Some Poor Sap in a Big-Box Store (on mis-education & fear)

So there I was, looking for a little brainless recreation, a (slightly) guilty pleasure that doesn’t expand the horizons of my waistline. It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, which is about sports (and has lots of photos). I thought I’d be reading about football and basketball, and I was, but I wasn’t far into a profile on an NCAA hoopster I’d never heard of before I got slapped in the face with a frozen sociocultural mackerel.

Honest, I wasn’t planning on extracting any Higher Meaning from this piece. Luke Winn tells the story of Alan Williams, a master of one of the less glamourous aspects of basketball, rebounding. Snaring missed shots is deeply important to successful teams (and even more to unsuccessful ones, like the one I’m trying to coach these days), not to mention under-valued. I thought maybe I’d try to convince a few of my players to read his story and learn from his approach, with no great expectations or hopes even on that lukewarm front.

But then this chunk of backstory happened: Williams, as a nine-year-old, offers himself as a translator for a Hispanic man in a Toys “R” Us. (Deep prejudices leapt forward from the shadows: I used to call the place Toys “R” Satan when my kids were young, because it was a hellish place to take little boys. I swore I’d never enter one again, and so far I’m good, something like 23 straight years.) Alan Williams is black, and his parents are prominent in the legal and law enforcement communities of Phoenix, Arizona.

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Mel Stottlemyre (considering the odds & not complaining)

My name is Howdy, and I’m still a paper wrangler.

Oh, I have e-files, too, of great letters, articles of lasting importance to me, and no doubt lots of ephemera that will make me wonder, Why did I hang on to that, again? In our move back from China, though, I also had the challenge of deciding what magazine tear-outs would make the luggage weight limit, and have come back to hundreds more in my big green Ottawa filing cabinet in the garage. So.

I ran across a column from Steve Rushin — he’s excellent, a very funny writer, though not in this piece — in the July 12, 2004 Sports Illustrated. (Paper hoarders sometimes get to remember useful things, and fine.) He was writing about cancer, multiple myeloma, because his big brother Jim had it and, more famously, so did a couple of superb ex-big-league ballplayers. Rushin began this way: We have ‘disillusionment’, but not an opposite word (illusionment) for when somebody’s even better than you thought. He was talking about Mel Stottlemyre, a former major league pitching star.

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Richard Sherman (on athletic stereotyping)

“I felt like somebody took me from somewhere else and dropped me down into this place [Compton, a rough section of Los Angeles]. I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports….I know the jock stereotype – cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it.”

Richard Sherman, DB, Seattle Seahawks (NFL), in a Sports Illustrated cover story, 29 July 2013. Speaking of stereotypes, Sherman is black, wears long dreadlocks, graduated a frustratingly close second in his high school class, and chose (and graduated on time from) Stanford University instead of the more highly ranked football factories that recruited him. Though he talks more trash than would appear humble, he is a small treasure to this coach and writer and long-time catcher and flinger of balls: Sherman is a talking, walking stereotype-buster, a jock with brains and no intention of hiding them. His story made an interesting companion to Steve Rushin’s piece on humility in the same issue, as Sherman is not shy about bringing attention to himself.

Margaret Thatcher (on power (and women))

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), long before being brought (back) to life and attention in an Oscar-winning 2011 Meryl Streep performance, was a tough-minded politician who became a polarizing figure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. To her short definition I quickly think of others: being honest, or good in some way at at some thing, being blind to race or not chiefly motivated by money…

(And where do these quotes come from, you probably don’t wonder? In this case, Ms. Thatcher’s witticism — perhaps not words to live by, but awfully clever and yes, powerful — come from the March 11 edition of Sports Illustrated, its so-called “power issue”. I look for inspiration and good words everywhere.)