Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two Champions....Even If You Don't Like Left Turns

Obviously, I'm referring to NASCAR when I say, "left turns," though there are tracks that are not solely dedicated to drivers going around in circles.  Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the debate - are these guys really athletes?  Well, I'd say this - if you doubt that these 43 drivers in the Sprint Cup Series of NASCAR...or any racing series for that matter...are athletes, why not hop in one of their cars and take it for a spin around one of these tracks at 200 mph...for 500 miles.  They strap themselves into cars that have temperatures, during the summer months, that easily rise into three digits.  Again, for 500 miles.  They keep these cars about a foot apart, at harrowing speeds, while trying to figure out the best place on the track to set up a competitor for a pass, then work their way around them.  I know - left turns only, huh?  They do this on road courses twice a year, too, in what can become an endurance test.  I understand the debate will always be there - what is an athlete.  Wait...is it the guy standing on a patch of grass with a leather mitt waiting for someone to hit a ball so he can catch it?  is it someone that pumps their body up so they can deliver the most intense blow to a competitor?  Is it someone who walks up to a bar with weights on it, then lifts said bar?  We're going to argue this forever, so I'll offer this - there are times when that argument is a moot point and that the accomplishment itself transcends the, "Athlete or Not," question.  Sunday was one of those days.

Many people think NASCAR is a redneck sport.  Okay, we get it...and I'm not going to go into its southern, bootlegging roots.  You'd have to have been born in a foreign country to not know this.  Every year, these 43+ drivers start their season in Daytona Beach, FL in February.  They race virtually every weekend until November.  36 weeks.  Along the way, the garner points toward their Championship and the trophy - the coveted Sprint Cup (formerly Winston Cup).  As the season winds down and after the first 26 races, NASCAR's governing body decided they needed a little more excitement so they started the "Chase for the Sprint Cup," or, "The Chase," as we know it.  Only twelve of the top drivers, based on points, enter the Chase with a chance to win the Cup.  It's NASCAR's form of the playoffs.  Every year, they typically get to the final race and the points leader merely has to finish in 12th place or 18th place to clinch the Championship and take home the prize.  Typically.  That wasn't what happened Sunday in Miami, though.  What happened in Miami was poetry in motion, a clinic on how to perform under pressure, an example of dedication to the pursuit of excellence and doing what MUST be done to achieve your goals.  In short, this was an example that can, and will, be used for years to teach people that it is never over until the clock runs out or, more aptly, the checkered flag falls.

Miami's Homestead Speedway is the site of the NASCAR finale.  When the competitors arrived last week, there were only two in contention.  Two men that could possibly wind up taking home the prize.  They'd be on the track with 41 other drivers prepared to win the race, however it was down to the final two for the Championship.  To make the story even more compelling, they were only separated by three (3) points.  Consider that - each finishing position is one point less than the one above it, with a few bonus points being offered for leading a lap...and the most laps.  Three points.  Oh, and the leader, Carl Edwards, qualified first.  The other, Tony Stewart, qualified in 15th position.  I know, I know...I'm trying to explain so I can set the story up and it makes even more sense.  Bear with me.  So technically, Stewart had to finish 4 places (or more) ahead of Edwards.  If Edwards finished anywhere above say, 5th, Stewart would have to win the race.  As a matter of fact, the ONLY way Stewart could win the Cup and Championship, even if Edwards finished second, was to win.  At that point, they'd be tied and Stewart had won more races during the season.  He'd win the tiebreaker.  Seriously, though - a tie?  We all know the odds of that happening.  Still, Stewart was taking no chances - he told his team and, well, the world, he was going to win the race.  he was going to go out, spot Edwards 14 positions, and beat him for the Title.

Carl Edwards - the guy who once handed out business cards offering his services as a race car driver.  True story.  The same guy that appears in the Subway ads and with the Aflac duck.  He has even, if anyone remembers his cameo, appeared on the series, "24," with Kiefer Sutherland.  The guy gets around...and is a great race car driver.  As a matter of fact, this is the same guy that, last year, went flying into the catch fence at Talladega as his car flipped several times in a violent crash on the final lap, only to get out of his car and run the last 200 yards to cross the finish line.  great sense of humor.  This year, though, Carl wanted to win a Championship....badly.  

Tony Stewart, on the other hand, has always been racing.  He's one championships in 9 different series of auto racing including, the year before he came to NASCAR full-time, the Indy-car series.  Versatility, I believe they call it.  He has already won the NASCAR Championship twice and he, too, badly wanted to win in 2011.  In the end, it would come down to who could perform the best under pressure.  Oddly, they both did.  As I said, Stewart started 14 spots behind Edwards.  He (stewart) let it be known immediately how badly he would challenge all day as he dropped out of line as the green flag flew and was side by side with three other cars - 4-wide, they said - going into just the first turn.  He moved up a few spots and was headed to the front as they raced.  Then, as the caution flag came out and the cars came to pit road, his crew discovered a hole in his grill.  For anyone that is a fan that was watching, it spelled disaster.  I remember using a few expletives as, even though it was early in the race, I was certain it was the end of his chances.  The crew, however, didn't see it that way.  They fixed the grill and Stewart returned to the track...in 40th position.  Edwards?  He was leading, of course.  For some reason, though, Stewart remained calm.  I think they call it, "focus."  As they began racing again, he moved up in the standings.  40th....then 32nd...then 23rd....then....wait, what?  How'd he get to 15th?  This was a man on a mission and everyone watching will, one day, be glad they can say they witnessed it, if even on television.  Again, though, something happened.  Air wrenches got stuck and, when he came in to his pits leading, he left in 10th place...twice.  With all things going wrong, it almost certainly was a sign he was not supposed to get to the front.  He was going to have to settle for second place in the standings again.  Notably, though, he remained calm.  he kept his crew calm.  The pressure, at least in his position, was nothing short of intense...yet he remained calm.  A lesson in there?  I'd say.  You see, not only is he the driver of the team, he is co-owner.  No one that owns a team has gone on to win as a driver in 19 years.  As the race laps were winding down, all other cars came to their pits for tires and gas...except Stewart.  If he could stretch his fuel mileage, he might be able to make it to the finish on one fewer stop than the others.  We, the fans, sat transfixed...and screaming at the television for what seemed like a ridiculous move.  There was no way he could come back once again and win this late in the race.  The guy is 40, for goodness sake, and no one at that age has ever won a Championship, much less doing it by going from the back to the from several times.  The funny thing was that, during the race when starting from the rear, Stewart remarked to his crew on his radio that, "They're really going to be embarrassed when we get up there and beat them from back here."

As the laps wound down and the controversial call regarding his fuel was forgotten, we watched, transfixed, at someone summoning the will to win.  He would do what was needed to get the red and black Office Depot Chevrolet to the finish line before Edwards.  He took the lead with 30 or 40-some laps remaining...and never relinquished it.  He and Edwards (who was running in second behind him) were driving noticeably faster than the other cars.  They were anywhere from .8 to 1.3 seconds apart, consistently, for the remainder of the race.  On the final lap, somewhere between turns 1 and 2, Stewart radioed to his crew, "I got this,".....and he did.  

Stewart crossed the finish line ahead of Edwards by about one second, as promised.  The numbers told the story - they were, points-wise, tied for the Championship.  Only 11 weeks ago, Stewart had not won a race for they year and told the media his team was merely taking up a spot in the Chase.  They weren't doing well.  He then proceeded to go out and, in a 10-week playoff Chase, win 5 of the races.  In the end, he had passed a total of 118 cars on the day.  He had come from the back of the pack twice.  He became only the ninth driver to win the Championship three times.  He became only the fourth driver to enter the final race out of the lead...then win it all....and he's now done it with two teams.  This was the lesson of determination and will, of drive and intensity, and focus and promise.  A great lesson for anyone in every aspect of life. 

Carl Edwards?  He was the other lesson on the day.  As he just watched the Championship being wrestled from him rather than seeing it slip away, he crawled out of his car and had to face the media.  In his words,

"This night is about Tony Stewart. Those guys rose to the occasion, and they beat us fair and square," Edwards said. "That is all I had. We came here and sat on the pole, led the most laps and Tony still managed. That's it. That's all I got at the end. That's as hard as I can drive.
"I told my wife, 'If I can't win this thing, I'm going to be the best loser NASCAR has ever had.' So, I'm going to try really hard to keep my head up and know that we'll just go next year and we'll be just as hard to beat."
In the end, Edwards taught the lesson of humility and class.  he taught the lesson most of us try to teach our kids - Always give it your best and, if you don't succeed at achieving your goals, go try harder next time.  It was a great race and incredible life-lessons...even if you're not a NASCAR fan.  Oh, and for those that doubt they're athletes, still, know that Stewart can make his car fly, too.....

Until next time..............

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Please Don't Read This...You've Heard Enough Already. They're All Guilty.

Seriously, why are you reading this?  I told you not to...and I don't want you to be disappointed.  You're going to say, "Here we go again...more of the same."  Well, yeah....sort of.  Every time I write on this subject, I fear those of you that take the time to read will be turned off and will vow not to return.  First, let me say, "Thank you," for actually taking the time.  I appreciate everyone that reads, and offers opinions, on these blog posts.  I have had several people take the time to let me know what they think about the writings, and let me know they often feel the same way.  I'm not so sure with this story.  Let me be the first to say I understand.  To tell the truth, I now understand the power of the media in general.  They have me second-guessing myself, too.  I never really gave much thought to the particular 'slant' given to most stories.  I listened (or read), then formed my own opinion based on my experiences.  I now realize, after almost two weeks of constant "Penn State Scandal," stories, that there is some serious spin out there...and the media controls many people's thoughts.  I am amazed when I read an article online which is then followed by a 'Comments' section.  Wow.  I have never seen so many people have so many opinions that are polar opposites.  The extremes, as we've seen, are from almost canonizing Joe Paterno to wanting him to die a slow, painful death.  Again, I want to make a point I made in my last post:

I believe the sexual abuse of a child is the most horrid, unspeakable, unimaginable crimes that can ever be perpetrated...and the abusers need to be dealt with in the harshest ways possible.  There's a reason these people are viciously and violently attacked in prison - even murderers believe that harming a defenseless child is wrong.  I am all for putting them in the general population...and 'survival of the fittest'.

Now, with that said.....we are still being told 'new' details daily.  This story is far from over and the depths to which this scandal goes will, eventually, shock us all...or will it?  Please keep in mind the point I made in bold print above when reading my following comments.  This is, again, my quandary and why I am struggling with this story.  Do I believe Sandusky did this?  Do I believe Joe Paterno knew about it?  Do I believe there was a cover-up?  Let's start with those questions as I make this point - "believe" (obviously) being the operative word here - does it matter what any of us "believes?"  I think we've seen how far that will get us with the Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson trials.  The one thing we have in this country, and we dare not be selective about it, is the presumption of innocence.  It is the foundation of our legal system and we MUST honor this....even when our common sense is telling us otherwise.  We've seen Sandusky walked, in handcuffs, to the police car.  Then, as sickening as possible, we heard the interview with Bob Costas.  I, like most (if not all) of you, felt the need to shower (no pun intended) after that interview, didn't we?  If there was any doubt prior to that segment, it was erased when he started to speak.  His lawyer, in my opinion, is delusional in thinking that was anywhere close to a good idea.  Still, until he is put on trial, our system calls for that presumption.  I know, I know...believe me, I know - this has caused strong disagreements within my own family.  I am NOT saying he is innocent.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I am saying we have to put him on trial and prove that he did it.  I believe, too, that the evidence is substantial and he will most certainly be found guilty.  But wait....let me ask all of you this, too - does everyone remember a group of lacrosse players from Duke University?  Does anyone remember a daycare incident several years ago where the charges of sexual abuse were found to be false?  Again, I know- I heard the same interview.  Sandusky will not be that fortunate.  What if we had branded the students at Duke and the daycare workers as guilty without a trial, though?  I'm just asking because some very good friends have come down very hard on this entire system due to the allegations.  They have told me, personally, there is NO room for this kind of abuse anywhere because of the children.  Refer back to my bold-type statements.  I agree, but again.....you know where this is going.

My other issue, that I have probably made abundantly clear, is the issue I have with the treatment of Joe Paterno.  I get it - he could have done more.  Hell, HE gets it...and said so himself.  Can we remember one thing, though?  He wasn't abusing little boys.  He was not the one 'allegedly' seen in the shower.  He did, by all accounts from the Attorney General, Governor, Board of Trustees and everyone else, do what he was supposed to do.  He reported it.  Then, even though they said he did what he was required by law to do, the Governor went on national TV and blasted him for not doing enough.  The very same Governor that, when this investigation began, was Attorney General of Pennsylvania.  When this got to his desk in 2009, he convened a Grand Jury.  No indictments.  "Why," you ask?  Good question.  Apparently, the Governor has been too busy telling the world Joe Paterno should have done more.  We get that.  Joe does, too.  Someone even posed the question, "What if it were your child?  Would you be supporting him then?"  I'd damn sure be glad he did something as compared to what the authorities did four years earlier!  Again, what do we 'believe' and what do we 'know'?  Hence, my struggle internally.  I have been witness to, over my entire lifetime, the acts and guidance of Joe Paterno on this university.  We've all heard of the millions of dollars in donations, we've all heard about the library, and so on, and so on.  Trouble is, everyone that praised him forever just turned and ran.  I'm sorry, but I don't think that, after everything he's done, his act of not doing more and fulfilling his "moral" obligations warrants everything that has happened to him.  Fired.  Well, okay.  Not the way it was supposed to be, but Sandusky screwed him over on that one.  They discussed (though I have not heard the truth to it) taking down the statue, too.  Really?  Oh, and the Big Ten trophy, almost named the "Paterno Trophy, won't be now.  Again, we can keep pointing the finger at Joe, but...are we going to fire everyone that 'knew' but didn't fulfill their moral obligations?  I suppose it's a testament to the struggle I am feeling, along with the slanted media onslaught, that keeps me writing.  I cannot get it.  I sincerely hope, when ALL the facts come out at trial, that we dispose of everyone that was as careless and reckless as Paterno.  I hope, if we find out the Governor knew anything at all (as did the detectives and Centre County DA in 1998 when they set up their 'sting' operation at a child's home) he will resign for not fulfilling his moral obligations.  There, I suppose, is how I can settle this struggle within - if everyone is dealt with on an equal basis and receives the same punishments for committing the same infractions, I will be okay with it.  But what about the media?

Here's the newest story for you...and once again, it circles back to ESPN.  You know, the "Worldwide Leader In Sports."  Bernie Fine, Syracuse's associate head basketball coach, has been placed on administrative leave.  He's been accused of molesting two former ball boys for the team.  ESPN had the accusers on TV earlier.  Obviously, the coach and the head coach with whom he works deny this ever took place.  Surprisingly, though, Syracuse's V-P for Public Affairs made an interesting statement on behalf of the school - "In 2005, Syracuse University was contacted by an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men's basketball coach."  There was more to the statement, but the Syracuse Police reported to the school that, since the alleged activity took place back in the 80's and 90's, the statute of limitations had run out.  They would not investigate.  My question, silly as it might sound is, "When will we see the head coach of Syracuse being fired?  When will this guy be locked up and, at the very least, arraigned?  Seriously, he's only on administrative leave?"  Really??  I know it's hard to tell (maybe not), but there is only a little sarcasm in my voice.  In the interest of fairness, shouldn't Bernie Fine have been escorted to a police cruiser, too?  To be honest, I never heard this guy's name before...but we've all heard of Joe Paterno.  Thanks for anything good you did, Joe - but you had the pedophile Sandusky on your staff.  You HAD to have known, right?  I'm guessing that's why you made him "retire" back in 1999.  If that is, in fact, the case, shouldn't we all be arguing that Joe DID go beyond his legal obligations and do what he was morally obligated to do?  He got the guy out of there.  The school allowed him to stay, right?  Damn...there's the struggle again.  If you are at all interested in the Bernie Fine story on ESPN, you can find it, unbelievable as it might be, here:

Lastly, I will say this again so there is no doubt about my personal beliefs or that I am minimizing, in any way, what these children went through - I believe that the perpetrator needs to be brought to justice.  He needs to pay for these crimes.  These children, hopefully, will get any and all help they need, though the damage is already done.  We cannot 'unring' that bell, we cannot get the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sadly and horribly, their lives were forever changed, allegedly, by this perverse freak.  I do not say that to be flip or mean.  I have never, nor will I ever, understand pedophilia.  I cannot imagine how someone can think of perpetrating these crimes against innocent, helpless children.  I do believe, though, that some are being made to pay more for the sins of the perpetrator because they are the bigger name.  Sad to see how quickly those that wanted to be there, when the program was winning and having "Success with Honor," can turn and run.  Fortunately, we can all be fairly certain that tomorrow morning, promptly at 7:00 a.m., the Today Show will lead with the story of Bernie Fine at Syracuse.  That would be, as the accusations have now been leveled, the only fair and responsible thing for the media to do, don't you think?

Until next time.......

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The End Of An Era....And The Beginning Of An Uglier Mess.

It's been one week, though it feels like it's been a month.  It's been only one week since the initial reports began to come from the place nestled among the quiet Pennsylvania hills known as "Happy Valley."  One week since we first heard the initial reports of an ugly, horrible, 'I-still-can't-believe-it' story about the lives that had their innocence ripped from them unwillingly.  A single week in our lives that shook the foundation of a proud university and living legend.  I refuse to say a "once proud," university - they remain proud.  They are, like the rest of us, shocked and astounded, yet they remain proud.  They are proud of the institution - not of the man that perpetrated these vile, horrific acts.  That, quite simply, is what makes this so difficult.  In the past week, we have all been bombarded with news reports by media from around the country.  We've heard reports on television and radio, read things on Facebook and Twitter.  Stories have gotten twisted, facts have been askew, and we have, without benefit of hearing from some of this involved, rushed to judgement.  Before I go any further, I want to point out one thing that I DO NOT want to be in question:

I believe that sexual abuse of a child is a horrible, despicable, nasty, vile act that needs to be dealt with immediately.

Now....I felt that needed to be said because of the comments I've had leveled at me during the week for expressing an opinion.  Please know that I absolutely feel that way and offer a quick story as demonstration of how I feel.  While living in Virginia, my next door neighbor was a State Trooper.  On several occasions, we discussed people that perpetrated these crimes.  My daughter, at that time, was three-years old and I gave my neighbor specific instructions.  "If anything, God forbid, should ever happen like that and it involves my daughter, you need to come to me first immediately.  I want you to handcuff me to a chair...then tell me what happened.  If you don't...and I find out while you aren't around, you'll be investigating a homicide."  To this day, I cannot imagine a parent that would not feel that way...which makes parts of the story coming from Penn State that much harder to imagine.  This didn't just happen once, allegedly, it was reported to the police years ago.  I don't though, want to get a head of myself.  As I said earlier, a few friends have questioned my comments earlier in the week regarding the situation and Coach Paterno.  Let me say this - I have read the Grand Jury report which, truth be told, is not for the faint of heart.  I have read previous articles regarding the earliest accounts of this monster's (Jerry Sandusky) acts.  I have read several blogs, as well as many media reports, that want to crucify JoePa, as he is affectionately known the world over.  For everything I've read.....and for the reports that will, most certainly, be forthcoming....I am trying to figure out why we've become fixated on what seems like Joe and only Joe.  Granted, he has been on the coaching staff for 61 years and the head coach for 46 years.  I get it. I understand why, with a "living legend" such as he, it's the biggest part of the story.  The fact that this man first announced his retirement, then was fired a short time later, is bound to be the focal point of the reports.  With that said, let me lay out the facts as I understand them.  If I am incorrect, please feel free to let me know.  As I said, trying to muddle through the "news" as compared to the opinions has been trying at best. I realize, too, there are events other than what I will write about, however these are the ones that illustrate my "big picture," and where I have difficulty with this.

As far back as 1998, two detectives were part of a "sting" operation where Sandusky admitted to the mother of a boy that he had showered with her son.  He admitted it was "inappropriate" and asked for her forgiveness, though he knew he would not get it from her.  At that time, the detective and a member of PA's dept of Public Welfare interviewed Sandusky, well aware of the admission to the mother.  The Centre County District Attorney decided there would be No Charges Filed.  Okay, that appears to be a huge red flag for me.  There were no charges filed?  He was allowed to remain at the school until June of 1999 when he retired.  Even then, he still held 'Emeritus' status and had access to the school...as well as the charity where he met his victims, The Second Mile.  In 2002, Sandusky was witnessed, not once but twice, performing sexual acts on minors.  Though my skin is crawling as we speak, I apologize.  trust me, it leads to my bigger point.  I know, I know...hurry and get there.  Bear with me.  The first of these two incidents involved a janitor who, though he made a report to his supervisor and was instructed to speak with someone higher up the chain of command, was only a temporary employee who reported nothing after that.  The other incident, the now-infamous 'McQueary' incident, involved the grad student witnessing another act in the showers at the football complex.  He was seen by both Sandusky and the boy, yet left.  he went to his office, phoned his father, then went to see Coach Paterno the following day.  Paterno, in turn reported it to the Athletic Director, Tim Curley, and V-P for Business & Finance, Gary Schultz, who, it needs to be noted, was the head of the Penn State Police Dept. the same authority as a municipal police department.  

Those facts, for the purpose of this little story, are all I need to explain my earlier sentiments.  From there, as we all know now, Joe Paterno announced his retirement and was then, within hours, summarily fired by the Board of Trustees.  The PA Attorney General stated, without question, that Coach Paterno did everything he was required to do by law.  I know many of you, as I have been told (and Joe later admitted) feel he should have done more.  That's part of the quandary for me.  As was mentioned in a great piece I read by an attorney, he did report what he was told by the grad student, McQueary who actually saw the event taking place.  As the attorney pointed out (hence, my quandary), for Joe to go to the police with information he was told could have opened him up to a charge of libel, not to mention the university to a lawsuit.  Now, before everyone wants to scream at me, let me finish.  Put yourself in that position - something I have wrestled with all week.  Would you want to live in a society where someone can go to the police, based on something they were told, and report a crime against YOU?  We've all seen it, too - someone with an ax to grind against a student, or an adult, claims to have been molested.  Eventually we find out it was a false statement.  Understand - I am not saying ANY of this was false.  I'm merely asking - would you want to live in a society where that was possible?  On the same note, many are crucifying him for not doing more - he had a moral obligation to go to the police.  He did, actually, as I noted above.  He should have continued when nothing happened. I understand.  He has said so himself.  He, however, did not sweep this under the rug or investigate it and close the case as the earlier detectives and DA did.  Instead, he got fired for what is perceived as his lack of "doing the right thing."  The Governor of PA, too, appears to be grandstanding with this horrific situation.  The media is having a field day.  Everyone wants to hang Paterno.  All I am asking is, "Is that really fair to make him the scapegoat?"  It should be noted, too, that the attorney representing a few of the boys involved feels that the Board of Trustees "got it wrong."  He feels there was a rush to judgement regarding Coach Paterno which, he then noted, got the University in this mess in the first place.

I will say this - I have many friends that are the Penn State 'Faithful."  I grew up, as many of us did, with only one name that was synonymous with Penn State - Joe Paterno.  He's the only coach, until today, that ever roamed the sidelines in my lifetime.  He has always been the model of class and a strong work ethic.  Am I saying he could have or should have done more?  Yes, in some capacity he should have continued to push for Sandusky's removal from the school.  Trust me, though - there are more people that will lose their jobs and had more knowledge of this than Joe did.  My friends, as I mentioned, are "Penn State Proud," and I believe they need to remain so.  They will, I know.  This has been difficult for everyone involved, most notably the children whose lives were indelibly and horrifically scarred forever.  Their innocence was taken and for that, Jerry Sandusky must pay.  Still, it has been an incredibly sad week.  I will not minimize the victims, the boys, however I believe Joe was a victim as well.  Say what you want - and many will - he did not perpetrate the act, reported what he was told had been witnessed, and the system failed these children.  I hear the media talking of how his legend is tarnished.  Perhaps.  I believe, though, that he did more than many others.  While he has been fired, Curley and Schultz are still part of the university, their attorney fees being paid by the school.  Joe is on the outside.  I don't agree with it.  My fear, too, is that this will sadly and quickly affect the man.  We watched Bear Bryant retire, on his terms, and die a mere month later.

No, this isn't a cheating scandal, it isn't tattoos traded for athletic items, it isn't an agent paying a player.  This is far more serious and the man is taking responsibility for his inaction...after he did, in fact, act.  We've crucified and vilified him.  We've attacked him in the press.  We've extinguished a light that, quite honestly, shone bright for many years.  Joe won't be the same now...and neither will we.  Our support of him is not"blind," as some have written, nor are we following him like lemmings.  We admired him for what he did...and does...for the youth of the world.  Sadly, they tell me that's what he will be remembered for - what he didn't do.  I disagree.  Not in my heart, anyway.

Until next time..................

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why We Say, "Thank You"....

They come from all walks of life.  Some are from wealthy families and have gone through ROTC training. Some are from less-affluent families and enlist because they want a job or to learn a trade.  They are a brilliant cross-section of Americans...and they are our military,  For years, we've been without a "draft" - it's all been voluntary.  Shortly before I turned 18, the government mandated that we would all have to sign up for Selective Service....however, we were never called.  There was no need.  Even when the country entered future wars, we did not begin drafting people into service.  Again, it's voluntary.  Imagine.  There are actually people that still see this as a valiant thing to do - fight for their country.  They enlist hoping, but knowing well, that they may be called into service and put in harm's way.  Yet the continue to enlist.  Yes, we are giving them a paycheck.  Has anyone ever looked at what we pay them?  We give them a trade or an education.  Fair enough - it's the least we can do.  We count on them, giving them nary a second thought most days, to protect us and our freedoms.  It always takes a day like today - Veteran's Day - for us to honor them.  We've gotten better, though...and for that, I'm sure they are appreciative.

We are getting better at shooing our appreciation more than once or twice a year.  We now see men and women in uniform and thank them, publicly, for giving to their country.  We thank them for their service whether they are active or retired....and that is a good thing.  We've come to show the appreciation they deserve.  I remember once, several years ago, that I attended a seminar in Charlotte, NC.  One of the speakers was a man I'll never forget.  He was tall, well-dressed in a suit, and spoke passionately.  he described his return from Vietnam and his return to life in Seattle, WA.  I remember how he told of walking through the airport, dressed in his freshly-pressed uniform, and recounting how one man actually spit on him.  Called him a baby-killer.  If you remember anything of that time, you know the stories are true.  I know, I know...it wasn't a war.  It was a police action.  Our boys were there.  They were put in an untenable situation and asked to do unspeakable things.  they had no choice in being there.  They came home desperately needing help, both mentally and physically.  It was, in my opinion, a sad blemish and black mark on our society.  We treated the horribly.  This man told, later, how he then moved to an area near the Grand canyon.  He became a tour guide on the Snake River until one of his groups persuaded him to invest the meager money he had.  Now, after moving back into society, he is wealthy...fortunately.  His is an isolated tale, though.  We did less than what we could have....and we were hurtful to those that were called to duty.  One of the things I am proudest with this generation is that we've learned how to show our appreciation.

How many of us can imagine what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers went through in early wars?  Running through the streets of a city as it was being bombed, covering themselves, hoping they wouldn't get killed.  What about our fathers?  Running through jungles halfway around the world, hoping they wouldn't see leaves and branches shift just as the flash of a muzzle alerted them to their pending, almost certain death.  better still, what of our sons and daughters?  They live in a desert, worried that each trip down a desert road or into an Iraqi town might be their last as the people they are trying to help walk up to shake their hand before blowing themselves, and everyone near, to pieces.  These men and women have died for our country...and do it for a meager paycheck or a trade.  They do it for their pensions, certainly...which typically pale in comparison to them legislators who sent them across the globe.  We say thank you far too little.

One of the most moving trips I have ever made was to the "Fields of Stone," - Arlington National Cemetery.  The picture at the right is one of my favorites, having read the story of the unit that protects the "Tomb of the Unknowns."  24/7, they guard the Tombs.  They do not care what the weather brings - heat of summer, blizzards, hurricanes - they stand watch.  They are a proud unit, as are all our military units, as they preserve and respect the brave Americans that have yet to be identified.  It is their honor.  If you have not been, I recommend the trip.  It will be moving and inspiring.  We need to remember, each and every day, that we live the lives we do because they stand watch for us, protecting us as none other.

Only when you see the enormity of this place, can you truly grasp the lives that have been given in our honor.  If you want to humble yourself and show appreciation, too, visit a Veterans Administration hospital.  As you walk through and see the men and women in wheelchairs, on crutches, without limbs, you can then grasp what we truly ask of them.  The motto of the Marines might be, "The Brave, The Proud," however I can tell you they are all - regardless of which branch of the military they served - the Brave & the Proud.  They deserve so much from us...let's not forget to tell them.  Always.

May God Bless the men and women of the US Military.  We love you, we appreciate you, and without question, we are proud of you.  Thank you for making us safe and giving us such incredible lives to live.

Until next time..............

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It Wasn't Supposed To Happen This Way.....But They Finally Found Their Out

The end was supposed to be as storied as the career.  After 46 years at the helm of one of the greatest programs in college athletics, it appears this will be the end for Joe Paterno.  It appears, by all outward appearances, reports and stories, that this is the one they've been waiting for.  THIS is the way to finally remove Joe Paterno from those sidelines without making the institution appear as if they kicked the old man to the curb.  THIS is for cause.  But is it?  Let me begin by saying that, though I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, I was never one of the "Penn State Faithful."  I attended Temple University and, once a year when the Owls travelled to State College, I cheered for the decided underdog, knowing the score would most likely be a huge, overstated loss to the Nittany Lions.  Along the way, though, I always had respect for Coach Paterno.  I respected the fact that he had a program that was know simply as, "Linebacker U."  Then, as time passed and we all grew older, I came to respect what Joe Paterno represented.  I've said several times that, when I think of college coaches that "made a difference," and were, "the Class of the Field," the names that came to mind in my lifetime were Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, and Joe Paterno.  It wasn't solely about the wins and losses  but, rather, molding boys into men.  It was teaching them right from wrong.  It was instilling in them that their grades and graduation were more important because football would one day be gone.  It was making them well-rounded individuals with a sense of decency and morals.  That, quite honestly, is what is so troubling about the current situation.

By now, I do not have to recount the stories or charges against Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's long-time defensive coordinator.  I don't have to go into the cover-up that was, apparently, perpetrated by the Athletic Director or a V-P at the school.  Suffice it to say that, when we are dealing with child abuse on these levels (ANY level, for that matter), they should be thrown into general population of the nearest prison.  How about we let them get what they gave?  They most certainly will.  Every story I've ever heard tells of inmates despising child-molesters more than anyone.  I'm fine with that, especially after hearing the stories told about what was witnessed in the locker room shower.  Here, however, is where it gets hazy for me.  Joe Paterno was told about what was seen....and reported it....yet nothing was done.  Now the calls are coming for Paterno to be gone because he should have done more.  Yes, he DID follow the letter of the law.  Yes, he DID report it as he was supposed to BUT he did not do enough which was morally wrong.  And there it is.  The reason I find this to be hazy at best.  Am I giving him the benfit of the doubt or being unfairly slanted toward keeping Joe Paterno at the helm?  Perhaps...but hear me out, please.  The reporter I listened to on the NBC Nightly News acknowledged that, "while Coach Paterno did what he was legally obligated to do, he fell short on moral grounds."  I understand the thought process, but.....don't we think anyone living in glass houses ought to seriously drop the rocks?  Isn't it questionable as to whether others fall short of going the extra mile when it comes to moral obligations?  Yes, yes.....we're going to say I am comparing apples to oranges, but...how many of us report things when we see a child with bruises on them?  How many of us fail to report spousal abuse?  How many of us go above and beyond in our willingness to get involved with what we perceive to be, "not our problem."?  True, we have no legal obligation to do so.  I understand that.  We're not talking about "legal" obligations, though.  We're talking morality, remember?  Before you think I have my head buried in the sand, know this - I agree that more could have been done.  If JoePa had never reported this to the university, I would be at the front of the line calling for his ouster.  I, and every die-hard PSU fan I know, would be calling for his firing today.  Personally, I think we will watch the Coach resign or retire because the university now has what they consider to be a just cause.  Not one of them, in my opinion, wanted to be the one "pulling the trigger," on his removal.  This situation, as sad, ugly and disgusting as it has become, is the "Perfect Storm," for Joe's removal.

 I look at the Coach and think about his being as old as my grandmother.  i think of how many lives he touched in those 46 years.  I think of the disgusting, blatant disregard Sandusky had, not only for those poor ,defenseless children, but for Coach Paterno and Penn State.  This school didn't get to be one of the few universities without a major scandal, ever, by chance.  Much of that....nay, the majority of that, was JoePa.  Even among the schools with none of the scandals, PSU was, by far, the biggest.  It is amazing, to anyone that follows college athletics, that is even possible.  No textbook scandals, no cheating scandals, no drug charges, no hit-and-run drunk drivers.  None of that.  He ran a clean program that was above reproach.  Now, because of one person that was a vile, disgusting freak, as well as two others that put the university above human dignity and innocence, that is gone.  All of it washed away in a moment...and it's heartbreaking.

Perhaps it's because many of my close friends are the PSU faithful I mentioned.  Maybe it's because I cannot imagine, at age 84, getting up and going to work every day as I had for the previous 60 or so years.  Maybe it's because he is the winningest coach...EVER...and has done it with style and class.  There is a saying the CEO of our company asks us to live by - "Do good by doing what's right."  I'm sorry, but Joe did what was right - he just didn't go above and beyond and do more.  I suppose that, when you live your life doing the right thing, more is expected.  At one crucial point, when more was expected of this great man (not just a great coach), he failed morally.  For that, he will always be remembered more for the scandal than the accomplishments.  I hope that is not true.  JoePa should have been able to ride off into the sunset, hoisted high above the crowd on the shoulders of his players, one last time.  During a season that has seen only one loss and the Nittany Lions headed toward a possible Big Ten Championship, it could have been the year for Joe to ride off on his own terms.  Now, so very sadly, that won't be the case.  My greatest fear is that, like Bear Bryant before him, Joe won't be able to take the solitude.  Bear Bryant died a mere four weeks after his retirement...and we pray that isn't what lies in Joe's future.  My personal opinion is that I want to see Coach Paterno continue to roam the sidelines.  I want to see him there until HE decides it's time to go.  I hope he is revered for the fact that he has done much for the school, the students, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  It might be time for the Coach to go...soon....but not like this. 

If I could have one wish for this man, it would be for him to have one more brilliant Saturday afternoon or Bowl Game.  Watching from the sidelines as it came down to the final seconds, only to see his team punch it in the end-zone for the winning score.  He deserves that.  he certainly doesn't deserve what we are heaping upon him right now.

Until next time..................

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dedicating The Field...But Where Are The Musicians?

I wrote, not long ago, about returning to my hometown because the school district had just completed renovating the football stadium.  Sheppard-Myers Field is a 'landmark' in the town and where there have been many football games and band competitions.  While most schools have their field near, or next to, the high school, this is actually at the opposite end of town in a residential neighborhood.  It isn't ideal, parking is difficult, but it's worked.  They've taken a facility that was used for many years and upgraded it...without making it too extravagant.  To say that, you have to understand - I'm not saying they "cut corners," or didn't provide an upscale facility.  They did.  The re-dedication took place this past Friday evening and, as is typical, I got there early.  I happened to arrive at the stadium as the maintenance crew was leaving.  Fortunately, one of said crew is a high-school classmate and someone I haven't seen in about a year.  Though he wanted to get home, he took the time to give me the "five-cent tour."  We saw the locker rooms, the rest rooms, the newer ticket booth, as well as the field house beyond the far end-zone that houses the maintenance equipment and a weight room for the players.  The track has been resurfaced and there are now areas for handicapped patrons, too.  All in all, they did a nice job and should be proud of the accomplishments. 

For the dedication ceremony, they asked alumni to return to march in the parade and play the alma mater before the game.  We'd leave one of the elementary schools, march about two miles to the stadium, then take the field as we'd done more than 30 years ago.  Surprisingly (maybe not), we had almost 50 alumni show up to participate in the festivities.  They represented classes from the 60's until present day, and they could still play - quite well, actually.  For the parade, we were asked to join the current high school band.  That's when, as a former member of a band that garnered quite a few honors, reality set in...along with the heartbreak.  You see, when we were in school (hard to believe I am about to launch in to a "good old days" segment), we invested quite a bit into that band.  We spent two weeks at the end of every summer at camp.  Camp was held at the high school and we were there for at least eight hours a day.  It was tedious but it was the investment of time that we knew would pay dividends.  It did.  As I mentioned previously, more than a few competitions were won, two state championships, and 2nd place in our division and 5th overall at the National Championships.  We were very good...and took a great amount of pride in what we did.  The sports teams were good, however the band gained most of the notoriety.  Most of that had to do with the fact that, in a school with a total enrollment of less than 800 for grades 9-12, there were almost 150 of us involved in the marching band. 

Back to the "heartbreak."  When we lined up, I was looking for the current band.  They were there, however the number, I am saddened to say, was incredibly low - less than 20 members, I believe.  I was shocked.  The picture at the left, you see, was taken in Whitewater, WI just after our preliminary competition.  That's our group.  Hard to look at it, even today, and not feel a certain amount of pride in what we'd accomplished.  For the life of me, however, I could not understand why there were no marching band members in the current band.  School enrollment in the district is down, certainly, and I understand it's a matter of sheer numbers.  A bigger issue, it seems, is the fact that they just don't make the music program a priority.  Let's be honest - it is a documented fact that children exposed to the arts do better academically.  They are more well-rounded.  Trust me, too - they learn more than just music.  We were taught, in no small way, how to manage our peers, how to affect change, and how to grow as people.  We were taught those "old school" values, too - take responsibility, work hard, treat each other the right way.  I said before that it was due to our role models - the teachers and the parents.  They were all involved and, even if they might have had something better to do, spent time with their kids.  They gave us direction and taught us purpose.  Mr Brodie, Mr Shreffler, the Parents Group - each and every one of them gave of themselves for us.  It was a different time and, sadly, it shows in the current group.  I've been told that the current director doesn't want to do marching band.  Wait.....what now?  Doesn't want to do it so there's no band?  Several people asked, just Friday night, how they can become involved in helping resurrect the program.  They prefaced it with, "I don't have kids in the program yet, but..."  They, they people paying the taxes and the salaries, want the program.  How does a teacher get to make the call of whether there will be a marching band or not?  I'm....well, confused.  Ironically, one of our former members from "back in the day," that is still involved with the competitive marching association has even volunteered to help get the program back to where it once was.  He's been told, basically, "Thanks, but no thanks."  If this is how our teachers view their positions in this day and age, I imagine my questions about education and it's downturn have been answered.  Why are we just shuttling kids through school?  It appears that, finally, the generation of entitlement and selfishness has reached a certain age...and they are now the adults charged with teaching our youth.

The group to the right shows some, but not all, of the alumni that attended Friday's ceremony.  Many could not make it to our "after party," however they were there in spirit.  Our former leader could not make it either, however sent a donation to help defray the cost of our evening.  How many times do you think that happens?  This is a person that certainly spent much time with us years ago and to this day remembers us as we remember him.  For him to do that was certainly unnecessary, yet much appreciated.  I wonder how many other educators have that kind of relationship with their former students.  How many of them would take the time to acknowledge this type of get-together, much less see that we had a good time.  Those days are gone, I fear.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it doesn't happen.  I'm sure some educators do, however we were very fortunate.  I think it says a lot that, of the people shown above, only a small number were from the years other than the classes of 1975-1982 when we were riding the "wave" of success.  So here's to hoping that someone reads this and thinks they might want to change what is currently happening.  here's to someone reading this that can affect change.  Here's to someone reading this that might, in some small way, want to make a difference.

Until next time.............

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sad Story of a Mom Who Helped the Underprivileged...and The Kids Who Strayed To The Wrong Path

As usual, it's been a while since I've written.  i typically wait for a story that jumps out and makes me say, "Yep, that's it.  This is something I think others need to , but might not have, heard about."  Remember this name - Marion Hedges.  She's a 47-year old real estate agent in Manhattan.  Mrs Hedges came from a wealthy background and is married to, I believe, an investment banker.  She has two children, one of whom was with her on Sunday afternoon as she headed homw with bags of candy for the trick-or-treating children in their neighborhood.  Mrs Hedges, so the story is told, liked to volunteer and help the underprivileged children in this area of Harlem.  She was one of the few that actually "walked the walk."  She didn't just talk of the possibilities...she tried to make them a reality.  She volunteered at the local center that was designed to help the kids from this neighborhood.  Then, at 5:40 on Sunday afternoon, her life, and the lives of two of the very boys she was trying to help, changed forever.  As she left Target with her 13-year old son, two 12-year old boys were playing with a shopping cart on a walkway four stories above her.  They decided to throw the cart over the edge and, as misfortune would have it, it landed on Marion Hedges as her son watched in horror.  Let's face it - we wll know the kind of marks these carts can leave if they hit your car in a parking pot.  Imagine, if at all possible, standing four stories below and having it come crashing down on you.  She was rushed to the hospital, however she has what her husband describes as, "a thousand machines hooked up to her."  She is undersedation and is intubated.  In the best of cases, she will have a very long rehabilitation ahead of her with little hope of regaining the person she once was.  The boys are twelve years old.  Imagine.  Two "hoodlums," as they were once called.  I prefer stronger terms not fit to print.  The one boy has a mother that said years ago that he would be her "problem child," however many of us say that.  These mothers, though, tend to be extremely prophetic.  I'm sure it has little to do with the fact that the mother is never home because she has to work two jobs.  The step-father is a bicycle messenger that has been arrested multiple times for (here's a shocker) selling drugs to undercover police officers.  The other boy, whose mother would not speak to reporters, tends to be out roaming the streets at night, using profanity-laced language, and disrespecting adults. 

I know....I should not be surprised.  I am.  I am still surprised when I read these stories and wonder how things all went so wrong.  We aren't allowed to discipline our kids, yet we wonder why they act the way they do.  We wonder why they speak to adults, as well as their peers, with the language they use.  We can point to the music they listen to, we can point to television, we can point a million different directions.  Let's be perfectly clear, though - this is an issue that we, as parents, should have control over.  I have said it many times, as well as been a victim of it myself - parents cannot discipline their children for fear of two things: retribution and criminal charges.  We are now living in a society where the parents will go to jail for abuse while the child "acts a fool."  The children today, though we haven't had any situations like it lately (knock on wood), are killing themselves and others when they walk into a school loaded with automatic weapons.  They are defiant and feel entitled.  The culture has changed...and we have allowed it.  When these children are allowed to ruin other's lives with little or no regard for people or property, it's a problem.  This woman did absolutely nothing to hurt these children, did not ignore their "plight," nor did she wantonly disregard them.  She took the time to do what others will not.  She took her money and time and spent it, not only on her family, but the underprivileged.  For that, she will forever pay.  It is a sad and sorry commentary on our culture and society.  Please....I am begging the adults and lawmakers of this country - let us teach oru children right from wrong.  let us teach them that there ae consequences for their actions.  Let us disciplne them, somehow, when they do wrong.  For the sake of society as a whole....let us be the parents that we complained about as kids.

Until next time.............