A Day in the Life

The Website of Matt Osgood

Last week, I was going through my iPad, looking at pictures of my daughter through the eight months she’s been in this world. Littered throughout various blurry shots and repeats of literally the same exact pose are videos of various stages of motor skills. Here she’s crawling; In this one she’s rolling over. As I swipe left, the feats of physical skills become less and less impressive. It’s what we do as parents, especially first-time parents. We think every little thing our child does is amazing. It’s not.

A friend of mine told me, when our daughter was born, that, “People have been having kids for a long time, but when it’s yours, it feels like the first time anyone’s ever done it. And, in a way, it is.” Sound advice, really, and captures the heart of all of this: that the mundanity is what we’re looking for. The simplest…

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A Day in the Life

Last week, I was going through my iPad, looking at pictures of my daughter through the eight months she’s been in this world. Littered throughout various blurry shots and repeats of literally the same exact pose are videos of various stages of motor skills. Here she’s crawling; In this one she’s rolling over. As I swipe left, the feats of physical skills become less and less impressive. It’s what we do as parents, especially first-time parents. We think every little thing our child does is amazing. It’s not.

A friend of mine told me, when our daughter was born, that, “People have been having kids for a long time, but when it’s yours, it feels like the first time anyone’s ever done it. And, in a way, it is.” Sound advice, really, and captures the heart of all of this: that the mundanity is what we’re looking for. The simplest moments can be the best moments.

Most of my work is done from home. It’s a good thing, mostly. We get to skip the exorbitant cost of day care. Our daughter is with a parent at all times. We worry a bit about socialization, but I think most other kids are assholes. She’s better off with me. I have hotter takes on the sports world, plus I’m smarter than most toddlers. Ever seen them try to fit blocks into the correct holes? Most of the time they completely screw it up.

Perfect baby? Nailed it. Or so I thought.

Perfect baby? Nailed it.
Or so I thought.

In working at home, I’ll be able to introduce our daughter to classic albums (we’re currently big Astral Weeks fans), public radio, the joys of mid-morning naps, and after-lunch walks with the dog. She helps me prep dinner, which amounts to not much more than picking up stray onions or peppers and me having to wrestle them away from her before she sticks them in her nose.

I figured there’d be a schedule. We’d wake up, have a cute little breakfast together like in those Cheerio commercials. She’d play peacefully with her toys for a couple of hours. While she did this, I’d get some note-taking done for an article I’m working on, or get work done on something larger. I’d shoot out a couple of e-mails all the while glancing over occasionally and commenting, to myself mostly, “Of course she’s behaving. She’s perfect.” Then she’d nap around the time the pot of coffee was finished and I’d write for the two to three hours she napped.

We’d repeat this schedule until late in the afternoon, when my wife would walk into our home to the scene of a father and daughter sitting on the couch reading a book with the dog at their feet. “Dinner will be ready in about an hour,” I’d say, “Oh, and I handed in another piece and a couple of new pitches found homes.”

Of course, I’m an idiot for thinking this way. It wasn’t too bad at first because she was immobilized. If I could deal with a little fussing, I could get some chores done, some writing done. She was a good baby, too. Very self-directed and happy. Then she learned how to crawl. Then she learned how to climb. As I write this, I assume she’s in the next room learning to drive a car.

My days now are filled with chasing. She eats breakfast alone and gets filthy, then screams when I wipe her face as if I’m sanding her smooth. Her playing now involves climbing everything from bookshelves to couches to hutches to refrigerators. When she naps, it’s when I do things like shower, eat, use the bathroom, and punch myself in the chest. Usually by the time the weeping (mine, not hers) stops and I pour a cup of coffee, the baby monitors chimes because she’s either thrown her pacifier at the camera like a pissed off convict or she’s put on a Metallica CD.

It is, unlike her very Bush League kicking or rolling over, quite impressive actually. She can climb stairs. She rarely falls anymore. She can make it from the living room to the dining room — passing through the kitchen on the way — with the stealthiness of a samurai. When she realized we weren’t coming to get her when she would cry at night, she decided she’d try to come to us, using all her might to scale her crib wall like it’s the Khumbu Icefall on Everest.

What's the saying about having to explain a joke? Anyway, here's the Khumbu Icefalls (read a book, dummies!)

What’s the saying about having to explain a joke? Anyway, here’s the Khumbu Icefall (read a book, dummies!)

She’s an absolute hurricane tearing through our home each and every day. Some days I’m FEMA; Some days I’m Red Cross; Some days I’m part of the wreckage and some days no writing gets done at all. It’s a difficult and frustrating way to spend a day. But the fact that she can create all this havoc and fear and frustration and exasperation, and then make me fall much more in love each time she fades into a deep sleep in my arms? That’s impressive.

On Jenner; On Waddell

One of the facets of journalism that I’ve always been interested in is the collection of otherwise inconsequential numbers and frivolous facts. We recall difficult-to-spell last names and memorable-sounding hometowns. The stories we tell end up becoming a part of the fabric of our memories, and dot our conversations — when they sway a certain way — with sentences with begin with, “I was talking to someone once who said …”

The point, I guess, is that there are stories, both large and small, that stick with us. Maybe not in their entirety, but points of interest or fascination remain as fragments of some larger portrait of who we are. Sometimes, even the stories we don’t tell remain. All writers have files and files of unpublished material, thousands of words unfiltered, unedited, unorganized, research done for stories we never got to tell.

Sparing the details, I wanted to tell a modernized version of the Tom Waddell story last summer, in the year of his 60th reunion from Springfield College. Waddell’s story is a remarkable tale that Dick Schaap wrote a book about, and that my friend Marty Dobrow masterfully retold for ESPN. Long story short, he beat me to it by a few months. It’s a story I’m happy to have lost to him. Losing it to anyone else would have been heartbreaking.

Dr. Tom Waddell was an Olympian, a paratrooper, a doctor, an outspoken social rights activist. He died of AIDS in 1987.

Dr. Tom Waddell was an Olympian, a paratrooper, a doctor, an outspoken social rights activist. He died of AIDS in 1987.

Having said all of this, Waddell’s story, one that I read in college at our alma mater is a story that has endured in my mind. I said to Marty, during his presentation to Waddell’s classmates at the reunion weekend, “This is a story you must feel so grateful to be able to tell.” Some stories are like that.

And so I couldn’t help but think of Waddell when another decathlete, Bruce Jenner, decided to tell the world on 20/20 Friday night that he was living life as a transgender. That’s what happens in journalism. When something important happens, we immediately seek a precedent. In cases like Jenner’s, where there will undoubtedly be people who are intolerant or confused at what transgender means or just plain old mean, it is important to look back in our files and smile that the stores we have told — or, in this case, almost told — are of the people who’d be incredibly proud of Jenner’s braveness.

Jenner’s story on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer was, as he predicted, an emotional two hour of television. The program was aided greatly by doctors and experts on gender identity who explained the basics of the transgender community; ABC also did a wonderful job adding anecdotes about the difficulties transgender people face on a daily basis from society. Some of these stories were heartbreaking tales of abuse and violence and suicide. Again, I couldn’t help but think about Waddell facing the same ignorance so many years ago; I couldn’t help but feel helpless watching Bruce Jenner explain his inner turmoil the same why I know Waddell did as they succeeded at the very pinnacle of athletic achievement: the Olympics.

Bruce Jenner announced he was transgender in April, 2015.

Bruce Jenner announced he was transgender in April, 2015.

We have a long way to go, of course. We don’t readily accept things we don’t understand. The media doesn’t help sometimes. Sensationalism sells. Intolerance does too. As tolerant and loving as a family can be, I’m sure even that famous family will face some obstacles and discomfort. We’re not perfect, but we are living in a society much more accepting and understanding than when Waddell came out of the closet — also very brave — in the same year Jenner was setting the decathlon record in Montreal. I wonder if these two men ever met. I wonder if Jenner thought of his own struggle when he read of Waddell’s in People in 1976.

I can say with certainty, though, that from what I know about Waddell, wherever he is. He’s proud.

 

Madness of March

A friend of mine is well-connected within the elite hockey circles. Many of his friends have played at the very highest level of hockey. He’s been told, and he relayed this information to me that within every NHL locker room before every game, both teams are fairly certain of who is going to win that game. Of course, there’s a lot that can swing the outcome in either direction, but, true or not, this seems to throw a proverbial wrench in our belief that anyone can win on any given day.

College basketball fans are unified in what they don’t know. That’s what makes this tournament, in which a field of 68 can be reduced to 16 in a matter of a maddeningly exciting weekend, the most compelling sports programming of the year.

Millions of us play prognosticator, athletically-minded Punxsutawney Phil’s, in not-so-furtive pools in the form of Xeroxed sheets of paper handed to us by Dave in accounting or forwarded along in e-mail inboxes from personal accounts. We fork over our $10 or $20, nothing to steep to be exclusive, just low enough to include the shrewdest, but acquiescent-in-the-name-of-workplace-camaraderie person in the office; We pour over match-ups and guess at which tiny college will unseat the powerhouse or which #1 seed will be the first to exit the tournament and head back to campus to attend class on Monday. Ultimately, we choose a winner. Winning six games in a row is difficult at the highest levels of collegiate basketball, but one team does it every year.

promo_RonHunter_0

But, in the end, these are just guesses. We don’t know and it’d be safe to assume, too, that even the coaches and players are clueless as the what the outcome of any contest will be. So much can go right and even more can go wrong in a game played by 20-year-olds, coached by mostly by unnaturally competitive and driven coaches, and governed by possibility the shadiest organization in organized sports. No one is infallible. Sometimes shot don’t fall; Sometimes world-class physiques fail themselves.

Kentucky’s presence hovers over this tournament like an omnipotent body. Every team is playing against the Wildcats even when there is no blue in sight. A win is judged against how well that same performance would have registered against the tournament favorite. In Kentucky’s 13-point win against Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats were threatened, but threatened in the way threatened by the specter of no dessert: They knew that, ultimately, they’d get what they want. They’d just have to endure the annoyance of forcing down some vegetables, in this case, the constant cajoling and pestering of a tough-minded Bearcat team. Kentucky was never truly worried and never played with an urgency that suggested so.

So on one hand we have a tournament that is filled with uncertainty. Anyone, it seems, can win one game. In the professional basketball ranks, the playoffs are a series. The cream will, as it is said, rise to the top in a best-of-seven contest. But in a one-and-done format, the beauty is the unpredictability. On the other hand, the tournament produces much of the same. John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo all have their teams poised for another shot at the crown. Kentucky is the most common pick to win the whole damn thing.

And so we know, but we don’t. It’s why we root for David, but why we bet on Goliath.

John Calipari is the coach at Kentucky, the favorites to win the NCAA title.

John Calipari is the coach at Kentucky, the favorites to win the NCAA title.

Refusing to Believe Pats’ Success is a Mistake

I was, admittedly, while growing up, a Buffalo Bills fan who dabbled in the 49ers. This fact was driven by three factors: (1) Jerry Rice, the greatest football player of all-time was my favorite player; (2) Both of these teams were really good; (3) The Patriots never sold out Sullivan Stadium and weren’t on television, even locally. With as much honesty as I can muster, it was reasons one and two that were probably the most relevant to my fandom.

That being said, my leanings swayed for good when Robert Kraft bought the team. Drew Bledsoe was the #1 pick, the logo was changed, and Bill Parcells was coming on as a coach. Optimism reigned and the Patriots would be playing on television. Access is important. You can’t root for a team you can’t watch play.

For the past 15 years, the Patriots have had unprecedented success. They’ve been fortunate to have one of the greatest coaches of all-time as well as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Owner Kraft is equally important here. The Patriots have won 12 divisional titles, made nine conference titles games, and six Super Bowls. This makes them an outlier. No team has ever matched this success.

This comes, of course, with suspicion, considering the Patriots were fined and stripped of a draft pick in 2007-08 after they were caught breaking the rule in which they weren’t supposed to film the other team’s defensive signals. This incident, of course, is a topic for a much different article. Regardless of the team’s success, this “SpyGate” incident places an hypothetical asterisk next to the Patriots success. Unfortunately so. And it’s not because I’m a Patriots fan.

We live in a depressing world if we believe any sort of unprecedented success is achieved only through nefarious means.

Rightfully so, perhaps. We’re jaded by being let down by our heroes. People like Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds are good examples. The view of sports is an equal mixture of optimism and longing for fair play, but also of suspicion. Athletes used to the be good guys, the smiling faces on cereal boxes and commercials. “All-American” became not only an honor bestowed upon athletic success, but an adjective for a combination of morality, charm, and skill (and, usually, good looks).

Tom Brady, once the NFL's ultimate "All-American," is now viewed suspiciously, not unlike many who've experienced prolonged success

Tom Brady, once the NFL’s ultimate “All-American,” is now viewed suspiciously, not unlike many who’ve experienced prolonged success.

Success viewed in the present is different than success viewed in hindsight, and I think we’ll see that in regard to the Patriots. During the Yankees run in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, there was a distain (one easily disregarded by New York fans who bathed themselves in other fan’s tears) because the Yankees could spend a little more — okay, well, a lot more — and lure free agents in a salary cap-free game. There was a resentment from the other fanbases. Looking back now, we see the great Derek Jeter and the great Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre and think, “Holy shit that team was stacked.” We’re not as angry anymore.

When we think of outliers, it’s unfortunate we can’t see them for what they are. The aforementioned Rice was an outlier, a not-terribly-fast receiver from a no-name school. He now owns pretty much every receiving record in the history books. Wayne Gretzky is in the same boat. “Outliers are more interesting,” said Malcolm Gladwell, “because they require us to come up with new and different explanations for success.” Einstein is an outlier; Bill Gates, too.

Calling the Patriots “cheaters” not only does the other franchises who’ve won Super Bowl titles a disservice (what, they couldn’t have just beaten the Patriots because they were a better team?), it does fandom a disservice. Of all the Patriots “transgressions” and “history,” the crimes they committed were accusations. They were found guilty of one crime, for which they paid heavily. It shouldn’t call into question their success before or after that incident — and certainly not seven years later.

I’m not saying sports are pure. There are teams and players seeking an advantage in all sports, some of these advantages small, some large, some even could be considered unfair. The players, too, hyper-competitive/hyper-masculine, are also not cleared. There are, as we see in all walks of life, people who are flawed, people who aren’t very nice. I’m not even saying we should suspend our disbelief that all is well within the sports world. We have a right to be cynical about our heroes. We’ve earned it.

But if we take away what’s great about sports — that these human beings, so like us, can perform on an athletic plane different from what we ever could; that this form of entertainment can contain some elements of the amazing/incredible/magical — then why watch?

Thoughts on the Rams’ “Hands Up” Protest

On Sunday, five St. Louis Rams came out of the team’s tunnel with their hands to the air, a show of solidarity to Ferguson, Missouri’s — and, indeed, America’s, too — struggles with race relations following the shooting death of Michael Brown. The player’s act symbolized much more than just Ferguson, but the insistence of a fact that’s been long ignored in this country: that black lives matter.

Those who disagree with the actions of these players insist that the media-spun narrative — that Michael Brown stood facing office Darren Wilson, hands in the air, shouting, “Don’t shoot” — being an incorrect (in the eyes of a grand jury) account of the actual event should have be enough to prevent players from using it as the narrative that informed their gestures. In effect, their actions are furthering a false narrative. Maybe so.

Some who agree with the players cite the first amendment. Of course, players are people, too, complete with their own opinions and value systems. Just because they represent a brand — in this case, an NFL team — doesn’t mean they should separate their hearts from their heads. Players are often silent in the face of injustice because it is, indeed, very easy for a owner and player with conflicting social stances to part ways on account of “performance” rather than politics.

It’s important to note this idea that the first amendment should protects us from professional punishment, though. The Rams players are certainly allowed to exercise their rights as citizens. They did so non-violently and silently, and that created waves that rippled outward into both praise and criticism. Martin Luther King would have been proud, I think. A dialogue is overdue.

We can’t, though, pick and choose what we decide is free speech and admirable, and what is hateful and a fireable offense. Toronto-based sportscaster Damien Goddard was fired for his support of “traditional” marriage. His stance, obviously, is a crazy one, but it’s a stance that some people — fortunately it’s a number that is getting smaller — have. The Ferguson story is a polarizing story. People have chosen sides. It should be okay to challenge each other if, in the long run, our challenges and discussions make the world, particularly in regard to our relationships with each other, a better place. I stand with the players, but only if their protest symbolized something larger, not just Ferguson, but the historically underserved population of people of color, reminded us how far we still have to go, and a way to figure out how to get there.

What’s in a name?

As with most pivotal moments in popular culture, the entire situation comes down to opinions, which is good in some hard-to-define way. We’re entitled to our opinions by the Constitution and, more than that, we’re allowed to have opinions because it’d be a dick move if we weren’t. And if we all agreed on everything, there’d be no such thing as opinions, just facts piled up on a pretty boring landscape.

But there are of course opinions and facts here. Also, there’s greed and politics and political correctness and racism within the debate about the name that is currently listed for the football team that resides in Washington, D.C.

I’m not going to pretend to be a trademark lawyer or even claim to know anything deeper than the fundamentals about the case. What I do know is that there are two sides, probably more than that, if we’re counting the people who don’t care or haven’t given it one minute of thought. Some people stand on the side of, essentially, if it’s considered vulgar or offensive to some people then perhaps the name should be changed; the other camp, probably the louder and more serious of the two sides, would prefer to see the name remain the same. History and all that, or whatever their rationale.

This is, of course, a matter of opinions more than anything else and I’d like to acknowledge that my bias in this case is fairly evident, just because my line of questioning would be less, um, probing of the former stance. I’d ask, “Why do you think the Washington football team should change their name?” There’d be a standard answer, which I myself would probably give, that, if it is offensive to some people, then change it. To me, it seems simple. We don’t choose what’s offensive to people. We don’t even choose what’s offensive to us. It’s more of a visceral and deep-rooted response.

For the other side, I guess my series of questions would go like this: What, as a Washington football fan who supports keeping the name, is so important about the name? Is it, as I suspect, a “We’re not giving in to political correctness” stance, or is it something deeper than that? If so, what? If you’re not “giving in to” political correctness, why not? If the name is deemed offensive only to one person, shouldn’t a name change be at least considered? How many people would need to be offended before you supported a name change? Is it a historical stance? Do you just want nothing to change ever, even if it’s for the benefit of others?

As for political correctness, perhaps the feeling is that we’re going “too far.” People can go to far with anything and I don’t think political correctness is immune. I’m setting “too far” for political correctness at “when they change the name of Cracker Barrel because it offends people.” Either way, this is probably a matter of political correctness, the same way we stopped using some pretty hateful and ignorant words against blacks or Jews or homosexuals.

A keep-the-name-the-same supporter I know lamented too much political correctness to me recently at a party. “We’re trying too hard to make everyone happy,” he said. I found this to be an odd philosophy. It implied, to me, that we shouldn’t be trying to make everyone happy. It implied, especially, that if we’re not trying to make his side happy, we’re doing the wrong thing. We’re going too far.

This, of course, is a pretty poor attitude to have. We’re going to win some, we’re going to lose some in this life. In small and large victories, our side will be victorious and our side will falter, sometimes in spectacular fashion. For some reasons we haven’t been able to settle this internally. In my experience, the side to be on is that side to which there are easier answers to the question, “Why not?” Why not change the name? Why not let women vote? Why not allow same-sex marriage?

Maybe I'm the jerk here ... (I can't actually find the date here for this, but I still think 22% is the more significant number)

Maybe I’m the jerk here … (I can’t actually find the date here for this, but I still think 22% is the more significant number)

I went to a college whose football team was referred to, for a time, as the “Stubby Christians.” After that, the “Chieftains.” As names go, they were first ridiculous then short-sighted and offensive. They’re now the Pride, as in a group of lions, but the name is fitting for a school that has passionate group of alumni.

Our goal should be the pursuit of individual happiness, so long as that happiness doesn’t infringe upon the happiness of others. We shouldn’t cause injury — physical or otherwise — to someone in  order to attain some level of pleasure. That sandwich sure would taste good right now, but I’m not going to pry it from the hands of that woman. And so that’s the message.

My wife is a 6th grade teachers and tells me not to be “fresh,” as she would the 12-year-olds within her charge. What she means is, “Don’t be a dick.” I’m not trying to preach or sound pious, but the goal here should be to enjoy our time here and that’s done by living in some semblance of harmony. We are not all going to get along. We’re not all going to share the same interests or political views or opinions. There are bound to be people with whom we simply do not get along with. That’s fine.

But if changing the name of a football team — a football team is what we’re debating here — means that we are conceding our own happiness (I’m looking at you, “keep the name” crowd) for someone else’s in some small, essentially insignificant way, isn’t it worth it?

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