Thursday, July 30, 2015

Samuel Dubose and the Scarlet Letter

("The Shooting of Samuel Dubose")

It is a variant of the crime of "living while black". It is called "driving while black."  It is the insistent, irrefutable presumption that being black is invitation to wrongdoing. It is the immutable belief that in the next second, before you have time to react, you will be the next victim.

It is the implicit association test in real life informing us to shoot first and ask questions later when it involves persons of color.

It resides on every sidewalk, in every playground, in every car and in every step taken. It clings to every black man, woman or child like a scarlet letter. It removes individuality and inserts a stereotype into each encounter, each confrontation, each death piled on the death before it.

It exists in the minds and fingers of those who pull the trigger. It has happened again today, even as you read this, even if neither you or I know about it yet. It is endemic. It is epidemic. It is a national travesty and a national tragedy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trying to Avoid A Sack

Like a mob boss, Tom Brady ordered his underling to destroy evidence of the crime. Or maybe like a former President of the United States.

Roger Clemens at one point tried to throw his wife under the bus.  Lance Armstrong seemingly threw everyone under the bus.  

It is not so much the wrongdoing, but what happens thereafter that fuels the fire. If Clemens, Armstrong or even Nixon had quickly admitted the error of their ways, mouthed a lukewarm mea culpa, and asked for understanding, forgiveness and the right of redemption, who knows how differently their tales would have been written.

And as for Tom Brady, there is a long tolerated and even condoned practice in sports sanctioning whatever competitive advantage you can obtain, up to a certain threshold. And perhaps Mr. Brady slipped over that line. But had he admitted to a vague awareness of the circumstances, professed a misunderstanding of its wrongdoing and not had an underling tasked with a throw away akin to a pass into the stands in the face of onrushing linemen, almost certainly he would not be faced with the level of punishment now imposed. It was a very bad audible called at the line by a quarterback who saw a blitz coming. In trying to avoid the sack, Mr. Brady only incurred a penalty for intentional grounding.

Alex Rodriguez tried to buy up the evidence of his drug usage. He sued everyone in the chain of command, alienating his team, the league and those who wanted, somewhere deep in their heart, to be able to forgive his trepasses.  In the final analysis this only made a bad situation that much worse.

Mr. Brady's mistake was not so much in throwing deflated footballs against an overmatched opponent, but in everything that he did thereafter. And his punishment, even in the stated opinion of the Commissioner, fits not so much the crime as its aftermath.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Our country is not static and our most vital documents must reflect not only history but present reality. As but one glaring example, while we watch the length of tenure of our Supreme Court justices grow exponentially as life expectancy moves ever higher, we should consider whether a fixed term appointment to this body might be a rational reply.

So too, our institutions for election of the President and Vice- President were born of a time when only men, only white men, were afforded the right to elect those holding the highest office in this land. Through the years we have witnessed Amendments to our Constitution giving the right of suffrage to women, to blacks. And in fact, the 14th Amendment explicitly reduced the percentage of votes in the electoral college for any state proportionately to the extent that said state excluded eligible (meaning black) adult males from their right of elective franchise.

How many people actually vote in the Presidential election? The true number is 538, the "electors' who cast their ballots in accord with the will of the people of their state (in number equal to the senators and congressmen from each state), except for those in Maine and Nebraska who are not technically bound to the will of the popular vote.

And what occurs if, for example, Donald Trump runs as a third party candidate in 2016 and none of the three parties garners the vote of 270 electors? Neither you or I are certain, but the answer is in the 12th Amendment which gives the House members the right to choose one of the three top vote getters to be named as President and the Senate chooses one of the two with the highest number of votes for Vice- President to fill that post. Can that be an adequate solution?

We are a country that will be almost 230 years removed from the rules guiding our presidential election in 2016. We now reside in a place where virtually all of those eligible to vote have seen their voice reduced to a whisper, due to polarization which has cast in stone the outcome for all but a tiny handful of jurisdictions. The candidates' focus and their money is spent not on assuring that each voter throughout the land is convinced as to his or her worthiness but on an infinitesimally small slice of the population who will determine which way the political winds blow.

The result is that people stay away from the polls in alarming numbers. Over 106,000,000 eligible voters did not exercise their constitutional right in the 2012 election, which equated to over 45% voter apathy. Apathy is the true candidate of choice. That cannot be what was intended or contemplated back in 1787.

The answer is to push for a constitutional amendment that reflects the true intent of the founding fathers, that every person in every state be given equal voice, that every vote matter and that every eligible citizen, no matter race or gender, be an active and involved participant in the quadrennial exercise that has the most profound impact on the lives of each one of us.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


If you are looking for Harrison Smith, head over to Wendell Black high school. It is one block from where Harrison lives and it has a field with a major league sized baseball diamond. There, on most late afternoons, you can hear the unmistakeable sound of a baseball and bat making perfect contact. Time after time. Day after day.

I am today's witness. The pitcher is a former Triple A player, six foot six inches tall, an all-American specimen, looking every inch the baseball god he never quite was. At the plate is a much smaller version of the hurler, a person standing only five foot three but clearly cut from the same cloth. He looks remarkably composed as he redirects fastballs, curves and change-ups to all fields, as if on command. Left field, left field, left field. Center, then again and once more. On this day, one drive soars in the sky and lands more than 350 feet from its launching pad. Harrison Smith is 11 years old.

Seminole is a small city in southern Florida. Its population is 18,000 give or take whoever may have decided that this locale is either the perfect place to settle in or the most boring intolerable corner of the earth. It is decidedly Republican, decidedly religious and, even though two Major Leaguers played their high school baseball here, definitely not a place scouts frequent. Until now.

Tom Fisher played for three teams from 1959 through 1968. The last was the Yankees. Since his retirement, he has spent nearly half a century employed by the Bombers, criss-crossing the country evaluating the talents of thousands of potential Babe Ruths and Cy Youngs. "I have seen all of them growing up. Reggie, Winfield, A-Rod, Jeter, Harper, Trout. Harrison Smith has the potential to be better than anyone who has played this sport in my lifetime. A lot better."

In 1944, major league rosters were substantially depleted by the call of war. On June 10 of that year, 15 year old Joe Nuxhall became the youngest person to perform in the big show. In the ninth inning, with his team trailing 13-0, he pawed the mound, not old enough to shave, but of sufficient skill to be called a major leaguer. From everything that my eyes told me, and from all I learned from the experts who had seen Harrison Smith in action, he could shatter that record if given the chance.

Rob Manfred became Commissioner of Major League baseball in January of 2015. A graduate of Harvard Law school, Manfred has been working in various capacities for the league for nearly 30 years. He believes that the structures in place regarding age limits for entry into the game serve a necessary purpose. "Essentially, one can not be eligible for the draft until the age of 16. You know, the last player who was less than 19 years old to reach the majors was A-Rod. And that was over 20 years ago. Players must mature not only physically but emotionally before they can be expected to deal with the rigors and demands of being on the big stage. I have heard the legend of Harrison Smith, and have seen video of this young man. While his skills are undeniable, even if he is possessed of the most extraordinary talent, it will be many years before we ever see him don a big league uniform. I will categorically not consider a "Harrison Smith" rule."

Forty minutes after he began doing damage to the offerings of his father, Harrison gently laid down the bat. He headed out to the shortstop position, hand in glove. All except the index finger which poked out, separating itself from the other digits on his left hand.

Standing at first base was the starting first baseman for the Seminole Fighting 'Noles high school team. He had requested an audience with the young Mr. Smith, and so he stood ready for action. Tim Smith, all six foot six of him, picked up the same 34 inch, 30 ounce bat that had just been released from the grasp of his son, and began hammering balls in the general direction of shortstop.

Harrison was situated on the edge of the outfield grass, slightly deeper than the position taken by most major league shortstops. As balls came with relentless force, not at him, but to either side, he glided without seeming effort, snatched each one cleanly and made throws with such unerring precision to first base that the starting first baseman for the Seminole Fighting 'Noles high school team appeared almost frozen in time and space. The only issue for him was the force of the object that  exploded in his mitt, again and again and then again. After thirty minutes, the starting first baseman for the Seminole Fighting 'Noles high school team literally begged to be freed from what had now become an exceedingly uncomfortable obligation.

Dr. Peter Thompson is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Washington University Medical Center is St. Louis. He performs an average of 12 surgeries per week on children as young as age seven. Almost all of the work is on athletes suffering from repetitive stress injuries on still developing bodies. There are an estimated 1.3 million such sports related injuries each year.

When asked the  risk that Harrison Smith would suffer some kind of "overuse" injury, Dr. Thompson stated "It is almost a given. If he maintains the level of intense workout described through his teenage years, there is a 90% chance that a knee or a shoulder, or an elbow will be adversely impacted to the extent that he will be on my operating table, or one of the ever growing population of others like me who spend their entire career repairing damage that likely could have been avoided."

Tim Smith didn't agree with Dr. Thompson's assessment.  "He has never seen my child, he does not know my child and he does not know what Harrison is doing. Baseball is in his blood and you cannot tell me, or tell him, that he is placing unusual risks on his body. When did we become such an overprotective society? Let the children play. Let them do what comes naturally to them. Or would you rather he was inside, staring at a computer screen all day?"

Harrison Smith just completed fifth grade in elementary school in Seminole.  Twenty four children were in his graduating class, an equal number of boys and girls. Samantha Winston sat immediately to the left of Harrison in the third row of their classroom. Samantha finds Harrison "interesting" and he thinks she is "cute". In another year of two they may become an item. But not yet.

The median household income in Seminole is $48,000.  There are no rich enclaves in this town, no wealthy patrons. Nike has recently contacted Tim Smith about entering into a long term deal to have Harrison as a paid representative of their company. It is believed that the total compensation could exceed twenty million dollars. Tim Smith works as a mechanic in the automobile repair shop on Main Street, less than 2 miles from the small three bedroom ranch house in which the family lives. Barbara Smith is a substitute teacher in the elementary school. Last year, the family earned $43,000.

Sam Halstead is a senior executive at Nike, responsible for finding young extraordinary talent to add to their stable of clients. When asked why the company would consider signing someone as young as Harrison, given the vast uncertainty of his ever appearing in a Major League baseball game due to injury, burnout, diminishing talent or just bad luck, Halstead was unequivocal in his response. "Harrison Smith comes along once, maybe twice, in a generation. This is a young man who can rewrite the history of his sport if the stars align. If that happens, who won't spend whatever it takes to have their company's products associated with that name. We are well aware of the risks of failure but the chance of immortality far outweighs any negatives that you, or I might see. We are in the risk taking business, and for my money, for my company's money, Harrison Smith is well worth the gamble."

Legend has it that Harrison threw his first baseball at eight months old. Ten feet in the air and right into the waiting hand of his father. Tim says this is just pure fantasy. "He was nine months old when this happened."

Todd Marvin Marinovich was raised in Newport Beach California. His father, Marv, was captain of the national championship football team at USC in 1962. His future wife's brother was the star quarterback.

Todd Marinovich was an experiment in greatness. Sports Ilustrated published a piece on him called "Bred to be a Superstar" when Marinovich was in high school. Athletic training commenced when he was still in the crib and did not stop throughout his adolescence. Todd was fed fresh vegetables, fruit and raw milk. Nothing else. Ever. 

He was the All- American boy, the star blond quarterback and virtually every big time college pursued him. Marinovich also ended up at USC with expectations that were nurtured from his first day on earth by his father. But he was not without blemish. As early as high school, he was drinking and smoking marijuana and not in control of either. He was arrested for cocaine possession even before arriving at USC.

And while his college career was good, very good, it was not exactly what his father had envisioned. And substance abuse followed him into the NFL. After three seasons, the can't miss robo-quarterback, created out of the mind of his father, had become a Frankenstein. His career in football was essentially at an end. Life after football did not improve, drugs and arrests following him everywhere, always at his feet, always ready to devour him.

Today, Todd Marinovich lives with his wife and two young children. He has tried to redefine himself and his existence. He now toils as an artist and has begun to receive some acclaim for work in a field far removed from the one that brought him such tremendous highs and terrible lows.  He was reluctant to talk about himself, or his father, preferring not to dwell on past glories or tragic moments.  However, when asked about Harrison Smith, he said "I hope for his sake that what is motivating him comes from inside. I fear for all young athletes who seem too regimented, too programmed that what is happening is not of their own doing. If that is the case for Harrison Smith then there will surely come a day when it all starts to unravel. He needs to be who he is and not who anyone else wants him to be.  If he is but a projection of someone else, his sense of self will disappear."

Tim Smith is not happy or comfortable when the issue of comparison to Todd Marinovich is raised. "What they did, they did. I can only do what makes my son happy and I know that playing baseball makes him happy. The expectations are yours, not his. Or mine. If greatness happens, it happens. If not, there is a long life that has to be lived. And lived the right way."

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods first entered our collective consciousness at the ripe old age of two.  He appeared on the "Mike Douglas Show" and took part in a putting contest with a well known sometime golfer by the name of Bob Hope. Tiger's father, Earl, had, much like Marv Marinovich,  determined that his son was destined for greatness and should become comfortable with the expectations from his first moments. 

Tiger broke 50 for nine holes at three, and 80 for a full round at eight. He went on to become everything that had been envisioned for him shattering records and the will of opponents with seeming unequaled success. Earl Woods had decreed that his son would better the record established by the king of his generation, Jack Nicklaus. And for a long time,  that achievement appeared a mere formality.

After Earl's death in 2006, the victories came for a while but then, in what seemed a blink of an eye, it began to fall apart. Marital infidelity of epic proportion surfaced and the uncompromising focus and resolve that had marked Tiger's career evaporated. With his father gone, his marriage in tatters and his psyche compromised, Tiger's invincibility vanished. Had all the attention and adulation from what must have been his first recollections, finally been too much? Had Earl pushed too long, too hard, or was it that his son was mere mortal after all? It is far from certain that this Humpty-Dumpty can ever be put back together.

When talk turns to Tiger,  Tim Smith tries, once more to deflect  attention away from the issue of the overbearing parent and the child star. "I am not here to justify my existence or my choices. This is a good solid family and our life is not all about baseball, even as many would try to make me, make us, something we are not."

And indeed, the family's house shows little to suggest that there is anything unusual happening with Harrison. His room does have two posters in it, but neither are of baseball players. They instead, show members of the band, "One Direction" on stage. Harrison has never been to a concert, both his parents agreeing that at age 11, he is too young to be anywhere near one of these performances. The family goes to church together every Sunday, and Harrison attends religious classes each week. 

Only in the small closet in Harrison's room is there evidence of his attachment to baseball. Three gloves and five bats are stacked up, in no discernible pattern, or with any particular care. Harrison is, after all, 11.

At five years old, at a time when those his age were trying to hit a baseball off a tee and learning where to stand on the field, Harrison Smith was playing second base on a team of eight and nine year olds. He was the best player, able to turn a double play, hit to all fields and bunt a runner over. 

By six, the first article about Harrison appeared. The Seminole Gazette headline read, "Local Boy is Baseball Phenom in the Making." It quoted Tom Winston, Harrison's Little League coach who said he had never seen anything like this in all his years around the game. The league had bent its rules and allowed a first grader to join a squad of 11 and 12 year olds. And make the All-Star team. And hit .550.

What does Harrison Smith think about all that is happening? As you might expect, I did not get the chance to ask him that question, or any other question. "My son is 11 years old. It is not the time in his life to be doing interviews, to be cross-examined, to have every word analyzed and dissected. He is a kid, and he is entitled to be a kid."

There is no baseball academy in Harrison's life, nor does it appear there will be one anytime soon. Tim Smith says that while he is considering the offer from Nike he does not know how he will move forward. Harrison has no agent, no PR person, no world outside of the one he is living in Seminole.

For now, he is like millions of children his age. Today I watched him play baseball with his father, hitting and throwing, running and jumping, smiling and laughing. He is just like all those others who are in their yards, on a street, an empty lot or a field. Just a boy and his dad playing together. Only better than everyone else. Much better.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More Thoughts on Atticus

List of those who may not really exist in light of the revelations about Atticus Finch:

1. God
2. Jesus
3. Moses
4. Mother Theresa
5. Santa Claus
6. The Easter Bunny
7. James Bond
8. Mickey Mantle
9. My second grade teacher
10. Donald Trump (just wanted to be sure you were still reading)

Atticus Finch and the Confederate Flag

It is the destruction of the illusion, a revelation that there is a duality in each of us, good and bad both pulling to emerge triumphant.

I remember as a child growing up worshipping a major league baseball player, only to later learn he was but a small, troubled man, full of faults and demons. Atticus Finch, an idealized hero to so many, now has suffered his own terrible fall from grace. We grieve for our loss.

As we watch the Confederate flag come down and wait for the next Atticus Finch to lead the South, to lead all of us to a better day, "Watchman" sends an ominous note of warning. On an occasion when we celebrate our possibilities, we are duly constrained. For if Atticus does not exist, who is left to bring us into the light?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Hair to the Throne

It is the worst part of the Republican DNA, the Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh tell it like it is brand of invective laced hatred, spewed forth with righteous indignation. All those who don't speak the truth are mere cowards, or worse.

Facts have never mattered to Mr. Trump as his all out assault on President Obama's place of birth so vividly highlighted. It is the chase for the front page, or if not that, then two opinion pieces in the New York Times on one day, that is his catalyst.

While Marco Rubio writes, if not convincingly, at least seriously about our Cuban policy (" Obama's Faustian Bargain with Cuba") it is assuredly Mr. Trump who will capture most of the water cooler conversation today.

I think your paper is devoting far too much attention to a side show. Mr. Trump is nothing more than Sarah Palin redux, a one trick pony without any idea of how to lead this country.

He is an embarrassment and we should curtail our obsession with him, no matter today's polling results. The Times should merely start and end its coverage of The Donald by quoting the famous inquiry of Joseph N. Welch to Joseph McCarthy.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Criminal in Our Midst

I was about to offer a 5 cent reward for information leading to the capture and arrest of the perpetrator. I hoped it would be sufficient incentive.

It was early Sunday morning and, like every other Sunday morning, the screen door opened, the doorbell rang followed immediately by sounds of feet quickly descending the steps. It all had one undeniable meaning; our friend had delivered the paper. The whys of that are for another story and another day.

Minutes later, I left the comfort of the bedroom, wandered down the stairs, opened the shades in several areas of the house and headed to the front door. When I reached down to review the headlines of the NY Times, I came up with nothing but air.

Immediately my mind focused on those most likely to have committed the most heinous of crimes. I dare not mention names of those I silently accused for fear they will read these words, but they know who they are. I quickly alerted my wife and son that we had been burgled. Their response was as anticipated,  at once a mix of disbelief and disgust.

It was strange that none of us had heard anyone ascend or descend during the course of the pilfering, but I gave that little credence. I merely assumed it was consistent with the whole idea of being a thief.

I called my friend to be absolutely certain that I had not imagined the paper arriving at our doorstep. He assured me that, like the postman, his duty was paramount. The NY Times had been deposited in its usual place. He insisted on updates as I sleuthed my way to the criminal's lair.

My son and wife began to assist me in my effort to retrace the movements of the criminal. My wife walked down the front steps, out into the driveway, looking for clues. She said that in her mind she was contemplating either writing an email to all those in our complex to determine if they had spotted any suspicious activity or alternatively to let out the air in all the tires of those in residence. Either way she was not filled with joyous ruminations.

This was not an undertaking with easy solution. Without obvious signs left behind by the wrongdoer, how would we ever uncover the truth? It seemed, at least for an instant, as if this was to be one of those unsolvable riddles, much like Stonehenge or the pyramids. Then it happened.

From the dining room, my son shouted, a mix of exasperation and incredulity in each word uttered. For there, in the middle of the dining room table, was (you guessed it already didn't you) the NY Times.

It all came back to me in a flash. I had, upon leaving the bedroom gone directly to the front door, picked up the Sunday morning paper, read the headline about all the candidates posing for selfies with anyone and everyone along their path, contemplated writing a letter about this practice, gone to the dining room, placed the printed words on the table and moved on, opening up the shades throughout our residence. Only absolutely none of that had remained in my brain when I made the second journey to the front door just moments removed from the first undertaking.

My son has already made reference to the nursing home on more than one occasion. Am I really that absent minded, that scattered, or is there something far more sinister going on inside my noggin? Am I something other than mere idiot?

My vote is for idiot. I don't sense any unusual concern in my family, nothing to suggest that this is but another example of why my wife and children are to be pitied.

I got back in touch with my friend to tell him the conclusion of this sordid tale. I think he was almost too confused by my level of stupidity to know how to respond. When we hung up, I suspected he would immediately be relating this strange tale to his wife, unsure what to think or how best to frame it.

And I apologize to those of you whom I have silently accused of wrongdoing. Forgive my trespass, for I have unjustly castigated you. Please understand that I am a flawed person and that I meant no harm or disrespect.

I think that starting next Sunday I will be asking my wife if she would go downstairs when we hear the bell ring. For it is apparent to me that I should not ask for whom the bell tolls... it tolls for me and my disintegrating presence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Love and Marriage

Mr. Cobb gives a fundamentally flawed reading of the majority opinion. It is not an indictment of the single life, notwithstanding the oft quoted language of Justice Kennedy. This momentous decision did not denigrate those who chose not to wed, but found constitutional mandate in the freedom of all to make that choice.

Last week the Supreme Court wrestled with the intended meaning of one sentence of the Affordable Care Act. Just as in that matter, the Obergefell decision must be read as a whole, not in isolated phrases, no matter how striking. While the minority in King v Burwell attempted to imbue meaning to 900 pages of legislation based on a single phrase, that argument was rightly rejected as specious.

So too, devoting an opinion piece to the notion that the same sex marriage declaration was a guide to love and happiness does a material disservice to the Court and to our nation. The gay and lesbian community fought a long and enormously hard battle for recognition, for understanding that they should have the same rights and privileges as all others. To try to turn that struggle into a footnote is both an absurd and insulting interpretation, not worthy of serious contemplation.