Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Politics of Football

Yes, I’m chiming in on something sports related.  And something political.  But, being me, I’m doing it a couple of days late since the biggest arguments over this were over the weekend.  But I have thoughts swirling in my head that I need to get out.  Warning, this will be long and will go back a few years.

Normally, I don’t follow sports, but I have started to enjoy football.  I’ll take any football game, but it is more background noise; I have it on while doing other things and often even have the sound down.  I joined a fantasy football league with some friends, including several former roommates.

I blame this softening to my roommate Daniel.  He’s a huge football fan.  Back when he was my roommate, Tim Tebow was the quarterback for Florida.  (See, I couldn’t tell you which college or university in Florida it was.  I’m still not a diehard sports fan.)  It was his senior year, and he’d go on to win the Heisman Trophy.  Then he’d be drafted to the Denver Broncos as their backup quarterback.  When Peyton Manning got injured, Tebow managed to lead the team to some playoff victories before the team was eliminated.

However, Daniel, who was a fan of Tebow in college and a Broncos fan, didn’t think Tebow made a good NFL quarterback.

And then Tebow became controversial for kneeling.  After his team scored a touchdown, he’d briefly kneel on his own on the sidelines while the rest of the game was going on to give thanks to God.  The man had always been under scrutiny for being an outspoken Christian, and this just brought things to a boil.  There were calls for him to be fired.

Tebow was eventually traded and then cut from his new team.  However, Daniel’s perspective that Tebow was having a hard time making the transition to NFL quarterback kept playing in my mind.  Could the controversy surrounding him have helped with him losing his NFO job?  Sure.  But I submit that if he’d been winning games, he’d be a starting quarterback somewhere.

Fast forward a few years.  I join the fantasy football league with Daniel and some other friends.  Being the Northern California native I am, I snag Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers as my quarterback.  And I didn’t win a game all year.  Now, I’m not blaming it all on him, but I had a front row seat to his performance as a quarterback.  He’s okay, but not all that great.  Lesson learned, I let auto draft help me in the future.

But I kept an eye on the 49ers as they continued to struggle.

Then Kaepernick started his protests last year.  It started with him sitting on the bench during the anthem, only kneeling when his lack of standing was called out.  And he became controversial.  And yet, he never became a great quarterback.

The calls for his firing started from some of the same people who had been defending Tebow.  And those who called for Tebow to be fired were defending Kaepernick.  And I watched the 49ers lose games under his leadership.

And here is where I feel sorry for the NFL as a whole.  Kaepernick was let go from the 49ers.  And immediately, people started to call for the NFL to be boycotted.  Could the controversy surrounding him have had something to do with his being let go?  Yes.  But I guarantee you that if Kaepernick were winning games and leading his team to the play offs consistently, he would still be a professional quarterback.

You’ll notice I said the exact same thing Kaepernick and Tebow.  While they were controversial in their own ways, they weren’t playing at levels that justified having them on teams.  If they were, they would still have jobs.  It’s as simple as that.

Yet, people were calling for the NFL to be boycotted this fall because Kaepernick lost his job.  Sorry, but if you aren’t good at your job, you will lose it.  That applies to sports just as much as the rest of life.

This is when those defending Kaepernick cited the First Amendment and his freedom of speech.  He absolutely does have freedom of speech, but let’s look at the First Amendment again.  “Congress shall make no law….”  It says nothing about a private company.  And it says nothing about a job when you aren’t very good at your job.

Of course, freedom of speech issues seem to be everywhere these days.  People are defending it or trying to take it away from others.  Yes, riots against a speaker are trying to take away someone’s freedom of speech.  You can disagree, but they still have the freedom to speak even if you disagree with them.

So I do support his right to speak, and he has a platform to speak.  I happen to disagree with what he is saying.  Remember, this started because of his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  The statistics don’t back up the movement.  Not to say that the perception doesn’t mean anything, but when we look at facts, this movement started from the news media blowing something out of proportion and then fed into perceptions.  Instead of trying to get to solutions, we started having protests.

But Kaepernick still has the right to speak up on this whether I disagree with him or not.

I am bothered by the means he chose to do so, however.  As an American, the flag and the National Anthem mean something to me.  I try to show them respect, although I probably fail at times.  The flag stands for Kaepernick’s right to speak his mind on any topic he wants, for one thing.  And it is clear in our society that we get that flags stand for something.  Over the summer, we’ve had how many discussion on what the Confederate flag stands for and what statues stand for.  Those who want statues taken down say that his taking a knee isn’t a huge insult and those who defend the statues are the most offended.

My feelings on the flag and the anthem were solidified back in the 90’s by Adventures in Odyssey.  For those not familiar with it, this is a radio drama done by Focus on the Family, so it is conservative in bent for sure.  They invented some ways for the kids in modern time to go back and experience history, both Biblical and American.  (They were imagination enhancing computer programs, but they were really just plot devises.)  This particular episode sent two kids back to the battle during the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”  They are by his side during the long night when the British are shelling the fort, and they watch for the flag to still be flying, meaning that the fort has not surrendered to the British.  It really showed me just how powerful a symbol the flag is.

Last year, one of the highlights of my day as a tourist in Washington DC was seeing the flag that inspired the song in the Smithsonian.  Thinking again about the story and where the American flag has flown over the years moved me to tears.

So, while I support Kaepernick’s right to speak his mind, I was off put by his actions.  And, frankly, I am a little surprised that the NFL didn’t step in last year.  After all, they threatened to fine players on the Dallas Cowboys who wanted to honor Dallas police officers who had been shot in the line of duty by a sniper.  And they refused to let players honor the victims of 9/11 on Sunday, September 11, 2016.  So why they couldn’t have told Kaepernick to find another way to make his point is beyond me.  And if you are upsetting the people you are trying to reach with your message, maybe you should find another way to speak your mind that will help build a bridge.

Flash forward to this weekend.  I missed what started the entire controversy this particular weekend, but I certainly heard about Trump’s tweet calling for the NFL to fire any player who refused to stand for the anthem.  Now, while I find kneeling for the anthem to be disrespectful, let’s go back and look at how the First Amendment begins again.  “Congress shall make no law….”  Okay, if we want to split hairs, Trump is the President and wasn’t making a law.  But the meaning of the First Amendment is clear, and Trump overstepped.  Period.  End of discussion.

So, honestly, I was left feeling unsettled this weekend.  I find the practice of kneeling disrespectful since it is our country’s tradition to stand at attention.  (Ironically, at other times kneeling show great respect, like kneeling before a king.)  The way the practice has been growing over the last few weeks in other sports and even in kids’ leagues is bothering me.  Yet, I can understand why players felt compelled to do it this weekend to stand up to Trump.

Of course, then there’s the Steeler’s player, a former Army Ranger, who did stand and was made to feel so foolish that he apologized today for letting his team down.  He shouldn’t have had to do that.  It was his choice, and he should have been allowed to make it.  And to answer another comment I saw, the people in the stands booing the players that were kneeling wasn’t racist.  It was their free speech back to the players showing their free speech.  It’s not perfect by any means, but it is part of living in a free society.

But this entire weekend has saddened me yet again.  I saw so many knee jerk responses with very little time for anyone to think things through.  I’ve probably gone overboard with this post (which is currently just over 1500 words), but there is a lot of complexity and hypocrisy on both sides.

I’m also thinking about an observation my brother made in his sermon this Sunday about how easy it is to get people to protest things today, but how hard it is to get people to actually do something productive to make a difference.  I honestly feel like this entire issue, which has been building for the last year, is the perfect example.  Nothing has truly come of this but bad feelings and calls for boycotts (which we do at the drop of a hat).

And lost in all of this is any effort to try to see the other side or try to get along.  Everyone knows they are right, and posts things that only inflame those they disagree with while reinforcing the belief on their side that they are right.  If we want to find a way to get along again as a country, we need to stop talking in memes and think.  Listen to each other.  Think about this story in the context of other stories that have happened in the last year.  5 years.  10 years.  No we can’t solve everything in one day, but at this point, I don’t think that the majority of the country is even trying.

And that saddens me most of all.

As does the fact that something that could be used to bring us together and help us relax and forget about politics for a while is now a political football.

Friday, September 15, 2017

More Bowling

Bowling keeps happening every Tuesday night.  I’m enjoying it, but it sure isn’t going my or my team’s way.

We are currently in last place.  We just can’t seem to win, or if we are in the lead, we can’t hold on to it.  This last week’s third game was a great example where we lost our lead in the ninth frame.

And I am lucky to get more than one strike a game right now.  My high game the last three weeks has been a 161, but other than that, I am usually in the 120 range.  A few games, I’ve been lucky to hit 100.

I’ve noticed this before.  The more I bowl, the less well I actually do.  You’d think it would be the opposite since I’m practicing, but it’s not.  I’m not sure what it is.  I feel like I am trying too hard, and that is making me do worse.  I’m stiff instead of being lose and relaxed, as I am when I am not trying to any expectations.  But who knows if that is the case or not.

I do know that I am completely enjoying my bowl.  It really fits my hand well, something I was truly worried about.  And it’s fun to have my own shoes and my own ball.  It’s a luxury, sure, but it is a ton of fun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fantastic Weekend Home

I was able to head north to visit my family over the Labor Day weekend.  Thanks to getting to leave early on Friday and the day off Monday, I was able to spend two full days up there without taking any vacation, too!

It had been hot down here, but it was just as hot up there.  That meant we spent the weekend at my parent’s house, which has AC.  Well, we did go to church Sunday morning, but you know what I mean.  Anyway, we played lots of games both days.  Didn’t really do too much else, but it was just fun getting to hang out and spend time together.

On the way home Monday, I was even able to meet up with my friend Donald for lunch in Fresno, which was great.

Traffic was sluggish the last 60 miles or so, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be.

I’m definitely ready for another visit.  They are just way too short.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Gladiator Rock n Run 2017

This last weekend was the Gladiator Rock n Run at the Rose Bowl.  It was the same weekend it was last year, but unlike last year, which was cold and cloudy all morning, this one was warm going toward hot.  I did the 7:30 wave again so I could do the 10K, and I was sweating almost the entire way.  Still, it wasn’t as hot as it would get even yesterday, when it hit 110 here in town.  Over there, I think it was a little cooler, but still, that’s hot!

The bad part about doing the 7:30 wave is having to get up and be there in time.  I am so not a morning person.

The good part about doing the 7:30 wave is that I was home by 11 AM.  Not that I did much with the rest of my day but veg.  I did get my clothes from the mud run washed, but that was about the only productive thing I did.

The run itself?  I thought I was doing well by training for some stairs.  I didn’t train nearly enough.  And running into the Rose Bowl and going up and down the stairs 3 times is one of the first things we do.  I was so sore for the rest of the run that I had to walk parts.  My legs just couldn’t run.  And I skipped the cargo climb again.  I probably would have gone for it if they only had one cargo climb, but my legs were shaking pretty badly and they had two back to back.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to do both of them safely.

I also really need to work on my upper body.  It is embarrassingly how little upper body strength I have these days.  I can run the distance, but I can’t do anything else.

All this aside, yes I had fun.  The 10K part of the course is really cool, and I enjoyed that.  It’s a fun challenge.  I just need to prepare more for it.

And that includes stairs.  Between the mud run Saturday and then playing ultimate yesterday, I am so sore!  I’m getting better as the day goes along, but it might make bowling very interesting tomorrow night.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Back to Bowling

When the spring bowling league came around, it didn’t work with my work schedule and I didn’t want to commit with ultimate Frisbee being on an unpredictable night of the week.  Then, as it turned out, I got sick and wasn’t even able to sub most weeks.

When sign ups happened for the fall league, I once again thought I was going to miss out thanks to work schedule.  But when one team needed an extra person, I took a closer look at the schedule and realized I could do it, so I signed up.

We are playing on Tuesdays this time, instead of Thursday.  And we are back to teams of four, but we have six teams of four.  It’s pretty much the usual gang out there bowling and having fun, but we are loving it.

Every time, they’ve offered a very good deal on a bowling ball, a bag, and bowling shoes.  I decided to get that this time around, so I am using my own ball and shoes.  I love it!  I should have done this back in the fall when they first offered it.

Of course, the first week with my new ball was the lowest I’ve bowled.  But my entire team was off that night, and I’m not sure why.  I really don’t think it was my ball, I think it was me.

My best so far this season was a 161 in the second week.  That second week was pretty funny.  The first game, I started out with a turkey (three strikes in a row).  I followed that up by bowling a gutter ball with my first ball in the fourth frame.  I did pick up the spare.  Then I started the second game of the night with a turkey.  No, the fourth frame wasn’t a gutter ball again.

My low was a 107 last week.  That was my first night with my new ball, and it was the middle game of the night.

Last night’s scores were much closer to my average, 135, 132, and 147.  I’m quite happy with them.  I had a really hard time bowling strikes, but I did pick up a nice number of spares.

I was so worried about the holes on my ball being big enough for my thumb, but so far, it’s worked out well for me.  I’ve always had a hard time with house balls.  In fact, there is one ball in particular I made sure I used every single week.  Obviously, the guy in the pro shop knows what he’s doing because I haven’t had any trouble in the two weeks I’ve used it.  And it’s just so fun to walk in and go straight to the lane to bowl.  Sometimes, it really is the little things that are just so much fun.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

End of Summer League

Unfortunately, my summer league season ended worse than it began.  We lost our last couple of games, putting us just below the 50% mark.  It didn’t help that we were down players those last couple of games.  I got a lot more playing time than normal, or than I really wanted.

After all the driving I did for games, I was pleased that the tournament was once again here in town.  I was especially glad when I saw that we were in the first game, which started at 7:30.  Yikes, that’s early.

We had numbers again for the tournament, including three subs.  Unfortunately, that didn’t help our performance.  We lost the first game, and it wasn’t especially close.  We did win the next game, and quite handily.  But we lost the final game of the day.

I could easily see some personalities come out as we lost that I didn’t enjoy being around.  Many of my teammates were great, but the few were definitely annoying.

Because the tournament was in town, I saw quite a few of my friends from pick up here in town who were around to watch at various points during the day.  Some even subbed on various teams, which was a lot of fun.  And one friend came with three of his kids to watch the finals.  We wound up sitting together and talking, which I really enjoyed.  Unfortunately, the wind came up for finals, so it wasn’t nearly as interesting a game as normal.

I put in my appearance at the party as well.  It was at a different bar here in town, but it was a bar I wasn’t familiar with.  Obviously, I just don’t go to bars here in town.  Seriously, the only time I go is with ultimate teams/tournaments, and since this is only the second tournament here in town, it’s introduced me to two bars now.  Not that I plan to be going back since I don’t drink.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trixie Camp 2017

I finally made it back to Trixie Camp!  I actually had a hard time believing it had been so long, but the last time I made it to one was 2010.  That’s a long time.

For those who may not know, this is what we’ve started to call the annual Trixie Belden Convention.  Basically, it’s an excuse for those of us who have met on the message boards for this old kid’s mystery series over the years to get together and have fun hanging out in person.

This year, the convention was in New Orleans, a place I’ve always wanted to go.  Yes, it was in July, which is definitely not the best time weather wise.  I truly appreciated our dry heat when I got home.

But we had a lot of fun.  It was so great to see people I haven’t seen in person for years and just hang out.  There was just about enough time to catch up with everyone.  Another day or two would have been perfect.

We didn’t leave the French Quarter the entire time we were there.  We had a walking tour, including one of the cemeteries.  We went down to the old mint and got a jazz concert out of the deal.  There was time for shopping and just hanging out.  We took a steamboat up the river to the site of the Battle of New Orleans.  And we did lots and lots of walking.

Did I mention it was hot and humid?  It was.  It even poured one afternoon when we were at a museum a little ways from our hotel.  But after wrapping my phone in a plastic bag, I headed back.  Honestly, it felt pretty good.

I would have loved to get to the Garden District, something there just wasn’t time to do.  I guess that will be the next trip, right?

Friday, August 11, 2017

End of an Era

I have more things to blog about, but I want to mark this one closer to the actual event.  You see, last Saturday, my roommate moved out – my final roommate.

Yes, after all those years of panicking when I didn’t have a roommate or one was moving out, I am actually living on my own.  It’s a weird feeling, and I don’t think it has really sunk in yet.  How can it when I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to do much at home.  The bunk beds are still up in both bedrooms, for example.  And I don’t know what to do with a pantry all to myself, especially considering how little food I really buy.  The entire place needs a good cleaning, but that sounds way too much like work.

But it is still a wonderful feeling.  I can do all of those things, and I will then be the only person to mess up the place again.  And if I don’t know where something came from, I can throw it away.  It seems I’ve inherited stuff from multiple roommates over the years.

But I look back at how God provided all those roommates over the years, and I marvel at how good He’s been to me.  I never went without roommates.  And, while I had some interesting roommates over the years, the vast majority are people I count as friends.  In fact, they are some of my best friends.  The thought of not making new friends this way makes me a little sad.  Not enough to actually get another roommate, of course.

And I’m not opposed to having a roommate in the future.  I’m planning to keep a bed in the spare bedroom, just not bunk beds.  But I can be very selective about who becomes my roommate.  I don’t have to jump at the first guy who walks through the door.

I’m excited to see what happens in this next chapter of my life while still being thankful for what God did for me in the last one. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Liquid Run 2017

Last year, I heard about something new, the Liquid Run.  But it was scheduled for the same weekend that I did the Irvine Lake Mud Run last year, and I was already signed up for that one.  When they announced the dates this year, and it was the weekend after the Irvine Lake Mud Run, I signed up.

So June 24th, I drove down to Newport Beach to try something new.

This isn’t like the runs I normally do.  The course was only a quarter mile, and it was all on floating platforms in a little cove.  There were things for us to climb over and go around and even slide down.  It looked like fun.

However, the experience wasn’t nearly as fun as I wanted it to be.  While there didn’t appear to be crowds early, they were backed up by the time I went to run it, so I started late.  Not that it helped.  For the first third of the course, we were stuck in a traffic jam and just barely inching forward.  Things did get better after that, fortunately.  I might have baled if it didn’t get better.

Even when we started to get moving, I didn’t have that much fun with it.  I mentioned the floating platforms, right?  The made standing very difficult, especially if you have no sense of balance like I do.  Plus the platforms were slippery when wet.  And I had a hard time getting over some of the obstacles since I couldn’t push off since my feet were slipping.

I wound up being out there much longer than I thought I would be.  The lockers I had to rent from were looking to move on by that time, but they waited, fortunately.  And I was meeting Joy for lunch, and I was much later than I told her I would be.

So, I won’t be signing up for this one again.  Other people seemed to really enjoy it, but it wasn’t my thing.  I don’t regret it, however, since I wanted to try it out and see what I thought.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Irvine Lake Summer of Mud 2017

Okay, back to June.  On June 17th, I did the Irvine Lake Mud Run, my second of three runs in a row that month.

Considering how poorly I’d done the Saturday before at Camp Pendleton, I was concerned about how this one would go.  I was still getting over being sick, although I was definitely on the mend.  I hadn’t been running much in between, however.

But this is a shorter course, and I was able to run most of it no problem.

There weren’t many surprises on the course this year, but that’s okay.  It’s still one of my favorites thanks to the mud slide.  And the lines were so short when I got there I may have done it twice this year.  About the only crowd was the crowd for the shower at the end, but that’s a minor issue.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to hang out with any Irwins or Smiths afterward since they were all busy that day.  It meant I drove down and back and just did the run.  On the other hand, I wasn’t stressing over anyone waiting for me, which was very nice.

At one point while I was running, I heard someone in a golf cart shout out “Is that THE Mark Baker?”  From a later comment on Facebook, I confirmed it was the guy who runs this particular mud run.  Hadn’t interacted with him much on Facebook recently, so I’m surprised he still recognized me.  Definitely put a smile on my face.