if you can’t acknowledge his toxic masculinity, to steal and massage a phrase from Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a Trump Zombie).

More names.

Former NFL players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, among others, lost their lives, in part, to toxic masculinity.  Each had a decorated careers and, true to the football culture pushed their bodies and played through extreme injuries, including concussions – which the NFL knew compromised long-term mental health for years but did not disclose.  Each suffered from depression.  Each committed suicide. 

Still more names.

Hunter S. Thompson.  Ernest Hemingway.  Anthony Bourdain.  All creative giants.  To a man they were bold and brave - men among men as the tired saying goes.  Their forays into the darker corners of life were, and still are, celebrated aspects of their larger-than-life personalities.  But they weren’t in character; each carried a very real mental health burdens that grew with age.  Sadly, and like Seau, Duerson and Waters, all committed suicide. 

Another name.

Back to our pal, Skip - Bayless that is.  Bayless, now a member of Fox Sports, has long been a T.V. antagonist who will gladly spout off a “hot take” to create a reaction or fan the flames of controversy - whether he believes it or not.  He exists in a crowded market, one where the loudest and most outrageous often generates ratings, and Bayless, pandering to his wallet, is happy to oblige.

In a recent segment on the show Undisputed, Bayless was critical of – one last name - Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s public disclosure of a recent bout with depression.  Why?  Because, according to Bayless, Prescott is the “CEO” and leader of the Cowboys and admitting to seeking help was a sign of weakness and something that has no place in the ultra-macho world of the NFL.

Facing a visceral reaction, a back-peddling Bayless has since claimed his comment was misconstrued.  Whatever the shock jock’s intent, his original expressed suggestion – that it is ever wrong or shameful, in any way shape or form, to address mental health issues, especially by a male in a profession that has long been fertile ground for toxic masculinity – is, in and of itself, a toxic take.  Prescott, meanwhile, has been lauded for his courage to proactively address his struggles and willingness to do so publicly.  Both of these responses are indicative of micro (Prescott) and macro (the majority reaction) progress.  Solving toxic masculinity will be a complex marathon, but cheering those who rattle its foundation – Prescott - and rejecting those whose opinions perpetuate it – Bayless - at least advances the detoxification process.

Epitaph on Humanity

 As published in The County Times

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The texts and emails arrived in mass last week.  Daniel Snyder, overlord of the Washington Football Team, was back in the news – always a bad thing – and a volley of ill-intended friends of other NFL persuasions wanted to ensure that I, longtime fan of the team, was aware.  I was easy prey; it was a familiar wound to peck.      

Twenty years into Snyder’s abysmal ownership, such occurrences have become cliché.  The ribbings from opposing fans have ceased to cause irritation.  After all, how could they resist?  Snyder’s been a treasure trove of botched coaching hires, obnoxious free agent signings, odd front office structures and disgraceful on-field performances.  The incompetence is just too tempting to ignore. 

But Snyder has gone next-level embarrassing this offseason.  First, after receiving pressure from big corporate sponsors (threats to his precious bottom line), he had to move on, kicking and screaming, from the team’s racially insensitive (being kind here) nickname.  Snyder’s years of foolish defiance of the inevitable left him so ill-prepared that his team will now play nameless this season.

After this debacle, a raging feud between Snyder and his minority owners was exposed - the tiff has one in a legal wrangle with Snyder and others so fed up with him that they are seeking to sell their stakes. 

Worst of all, though, are the growing reports of a deep, systemic organizational culture that permitted rampant incidents of sexual harassment and sowed a hostile, demeaning work environment for female employees.  The Washington Post first exposed the moral rot within Snyder’s franchise in a July expose.  It has proven to be the tip of an ugly iceberg, as last week, The Post published an expansive follow-up chronicling more boorish, disgusting behavior.  In all, 40 woman have made various allegations – propositions, verbal abuse and salacious outtake videos from a swimsuit calendar shoot - against some of the highest ranking men in the organization, including Snyder himself.   

It would be easy to lay this all at the feet of Snyder, slap him with the Scarlet letter and feel good that justice was served to society’s great amoral villain.  The uncomfortable reality is that what happened in Snyder’s organization is too common, and with creeps like Larry Nassar and Harvey Weinstein, among many others, this feels like just the latest chapter in human indecency.  And these are just examples of how women are treated; what about our on-going struggles with racism or the disgusting predation of children by the likes of Jerry Sandusky and evil doers in the Catholic Church?

If humans suddenly vanished and the epitaph on our species was written today, it would be “They had so much potential.”  When the next advanced Earth inhabitants or aliens sift through our artifacts, they will be puzzled by humans’ demise.  They will discover our amazing technological advances - including the ability to live sustainably within the planet’s resources, our great works of arts, the music of Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the deep thoughts of Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., the courage of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, the imagination of Dr. Seuss and Steve Jobs and a widely documented moral code – various “good books”, the seven deadly sins or Dangers to Human Virtue and the 10 Commandments (even reduced to two…and one adder…by the brilliant George Carlin), among many others.  It will all leave the beings analyzing human history asking, “How did they fail?” 

Not as evident in the relics will be our susceptibility to tribalism and fear-based propaganda, our failure to address inconvenient existential threats, our obsession with differences and our inability to embrace our common humanity.  There will be evidence of war but it will inadequately convey the depth of our compulsion to fight over territory, ethnic or racial dominance or whose god was cooler.  Despite our brilliance and accelerating technological arc, humanity’s legacy is its inability to tolerate, achieve equality, share vast resources and recognize our intertwined destiny – fatal flaws so illogical that it will shroud our ruin in mystery. 

Hypothetically speaking, of course…for we are still here and our ending remains mercifully unwritten.