Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What It Means To Be A Crimson Tide Fan - The Role We Play and The Expectations

I have to admit, there were plenty of mind-numbing, thoughtless, hateful comments that pushed me to write after the loss to Ole Miss this past Saturday.  I read many hateful, negative comments on various pages and sites, as well as criticisms of the fans.  I have to admit, I was even a bit upset at myself after it was pointed out to me that I had allowed myself to get pulled into it.  I was angry and embarrassed, as many of us were, about several incidents that took place during, and after, the game which got me thinking. A lot. Especially on a long drive with nothing to do BUT think.  From nowhere, a long-forgotten quote came to mind:

"To those whom much is given, much is expected." 

 - John F. Kennedy

For some reason, it stuck in my mind and I questioned, if only for a brief moment, it's correlation.  Was it applicable to my thoughts and our responsibilities as fans?  I've come too the realization that it is...and there are many reasons I feel that way.  Much has been given to us as fans of the program.  "Given to us," is the term I use because, I dare say, no one reading this has actually been a part of the team that plays on the field.  Don't get me wrong - I share Coach Saban's ideal that we, as fans, have our own particular job to do and our own special part of the 'Process' which is to provide support.

I remember walking into Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time.  The south end zone had not yet been enclosed.  As we walked through the walkway leading to our seats, I was aware of the sense of anticipation.  Oh, sure, I had been in other stadiums...but this was Bryant-Denny.  This was the place built by the Bear and the champions of years gone by.  As we made the last two or three steps toward the seats and came out of the walkway....there it was.  It opened before me and, I have to confess, it still does.  I make myself aware of it every time I walk into these hallowed grounds.  This is a special place, my friends.  A place where the grass is greener, the sun shines brighter, the atmosphere is....well, electric.  It doesn't matter who they are playing - Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida, or Auburn or any number of so-called 'cupcake' teams - every time I go to a game in this stadium, I make myself keenly aware of what I am about to see.  As we sit and watch the videos on the large, oversized screens in each corner of the stadium, I silently glance at the clock in the corner.  It tells me how soon we can expect the walk from the Tunnel and kickoff.  When a few players run to the field to warm up, they are always greeted the same way - with cheers and applause.  We love these kids and what they are about to give us yet again.  When the time finally arrives - less than half an hour before kickoff - for the team to take the field, I feel it.  I kid you not, I literally feel wave of unbelievable good fortune wash over me yet again.  I am about to see the Alabama Crimson Tide play football.  I DO NOT CARE WHO THEY PLAY!  I just know I get to watch them......and that, to me, is a gift no one can give me but the team wearing crimson jerseys with white numbers on the helmets.  THEY give me this gift....and they don't even know it.  Nick Saban has assembled the finest staff of coaches and players IN THE NATION right her in Tuscaloosa!  He has NO IDEA what he is giving me as a gift...which is why I choose to support them.  Look at what they are doing for me....FOR US!  Don't get me wrong, I know why they do it. the game and the competition.  Some are playing so they keep their scholarship and get a quality education.  Others, still, are trying to get to the next level and become professional players.  Yes, they're doing it for themselves...HOWEVER...Coach Saban also instills the values that they are doing it as, and for, the team.  He is teaching these boys to become men.  Better people, if you will, by instilling values they will carry with them through life.  Still, I have to admit, they're doing it for us, too.  And we should be DAMN GRATEFUL!

Show of hands - how many of you, when the mercury topped 100 degrees, would be willing to strap on the pads and jersey, buckle the chinstrap, and spend hours playing this game?  Let's try to go back a few months when we sat, transfixed, listening to the evening news and waiting for the sportscaster to give us the Tide practice update.  Do you remember counting down the days until the season began?  I do.  It was....well, it seemed to last forever.  The season is 1/3 over already.  These young men have been there in the grueling heat of summer and will be there in the cold hours of winter pounding into each other, tackling each other, and practicing the same play for hours in the relentless pursuit of perfection.  My question to you is, "Why do they deserve less from us?"  If these young men are willing to do that so that we can do our part and bear witness to their efforts, why is it okay for us to give less than 100%?  Why is it okay for us to criticize them or the coaching staff?  Honestly, why is it okay for us to do anything other than support them in every endeavor?

Along with being a cheering section, we have other responsibilities, too.  One of those is to perform with the same level of class that is expected of this team.  I'd like to point out that this town did not bear witness to a 13th Championship for 17 years.  17 YEARS!!!  We, along with the school, found that unacceptable.  Mal Moore found it extremely unacceptable as he had been part of this university as a player, coach, the AD.  What did Mal do?  Only went out and got the 'Ungettable," Nick Saban.  The university and we...WE...have been reaping the rewards of his work for several years now.  This past week, I've heard more than enough criticism of both the coach and his staff to last for the rest of my lifetime.  I want to personally slap someone every time I hear them do it.  Why?  Well, I can give you 17 very good reasons. Lest you think he's 'lost it', you might want to check the recruiting classes we get each year...for the past 5 years! Coaches Saban, Smart, Kiffin, and the others cannot perform on the field.  Their position is excellence in play-calling and game management.  The players have that responsibility.  I said it earlier in the week and will say it again - please, will the person who never commits an error or makes a mistake at work kindly make your presence known.  I have yet to meet them.  These are 20-23-year old kids and, though they appear to be brick walls with clothing, they are kids.  Let's try to be understanding that they are in the pursuit of excellence...not excellent every time.  If they make a mistake, we want nothing more for them to admit it, correct it, and not make it again.  Period.  We can ask nothing else.

While we are on the subject of class, let's deal with the treatment of opponents and other schools.  I have heard one of the Ole Miss players being called everything from a criminal to a thug to a....well, I can't repeat some of the things I've read.  Many Alabama fans have been calling for his dismissal and stating that he should be charged with assault.  We act, dare I say, 'holier than thou' on these occasions and it honestly bothers me.  Why, you ask? (go ahead, ask)  I'll tell you why - it wasn't that long ago that we had a few players charged, publicly, for beating a student, taking his debit card, then using it. Yes, they were removed from the team - I understand that.  My point is, if you're living in a glass house, drop the rocks.  We have had our share of problems with this program, though they (fortunately) dealt with quickly.  Still, there is NO reason to be saying some of the hateful, horrid things directed at other teams and their fans.  We are better than that.  By now, many (if they are still reading this) are saying, "What are we supposed to do? Just say nothing about the actions of another team or their fans??"  That's exactly what I am saying.  I remember several years ago when Penn State came to Tuscaloosa for a renewal of that rivalry.  They came to town and, much to their actual surprise, left feeling like they had been at the most hospitable place on earth (short of Disneyland, I'm sure).  Seriously, when we travelled north the following year, their comments to fellow PSU fans was, "Please show the Alabama fans the same hospitality we were shown and treat them as well as they treated us."  You have NO idea how good that felt.  Did Bama beat them?  Absolutely?  Were they unkind toward us or the team?  In no way, shape, or form.  We need to have class in everything we do, every day, as we strive for the same degree of excellence that is expected of the team.  They, as players, deserve that and should expect nothing less.

I realize there are points I will want to make later but, for now, this is a start.  This is my message to the Crimson Tide faithful and, I hope, the feelings of many rather than a few.  Perhaps I am wrong and I am in the minority.  I hope not.  For those that take the time to read this, I thank you and hope that you, too, will join me in doing our best always for this amazing team and university...while making sure that we discourage others from giving any less than their absolute best in supporting the Alabama Crimson Tide.

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My Disappointment & Contempt for a Few Alabama 'Fans'...and the Bad Name They Give Us All.

I'm pretty sure your mindset, upon reading the title of this post, is one of defensiveness.  I beg you not to feel that way until you read it all...please try to have an open mind and read what I am saying completely before forming an opinion.  If, however, you are one of the fans I am addressing, your mind will already have been made up and you're already muttering negative things, both about me and, worse, about the Crimson Tide team. Still. I fear this will a rather lengthy post as many of the things I want to say have been on my mind for some time, yet I haven't written about them until now. Sadly, especially in light of yesterday's game, they need to be addressed.

First, allow me to set the scene.  I have been an Alabama Crimson Tide fan since I was in high school in PA, a feeling borne out of respect and admiration for Bear Bryant and his ability to keep his program in the national spotlight year after year.  In later years, I moved to Alabama and have called it home for more than a few years now.  Earlier this year, my daughter (who fell in love with the Tide upon seeing her first home game at the age of 11 and deciding she wanted to go to school there) enrolled as a full-time student.  She is part of the Crimson Tide family and is now forever linked to the school and its traditions.  While being proud OF her, I am as proud FOR her.  Her love of the school, the town, and the team is unmatched. 

We attend most, if not all, of the Crimson Tide home games in Tuscaloosa.  The away games we've seen have either been the Kickoff Game (twice in Atlanta) or the National Championship Game (in Miami) against Notre Dame.  I had not, until yesterday, experienced the rich traditions of the SEC and pre-game activities of any of the other universities.  I decided to make the trip to Oxford, MS to watch the matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama mostly because I have a customer that is an Ole Miss alumnus.  I had hoped to meet them at The Grove - the renowned site of their 'tailgate' pre-game festivities.  Ironically, I never found them...but it certainly didn't diminish the atmosphere felt walking through The Grove.  ESPN's Gameday made its first trip ever to Oxford and the school deserved it.  For the first time since 1962, their team is undefeated after the first 1/3 of the season.  The Ole Miss fans were gracious and kind, asking that we, "not hurt them too badly today," as we walked toward the stadium.  The air was crisp - what we all know as a perfect Saturday afternoon in the fall that is reserved for football.  A slight breeze, temperatures in the low 60's, sun shining, not a cloud in the sky.  I, personally, was wedged into a seat between Ole Miss fans - two on my left and two on my right.  Through the game, we praised the good plays of each team, and criticized the poor. We were in agreement on most things, both positive and negative, as we had a civil conversation while watching the game.  THIS is what I am accustomed to.  These are the fans with whom I enjoy interacting.  In short, it's how we, as fans, should act (in my opinion).  Early in the 4th Quarter, I said goodbye to these fans and walked toward the end zone so I could get more photos.  As I watched Alabama commit mistakes, while Ole Miss rose to the occasion, I began heading toward my car parked about three miles away.  I left after Ole Miss tied the game and Alabama fumbled the ensuing kickoff knowing the end was, almost certainly, a foregone conclusion.  Ole Miss scored again, then proceeded to miss their extra point.  It was actually missed initially but a penalty gave them another try.  The second attempt was blocked leaving the score at 23-17.  As I walked, my thoughts were of the cliches of Saturday afternoon college football - I literally heard the roar of the crowd diminish as Alabama began their final drive. Less than two minutes remained and they were moving down the field, a fact evident in the lack of crowd noise. I could hear the PA announcer as I walked and knew the Tide could pull it off...until I heard that 'roar' again.  Blake Sims had been intercepted with :37 seconds remaining to seal the victory for Ole Miss.  I later found out that the fans stormed the field (I expected it when I heard their announcer reminding them they were NOT to do that) and that a goal post had been brought down.  It was, though Alabama lost 23-17, a memory that will not soon fade from my mind.  It was, literally, perfect.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a final drive resulting in a touchdown and and extra point conversion for a final score of 24-23 in Alabama's favor.  

It didn't happen that way.  Oh, everything described above happened, yet the final score remains 23-17 and Alabama lost to a very good Ole Miss team.  Still, I won't forget it because the scene, with setting sun and temperatures dropping again, was such a perfect memory for me.  Again, I know they lost, but guess what?  It's Sunday afternoon and I sit here writing.  The sun actually came up, the earth didn't spin off its axis, the apocalypse isn't upon us.  Well, not this week, anyway.  There are still very real concerns and priorities we all have to deal with.  The economy is still in disrepair, there are people starving and homeless, the Ebola virus is a very real threat to life.  THESE are things that matter.  In addition, let me add that there are a few other harsh realities that take importance over this loss - three very good players were injured yesterday and one, God forbid, may never play again.  I truly hope I am wrong, however watching it happen and seeing the replay makes me question how anyone could come back, whether it's because of the physical or mental aspect.  Kenyan Drake, a very big part of the offense as both a receiver and rusher, broke his leg.  That, in itself, would be bad but it was the way it happened.  When he went down on the field, my view was blocked by the medical staff that ran to the field immediately.  The only indication we had of the severity was the 'cart' driving to midfield within seconds.  As they were tending to Kenyan, I got a text from my daughter watching at home saying, "Oh, my God, did you see that? His leg is completely broken."  When I told her the cell service was spotty and they were not showing the replay (which, to the credit of the Ole Miss folks, they didn't) in the stadium, I asked if she was sure.  "Did you see his ankle? Dad, it was completely sideways."  My immediate thought, as it was for many I now know, was a flashback to Joe Theisman when he played for the Redskins.  For anyone that witnessed it, you will not forget it.  My mother then texted me telling me she could hear his screams as it occurred.  In reviewing the game, I heard them, too....and I felt physically ill.  He was shown wiping away a few tears on the cart as he was taken from the field, though he did what we had hoped - he gave a 'thumbs up' to the crowd before being airlifted back to Birmingham.  He's a junior and, though Dr James Andrews and/or many other amazing surgeons are here in Birmingham to fix the injury, it's almost a safe bet that this was his last game for the Crimson Tide.  Many that know the program had our thoughts turn to another former player - one with speed, agility, ability, and class from several years ago - that had his career cut short as well - Tyrone Prothro.  We only hope it isn't the case.

So with all this background, nothing makes you relate the title to the story so far.  I understand.  It isn't what happened before or during, it's the reactions afterward.  The reactions to the loss by a #3 team to a #10 team.  At this point, there are a few other things that need to be pointed out, too.  You are aware that Nick Saban has had only one undefeated team in all the years he's been coaching, right?  It was the 2009 team that beat Texas in the National Championship.  He's been the winning coach for 4 National Championship teams, yet had only one undefeated season.  Hell, when he won it at LSU, they had TWO losses!  Let's keep that in mind, shall we?  As soon as the team loses a game, there are suddenly a multitude of people that are immediate experts at coaching a college team.  I've heard that Saban must go because he is a DB coach and that's the weakest part of the team.  I've heard Kiffin must go because his play-calling on offense sucks.  I have heard that we need to get rid of Kirby Smart as the Defensive Coordiantor because they cannot stop, or at least couldn't stop, the no-huddle, spread offense.  I have seen people saying hateful, vile things about some of the players.  Based on what I've read, some of you would be happier scrapping the whole program and starting over.  To those people, I'd like to say.....well, I can't say because I don't want some people to think less of me.  Suffice it to say, though, that you people are idiots and what we refer to as 'fair weather fans' - the kind that are only there when a team is winning.  It isn't going to happen, folks.  Here'a harsh reality - the percentage of undefeated teams is almost nil.  As in none.  As in, are you stoned or stupid enough to think a team can win every game?  As Hugh Freeze, coach of Ole Miss said in victory, "We beat a very good program that is considered the Gold Standard for years now."  Everyone prepares for Alabama and wants to beat them.  It's no different than everyone wanting to beat the reigning champion FSU Seminoles.  It happens - it's the price of winning.....and a good problem to have.

I'd also like to submit this little tidbit to those of you that expect a perfect season year after year.  I see you come to the stadium wearing your houndstooth or sporting the hat made famous by Bear Bryant, coach of 6 National Championship teams.  "By God, Bear was the greatest to ever walk the sideline," are words that come forth effortlessly, though I'm pretty sure you don't mean the teams in 1967, 1968, 1969, or 1970.  So we're all on the same page, The Crimson Tide, in those years, posted records of 8-2, 8-3, 6-5, and 6-5 respectively.  Let that sink in.  6 wins and 5 losses....two years in a row.  How many of you would be hanging Nick Saban's likeness in effigy if that happened now?  So you know, Bear followed those years with 4 teams that went 11-1 and one that went 10-2.  Why?  He was considered the brains of the operation and everyone, including the fans, listened to what Bear said.  Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea now.  Maybe, just maybe, some of you could let Nick do what he does best.  In the past 5 years, they've had the #1 recruiting class in the country every year.  Guess what?  he still has to get great individuals to play together as a team.  Great individuals don't always make the best team, though his record speaks for itself.  Bear Bryant was at Alabama for roughly 26 years and won 6 Championships.  Nick has been here 8 and has 3 Championships.  Do the math - he is here for a reason and it's time we start following, blindly if you must, his lead.  It's called trust and he is, per the University President, the best investment the school has ever made.  Who in the hell are you to question that?  Maybe it's because your only affiliation to the school is watching the football team and yelling, "Roll Tide," rather than, "War Eagle."  That's great, but when you voice the things you do, whether in person or on social media, you portray ALL Alabama fans as the senseless, thoughtless, hateful people you've become.  It isn't fair to those of us that try to win with class and lose with dignity.  MAKE NO MISTAKE - We ALL hate to see them lose!  Most of us, though, are realists and took our own lesson from Bear Bryant and applied it to our lives - "When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before."  When you lose with dignity and respect, and you show respect for the performance of the opponent, you are perceived as someone with class and, honestly, they won't be able to say anything bad, nor find fault.  Trust me, it is better to have the reputation as the classy, kind Bama fans than the hated fans most perceive.  Their perception is the reality and, while most of us spend time trying to be classy to our opponents, your actions make us have to work harder.  I am NOT saying to be complacent or that we like to lose - we don't - but you have to respect and appreciate the fact that the program IS the gold standard and the one that others are hoping to become.  It serves no purpose to be boastful, rude, arrogant, or hateful to others, though that is what I have seen from many.  It truly disgusts me and makes me distance myself from that portion of the fan base.  It says a lot, too, about how those people are in their everyday life.

Let's try to remember this, too - these are kids.  Oh, they are huge and can eat a side of beef in one sitting, but they are just out of high school and have to perform in front of hundreds of thousands weekly.  Yes, yes, I know we give them scholarships and an education to do it, I realize this is what they have been training for, etc.  I get that.  Still, I have yet to see 101,821 people show up to watch me do my job.  If I have a bad day, there might be a handful of people, at most, that know of it.  If they have a bad day, it is seen by millions, especially when televised nationally.  I know few of you, and fewer still that I am addressing with this post, but can guess that you are in the same position.  What, did you file something incorrectly?  Did one of your welds break?  Did you dump trash on the ground rather than hit the truck?  Again, not many know of your mistakes and fewer still watched you commit them.  You aren't perfect and do not perform perfectly every day.  Don't expect it of others if you cannot do it.  Think about that the next time you are criticizing OJ Howard for dropping a pass, TJ Yeldon for missing a first down, or Blake Sims for overthrowing his receiver.  

I am going out on a limb here but think I can safely say, based on the friends I have that are fellow Tide fans, that you are giving us a bad name and we don't appreciate it.  More importantly, if you cannot support the team when they are down and experience a loss (and need it MOST), please go cheer for another school.  Alabama has enough fans that are there through both the good and the bad that we don't need you on the bandwagon.  If you only want to be a Crimson Tide fan when they are winning, that's fine but do us ALL a favor - Keep your mouths shut when they are losing.  Your ignorance seeps out.  This pertains to ALL fans of every sport.  If you cannot be there and give them 100% support, your team not only doesn't need you, they don't want you.  I know you question the abilities of the coaches and the players when they lose, but I will submit this - if you were any good as a player, you'd either be out there or would've been previously.  If you were, I'm guessing you weren't good at it because you'd never hear anything but positive comments coming from former players and coaches.  If you think you can do a better job than Nick, Kirby, Lane, or the others, show us.  Show us how you can coach a national powerhouse or, better yet, turn a 7-5 team into a perennial champion.

For now, though, lay off.  Stop being rude, hateful, and critical.  The Alabama Crimson Tide are off limits if you want to be a fair weather fan and only ride the bandwagon.  Period.  We support them 24/7/365.  We do not find fault, we offer encouragement.  I have to admit, it was extremely evident yesterday at Ole Miss - there fans are hungry and so is the team.  We have taken winning for granted and almost look at it as a birthright.  It is not.  It has to be earned, year after year, which is how you get respect and build a dynasty.  Alabama fans get the opportunity, every week, to watch one of the most storied programs in college football history take the field.  I don't care if they are play Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida Atlantic or Georgia Southern - keep your asses in the seats and encourage the team.  They have earned it and, as Nick pointed out years ago, it is OUR responsibility as part of being 'ALL IN' as a team.  You'd never expect them to play in an empty sit and watch them win, and lose (as infrequently as possible), with class.  If not, there are other teams that you can bitch about.  Matter of fact, why not go be a Michigan fan.  That ought to keep you busy this year.

Thanks - I had to get that off my chest.

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Donald Sterling, Race, and Why I'm Still Asking Questions

Again.  It's happened again.  I suppose I shouldn't be shocked by this latest story, however I find myself walking around the house saying, "Hold on a minute.  What about....?" as I question the aspects of this story the media dare not touch.  So let me get this straight - Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers and a man with a noted history of racist practices asks, of his 'girlfriend' in a 'private' conversation, if she needs to advertise the fact that she is hanging out with black people.  Did I get that right?  Am I also correct in assuming that the one little snippet we heard on the news (repeated ad nauseum) is only a portion of the conversation?  I think we can all agree the media would NEVER play just a portion of such an occurrence that might be out of context, right?   Now, before you crucify me for saying this was, in fact, out of context or that there could be a context where this was in any way right, please understand that I'm not saying that at all.  I'm pointing out that our friends in the media tend to edit as they will whether it's the 'whole story' or not.  Too, I want to state in bold print - I do not believe in racism, racist comments, or actions in any way, shape or form.  What I am trying to state is that there are other factors to this story that seem to have been overlooked...and we should be greatly concerned.  As a matter of fact, a good friend posted an article earlier today written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  The sentiments and questions he asks, and the overall tone of the article, struck me as these were very much the same feelings and questions I had.  Basically, he points out that, while we are angry, there are many people and many reasons for the anger - not just Donald Sterling and his racist comments.  Where to begin?  As Kareem stated, I have a list.

Let's start with the girlfriend.  You know, the one that is now seen on roller skates with a visor pulled down to cover her face.  Wait a minute, she had no problem showing her face in any pictures that are being broadcast nationally every hour, on the hour, on every network.  My first thought, after hearing the comments Sterling made and seeing the vast age difference between the two was, "Oh, she set him up to bring him down."  Something about a 'woman scorned' perhaps?  Who knows?  Not my business and doesn't affect my life one iota.  Still, let's be serious - do we really think she saw HIM and thought, "Wow, what a hottie!  I have to have him!"  Uh, no.  Seriously, we're all adults here so let's call it what it was - he lavished her with gifts & cash, while she stayed with him for....well, the gifts & cash.  I could be wrong of hands - who thinks I hit the nail on the head?  Put your hand down.  It was a rhetorical question.  

So, as Kareem said in his piece, "She was like a sexy nanny playing 'Pin the Fried Chicken on the Sambo'.She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee."  He's right, of course.  And the news media loved it.  They had another instance that they could put on national news and bring down another white elitist for being a racist.  Are we really going to act like this episode is what should be the big deal, though?  Why weren't people outraged years ago when he paid almost $3 Million to settle a suit involving his discrimination against blacks & hispanics?  A picture of his girlfriend and his asking if she had to advertise she was friends with blacks is what brought him down?  THAT is what is getting Al Sharpton's panties in a twist? are a fews other things worth noting - The NAACP cancelled the award they were going to give him on May 15th.  Though we all know that part, what wasn't mentioned frequently, if at all, was that this organization, despite having full knowledge of his previous discriminatory acts, accepted multiple grants from the Donald Sterling Foundation, while giving him several, "Image awards," over the years.  NOW, we're outraged?  I'll bet if I look up the word 'Hypocrite'.......

My point is this - Sterling was wrong and, apparently, a habitual racist.  Why, 8 years after his massive lawsuit, are we letting THESE comments bring him down?  Why was he allowed to own the team then when, without nary a whisper from the press, he said, "black people smell and they attract vermin?"  I don't remember it being a story.  Did I miss something?  Seriously, in one day this guy received a lifetime ban from the NBA and has to sell his team (presumably) because he asked his girlfriend in a private conversation if she had to be seen with, and promote that she is friends with, blacks?  Wow, did WE miss the bus on the first go-round.

My other point is this - if Sterling has to play by the rules, EVERYONE has to play by the rules.  No longer should people of ANY race be allowed to say discriminatory things.  Racism will never end because the playing field isn't level.  As long as it is okay for people of other races to 'cry foul' when a white person says something, it won't end.  As long as, "I was only joking," is allowed to be uttered and accepted when someone of a different race makes a racial slur, it won't end.  It happens, folks.  To deny that is to be...well, in denial.  If we want change, we have to make the change for all.  I'd like to say that now is that time.  Sadly, that time came long ago.....and we're still trying to get everyone on the same page.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Year Later...And Learning To Live

Today, March 10th, 2014, marks the first anniversary of my wife's death.  How strange it feels to even write that.  I will say, however, that the title bears witness to where life has taken me these past 12 months and how her passing taught me, and teaches me still, how to live.  I've learned much, experienced even more, and have come to accept that things do, in fact, happen for a reason.  I think it's safe to say I was not prepared for this in any way.  Who is?  Did I think that I'd bear the title of 'widower' before I was firmly in my 50's? No way...though I know there are those, close friends included, that have experienced it at a younger age than I.  Yes, this 'death & dying' thing is an ugly, nasty, cruel, mean villain, however I've also come to fully understand that life is more how we react to our circumstances than the circumstance themselves.

When I wrote a year ago, I said that I had no idea where life would lead me, though I knew I did not want to waste any time.  Doing what?  I had, and at times still have, no idea.  I came to realize, maybe somewhat subconsciously, that when an opportunity presented itself, I was taking it.  When the annual call came to spend time with friends going to a NASCAR race, I took it without question.  When friends suggested that they were going zip-lining and might I want to tag along and try it, the answer was a certain, "I'm in," almost before they finished the question.  When the time came to go to Tuscaloosa on Saturdays to watch the Crimson Tide, know that was going to happen.  Most importantly, when the opportunity to spend time with friends or family presents itself, I am there.

In all fairness, I stopped writing a moment ago (a pause indiscernible to you reading this, I realize) to ask myself what I am doing.  What I thought might be a long, poignant post....will not be.  I can abridge this and, today at least, feel I need to.  So what do I have to write about (rather than my usual rambling)?  It's a few simple truths I've learned - not Mom's Rules for Living, mind you, but it's what I've gleaned.

  • Family & friends are the most important things in the world.  These relationships should be cherished, loved, and nurtured.  Make time for them.
  • Everyone grieves at their own pace.  I, personally, had issues with this and was frozen with indecision at times.  I now realize you get to choose and decide what and when is right to move forward.  This is YOUR journey - no one else has to walk your path and they do not know what your life is like.  To say they do is ludicrous.
  • Do your job, do it well, but do not get lost in it.  Again, for me it was easier said than done.  it was my comfort zone and provided normalcy when I needed it.  That, and the people at work are family so it was easy to migrate to 'that place' at times.
  • Life is short - play hard.  Okay, in fairness, this is nothing more than reiterating the fact that, when presented with an opportunity to try something new, different, or fun, take the chance.  Not only will it keep you occupied, but you might just find something you really enjoy, as well as learn something.
  • Be gentle with others.  Okay, now I'm sounding like a Hallmark card, but hear me out.  Nothing makes you feel better than offering help to the elderly, holding a door for someone, picking up dropped packages, etc.  Kneeling down to talk with a child or to make them smile?  It's a feeling like no other.  Momma taught you to do good deeds - do them.
  • Act a little crazy and laugh at yourself.  In light of what happened, I can tell you it gives you a different perspective.  Things you might have worried about previously, don't seem that significant.  Hey, listen, I'm always going to be the guy that trips over that crack in the sidewalk, then jumps up to see if anyone saw me.  Always.  It's just that now, I've learned to get up and see if anyone saw me....then view them as an audience.  I don't pirouette yet, but why not, right?
  • Plan and prepare - PLEASE!  I said it last year and will again - make sure you have a will and that your beneficiaries are updated.  One thing many of you do upon seeing me now is either A) tell me how you've planned, or B) tell me how you're going to plan.  Do it.  Today.  Trust me, your family and loved ones will be glad you did.  
  • Don't let loss make you fear losing again.  Okay, even I read that several times to make sure it sounded right and made sense.  I'm pretty sure one of the 'Grammar Gurus' will point it out if I erred, however an explanation might help.  Just because your spouse/significant other died, you shouldn't be frozen with fear that you'll experience that pain again.  Because here's the harsh reality - you will.  No matter what happens, we are all going to experience this at some point.  Refer back to earlier points - live, laugh, and love.  You'll be glad you did.
These are but a few, albeit most important, of the lessons and realizations I've had in the past year.  I said it before and will share it again - I was blessed to have had Sharon in my life at all.  To love her, and be loved by her, was something I will carry with me always and will smile with every memory.  You've all taught me, though, that life goes on and this was a chapter in the book, not the end of the story.  There are many....or several, at least...chapters yet to be written, I hope.  I'm counting on many of you to take an active part in those chapters as well.  Thank you for being the amazing friends and family you've been, and for the love, caring, and kindness you've shown me.  I truly do not feel worthy, however I promise to do my best to show you, through actions, how grateful I truly am for all of you.  You've helped me learn what it is to truly live again.

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Dying Country, Its Beliefs...And Our Apologies to Our Children

Many of you reading this know that, lately anyway, it takes something drastic for me to write.  Something that is so incredibly appalling or makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Something that, I'm fairly certain, will make most of you want to scream.  Now is such a time and refers to the insanity gripping our nation.  I know there are probably many of you already saying, "Gee, don't you think you ought to be more specific?"  True, there are many things happening right now that would make people think the situation is dire.  It is.  More specifically, though, I am referring to the situation in Morgan Hill, CA, a suburb of San Jose.  The events that took place at Live Oak High School have outraged many and have me, at least, wondering where our common sense has gone.  When did we 'sell out' and why?  Before going there, however, let's recap the story in case you haven't heard it.

Live Oak High School, from what I've read, seems to be an ethnically-diverse school.  That certainly doesn't make it different from most schools these days.  As a matter of fact, in the not-too-distant future, whites will be in the minority in the United States.  I get it.  Still, I'm not sure that our forefathers imagined this 'melting pot' to be as divisive as it is...or will be.  So, American students at Live Oak decided to wear American flag t-shirts to school during the Cinco de Mayo Mexican heritage celebration last year.  These students were ordered by the school administration to either turn the shirts inside out or were sent home from school that day.  Let me say that again - American students, wearing shirts that represented the United States flag, were ordered to either remove the shirts or leave school.  This is the same flag that, when parading past the reviewing stands in the Olympics, will not be lowered for ANY country in the world.  It simply isn't done.  In this case, however, school officials expressed concerns about racial violence based on previous problems between white and Latino students.

The case quickly gained national notoriety when the American Freedom Law Center, as well as other similar organizations, joined the cause and sued the school district.  They lost.  Yes, you read that correctly - they lost in court.  Not to worry, though, as our legal system has that most wonderful option - an appeal process - that will allow a higher court to review and rule on the case.  Thursday of this week, February 27th, 2014, the ruling was handed down by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.  In their view, the school district acted appropriately when they made the students remove the shirts or leave school.  Again, based on past instances of racial violence, the school thought it best to send students home.  This ruling, handed down by a unanimous 3-judge panel, can also be appealed by an 11-judge panel.  Already, the lawyers are planning such an appeal.  Okay, so there are the facts of the case.'s my turn.

Are you kidding me???  How dare you trample the right of our citizens and The Constitution?  Before anyone starts to argue, hear me out and let me summarize what I've said above, as stated by one of the American students lawyers - "The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled and upheld the rights of Mexican students celebrating the holiday of another country over US students proudly supporting THIS country."  Let me also say that I, as well as many of the people I know, are certainly glad to celebrate the holiday along with our Mexican friends.  Should it ever come to violence if a student wants to wear an American flag?  Certainly not.  If the students of Mexican heritage find that offensive, let's deal with that. the name of all that is precious and right, WHY do we have to keep concerning ourselves over not wanting to hurt the feelings of other nationalities here at home?  This is the United States of America.  I can understand if we were in Mexico...or France, or Spain, or Germany or.....the list goes on.  I could understand why we'd have to be respectful of their heritage and customs.  This isn't, however, any of those countries.  Again, lest anyone think I (those that know me, know better) am a bigot or racist, let me reiterate my personal stance - I am fine living in a mutually-respectful environment where we all can, and do, get along and live in harmony.  Let's be honest, though - if there were previous problems and the school district feared it happening again, they made this decision so that the Mexican students would not be offended and start any racial violence.  

Here is my ultimate question - when does it end?  When do we start concerning ourselves with how Americans feel rather than foreigners?  We, as Americans, have been told we need to be tolerant.  In actuality, it is demanded that we be tolerant.  There are ongoing issues and legal cases involving those of Middle Eastern descent.  My message to those folks is quite simple, and I will say what many think - People of your nationality hijacked several planes for the sole purpose of killing Americans on our home soil.  Those same people make it known, daily, that the only good American is a dead American.  I know I am generalizing, however this is America - please do not act incredulous when we feel this way.  As a matter of fact, if it is so horrible living here, there are options, though I assume there is a reason you are here and not in your country.  Please, too, acknowledge that fact that if this were in a Middle Eastern country, there is absolutely NO WAY we would be given the same considerations you are being given by our government.  Do you seriously think those governments and courts would side with an American or rule that their own people were discriminating against us.  If you say anything but, "Hardly," I will call you a liar.

The same goes for this situation, so let me ask a different way (as I am a big fan of analogies) - If we were in Mexico in July and decided we wanted to celebrate the 4th of July, do you think Mexican school officials would make Mexican students remover THEIR Mexican flag t-shirts?  How do you think it would be accepted if the American students resorted to violence?  Would they send them home and consider the rights of American students over Mexican students.  Again, if the answer is anything other than, "Absolutely not," I will say you're either lying or naive.  It would not happen.  So what do we, as white Americans, have to do get the same consideration guaranteed by the Constitution, as those living here from a foreign country.  Better yet, what do we, as white Americans, have to do to get the same consideration as any minority?  Is violence the answer when someone disagrees with our own personal beliefs?  it seems to work with others so why not us?

Perhaps we need to start a revolution, again, to take back our country.  Our elected officials are overly consumed with bowing to the demands of these groups, while neglecting the needs of their fellow Americans.  At times like this, I think how fortunate I am to be older as I will, eventually, not have this as a concern.  I worry, though, for our next generation.  Something has to be done and, I believe, it has to start soon before we give away our identity as a nation.  Perhaps revolt is needed.  Unless we give in to the demands of these groups, there is little peace anyway, so what remains?  How can this change?  I really have no answer other than reevaluating our (apparently) outdated ideas on how we allow immigrants into the country and what we give them that costs us much.  I've said it before - our forefathers came to this country and were expected to learn OUR ways, OUR language, OUR heritage.  I can almost say, without hesitation, that they never envisioned a world where we had to, "Press 1 for English."  We need help and we need it now.  Our government, as evidenced above, MUST start using common sense and punish the offenders, not those that might fan the flames of violence simply by being themselves.  I only hope we can find our common sense before our children live in a country we do not recognize and whose beliefs and values have been trampled all in the name of not offending our 'guests'.

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

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Open Letter of Apology as a Crimson Tide Fan

I hate that I even have to write this.  I guess I should have seen it coming but, still, I hoped it wouldn't be necessary.  I've spent a few days reading countless posts online - editorials, Facebook, etc - and feel it necessary, for myself anyway, to write and apologize.  I think the culmination of all of this was when a 'fan' launched herself over two rows of Oklahoma fans to get to one that was taunting her.  Actually, I'm not sure it wasn't the other way around, though I will assume it was mutual.  We were at the game and, as usual, alcohol played a part in the melee.  Does that make it right?  Of course not.  Was it in any way justified?  Never.  It was, as I said, the culmination of a season in which some of the Alabama fans consider it their birthright to win every game.

As many of you know, my daughter will be attending the University of Alabama next fall.  I was ecstatic and elated at the news.  I have been one of the Crimson Tide faithful for years and was extremely proud of the fact that she will be attending her 'dream school'.  One of the things that I have always admired about the fans at Alabama is the reputation that preceded them.  I remember a few years ago when the rivalry with Penn State was renewed.  It was to be a home & away series - once in Tuscaloosa, then in State College, PA - when Joe Paterno would coach against Nick Saban.  It was a bit of the 'changing of the guard' in some ways.  Joe Paterno, winningest coach in NCAA history (don't get me started on the NCAA stripping him of the wins) against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.  At that point, Coach Saban was one of two coaches with championships at two different schools.  That club consists of Saban and Bear Bryant, Alabama's other beloved legend.  When Penn State and their fans came to town, Alabama fans had only recently won their first championship in 17 years,  There had been a long drought and they were proud without being arrogant.  Penn State fans went home with stories of 'southern hospitality' and kindness shown them in Tuscaloosa.  The following year when we went to Penn State, I recall vividly their fans showing us great kindness.  I remember friends telling other PSU fans, "Let's show them the same good time they showed us last year."  It was a great experience tailgating and spending time with the majority of the fans (as I'm sure they experienced the previous year), and they were nothing if not the most gracious of hosts.  We even spoke of the other schools that are not as gracious.  They shared their Big 10 stories and we shared the SEC stories.  It was a camaraderie that left us feeling good and, more importantly, I recall feeling humble as Alabama was victorious.  Both fan bases left the stadium that day feeling good about the experience, acknowledging both the victory and the defeat, yet laughing together afterward.  Now, sadly, I fear we have become one of 'those schools' that we discussed that day.

Winning will do that, I suppose.  When you win as much as Alabama has recently, many come to expect (and almost demand) a victory in every game.  To the other Crimson Tide fans, I have to share this harsh reality  - there will always be a winner and a loser as we all understand the cliche, "You can't win 'em all."  Oh, yeah, you can certainly try.  As a matter of fact, that's why they play the games.  We'd better try to win them all, but the sad fact is it just won't happen.  Period.  Unfortunately, some people not only take losing personally, they become violent and vindictive.  This is the part I dread writing as it brings back unpleasant and unpopular memories.  We all remember Harvey Updyke poisoning Auburn's beloved oak trees.  Lest any of you think, "What's the big deal?  They were only trees," you have to understand what they meant to Auburn and their traditions.  This would be like toppling the statue of Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa or taking a sledgehammer to the Nittany Lion Statue at Penn State. The sad fact is that this man brazenly called in to a radio talk show and admitted he did it.  There is also video evidence of the woman at the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma a few days ago engaging the OU fans, being pulled away, then returning and literally jumping OVER other fans to get to the person that was arguing with her.  Her name is Michelle Pritchett and she is now trying to justify what she did.  Even with the video of her jumping the OU fan, she wants us to believe she did it because her son was being taunted and challenged to fight.  Never mind that there are other pictures of her taunting earlier - she wants to say that, "earlier, these OU fans were throwing bottles in the stands because they were drunk."  Michelle, I was at this game and many others - I can promise you that, had that happened, they would have been removed far earlier.  You were visibly intoxicated and are now trying to lie your way out of this.  You come from a town with a population of 258, I believe, and you own a photography business.  Something like this cannot be good for business, can it?  Neither can lying, nor can it be for the fan base at a school with proud traditions.  You are an embarrassment to your family, your children, and the school that, honestly does not need you as a 'fan'.  Moreover, and I hope I speak for many when I say, we don't WANT you as a fan.

As I was writing this, I had an exchange on FB with a few friends from work - one in particular that is an Auburn alum.  After this year's Iron Bowl when Alabama played Auburn (oh, please, you ALL know which game it was.  Think "for a second."), there was a shooting here in Birmingham where, allegedly, a woman shot another, saying they, "weren't real Alabama fans because they weren't upset enough about Alabama losing."  That was where the story stopped when it went out to the national media.  Sensationalism sells and, living in Birmingham, we know there is more to the story as it was reported locally.  Yes, that exchange took place, however the women then left the party and, as the first woman (the eventual shooter) tried to drive away, her car was blocked in by the second woman.  She then got out of the car, yelled for the victim to move and, when she did not do it quickly enough, the shooter shot several times, killing her.  Yes, they were at a party for the game, and yes, there was an argument about the game.  There was also alcohol involved and this is in an apartment complex that is known for violence and shootings.  So, was it related to the football game?  It would be easy to help paint Alabama fans are stone-cold killers when they lose by relating this story, however (and many will believe what they want anyway) I think this was more than a bit unfair.  Paul Harvey would have had a good time telling 'the rest of the story'.  The problem, though, is that there are the Harvey Updykes and Michelle Pritchetts in this world whose actions automatically make the shooting a very real & believable story.  The next step, and what we see happening now, is that we all get lumped into that category.  I, for one, have had enough.  To those that feel the need to act this way - we don't want you as fans.  You are classless and poor sports.  Take it somewhere else.

As for the Sugar Bowl game specifically, let me point out to Tide fans that want to complain - Alabama lost.  They got beat by a better-prepared team.  Are you seriously going to blame Oklahoma for AJ McCarron overthrowing his receivers by 10-15 yards?  Are you going to be upset because the Oklahoma freshman quarterback was deadly accurate with his passes and their offense moved at a pace Alabama couldn't defend?  Nick Saban has freely admitted he doesn't like the 'hurry-up, no huddle' offense.  Want to know why?  They haven't figured out how to, as one reporter put it, 'kill it' yet.  They cannot, with their detailed defensive schemes, defend against this style of play.  They will eventually, but for now, you cannot blame Oklahoma or their fans.  Were we all frustrated?  Hell yes!  Did I punch anyone or jump someone?  No, we cheered more loudly and supported the team.  That's what fans do.  Let me ask this, too - you wanted Mal Moore to go find you a coach that would restore the winning ways here.  You'd do almost anything to get 'that guy'.  We got him.  In the beginning, Nick Saban challenged all of us, players and fans alike, to do our part to restore this proud program to where we expect it to be.  We all bought in and made our promises.  We wanted a coach that would avoid NCAA infractions and ensure compliance.  We all know the knot we get in our stomach when we hear there's even a whiff of impropriety, right?  Earlier this year, Clinton-Dix was suspended for two games when an assistant coach let him borrow money (that was repaid immediately) when his car broke down and he had to get home to his family.  The coach got fired.  Nick is trying to do his part to maintain the highest standards of the program, right?  Then let me say this - DO YOUR PART, TOO!  We can no longer hold the team to a higher standard than we are willing to give ourselves.  If we don't, I'm telling you now that I do NOT want to hear any bitching when Nick Saban decides the fan base here is more than he wants to deal with and he leaves or retires.  Go ahead, tell me how, "He's under contract through 2020."  I suggest you ask Penn State fans how that works.   

I'm not sure where we, as a society, are headed when this behavior seems to be rampant.  Honestly, we see it with pro sports teams and have witnessed it, in person, in college sports.  We've all read the stories and seen the news about this happening with high school and youth sports, too.  It's time for it to stop.  Coach Saban, after the loss to Oklahoma, made the statement that he thinks it's time to go back to where we, as a program, were in 2008 before they began their winning ways again.  It's time to, "start over again," and get back to the basics that allowed them to build championship teams as they have to this point.  I think it's time for the fans to do that, too.  It's time for people to remember what the 17-year layoff felt like.  It's time to remember what it was like when the coaches stayed only 3-4 years because they were NOT winning.  It's time to go back to that point and recall Tommy Tuberville's Auburn teams that won six Iron Bowls in a row.  It's time to support the team, not act like classless fools that pout, kick, cry, and scream when the team does not win.  As a matter of fact, if you really want to stymie an opposing fan, congratulate them on their win.  On our way home from the game, we stopped for gas in Slidell, LA.  Several other cars arrived at the same time and, as the people entered the store, we could see the Oklahoma jacketed and sweatshirts.  I happened to be next to an OU fan as we walked in and jokingly said, "Oh, no, Oklahoma again. I saw so many sacks tonight, I'm expecting to be tackled."  This, alone, helped start a five minute conversation about the good and bad of the game.  As we left, we both congratulated the other and wished each other the best next year.  Does that make me any less an Alabama fan?  Those of you reading this, that truly know me, know that answer.  I bleed Crimson!  Technically, we all do, but you get the point.


So here is my challenge, going forward, to ALL Alabama Crimson Tide faithful, as well as fans of every team and sport - "Hold ALL fans of your team to the same high standard you expect of a competitor and their fans.  We must bring back the 'spirit of competition' and remember that, ultimately, there can only be one victor."  No longer, as far as I'm concerned, will I stand by and allow some of the actions I've witnessed.  I challenge all of you to do the same.

Again, on behalf of the arrogant, ugly actions of (apparently, more than) a few, I apologize for the stories making news.  I apologize to the University, the coach, and the players for allowing bad press to reflect poorly upon them.  It sickens me that it has come to this, but know that I, for one, will do my part to see the change I wish to see in others.  I'll do this so I can, once again, proudly say, "ROLL TIDE."

Until next time…………..