Monthly Archives: October 2005

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Be careful what you push for

As I deal with the struggles I’m having at this point of my life, I’m reminded, once again, of a joke.

A young crusading warrior rode his steed, valiantly battling against the evildoers he was so committed to vanquishing. In the heat of battle, he was struck by a foe and fell off of his horse. The warrior was strong and agile, but he wore so much armor that all his attempts to get back up on his horse ended up in vain. Try as he did, he couldn’t do it. Finally, he called on God to rescue him. God, he pleaded. Send me the strength of all my ancestors, so that I can make it back on my horse! Suddenly a burst of strength overtook him. Filled with vigor, he stood up and vaulted mightily onto his horse, but his momentum carried him too far and he fell off the other side.

Undaunted, he prayed again. Okay God, he said. Just send half of them this time.

* * *

Quixotic moments like this make me laugh.

Until I really begin to think about them. Then, on some days, it’s hard to keep from crying.

Not that I’m in a bad place. Actually, for the first time in awhile, I’m far from it. In most of the ways in which people measure outward success, my batting average is through the ceiling. I’m married to a beautiful woman, I have a degree, I love where I live, and I have a good job with a respectable company working with cool people doing mentally stimulating work.

But still, there are many things outside my reach, things that I desire.

Accomplishments.

Stuff.

Experiences.

I have grand plans, super-sized plans. Major-big endeavors that I intend to achieve. Things that tend to open up gateways to wealth and stature. But while I chase after them, I can’t shake the possibility that, for every mountain I set out to conquer, I run the risk of pushing so hard in my pursuit that I go overboard and fall prey to the opposite extreme. I’m afraid of getting to the top and wondering what all the hype was about. Because all around me, I see people who sacrifice so much to gain what they think they want. But after awhile they realize that what they strived after wasn’t really what they wanted. And I don’t want to become one of those people.

And I’m guessing, neither did Dwan Jones.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote recently about Jones and others in his west side neighborhood. They’re being carjacked on a regular basis. In a town like Chicago this wouldn’t be news, except for the fact that it was the police who did the jacking. Jones, and other young Black men are being targeted for vehicle impoundment because of anti-noise pollution regulations prohibiting the playing of loud car stereos. Apparently the cops don’t want tricked-out rides bangin’ loud hip-hop at all hours of the night, so their solution is to jack them. In Jones’ case, he wasn’t even told why his car was being taken – the officer just got in the car and took off, leaving him to call his fiancée to pick him up.

Obviously, the legal and ethical validity of such an enforcement campaign is questionable. Punitive acts on behalf of the state should fit the crime, and in this case the punishment was nowhere near befitting. But do you think that’s what Dwan Jones had in mind when he envisioned owning such a customized automobile? Of course not. He probably just wanted to be seen and heard. Instead he invested thousands of dollars into his prized whip just to be harassed and cheated out of more than $700-worth of fines and impound fees. And don’t get me wrong, here – I don’t mean to imply that he somehow deserved to be treated that way. Far from it. He has every legal and moral right to drive whatever kind of car in whatever condition he wants. But even if the police weren’t shady, there are no shortage of actual criminals who could and would do much worse. At some point, Dwan’s gotta ask himself if the car is more of a hassle than it’s worth.

And besides, is it really necessary to have a system that booms so hard? Only if you plan on losing half of your hearing by the time you’re forty.

Hardly the stuff dreams are made of.

Bob Huggins finally got his buyout at the U of Cincinnati earlier last month. After the better part of two decades as men’s basketball coach, he was finally let go. Huggins made a name for himself as a coach who wins games, but as for his overall legacy… well, let’s just say he’s no Coach K. Yes, he led the Cincy Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances (including one trip to the Final Four), but his record regarding his players’ graduation rates was dismal. Under the auspices of remaining athletically competitive, Huggins became known for recruiting shady characters with questionable backgrounds and little or no interest in academics. After awhile, the collective Cincy braintrust realized their school was taking a major hit in credibility every time one of Huggins current or former players made the news again for some heinous breach of judgment. So after a lot of legal maneuvering and various face-saving measures taken by both sides, university president Nancy Zimmer finally laid down the law – a move that garnered kudos on the national stage.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue here, because Bob Huggins is not directly responsible for his players’ terrible behavior. As Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star so eloquently pointed out, Huggins is only a small part of the problem. Quite frankly, his poor moral leadership is extremely symptomatic, not only of the reprobate state of collegiate athletics, but of society in general. But many others have made that point. If, on the other hand, you look at it from Huggins’ perspective, well… it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. He staved off all the flak for all those years because his players would perform on demand. When they couldn’t get it done anymore, the heat just grew more and more intense. Right at the point where he was trying to angle for a contract extension, he got suspended for a DUI violation – the beginning of the end.

As a result, he and Bobby “@#$!%” Knight have become poster-boys for sports authority figures gone awry – alienating parents and fans alike. All that for… 14 straight tournament berths and one Final Four appearance.

So all you aspiring coaches out there, take note. Ask yourself how important winning is to you. Then make sure you’re prepared to live with the answer.

That was one of the lessons learned in “Kicking and Screaming,” a Will Ferrell vehicle about an out-of-control soccer coach who modeled himself after former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (who plays himself in the film). It’s a nutty little diversion of a movie, but it makes an interesting point. Essentially the storyline is that Farrell’s character is a wimpy guy who’s always been beaten down by his hypercompetitive father, and tries to avenge his history of losing by coaching his son’s soccer team. In the process he realizes he’s taking on his father’s overbearing ways, and it scares him.

The tone of the movie is extremely over-the-top, so very little of it can be taken seriously. Most Will Ferrell movies fit that mold, and that’s why they’re fun to watch. But I bet there are some for whom this movie hit a little too close to home. They’re fathers embarrassed to see their antics depicted on-screen. They’re pensive sons, trying to block out the memories of their domineering coaches and overbearing fathers. And I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but rest assured – our man experiences his requisite mea culpa moment. And when a Will Ferrell character has become the shining light for us all to follow – well, you know society has screwed up somewhere.

Speaking of screw-ups, I can’t close out this column without taking a moment to mention Señor Pat “Scarface” Robertson, for trying to put a hit out on the Venezualen president Hugo Chavez.

Yup… nothin’ says “love your neighbor” like paranoid threats of violence on national television.

Okay, okay. “put a hit out” is a little strong, but he did call for the man’s death during an airing of “The 700 Club” in August. Specifically he said, in reference to Chavez and his dictatorship, that we should “take him out.” And I don’t think he meant to the nearest Starbucks for a chat. Now obviously, I don’t know where he was going with that. I don’t know how even the most staunchly conservative Christian could go on the record advocating a covert operation to take out another head of state. Besides overstretching the boundaries of legitimate orthodoxy, it’s just a dumb thing to say. But that’s not what bothered me most about ol’ PR exercising such poor PR.

No, what bothered me the most is this:

Pat Robertson originally made a name for himself for, among other things, standing up for truth and justice. I don’t think he went through seminary as a young man thinking that one day, if he was faithful to God and preached the gospel long enough, that he would one day have a forum to perform hatchet jobs on his political enemies. I mean, really. That would be like a kid dreaming about having a job in bureaucratic middle management. People don’t start out that way. It’s more of a gradual shift over time that turns objectives like “take a stand for something right” to “take a swipe at the Communist left.”

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I believe that Christians have a right – and in some cases, a moral imperative – to get involved in public policy. But doing so effectively requires a legitimate reservoir of knowledge, not to mention grace and diplomacy. As of late, Pat Robertson has demonstrated very few of those qualities. Having amassed all of his influence and notoriety over three decades, and being loved and respected by millions of Christians, Pat Robertson has become a kinder, gentler, Rush Limbaugh. Is that really what he wanted? Is that really what he set out to do all those years ago? Critics might say yes, but I can’t bring myself to agree.

Especially since his latest crack had the potential to infuriate noted Venezualen firebrand Ozzie Guillen, manager for the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox. I guarantee you, Pat Robertson does not want to take on the Blizzard of Oz, unless henceforth he wants to be known as “another [bleepin’] TV preacher.” Guillen and company are far too obsessed with winning the World Series (and shaming the Chicago Cubs) to care about offending the likes of conservative pundits. He’s outspoken (read: crazy) enough to pick a fight with someone like Pat Robertson if he felt disrespected. As a result, Guillen’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The Chicago White Sox have carried an us-against-the-world mentality all year – and as a result, they’re a good baseball team. They want to win so badly, they’ll go way overboard to get there. They’ve got more chips on their shoulders than servers at a nacho bar. They’ll do anything to win it all.

Which brings me back to our hero from the beginning. The moral of the story is not that God only answers prayers with exact syntax… that’d be a lame moral, wouldn’t it? No, the moral is that we must be careful not to let our zeal carry us too far. Because sometimes if you push too hard, you end up falling off the other side.

Now the thing is, I love the White Sox. They’re a scrappy bunch of misfits who just want to prove that they can be winners. I love that their fan-base is mostly a blue-collar constituency. I love the fact that they’re never favored to win. Their exploits rarely earn more than a footnote in the Chi-town sports community, because most Chicagoans have already given their hearts to the Cubs, Bears or Bulls. The fact that none of the baseball experts at ESPN picked them to win it all makes me cheer for the Sox even harder. If the White Sox somehow defy the odds and win the World Series, it’ll be heralded as a victory for the common man.

But Sox fans need to put a temper on their rabid fandom, or they’re liable to do a lot of things they’ll regret later. Fans in Chicago are known to get pretty rowdy when they celebrate. For some of these folks, a White Sox postseason celebration could end up being one of life’s most defining moments. It’s all in how they respond. Five, ten, twenty years later, when they’re trying to get rioting or assault charges expunged from their record, they’ll probably be asking themselves if a World Series title was worth it.

The really sad part is that even after all that, many will answer a resounding “YES!” to that question. With no equivocation, they’ll tell you – getting in that bar fight with those drunks at Wrigley and overturning that squad car… it was worth it. And they’ll never appreciate the irony in next question they’re bound to ask, which might very well be:

“Do you want fries with that?”

I’m telling you. Seeing all that potential wasted… it’s enough to make a man cry.

Solomon was one of the greatest kings in all of history, but at the end of his tale, this is what he said:

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

If only he could see us now.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.