Tag Archives: accountability

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If Police Kill Me, Don’t Let Them Change the Narrative

Okay, y’all. I wanted to avoid writing about this, because I’m tired of writing about black people killed by police. Seriously you all, I AM TIRED OF THIS. This is not my idea of a good time. I have a birthday coming up, and I’d rather be playing video games than dissecting the hypothetical scenarios of my improbable demise at the hands of police, which, judging by the headlines, seem a bit more likely by the day.

What I’m saying is, the story of Botham Shem Jean’s killing by Amber Guyger in Dallas has me shook.

Like Jean, I’m known in my community as a Christian, and specifically as a worship leader. Like Jean, I am somewhat larger and physically imposing (although not in great shape like he was). Like Jean, I live in what is a fairly exclusive apartment complex, made possible because of work I do in and among a suburban locale, where even though there is a modicum of diversity, most of the seats of power are filled by white people. Also like Dallas, the police department of my home city is also helmed by a black woman, which might give off a more progressive impression than what the truth should warrant.

Anyway, the shooting — as tragic as it is — is not the thing that completely burns me up.

And that fact — all by itself — is all kinds of f***ed up, because all by itself, that morally reprehensible and societally-aberrant act of unnecessary lethal state-sanctioned violence should make me furious. I should be marching in the streets right now. I should be dropping f-bombs in my sermon, stopping traffic on the highway, interrupting dinners of whoever is complicit in this nonsense in order to get through to people that THIS KIND OF THING IS NOT OKAY AND IT KEEPS HAPPENING.

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Entertain? Sure. But Be Accountable. (Yes, Deadspin, Yes, Jim Rome — I’m Talking to You.)

That seems to be the message that I’ve distilled from the saga of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, Will Leitch, and the snarkiest sports blog ever, Deadspin.

(By the way, I’ve grown weary of hyperlinking to all of the wikipedia entries of all of these entities. If you want to know more, it’s called Google. Click away.)

If these names don’t mean anything to you, then I quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

Buzz Bissinger is an acclaimed sports writer, who wrote the seminal small-town football chronicle Friday Night Lights, which much later spawned a feature film, and then a hit TV show.

Will Leitch is the former (then current) editor of Deadspin, a sports blog in the Gawker media family, that doesn’t pull any punches in exposing the folly of modern athletes and their sometimes just-as-ridiculous sports media counterparts. Deadspin’s motto is “Sports Without Access, Favor, or Discretion.”

Now recently, both Bissinger and Leitch appeared on an HBO sports panel with Bob Costas, and the topic of internet media came up. During this segment Bissinger blew up at Leitch, making a fool of himself in the process. (R-rated language in the clip… after all, this is HBO.)

Recently, Bissinger had a series of email exchanges with Leitch to clear the air, presumably because Leitch is leaving Deadspin to work for New York Magazine and doesn’t want the legacy of the blog that he built remembered by an HBO segment gone horribly awry.

The whole conversation is a fascinating read. And there are some great lessons to be mined from it, which of course, is why I’m writing about it. These lessons are the tale of the tape, so to speak.

So let the tape roll…

First lesson:

The blogosphere is NOT kind to cranky old men, even if they’re speaking truth.

Ironically, I score this for a point FOR Bissinger and AGAINST Deadspin.

See, this is a classic case of style over substance, of the medium becoming the message. Bissinger later admitted regret over the tenor of his remarks during his HBO appearance, because he was clearly angry and clearly venting all of his frustration on sports blogs in general on Leitch and Deadspin specifically. This made him look out of touch and somewhat senile (see: Cosby, Bill).

But I read a lot of the comments after the initial Deadspin post that covered the controversy, and most of them were exactly as Bissinger described: sophomoric, cheap T&A jokes with the occasional decent point thrown in.

Yet, the only thing most of the commenters took from Bissinger’s appearance was “hey look, some angry old man made an arse of himself on TV,” only they were all much nastier about it.

This, to me, speaks not only about the lack of civility in our public discourse, but specifically to our lack of honor for elders in American sports culture. And that’s jacked, because there’s so much that we can learn from our elders. And Leitch even said so himself, that he felt bad that seemed to be what most of his readers were getting out of the exchange. That’s mostly his fault, in my opinion, even though toward the end he tried to compensate. Too little, too late; the damage was done.

There’s a hilarious Old Testament story that illustrates the inherent danger of mocking your elders. Let that be an object lesson… bloggers, snark at thy own risk.

Bissinger, 1
Deadspin, 0

Lesson two:
If you’re going to talk about something, know what you’re talking about.

This is where Deadspin evens the score, because it was immediately clear that Bissinger had not spent any significant amount of time reading any sports blogs, trying to get a feel for the nuance of the genre.

My evidence of this was that neither he nor Costas himself had a clear understanding of the differences between posts and comments. This confusion is partially due to the lack of standardization in terminology across the web, but mostly due to people who haven’t taken the time to figure out what the words mean before they use them.

So allow me to just set the record straight, in case anyone reading this is still confused.

Mixin’ It Up is the name of my blog (short for weblog). The whole thing is the blog. Most websites have blog components to them — as a matter of fact, with the proliferation of Blogger and WordPress and Typepad, I would venture to say that most websites are blogs.

A blog is not the same as a post. A post is a post. This long body of text and links — with maybe a picture for good measure — is a post. (I blame Myspace for this confusion, because they refer to posts as blogs. As in, ‘click here to write a new blog.’) One can choose to “blog” as a verb, but the output of such blogging is blog posts.

Comments are what come after the posts. They are the feedback. The blogger writes the posts (or posts posts, or even blogs posts, or blogs blog-posts) and then random netizens get the option and/or freedom to comment on whatever was said. These are comments.

Got it?

Blogs, posts, comments.

All separate concepts.

Being a fifty year old man and not being “hip” to all of the latest trends does not absolve Buzz Bissinger of his ignorance. You would think common sense would’ve required that he figure this out before he run his mouth on national television.

But you, like Buzz, would be wrong.

Bissinger, 1
Deadspin, 1

Lesson three:

The rise of Deadspin proves that A) impartiality is overrated, and B) access doesn’t ensure good writing.

I loved the clip of Leitch they showed to open the Costas Now segment, because he challenged the assertion that being a good sports journalist requires you to abandon any sense of fandom… isn’t that how you got into sports in the first place?

The few times I’ve read Deadspin, I have been genuinely entertained, by both the posts and the comments. Even if the crass nature of the language gets to me from time to time, there is insight to be mined in the assailing of the establishment that is Deadspin’s essential raison d’être.

And being so anti-establishment would lend itself, certainly, to a healthy amount of distance from the subjects in the crosshairs. This is Leitch’s comeback to the typical sportswriter’s knee-jerk disdain for bloggers — what do you guys know, you don’t get the inside access that we do.

Leitch has said repeatedly that, in his view, the elite sportswriters that get to hang out with famous people all the time tend to write from a perspective that is alien to the average sports fan. Thus, the success of Deadspin frames in stark contrast the insular nature of the unofficial sportswriter’s fraternity.

Leitch and his cronies (well, now former cronies) don’t care that they’re not in the club. They’ve started their own club, and instead of needing a journalism degree and a press pass, you just need a computer, a camera phone, and a willingness to shine a spotlight on bad behavior at any time, for any reason, using any language, so long as it’s entertaining and promotes traffic to the site.

Which is pretty much what the big boys do, anyway. That’s why Leitch is being picked up to write for a “real” magazine.

Bissinger 1,
Deadspin 2

Lesson four:

The difference between a good body of work and a great body of work is accountability.

This, to me, is the fundamental error that many bloggers miss, and it’s part of the point that I think Bissinger was trying — and failing badly — to articulate.

While it’s true that inside access doesn’t automatically make for good writing, the best writers translate the inner sanctum of their sports beat, in an accessible format, to the average guy reading at home. They write with the fan in mind, but with the insight and nuance that you can’t get just by reading box scores and watching highlights. And most importantly, they have the privilege — or, in some cases, the burden — of talking to their subjects face to face about the things that they write.

(Well, except for Jay Mariotti and Ozzie Guillen, but that’s another story altgother.)

This is where Deadspin gets it wrong. Because Will Leitch wants the big boys of media to respect the form of sports blogging, but by avoiding insider access, Leitch avoids the accountability he needs to really sharpen his craft.

Which is ironic, because only a blogger as good and as dedicated as Leitch would warrant enough attention from the big boys in the first place. The imitators (they know who they are) don’t normally incite responses from the likes of Bob Costas, because, well… who the hell are they?

You have to write well to really irritate the likes of Bissinger and Costas. And whether or not he knows it, part of the reason why they’re reaching out (I’m using that term loosely) to Leitch is because they sense that sites like Deadspin are the future of sports journalism, and they’re trying to get Leitch and others to step their game up — by preserving a modicum of respect in the public arena. This is why Buzz kept hammering away at his idea that the comments influence the posts:

We are simply never going to come to common ground on the issue of comments versus posts. I sincerely believe that the comments do guide the posts, and the whole tone of Deadspin sets up [comments] that are with virtually no exception a collection of one-liners that are malicious, stupid, profane, sexually pathetic, and I will agree with you here, about a hundred times nastier than the posts themselves. But still, you and the other commentators set the tone, in effect giving people a license to kill under the cowardly cloak of anonymity. I have said several times that I behaved like the worst kind of blogger on Costas, but with one major difference—I did not hide behind some silly-sounding pseudonym. People knew exactly who I was. And the apology I made to you was sincere—you should never have been treated that way.

I edited his word “posts” to “comments” because it’s clear from the context which he meant. And I agree with him, mostly. The extent to which I disagree is the extent to which I find many of both the posts and the comments to be hilarious. In unquestionably bad taste sometimes, but funny nonetheless. Maybe that’s indicative of my own conformity to the culture, I don’t know.

But I understand where Bissinger is coming from. Which is why, in the title of this epic post, I referenced Jim Rome.

Rome has the same problem that Leitch has with Deadspin. He wants to provide a forum for his fans — many of whom behave like boorish frat boys — to express themselves, but he distances himself from his fans, so as to avoid being accountable for the times when those fans cross the line.

If you listen to the show, you know what I’m talking about… Rome will read an email or text message, or take a call, and then spend all this time detailing just how unfunny or immature or dumb that person’s idea was. But clearly he must have found something good about it — otherwise, it wouldn’t have made it on the air.

Rome wants to have it both ways; he wants to be able to enjoy the sophomoric humor inherent in the many cheap shots that his fans take, but he wants to be able to stand above the fray and adopt a posture of vague disapproval, like a third grade teacher trying to rein in a trio of class clowns.

All of this is, in my opinion, a way of avoiding accountability. Anonymity is the great allure of today’s media age. When people comment on blogs, or when call in to radio shows, they mostly use pseudonyms. You’re Jason in Modesto, or LickMyBalls345. Nobody knows if you’re the guy who is posting on Deadspin on company time while working as a manager for Corporation X, or the guy talking on his cell phone while driving like a maniac on the freeway.

I like to write satire, and my last three fake stories have gotten a little attention from folks. But I also sent links to representatives of my targets, because I want them to feel free to talk to me about it directly. I’m not hiding behind the shield of anonymity. Anything I say on this blog I would say in person.

And I’m hoping that will help me to become a better writer.

More importantly, it’s part of what God requires of me. I can’t talk to people at my church about honesty and dealing with division in the body of Christ (as I just did last Sunday) if I’m sowing division with my blog and hiding behind a low profile.

So for understanding this truth — even though he looked like an idiot trying to communicate it — I give Buzz Bissinger the nod. With two points for the money ball, the final score becomes:

Bissinger 3,
Deadspin 2

Speaking as someone who always acted like an old person even when I was in my early twenties, it’s nice to chalk one up for the old school.

But the next time some Myspacer asks me when I’m going to write a new “blog” for my site… I’m gonna punch somebody.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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A Splinter Cell Agent Finds Jesus (Sort of)

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

I want you to close your eyes, and imagine with me.

Imagine… that YOU … are a spy.

Not one of those chumps you see in the movies. You’re not James Bond in a tuxedo. You’re the real deal.

You’re part of a classified, top secret division of the NSA called Third Echelon. And for years, you have worked as a field agent, collaborating with another remote support unit. As a team, you are known as a splinter cell. You are sharp, silent, and nearly invisible. With the information that you’re provided, the years of military training under your belt, and the top-of-the-line weapons and surveillance equipment you have with you at all times, you are paid by the U.S. government to infiltrate the most heavily-guarded, secure locations known to man.

The average person has no idea you even exist, and that’s how you like it. Because your biggest asset on the job is darkness. You thrive in darkness. Staying in the shadows, moving quickly and silently, is the easiest way to go about your business undetected. And your mission is always the same: to get in, fulfill your objective, and get out, without anyone having a clue.

You do this on a regular basis. This is your job. You’re good at it, and you love it.

Now I want you to imagine embarking on the most important mission of your career. The U.S. is teetering on the brink of nuclear war, and Third Echelon needs to obtain some sensitive information to avert triggering a national crisis. Your mission is to infiltrate the heavily-guarded fortress that contains the documents in question, and of course, get out — without being caught.

Now your support unit is talking to you through a special ear-piece, giving you the lowdown. He’s got a blueprint map of the fortress, so with his help you know exactly where to locate your access point to the building. The only problem, he tells you, is that to get to your access point, you must walk through a huge courtyard. And this courtyard is bad news. In it there are armed guards walking around, and a spotlight with a sniper overhead. If that spotlight hits you, the sniper will take you out. And if by some miracle the sniper misses, the myriad of guards, now alerted to your position… won’t.

But you’ve got something they don’t have — infrared goggles. These goggles help you see in the dark. So you can see them, but they can’t see you. These goggles enable you to, carefully and quietly, anticipate their movements, elude the guards, and make your way into the building.

Twenty minutes later, you’ve secured the documents, and you’re ready to go. As far as you know, the hardest part is over with.
But suddenly your support unit gives you some REALLY bad news.
A silent alarm was triggered inside the building, and all of the guards outside have been alerted to your presence, including the sniper with the spotlight. Not only that, but now ALL OF THEM are wearing infrared goggles. And you’re faced with the impossible task of trying to sneak by a group of guards who can all see in the dark just like you.

So now what you are gonna do? What do you do when your cover is blown? What do you do when your biggest strength becomes your biggest weakness? How can you make it without walking in darkness, when walking in darkness is all you’ve ever known?
That’s the real question.

* * *

Okay now, open your eyes.

I’m not asking you to imagine anymore, because some of us have faced that very question already. We may not work as highly-trained super spies, but we have our own covert operations goin’ on. All of us, at one time or another, have been involved with something that we didn’t want other folks to know about. I don’t need to know you personally to know that’s true, because we were all born into sin. So when you live like that, when you feel the need to keep secrets and withhold the truth, you are, by virtue of your actions, living in darkness. That’s essentially what 1 John 1:6 says.

I should know, because I had to face that question, too. When I was in college, I would never admit publicly that I was living in darkness… no one ever does. I just had certain habits that I didn’t want other folks to know about. Yeah, I could sing and write and I was talented and outgoing, but there were a few situations I just had to keep on the down low. I wasn’t trying to spill all that, you kna’m sayin? I mean, not everybody needs to know everything, but certain people need to know certain things. And yet somehow I decided that I couldn’t trust the believers around me not to put my business out in the street, so most of the time, I kept those things to myself.

And I liked to tell people that I was honest, because if someone asked me what I thought about some issue, I’d usually give an honest answer. But true honesty was scary to me. It was messy, and complicated, and real. I didn’t want other people to see my flaws, see my ugly behavior, and judge me because of it. Yet at the same time, I really wanted to tell somebody because it was killing me just keeping it inside all the time. Like David said in Psalm 51, my sin was ever before me. I wanted to walk in the light, but I was scared of what would happen to me if I did.

And you know why I was scared? Because I was surrounded by a LOT of judgmental Christians. Folks that were really nice to your face, and talked about you like a dog behind your back. Their translation of 1 John 1:7 went like this:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have target practice with each other, and the blood of heathens is required for their sins.

I mean, with these folks, holiness was less of a lifestyle and more of a battle plan. They were always leading some Bible study, always involved in some “Christian” activity, and always ready to tell somebody else why what they were doing was wrong. I should know, because I was one too. I used to love to debate ethics and theology and eschatology, just so that I could get the intellectual upper hand, and nobody could challenge me on things that really mattered, like what kind of movies I would watch, and how much time was I spending alone with my girlfriend… you know, stuff like that.

But that’s not really what 1 John 1:7 says. What it really says is this:

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins” (NIV, emphasis mine).

See the difference there?

That’s why I thank God for Troy, Sahaan, Scott, and David. These are the guys in my Tuesday night accountability group. We are five guys that are committed to living a Christ-centered life. And what we have is by no means perfect, but it’s fellowship. We talk. We listen. We empathize. We get in each other’s faces. Sometimes it’s really deep, and sometimes it’s not. But there’s a common thread of grace and acceptance that abounds. We all know what it’s like to struggle, and we all know what it’s like to rejoice. And this, in my experience, is part of what it means to walk in the light.

Is it easy? Of course not. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. Sometimes it’s downright scary. But at this point in my life, I have no other choice. Because the alternative is continuing to walk in darkness, and like Neo in the Matrix, I’ve been down that road. I know exactly where it ends. It may not be death by gunshot, but nonetheless… it’s still death.

Ironically, I kept choosing darkness because I wanted to avoid being judged, but it’s only walking in the light that helps free me from that judgment. By walking in the light, not only do we have fellowship with one another, but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.

The Greek word translated for “cleanses” is katharizo, which is related to our English word “catharsis.” Catharsis is what happens when you someone else goes through something meaningful, but somehow you get the benefit from it. It’s sort of like the same way that my wife Holly loves to watch romantic movies that make her cry. She experiences the same emotions that the main characters experience. She goes through what they go through.

So the usage of the word katharizo in 1 John 1:7 means that when Jesus was crucified, He bore the weight of our sins, and when He resurrected, the curse of sin was removed from us. He did it once himself, but it worked for everybody. So there’s no more judgment. No outstanding record of guilt. No awkward plea bargains or community service. We sin, we repent, and we’re forgiven. Just like that.

Plus… and this is the really good part… even if there was some sort of record of our sin being kept, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Because the people that I’m walking in fellowship with, if we’re all walking in the light together, confessing our sins and witnessing each other’s restoration process, being privy to all the highs and lows of life, and generally walking through all of it together… all they can see is God moving. All they can see is how good God is. They don’t have the time or energy to focus on trying to judge me for my sin, and even if they did… God is too good. His light is just too bright. It’s like staring into the sun; once you do it, you can’t see anything else.

* * *

Which brings us back to our heralded splinter cell field agent. If you didn’t already know, the scenario I outlined is taken from a real story about a splinter cell field agent named Sam Fisher. And when Fisher’s enemies had donned infrared goggles, suddenly his cover of darkness was removed. With no other way to make it through his mission alive, he made a choice. It ran counter to all of his training and life experiences, and it probably felt like a foolish, suicidal move. But he did it anyway.

He walked directly into the spotlight.

See, if you’re wearing infrared goggles, darkness looks like daytime. So bright light looks REALLY BRIGHT. As long as Sam Fisher stood directly in the spotlight, stopped when it stopped, and moved wherever it moved, all his enemies could see was the light. They couldn’t see him. Fisher followed the spotlight all the way to freedom, and that’s how he made it out alive.

You and I may not be highly-classified counter-terrorist spies, but we’ve got a choice to make. We can walk in darkness, or we can walk in the light. And just like Sam Fisher, we have the benefit of someone who can talk to us and give us guidance about how to proceed. He’s the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t need an ear-piece to speak. He just needs us to listen.

So take a leap of faith, and step right into the spotlight.

It might feel foolish. It might mean risking your unblemished reputation.

But it might just save your life one day.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.