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Stop using Pat Tillman to support your anti-Kaepernick narrative.

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When the news hit social media that Nike is endorsing Colin Kaepernick, there was the typical social media response: Overwhelming support and its polar opposite, complete with dissenters ruining articles of their own clothing. One of the more popular memes was of stark contrast to Nike’s original message. In the Nike-created version, Kaepernick, a black man, is prominently featured in a close-up of his face with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” This, of course, alludes to Kaepernick’s protest during the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL games, which resulted in an alleged blackballing from the league. This is not a space where I’m going to debate my thoughts on that.

In defying Nike, social media users have begun overlaying the words that appeared in the ad over a picture of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who quit the league in order to join the Army Rangers after the events of September 11th, 2001. Tillman was killed by fratricide, or friendly-fire, in 2004.

The message this meme sends is that Tillman, who lost his life, sacrificed more than Kaepernick, who sacrificed his livelihood. In this, there’s a bit of truth. Tillman made, in a way of clichéd speak, the ultimate sacrifice.

But those who’ve read about Tillman life, for instance, in Jon Krakauer’s book Where Men Win Glory, or have watched the documentary The Tillman Story, know a different angle to this. Tillman referred to the war in which he was serving as “so fucking illegal.” He was critical of the war, the people leading it, and the underprepared people who were fighting it. 

All the while, he was used as war propaganda. He was made the poster boy for patriotism, a role he would have hated. When he died, again by the hands of his own platoon, the government did their best to cover it up. They did so as long as they could to ensure that what the public saw was a sacrifice by a great patriot, not the shitty death partially orchestrated by bureaucratic mismanagement. The powers that be saw it as an opportunity to drum up support for the war. This is not some conspiracy theory. This is all sworn testimony. The army burned his journals and his clothes. His platoon mates were ordered not to tell the truth.

A recommendation to award Tillman with a Silver Star medal, one of the U.S. military’s highest honors, immediately began moving through the Army ranks — something that is not done for deaths by friendly fire, Krakauer says.

And, says Krakauer, “when a soldier is killed in combat, you should put his uniform, his weapon, everything — anything that can be considered forensic evidence should be sent back to the States with the body, so the medical examiners could determine the cause of death. In the case of Tillman, none of that happened.”

Tillman’s uniform and body armor were burned, says Krakauer, and his weapon, helmet, even a part of his brain, which fell to the ground after the attack, disappeared. Army officials told the medical examiners that Tillman had been killed by the Taliban — and they stuck by this story when they reported the death to his family.

Tillman is too complicated a person to decide how he would have felt upon returning home from war, had that been the outcome. Anything I give would be absolute conjecture. I don’t know if he would have stood or knelt for the anthem. I don’t know what kind of support or dissent he would have given Kaepernick. I do have a feeling that the people posting this meme would be at odds his politics, but, again, conjecture. I won’t claim to know.

Knowing what I do know, though, about his refusal to take part in any press when he joined the military or when he was imbedded with his squad, I’m pretty sure he would’ve hated that stupid fucking meme for no other reason than how dare anyone presume to speak for him.

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Friday, Drink/Read, Gilmore girls, Gronk

I have mentioned before that one of the great perks of having a pregnant wife is the ability to avoid all social responsibilities and watch Netflix all day/night without any sort of concern. Of course, this only pertains to the first-timers. Second timers will be chasing another kid around. There will be no Netflix binges then.

That said, one of the shows my wife really enjoyed watching was the Gilmore girls (spelled with the second g lower-case, as is the show), which we will refer to going forward as GG. She plowed through the entire series. I won’t embarrass her by using specifics. Our first kid was born in the summer, so there were no games to watch, no new sitcoms or dramas we like, so I watch GG alongside my wife. If I missed an episode — or four — it was fine, but I made sure I was around for the final few episodes.

GG was rebooted for Netflix recently and lets just say that this cause quite the stir in my household. We can’t just watch on our own time for these things; They have to be consumed almost immediately so that my wife can chat with her friends about it and read articles.

If we’re being honest, I hate that this is how we watch television (“we” in the societal sense). There was something fun about watching an episode of a series like 24 or LOST and convening with friends the next day about the episode, exchanging theories or subplot ideas, anxious for next week. Now we consume on individual timelines which leads to no interaction with anyone aside from the viewing partner. Kind of stinks.

The GG reboot was fine. It stuck to the original formula while being updated for modernity. There were cameos and return characters that were nice to see. Typically, these reboots are terrible (see: Fuller House), but this one was okay. I’d be shocked if they didn’t do it again and I’ll look forward to watching six hours of Netflix in two days again. Funny, I should add, that it definitely took me MUCH longer to get through six hours of House of Cards.

***

What do we do about Gronk?

One side: Cut him loose. Trade him for two first round picks. His injuries have cost the Patriots seedings or the season every year but one. You don’t have the money for him and Bennett. You can’t guarantee he’ll come back the same Gronk we love.

Other side: That one year he was healthy at the end of the season, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. He’s never not come back and been the same Gronk we love.

Another side: Retire. Consider life after football. Hasn’t he said he doesn’t spend his salary money? He’s a first ballot hall of fame tight end. One of the best ever. A Super Bowl champion.

Yet another side: He’ll be the greatest what-if ever. He’s already in the conversation for best of all-time. Two, three more seasons like he’s had every season and he’s the best, hands down. He doesn’t have the stats of Gates or longevity of Gonzalez, but no tight end has changed the course of an entire NFL season the way he has every year.

To wit:

2011 plays Super Bowl on broken ankle, loss to Giants

2012 broke arm against Houston, Pats lost next game to Ravens

2013 torns ACL, Pats lose home field, then AFC title game to Broncos

2014 no injuries, Super Bowl champs

2015 knee injury sat Gronk last month of the season, lose home field and at Broncos in AFC title game

2016 back injury.

I just threw up.

***

Read: This piece by Kathryn Schulz won the Pulitzer last year. It’s terrifying and interesting and worth 20 minutes of your time. Considering all the environmental work we’ve accomplished over the course of the last couple decades and the possible consequences of a new administration, this is worth considering.

Drink: Backwoods Bastard by Founders. See it on the shelves. Think, “Whoa, that’s an expensive four pack.” Remember, “Matt says it’s awesome.” Look at the label. Consider. Question, “Am I going to spend $15 on a four pack of an IPA anyway?” Buy the Backwoods Bastard. Do it. Backwoods Bastard. It will change your life. Backwoods Bastard.

Post-Election/Hoosiers/ATCQ

For the last six or so months, I’ve been pretty vocal about my political leanings with friends and through articles I read and share on Twitter. This is not about that. For starters, yes, I did despair a bit on Wednesday, but, if I’m being totally honest, was less about who lost than who won.

That said, here’s what I need the people who are protesting in the streets to do: Get over it. I’m all about protest when it can affect change, but what is standing outside the state house in Boston, Massachusetts going to do? Prove that you dislike President Trump? Maybe get you laid by a Berklee College of Music sophomore? I mean, really.

Shouting, “Not my President” will do nothing to stop what’s going to happen come inauguration day in January. Using a similar hashtag will get your some re-tweet, but it’s not going to change the outcome. Yes, we get it. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Guess what, dummy. That means nothing. It’s the lowest of moral victories there is. It’s like losing a Game Seven in the World Series and trying to have the commissioner change the outcome because your team had more overall runs in the series.

Protesting the results of an election doesn’t show us anything other than you’re a bunch of millennial, participation trophy cry-babies. There are ways to act. But probably a better recourse would be to (a) pay attention to what’s happening, (b) participate in your local government, (c) contribute to campaigns, (d) identify a list of charities/organizations/groups that you feel would best further your political ideals, and (e) donate/volunteer/apply for jobs.

Protest, sure, but act, too.

Also, SNL cold-opens with “Hallelujah” … ugh, give me a break. Self-indulgent shit like that is exactly why Trump is our President now.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what the election means.

***

Thirty years ago, one of my favorite movies of all time —Hoosiers– came out. I remember we had a video cassette of the movie, taped off a VCR from HBO. So every time I watched the movie, the opening picture was a droid-esque movement through a city, into a town, and into a home where a family was watching HBO.

Then the subtle fade in of the music … the drive across America and into the heart of Indiana.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that movie. 50? I still watch it once a year, at 34, as I try to do with all of my favorite movies: Stand By Me, Halloween, Dazed & ConfusedSilence of the Lambs, Boyz in the Hood. It combines basketball with a theme I quite like: nostalgia. I can’t believe it came out 30 years ago (almost as close, actually, to the time it depicts than it is to right now).

***

On one last, happier note, I’ve yet to hear the new A Tribe Called Quest album, but I’ve heard it’s fantastic. Read this great article about the ghost looming over the record. 18 years is a too many years to have waited for ATCQ record. But from what I gather over the past few weeks of the press the album has generated is that these are guys who needed to heal their individual wounds, repairs personal friendships, and/or regain a sense of self before creating another classic. What I love about this is that it’s not simply old tracks or lost recordings from sessions way back. They’re new verses, new beats. So happy & can’t wait to listen to the record. I can guarantee that I won’t be let down.

Defending bigger receivers; NFL Rewind

First, it disgusts me in it’s own peculiar way that I feel compelled to write something of an NFL rewind on a Monday morning. Did spectators to the gladiators write blogs about what they witness? Shit, maybe the did. Humans are fucked up.

I’ll take the first opportunity to express how dumb I think fantasy football and gambling are.

(1) Fantasy football. We have no clue what a player is going to do on a week-to-week basis. Game plans change, injuries happen. Yet, we assemble a roster and we pay money to enter a league and just let things play as they lay. We watch as someone like Marcus Mariota — by most objective measures an inferior player to Tom Brady — outscore the Patriots quarterback. It’s amazing.

(2) Gambling, especially parlays and teasers. In all, I picked EIGHT games yesterday. Eight. Two straight up; Four as part of a ML parlay; Two in a 6-point tease. Two straight up games, I won. Three of my four teams in the ML parlay win (F, you Minnesota), so there’s a loss. In the teaser, game one I was a winner; Game two, I was not. Sure, let’s take our own money and gamble with it.

Was Bill Belichick channeling his inner Pete Carroll throwing on the 1-yard line? Was he dumbed down by the two-point conversion attempt by the Seahawks who were up by seven points? It’s the only explanation right? Terrible play calling at the goal line.

I’m okay with the no-call on the game’s final Patriots play. I don’t agree, but don’t take that as a sore-loser attitude. I don’t think it takes a football genius to understand that the game is called differently for bigger receivers. I watched three football games yesterday: Denver-NO, Dallas-Pitt, NE-Seattle. All three feature receivers of super-human size and strength. In Denver, there’s Demaryius Thomas; Dallas has Dez Bryant; In New England, there’s Rob Gronkowski.

All three guys — and Julio Jones is another — are giants. They’re physical. They do as much pushing and maneuvering as the defensive backs covering them. It’s part of their game. But, because they’re so big, they get called differently by the refs. There’s a little more leeway for a defender to jostle and hold and push. For the record, I’m okay with this. But only kind of okay with it. There’s no real solution. They get away with a little bit; The defenders get away with a little bit.

And there’s probably an argument both ways. I watched all three receivers experience coverage yesterday that would have warranted a flag if they were built like, say, Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders, a lithe, explosive player. Calls probably could have been made on Thomas, Bryant, and Gronk as well. It’s a hard game to call, and that’s probably because it takes quantum mechanics to explain what a fucking catch it, never mind what a player is and isn’t allowed to do to defend them based on their size.

It’s nuts.

At the end of the game, I probably think Kam Chancellor could have had a flag thrown for — at least — holding and maybe PI. But I also think Gronk ran right at him. What could Chancellor have done? Could it have been a foul on both players, replaying of down? I don’t know. And that’s why I’m okay with the no call. I just wish I had more faith that it would have been a no call at any other moment in the game, and not a no-call because of the situation.

World Series thoughts

If you want to get hit right directly in the feels, check this out.

The World Series concluded last night in dramatic fashion. Talk about a kick while the NFL is down, huh? Ratings plummeting in the NFL and MLB puts on that kind of World Series. Ye’ Gods. I’m not even a baseball fan and I’m laughing at the NFL.

I could watch videos of older Cubs fan celebrating for a week straight. It’s just pure unadulterated happiness.

So much of sports fandom is an investment with little return. We invest our time: We cordon off a block of time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or make sure to catch a bit of each game on a weeknight, sure to read the box score or catch the highlights if we miss the game; We invest our emotions: We squirm with our hearts racing at big moments, we let out a very earnest cheer when something amazing happens, we develop relationships with players past and present, and we, hopefully, pass some semblance of a similar passion to our children; We invest our money: We head out to games, we buy all sorts of apparel, and, if we live far away, we spend a few extra bucks to ensure that we can follow our favorite teams.

I guess it’s not always little return. We feel a sense of community with the fans of our team, and, to an extent, share that community with fans of our rivals. We experience moments of extreme joy, whether it’s a big win or a singularly spectacular individual performance. We get to sit with our little ones on our laps, teaching them about something we love. We create some of our greatest memories in the presence of those we love while watching sports.

But, in the grand scheme, titles are hard to win. Every season in every sport, just one team comes out on top. It takes a combination of talent and health and luck. This particular combination eluded the Chicago Cubs for 108 years. Amazing. I’m positive there are lists of people who were alive, structures that still stood, political ideals that have fallen since. Google them.

A championship is a culmination and, shit, it never gets old. I’ve been fortunate living in Boston for 34 years. I was a kid when the Celtics of the 80’s were great, but I don’t remember them, and watched some crappy teams in the 90’s. The 2000’s have been kind to Boston teams, but that’s not my point. A championship is a shared, unparalleled joy. I lifted my daughter, just shy of six months at the time, up in joy after Super Bowl 49.

When the Patriots won in 2001 — a start to a sentence which will evoke groans — remember that Boston hadn’t won anything in almost a couple decades. The first call I made was to my dad, who introduced me to Patriots football in 1992, a year that shouldn’t have warranted lifelong fandom. They went 2-14. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the first phone call went to the same person.

We never know when our favorite teams will win another title. Could be this year. Could be ten years. Could be 108. I just hope that one day, down the line, my daughter (or son) wants to immortalize me like this Cubs fan’s granddaughter did to him last night. What a cool moment. What a series.

Congrats, Cubs.

#Takes

Monday afternoon now and I’m just sitting down and I come across the news that the Patriots have traded Jamie Collins.

Just yesterday, my brother said to me, “I’d keep [Donte] Hightower before I kept Jamie Collins.” I agreed. Hightower is incredible in the middle. He’s bringing the entire position back. He’s smart and he’s versatile. We want him in New England for years to come.

That said, Collins was a fine linebacker. Freak athlete. Did some incredible things on the football field. He was bizarre, though. He disappeared for a while last year with a mysterious illness; He showed flashes of brilliance on defense, but then got burned a couple times in the AFC title game last winter. Collins seemed to have the tools but not the right instruction manual. In other words, he was definitely big and fast and athletic enough to fit into the system in New England. Maybe he didn’t want to listen to his coaches. Just a guess.

***

Buried this weekend was the news that Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who tragically died this summer in a boating accident, had cocaine in his system and had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood stream with he died. That’s a shame. But I hope this knowledge doesn’t bury the fact that this death is still a sad one.

We all did crummy, shitty, bad idea things at the age of 24. Many of us lived to tell the tale, many of us look back and understand the dopiness of our decision making. This isn’t to excuse Fernandez’s behavior as just youthful indiscretion. He could have hurt someone. In the end, he and his friends died. It’s still a tragic loss. Doing cocaine or drinking too much or making bad decisions — even if it isn’t a one-time thing — doesn’t make a person a bad person. I think that tends to go overlooked when a toxicology report like this comes out.

“Well, that person was an idiot,” we hear or say or both.

Maybe so. Probably so. But it doesn’t erase the fact that Fernandez was, by all accounts, a beloved boyfriend, son, and soon-to-be-father. His post-mortem shouldn’t lead people to believe he was anything other than the charismatic and cherished teammate. I hope it doesn’t.

***

I get a kick out of the following hypothetical interaction:

I assume there was a grandfather driving home from games three or four of the World Series in Chicago with his grandson who is, let’s say, ten years old. This kid just watched his favorite team, the Cubs, get beaten by the Indians. He is, for all the right reasons, upset about this.

He’s in the backseat crying. To his sports fan heart, this is the most upset he’s been. He’s never seen the MJ Bulls or a good Bears team. His experience watching the Blackhawks has been great. This ten-year old went into Wrigley with his glove and his hopes with his grandfather only to watch the Cubs get trounced at their home field.

The grandfather, having seen the Cubs fail to reach postseasons and World Series his entire life, looks in his backseat at his crying grandson and thinks, “Fuck off.”

***

Put an entire turkey on the smoker yesterday. Came out great.

Best part about leftovers are the sandwiches, turkey & stuffing. Is there any other food where it’s acceptable to eat a bread sandwich?

Back to School

Today, I’m going back — virtually, at least — to the western Massachusetts school from which I graduated. I was asked by a former professor to speak to his class about profile writing in sports journalism. The class recently read one of my profiles that I did for Vice Sports a short while back.

I don’t feel qualified for such instruction.

That’s not a modesty thing, to be honest. When I was in college, we had a Boston sportswriter come to chat with us and this was a guy who’d won Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year. He had credentials out the wazoo. He had a Hall of Fame vote. It was incredible to hear him speak about the profession because he had an amazing repertoire of stories and insight to share.

It’s possible that one day I’ll have the sort of acclaim that this person had, and the acclaim that the two Sports Illustrated writers had when they came to speak to the group. But right now I’m just a guy who struggles to write every day, a guy who puts forth his best effort to tell some great stories and tries to do so with empathy and compassion and objectivity.

My advice is simple for writing profiles: Make the person stand out on the page in one of two ways: (1) Make an ordinary person — a teacher, an IT guy at an office building — become extraordinary through their actions and words and through the words of others; (2) Make a person we deem extraordinary — an athlete, a politician — become ordinary by showing the quirks of his personality or habits, make that person accessible.

That’s always my goal and it’s not always easy.

Writing is learned task, I believe. We can become better writers. We can become better teachers or doctors or accountants, too. Writing seems to be a profession in which the skills needed are skills that people believe come inherently. They don’t. Well, they don’t anymore than a person’s proclivity for numbers or science or singing. Those people, too, believe it or not, practice and work at what they do.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to offer a class more tangible advice than this: Here is how I do it. This is what I think makes a great profile.

In the end, people end up going their own direction to accomplish a goal, including writing about someone. And just as someone doing open heart surgery on a patient has to do so with a learned skill set, you have to care. You can have all the physical skills to complete a task, but you also have to care. It’s what makes any task successful.

I’m bummed that I’m not heading out to campus to meet the group. FaceTime will have to work to do this today. It’s a different world than when I was in school: Back then we did our guest speakers in person and they had unmatched credentials; Now, we do it on computers, and the speakers don’t really know shit.