Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Things I could do without ...

I don't want to say these things make me angry, per se, but here are a few things I could do without if I had my choice ...

Holiday trees and holiday parties. You know what? The name of the holiday is Christmas. Or it's Hanukkah. Or Quanza. Or something else. Calling something a "Christmas Tree," or holding a "Christmas party" isn't violating anyone's constitutional rights. Nobody's going to indoctrinate you, or try to shove the religious significance of Christmas (or Hanukkah) down your throat. People just go, have a good time, swap stories, have a few drinks and good conversations, exchange gifts (perhaps), and go home.

We've run so far afield of what the U.S. Constitution says about religion and the government that we've eviscerated just about every meaningful Christmas symbol there is ... and I'm not even talking about the overtly religious ones. Santa Claus? Christmas trees? Are we serious? And is it any wonder why, in this country, we can't get a single thing done if we're spending so much time stumbling around the English language trying to find substitutes for the word "Santa" and "Christmas?"

What makes this so tough to deal with is the minute someone comes up with another sickeningly politically correct substitute for word "Christmas," the religious righties come out of their holes and start lecturing us on what horrible people we are because we've taken Christ out of Christmas.

Surely there must be a happy medium here where we can all exist without this phony angst over what we call Christmas. It's just needless nit-picking.


Onward and upward.Tim Tebow. It is, of course, his right to kneel down and thank God every time he leads the Denver Broncos to another comeback victory. And he seems genuine about it.

Yet you can’t blame people who might not feel as devout about God’s role in professional sports from being a little put off by what has come to be known as “Tebowing.”

Personally, I can do without all the “Tebowing.”

Maybe I wouldn’t feel as strongly as I do on this subject if I hadn’t heard Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox try to say it was God’s will that the Red Sox choked up a seemingly insurmountable lead in the American League wild card last September. For as many Tim Tebows as there are, there are just as many Adrian Gonzalezs too. And perhaps with that seismic split in sentiment over God’s role in sports, maybe we’d all be better off leaving Him – in this case, at least – to the priests, theologians, and the various churches and temples we attend.

Every time I see Tebow Tebowing, I’m reminded of the parable about the Plebeian and the Pharisee in the temple. It goes something like this: A Plebeian and a Pharisee go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee (and if you read the new testament much, you know that Jesus often pointed out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy) goes right up front and starts talking about how wonderful he is, how he contributes to all these charities, and how he works mightily to spread the word of God and to keep his commandments. He even says he’s thankful he is who he is, and that he’s not a gentile, and certainly not the Plebeian at the other end of the church.

The Plebeian sits in the back says, simply, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Jesus, as the Bible points out, much preferred the latter. He was not impressed with people who wore their faith on their sleeves like some kind of a cudgel or a badge. He much preferred people like the Plebeian, who acted with humility and who did the best they could to acknowledge, and work on, their imperfections.

Tebow is a great story, and no one loves a great story more than me. We could get into the whole aspect of how Tebow’s been helped immeasurably by a very good defense … very bad opponents (in terms of talent, not comportment) … and very stupid decisions on the part of the Chicago Bears. How do you run out of bounds when you lead by three points, and there’s only a minute and change to go in the game?

(Then again, as someone pointed out to me last night, “that’s when you begin to wonder whether there’s any divine intervention going on here.”)

These are facts, to be sure, but they’re not so exclusive that they should get in the way of what has been a marvelous story. This is a guy scorned by everyone from his own coach to the joker du jour on ESPN/the NFL channel/the guy down the street/every Oakland Raider fan. He finally got his chance, and – not to wear out a very shopworn cliché, but – all he’s done is win.

It’s also easy to point out that there are buckets full of quarterbacks who have led their teams in fourth-quarter comebacks, and none perhaps more famous than the guy who sits up in the booth during ever Broncos game … Mr. “The Drive” himself … John Elway.

Every good quarterback the NFL has ever seen has a cachet of fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit, from Jim Kelly to Bart Starr to Dan Marino to Kenny Stabler to Joe Montana to Peyton Manning to Tom Brady and even Eli Manning … has engineered fourth-quarter comebacks. Even Tony Romo -- the greatest quarterback never to have won even a conference title let alone a Super Bowl (he said with sarcasm) – has brought his team back in the fourth quarter.

The difference between all of them and Tebow is that regardless of how and why they got their breaks, they are classic quarterbacks in the NFL mold. Tebow is not. And that’s what makes this such a compelling story. He was thrown into the breach because the Broncos had nobody else, and – you can be sure – the sentiment was “OK, let’s give him this shot, so that when he falls flat on his face, we’ll never have to hear about him again.”

Only he hasn’t fallen flat on his face.

Just like Michael Vick was last year’s compelling NFL story, this year’s is Tim Tebow. And just to add to the irony even further, compare and contrast the two personalities. Vick … dog fighting … prison … baggage to go along with his baggage. Tebow … God.

Could there be a more striking contrast?

Still, he needs to ditch the showy demonstrations of faith lest that become the bigger story than anything he does on the field.

Yesterday, while Tebow was leading Denver to another comeback win, Matt Ryan did the same for the Atlanta Falcons. When he was asked about it afterward, Ryan simply said, "I have great teammates."



Saturday, after about three months, Occupy Boston came to an end with about the most peaceful raid you could imagine. The occupiers squatted on a piece of public property named for Rose Kennedy (which is somewhat ironic, since if there's any family in politics that likes to make its empathy with the have-nots more apparent than the Kennedys, I'd like to know who).

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Occupy Boston. A lot. But one thing I could certainly do without is the knee-jerk hate that seemed to grow the longer this movement lasted.

Here's a news bulletin: Protest ain't pretty. It never was ... and it'll never be. Sometimes, I wonder just what earth we think when we glorify such protests as the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre as the act of American patriots whose sacrifice helped form a country.

All of that is true, of course. The patriots did what they did at great peril to themselves, and also knowing the risk they were taking in fanning the flames of the established order (in this case, the British). But in 1770, before history had a chance to sort it all out and cast Sam Adams and Co. as the patriots they’ve grown to be, the Boston Tea Party was a blatant act of civil disobedience … a crime, actually … that was far more destructive than anything the Occupy Bostonians did.

I have no problem with people wishing the occupiers would all go home and wash up (though, to me, that was an oversimplification of the issue). And count me among those appalled at the amount of damage they did to a beautiful section of Boston greenery. That aspect of it is truly unfortunate, and one would hope that anyone among the occupiers with the means to contribute toward the Greenway’s restoration would just do so. There is such a thing as accountability.

Yet, there was ample overreaction too. One Boston newspaper’s idea of a big picture to illustrate the occupation was of a discarded hypodermic needle. No explanation. No effort to find out what the needle may have been used for. It looked like the type of needle I used every day to inject insulin into myself, and it there’s no way of knowing whether that was the case here.

Yet the insinuation, by running it, of course, is that these people were all druggies and hippies. And that’s just irresponsible (almost as irresponsible as it was to leave the needle out there in the first place).

Among the more lucid criticisms of the occupiers was that their message wasn’t clear enough. Nobody knew what they were protesting because they never articulated it.

This might come as a shock to some people, but in this age of 30-second updates and sound bytes, “articulate” means anything that can be reduced to a snippet that can be run between commercials, or something that’ll fit neatly on a scroll at the bottom of your TV screen. Either that, or a 140-words-or-less tweet.

So holding them accountable for their “lack of message” is misleading. There was just so much to protest that it wasn’t possible to capsulate it into the type of sound byte we've all come to expect in this era of concise communication. And even if they tried to expound on their unrest, let’s be honest. After about a minute, people today stop listening.

I'm sure if I had to stumble around them every day I'd have found them more and more irritating as the time went by. Thankfully, I didn't have to. But I'm reminded that I've lived through horrendous civil rights protests where people actually got KILLED. I've lived through ugly, ugly, anti-Vietnam War protests that culminated in events such as Kent State, and saw public buildings bombed by radicals.

Nothing any of these protesters did came close to that.

Change isn't forged by timid people. Change comes as the result of protracted public unrest. To those who can't wrap themselves around this, do us all a favor and read your history. Nobody woke up one morning and said, "you know, slavery isn't a territorial issue, it’s not about “property,” and it isn’t a matter of states' rights; it's simply wrong on every level you can imagine." If they had, maybe we wouldn't have had to fight the Civil War over it.

And if protest meets with everyone's convenience, then it isn't much of a protest. It isn’t supposed to keep people in their comfort zones. Its very nature is to eject people from their comfort zones, and startle them as much as possible. Again, let’s read our history. We’d still be British subjects today had people such as John and Sam Adams hadn’t pushed and pushed, and ruffled feathers, and made people uncomfortable, and outraged them into action.

There’s a great scene in the play “1776” in which the members of the Continental Congress are debating the Declaration of Independence. Each passage meets with a sentiment among certain members of the congress that “the king might find that offensive.”

Finally, John Adams throws his hands up in disgust.

“Good GOD,” he cries out. “This is a revolution. We have to offend SOMEBODY.”


Finally … are we getting a little carried away with an excessive reliance on “zero tolerance” as a panacea for all that ails us?

I can see cases where it’s absolutely necessary. There should be, for example, zero tolerance on matters of bullying, taunting, helmet-to-helmet hits in football, swinging your stick wildly in hockey, beanballs in baseball, and hard, flagrant fouls in basketball.

Any action, in any arena, designed specifically to hurt, humiliate or intimidate defenseless people should never be tolerated, and shame on anyone who would possibly disagree with that.

But sometimes, in our zeal to be fair, we really get in the way. I counted at least four penalties in Sunday’s Redskins-Patriots game that were just idiotic, and just so you know where I’m coming from, half of them were called on Washington.

But the reason for writing this comes from an incident in Massachusetts during the high school Super Bowls. In one game, a kid from Cathedral High School was running, unabated and unmolested, for the go-ahead touchdown when he, for a moment, pumped his fist in the air. He didn’t aim it at anyone, didn’t turn to look at anyone, he was just genuinely happy that he was putting his team ahead in the game.

He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and the touchdown was taken off the board (per a new rule that makes such penalties spot fouls as opposed to dead-ball fouls, which are assessed on the next play). The kid threw an interception on the next play, and even though there were six minutes to go in the game (which is, in high school football, constitutes more than half of the fourth quarter), Cathedral could never recover and lost the game.

What did the kid do that was so wrong? He didn’t taunt anybody. The display of joy wasn’t excessive (he may have had his hand up for two strides before dropping it back down). And it just seems that this is one case where you’re penalizing natural human reaction as opposed to orchestrated, intentional bad sportsmanship. And to me, that is wrong.

Of course, there IS another side. The first one is that these teams were warned repeatedly that anything that even remotely seemed like excessive celebrating – especially while the play was still going on – would be subject to a spot foul penalty. They all knew that going in … or should have known.

The second one is that the boy in question had already been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the game. So it’s quite possible the referee was keeping an extra eye on him and gave him no wiggle room when he showed his momentary lapse of judgment on this play.

Still, there’s a difference between being a bully on the field (in the manner of cheap shots or verbal taunting) and natural human exuberance. And the day we start making natural human exuberance an infraction is the day we need to blow the whole thing up and start over.

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