When You’re Wrong and Can’t Fix It

wrong
Image source.

My son Oliver was born in 2010, just before the Michigan State football team finished 11-2 and won a share of the Big Ten Championship – their first of three Big Ten titles in his lifetime after the team hadn’t previously won one since 1990.

 

That fall, Oliver – approximately the same shape as a football – and I were glued to our rocking chair religiously on Saturdays, watching Michigan State. His wise, gigantic brown eyes, even at just a few months old, were intently focused on the T.V., and that intrigue has only grown as he has become a competitive, sports-obsessed 8-year-old.

I am a graduate of Michigan State. I finished my master’s program in journalism in 2010 – struggling to take the last two classes to finish that degree in the winter, after Oliver was born while also working full-time. I also worked at Michigan State for a year in 2012.

I’ve always had a natural affinity for MSU even before attending and working there. My first exposure was obviously through sports. My dad loved the University of Michigan, but I’ve always found the prestige, the self-importance, the elitism, associated with U of M football to be exhausting, honestly. I’m much more interested in losers, especially losers who lose colorfully. And over the course of my lifetime, Michigan State has certainly delivered unique moments for sports masochists out there.

Oliver, though, has had a much different experience as he’s grown into a sports fan – his only point of reference in his lifetime is Michigan State being a dominant, premiere football program while Michigan has been the program that, despite near-constant hype, can hilariously never get out of its own way.

Over the past eight years, he’s seen Michigan State consistently win rivalry games, win conference championships, compete for national championships and, after a down year, quickly reload and return to form. He has followed players he grew to love as Spartans make it and have success in the NFL and NBA. He has been to Spartan Stadium and the Breslin Center and regularly asks when we will go back. Nearly every chance he gets in school or in his spare time to draw, he draws something Michigan State-focused. He has memorized the fight song (okay … maybe not the words, but he definitely hums the beat correctly). He has talked about wanting to go to college at Michigan State. He dreams of playing college basketball there someday.

He’s done all of this at my encouragement, because of me exposing him to follow this university and this program, literally, from the moment he was born.

And now, the all-consuming thought I have, is how do I undo this? How could I fail him so badly?

*     *     *

I knew better. I spent six years as a sports journalist. I left that industry, in part, because sports journalism is often complicit in creating unworthy false idols, in trading puff pieces for increased access, in glossing over major character deficiencies in an effort to find the next “redemption” story.

Writing about sports can be really rewarding work. But at the highest levels, the desire to deceive or create a false narrative in the interest of making obscene amounts of money is immense. And the NCAA is the worst offender of that concept, with universities, administrators and coaches making tens of millions of dollars by exploiting an unpaid labor force, often from the most poor and marginalized backgrounds. The incentive to perpetrate or cover up, sometimes with the assistance of friendly media, truly evil acts is extremely high in major sports.

I knew all of this. And I still indoctrinated my son from the moment he was born.

*     *     *

The evil that Larry Nassar was allowed to perpetrate at Michigan State and with USA Gymnastics is nearly incomprehensible, and yet it happened. It happened systematically, clinically, in a university environment that is supposed to be filled with enlightened people who are the most aware of the needs of victims, of marginalized or vulnerable people who speak up or ask for help, who are the most distrustful of institutional power structures.

Adding to the sheer horror is the fact that, as a current university communications professional, I can’t comprehend the heartless, completely lacking in empathy statements made by two university presidentstwo prominent coaches and multiple board members. Resh Strategies already wrote an in-depth piece on the communications failings of the university. All I can do is fully endorse what they stated in their piece.

As a parent, I’ve had to look my son in the face and say in no uncertain terms, “Hey, daddy fucked up badly.” (Okay … so I didn’t say ‘fucked up’ to him).

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I checked out on Michigan State athletics somewhere during last basketball season, after Tom Izzo said, among other things, “I hope the right person was convicted.” Which along with being about the most offensive thing anyone can say in response to the Nassar crimes, also makes no sense. As insignificant as quitting watching a team is, it was actually difficult. The team’s star player, Miles Bridges, is a beloved player from my adopted home of Flint. Their other stars, Jaren Jackson Jr., Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward, were all hard-working, easy-to-root-for players. And, purely from an artistic standpoint, I love basketball. It’s beautiful and has resonated with me in a way few other things have in my life have since I was younger than my son currently is.

But as with any parenting fuck-up, it has also provided me with an opportunity to repair mistakes. It has provided the opportunity to talk to him about the overwhelming propensity of violence committed against women in our culture. It has provided me the opportunity to begin (as best as he can understand) conversations about consent, boundaries and respect. It has provided the opportunity to talk about what true leadership means by highlighting tragic, visible examples of failed leadership. I have been able to talk to him about the phony idea that “brands” of any sort – university or otherwise – are worthy of adulation.

He still loves sports, loves Michigan State sports, and I won’t tell him he has to stop. But, if nothing else, I have been able to reinforce that there are far more important things in life than sports. I just hope it’s not too late for it to resonate.

*     *     *

I have wanted to write about my anger at Michigan State for several months and struggled to find the words (and, truthfully, the time … out-of-nowhere needs of babiez absorb A LOT of intended writing time). I couldn’t summon the combination of rage and words necessary until John Engler, who was about the WORST possible choice for interim president of Michigan State, accused a Nassar survivor of receiving “kickbacks” and then feebly apologized for it.

Predictably, the still-hurt and angry MSU community as well as state legislators called on Engler to resign. Even more predictably, based on the consistent pattern of hubris displayed by MSU leadership throughout the Nassar criminal proceedings, Engler lacked the self-awareness to resign.

As a parent who wants my children to learn to exercise their own judgement, I won’t tell my son he can’t root for MSU sports teams. But I will provide him all relevant information. I will challenge him to think beyond “I like their sports teams.” As a person who will help my children finance their college educations, I would strongly object to them attending Michigan State without significant changes made to the university administration and board.

Ultimately, that sentiment might mean less to Michigan State than whatever their wealthiest donors or whoever they’re taking cues from are telling current administrators. As much as I would like to believe my sentiment is widespread, I am not confident it is. Less than a year after Jerry Sandusky was convicted of molesting kids for years at Penn State while administrators and the legendary football coach knew, the university boasted of rising applicants. After a sexual assault cover-up scandal at Baylor, the university quickly touted a record number of applicants. Michigan State has already bragged about its, “largest, most diverse freshman class.”

The bleakest outlook is that, even in the face of the absolute most horrifyingly evil circumstances, there is evidence that universities face little pressure to systematically change anything.

I can’t change Michigan State. But I can hope that enough parents with similar feelings about the university are initiating important conversations with their kids.

Black Panther And The Power Of Siblings

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Writing in Rolling Stone this week, Tre Johnson had the following line about Black Panther:

Like anything black in America, Black Panther will be politicized for being black, which is to say for being and for announcing itself as a having a right to be here and to be heard.

Johnson is right, of course. There are dozens of Google search results pointing to troll sites dedicated to ruining something beautiful and non-white, with idiot takes if you’re so inclined to seek them out. But the easiest summation of the irrational fear related to the film is the simple fact that Snopes.com had to publish an article debunking an insane lie that white people were getting attacked at movie theaters for daring to see the movie.

I took my kids to see Black Panther because, first and foremost, I wanted to see it, and they were with me (I’m not a perfect parent … sometimes you have to do what I want to do, babiez). But it wasn’t just a selfish choice – my 7-year-old son was Black Panther for Halloween, even though he was only vaguely familiar with the story through a few comics we read together, so that piqued his interest. And my 4-year-old daughter generally enjoys anything that involves kicking ass, so she was on board as well.

There are an abundance of reasons to see the film – all of the detailed reporting on its beauty, on its relevance, on its power, on its importance … none of those things are undersold. Along with being a fan of the comic book, all of the critical acclaim Black Panther is receiving is well-deserved and can’t be overstated (although I’m positive the internet take economy will inevitably produce some contrarian ‘actually it wasn’t that good’ troll pieces). I caught myself in awe of the story and the amazing performers bringing it to life on multiple occasions.

But as most parents probably understand, I have a hard time watching things through the lens of an adult anymore. I am constantly trying to put myself into the minds of my kids, to understand what they’re thinking or how they’re processing what they’re watching or whether they’re too young for ideas I’m trying to introduce them to. Constant anxiety over whether or not you are screwing up your kids is pretty much neverending.

There are so many elements of the movie that I’m still thinking about and processing, but the relationship I was fixated on throughout was the one between T’Challa and his younger sister Shuri. I saw my son and daughter in them – a stoic, pensive older brother and a brilliant, feisty little sister who are amazing friends, supporters of one another, and reliant on each other. That is exactly the relationship I witness every day between Oliver and Isla.

Beyond that, there was a male hero whose support system and inner circle was comprised almost solely of badass women (and … uh … Tim from the British Office for some reason) who were smart, strong equals who saved him on multiple occasions.

Given the current political climate where there is an administration in power who clearly sees humanity in tiers of worthiness, or where nobody Fox News hosts can show their ass by unsuccessfully trying to chastise one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, Black Panther at the most base level is just a giant middle finger to that worldview.

My son ranked it right behind the Star Wars movies (a minor miracle considering Star Wars has been in a class by itself for him for nearly two years now) and better than any super hero movie he’s watched. My daughter, who spends a good percentage of her free time dressing up as super heroes and performing stealth fighting moves on unsuspecting adults, was in awe of the Black Panther costume.

So obviously, for my kids it wasn’t that deep. They saw it as a great superhero movie with characters they both easily related to without a second thought. And that’s exactly part of its power.

Flint Couture

Flint Couture

A ridiculous thing happened to me. On the day I found out I was an honorable mention for My City Magazine’s Greater Flint Best Dressed, I had accidentally worn two different socks that I didn’t realize were mismatched until like halfway through the day.

Being selected for this honor came with the promise of an interview about my fashion sense, an interview I took extremely serious. But, sadly, my fashion hot takes were dramatically condensed in the print version of the story. So below are my complete responses to their questions. The world needs to know.

Name: Patrick Hayes

Occupation: Director of Marketing & Communications, Kettering University

What three words define your personal style?: My boss at Kettering, Kip Darcy, best summed it up in two words: “Aging hipster.”

What’s your signature wardrobe piece? I don’t know if I have a signature piece, but I have a go-to category with core components: Dress shirt, unbuttoned top button with loosely knotted, solid-color skinny tie. It’s versatile. In the office, it gives off the aura that you’re attacking those deadlines with such great vigor that you had to loosen the tie, roll up your sleeves and get dirrrty. But untuck the shirt, swap the khakis for some jeans and throw a thin sweater overtop and you have a great semi-formal bro-on-the-town look.

Also, I do have a somewhat renowned banana yellow sport coat that I break out on only the most special of occasions.

Who are your style role models? My wardrobe’s personality is inspired by a weird mix between Eddie Vedder, Rashida Jones, C.M. Punk, Cardi B, Hunter S. Thompson, Randy Savage, and Rasheed Wallace. I don’t necessarily dress like any of those people, but I would want them all to think I’m interesting and approve of me, so my fashion choices probably reflect that on a subconscious level. Also, and somewhat related, I’m deeply insecure.

What’s your favorite outfit or article of clothing you’ve ever worn? I have a pleather motorcycle jacket that I bought on Amazon for $18 last year. I am a pacifist, and I don’t condone violence, I should say that up front. But should I ever be in a situation where a threat of fighting was possible while I happened to be wearing that jacket, I like to think the aggressors would look at me and say, “Whoa … let’s think twice before we attack the guy in the Danny Zuko jacket. He looks like he can handle himself.” So the jacket is both a great look and an insurance policy.

What are your favorite places to shop in the area? I have a very brick-by-brick mentality for outfits, which requires a lot of bargain shopping. T.J. Maxx, Goodwill, any clearance rack, and Old Navy late in the fall when all of the thin sweaters go on sale for super cheap are all my go-to spots. America is a Trunk Club culture now where people just want virtual stylists to do all of the outfit assembly for you and hand-deliver perfect wardrobes that some algorithm figured out. I’m a blue collar guy. I believe the components of a great outfit have to come together organically, sometimes over a period of months or even years. It takes persistence, a keen eye and patience. Never give up on an article of clothing. Sometimes, the right accessory comes along like an RKO out of nowhere and takes an outfit from good to great.

What’s your favorite fashion trend right now? When I was an 8-year-old whose mom forced him to wear elastic-banded sweatpants from Kmart, I never imagined “cuffed capri-length sweats” would be a fly look, but here we are. I don’t own any (YET), but I’m pretty jealous whenever I see people wearing them. Clothes that automatically make you look athletic, whether you are or not, are a lasting trend in my book.

What fashion trend do you wish would go away? To borrow a quote from Fetty Wap, “Everybody hating, we just call ’em fans though.” Fashion is art. It’s an extension of all of our personalities. If dressing a certain way makes you feel good, you should do it. I have no hating to add to the world and support every trend. All looks are good looks.

Silence is Privilege

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A couple of weeks ago, I took my kids to play and swim at our apartment pool. As we got closer, something fairly … uh … conspicuous caught my eye: a giant swastika tattoo on the chest of a man in the pool.

I grew up in and spent a lot of my life in mostly rural, “salt of the earth” places, so I’ve become pretty accustomed to how casual white people can be with their racism. But still … seeing it literally carved into a person’s chest is jarring, especially when you have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old with you. My son noticed as well and asked what it was. I gave a typical parent non-answer, unsure where to start with explaining Nazis to a kid.

A panicked fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. On the one hand, I was by myself with my two small children, children I am very protective of, whose youthful innocence and the infatuation they have with the world around them is a constant source of joy for me. So obviously, we’d just go find something else fun to do.

But I also had this angry urge to shame this person. I don’t know exactly how I would’ve gone about that, but I also feel strongly that too many otherwise decent people are simply silent when it comes to hate – whether out of fear, over-politeness, apathy, or some combination. He deserved to be embarrassed. Innocence is worthy of protecting, but I also don’t want my kids to be sheltered, and I don’t want them to be intimidated or daunted by having to speak hard truths or stand up for things they believe in.

In the end, we just left. Me getting beat up by a Nazi while my kids were in my care wouldn’t have exactly been an exemplary parenting decision.

But tonight, in the face of the awful white terrorism and violence occurring in Virginia, I’ve thought about that moment a lot. I did the wrong thing by ignoring that guy.

*     *     *

I have two younger brothers who are biracial. Their dad was an important part of my life and father figure for me growing up. Living in Lapeer, Michigan, our family stood out – let’s just say that when I was in fourth grade and my black stepdad took me to play basketball at school playgrounds, it was noticed. I was too young to understand the complexities of racism at that age, but I … uh … noticed us being noticed, I guess you could say.

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Steve did too, I’m sure. But no one would ever know it. He was always the friendliest, most outgoing parent in those situations – shaking hands, smiling, making eye contact, saying hello to people, inviting others to come and play with us (interestingly, other kids always wanted to … it was their dads who were resistant). I’m sure people were rude or cold to him, knowing the place we lived. I distinctly remember people crossing the street when we were walking on a sidewalk, then crossing back once they’d passed us on one or two occasions. His positivity and kindness in those public situations never wavered – he made any stranger he ran into feel like a buddy. As a kid, I didn’t notice. As an adult, I think about it constantly – what it would be like to have to be “on” like that all the time, just to do basic things like go to a park and play basketball, or take a walk. As someone who can trend toward painfully introverted in social situations, the thought of having to be that friendly and outgoing to strangers – just to disarm them or keep them from judging you – all the time is anxiety-inducing.

My brothers went to Lapeer Schools and, often, were the only black faces in their classes. They had to assimilate, they had to deal with being treated differently, they had to deal with the idiotic thing that white people do when they act like they can ask racist or offensive questions about black people to their “black friend.” My brother Adrian came home from elementary school one day with a confederate flag sticker – the symbol of treasonous traitors and losers – proudly on his shirt. Adrian was happy that someone had paid attention to him and given him a gift. He thought he’d made a friend, a “friend” who was no doubt laughing behind his back. I was in high school at the time, and I just remember my mom, sister and I sitting around thinking, “how the hell do you explain the shitty thing that just happened to a second grader, and tell him he can’t wear that sticker that he’s excited about?” There are probably countless other experiences that they can share that range from simple ignorance to maliciously racist interactions with people when they were just trying to go to school like everyone else.

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And, as most black people in this country experience at some point in their lives, my brothers were harassed by the police. Dangerously harassed once, in fact. They were about 13 and 12 (or in that range) and playing with toy airsoft guns in my parents’ yard. One of the dogs got out of the house and ran across the street into a field (my family has a long history of having the worst dogs on the planet, but that’s a story for another day). They crossed the street to get him.

By the time they’d got him corralled and back home, multiple local police cars had sped into the driveway and road in front of the house. Someone had called the cops and reported “two black men with guns.” They were children. My brothers, children, were forced to lay face down in the ditch, were handcuffed, had grown officers put their knees in their backs. They were not resisting or doing anything wrong. They were terrified. Thankfully – as if “not being killed” is any reason to be thankful – that’s as far as it went. A state police officer showed up, noticed from far away that the two guns laying on the ground were toys, pointed it out to the yokels who’d cuffed these children, and they were let go with a stern warning to be more careful when playing in their own yard.

I tried to file complaints and get information, FOIA’d the police report just to try and make the officers involved feel ashamed and ultimately, nothing happened. No one really forgot, necessarily, but time has a way of pushing things to the back of your mind.

And then, several years later, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland. A 12-year-old child who was killed for playing with a toy gun. He was roughly the same age my brothers were that day.

*     *     *

My brothers are smart, talented, funny, grown men (who have EXACTLY the same ripped, muscular physique that I do, it’s weird how genetics work). My kids adore their uncles – they can climb on them, wrestle with them, get thrown around by them and they light up any time we get to visit them. I’m not sure Adrian and Anthony look forward to getting immediately pummeled by two babies (babies who are unafraid to go directly for punches to the groin), but they’re good sports about it.

I love seeing my kids with them, I love that my kids just automatically connect with them and solely see them as nothing but their fun uncles.

But it also makes me think about my own privilege, about things I’ve never had to worry about, about inherent obstacles that Adrian and Anthony have just had to deal with and figure out ways to maneuver around that I never will have to worry about.

It actually isn’t hard to get white people to discuss race. We do it all the time – cable news and the internet are filled with white people (to be more descriptive, mostly white men) who do nothing but tell people of color, women, and the LGBTQIA+ community how to feel about their experiences, what is “real” racism and what isn’t, why they themselves couldn’t possibly be a racist. White men talk too much. (Yes, I get the irony that I, a white man, am writing a wordy blog post about white men talking too much, but if it helps get other white men to shut the fuck up, then it has at least provided a service).

Understanding your own privilege is a starting point. I grew up poor – a long portion of my life was spent in a trailer park with three siblings being raised by a single mother. I had to work nearly full-time in high school (thankfully, my boss ignored the legal limits on hours teenagers could work) to save enough money to have a car, to pay for college. I worked all the way through college just to be able to stay enrolled. I’m still paying student loans off. I’ve rarely taken vacations. My life isn’t luxurious by any stretch.

And I’ve benefited from being born into privilege. As a poor white child, I still lived in a community with well-funded and well-run schools, so I received a good, free, public education. I grew up with people around me who told me that I could, in fact, go to college even though my family couldn’t afford it. I grew up in neighborhoods that were safe, where crime and drugs weren’t major day-to-day presences. I did not grow up fearing the police. As an adult, people listen to me and give me more automatic credibility simply because of what I was born as.

My life hasn’t always been easy, but it has certainly had privileges built in that have removed barriers that minorities, that women, that LGBTQIA+ people face on a daily basis. I could choose to never think about those things – and A LOT of white men do make that choice every day. But just being mindful isn’t enough, that’s what the ugliness in Charlotesville illustrates.

It’s easy to see a guy with a Nazi tattoo and be horrified. But what is more horrifying to me is this picture. Those are just everyday, mayonnaise, white bread joes. They could be your cubicle mate, they could be your neighbor, they could be members of your church. They have the same views – and the same level of comfort espousing them – as the guy who felt the need to carve a symbol of evil into his chest.

Hate isn’t an ideology. Hate isn’t the norm. People aren’t born into this world full of hatred. And even in the face of awful, soul-killing days like today, there is always, always more love in the world than hate.

But don’t be silent. Silence is complicity, and complicity is what normalizes and emboldens people like this.

When You Have Nothing to Say and Still Say It

hot takes
Image source

A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Smith, editor of PistonPowered (* unofficial non-Dan Feldman editiontweeted this:

If you’re “team eye test”, which best describes your number aversion?
A: I don’t know where to find the numbers
B: I don’t care to find them

I saved it, because it reminded me of a post I’ve wanted to write for quite a while. I love the NBA. I follow it religiously. And outside of a small handful of writers, I find most of the content written about the league I love unreadable. Which is a weird statement from someone who has spent a good chunk of his adult life writing about the NBA.

Duncan’s tweet, though, illustrated a key problem I have. There’s a belief that there are two camps among NBA fans: the old school “eye test” folks who firmly believe the lens through which they view basketball is the only one that matters, and the “new wave” analytically-inclined “smart” fans who voraciously digest any overly-convoluted metric they can find to help explain what happens on the court before trusting anything their eyes tell them.

As a hobbyist NBA writer, I used to identify more firmly with the latter category. Stats are instructive. I easily fell into the habit of using advanced stats as a bludgeoning tool in my writing to make my takes seem more informed, more relevant, more differentiated than competing takes out there that relied less on numbers and more on the “eye test.” They weren’t, of course, and a big reason I stopped writing about the NBA regularly is that I sincerely worried that my voice was not adding anything relevant to an increasingly crowded, increasingly bro-ey conversation.

Not that ‘eye test’ people are saints either. Eye test writers and fans have a distinctly Trump voter aura. Probably a big crossover in the Trump/eye test Venn Diagram.

But I don’t think either “camp” really exists. Yeah, steadfastly “eye test” people can be simpletons and overvalue counting stats because its easy for them to take off their socks and tally up rebound totals. Yeah, “stats” people can be so preoccupied with justifying why certain metrics are superior that they forget to actually pay attention to otherworldly athletic abilities that make athletes fun to watch. There’s probably no right answer, and to be honest, people who devoutly identify as one or the other are REAL obnoxious.

Anyway, Duncan’s tweet jarred a random thought I’ve wanted to write out for a while. As per usual, I kinda forgot about it and didn’t write anything. Then tonight, some dude named Peter Healey responded to an innocuous tweet about Ben Wallace with this:

2 things that never come up: 1)Ben was only very good for maybe 6 years. 2)He couldn’t guard quicker 4s and 5s off the dribble

More than any other guy he’d be sunk in today’s league. Couldn’t shoot, wasn’t an elite roll guy, couldn’t switch nearly as much you think

(I should disclose up front that I have a real, emotional connection to Ben Wallace, I won’t hide from that.)

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I mean … takes like this are about as easy to brush off as Ben Wallace stopping Shaq at the rim. Wallace’s “6-year peak” was as good defensively as any center not named Bill Russell. He switched out on and smothered point guards defensively, yet somehow couldn’t stay in front of “quicker 4s and 5s off the dribble?” Who are these quicker-than-PGs-4s and 5s we’re talking about populating the league in Ben’s era, Percy? Jerome Moiso? Keon Clark? He’d be “sunk” in today’s league? Because athleticrim-protectingdefensively-minded centers who are offensively limited aren’t, as they always have been, extremely valuable?

As I’m wont to do, I responded to Preston’s bad take on Twitter. Then, in true “I have a stupid take but then get sad/emo when people tell me my stupid take is stupid” fashion, Phillip responded. Then I responded some more. Then I noticed that Payton was giving catty responses, feebly trying to drag other smart people – including Stephen Rodrick who has written goddamned cover stories for Rolling Stone and Ben Gulker who has been writing about the Pistons longer than anyone not named Matt Watson – and I got super annoyed. To paraphrase the great Ben Gordon, humble yourself, Perry.

So his bad take brought me briefly out of my basketball writing retirement to say that basketball writing sucks because of the take economy that is propagated by people who think making purposefully statements contribute to any better understanding of the game. Oh, Ben Wallace, an extremely fun, unique, by-his-bootstraps, prideful, championship player wouldn’t excel in an era of basketball when a bunch of Ayn Rand-humping Silicon Valley tech bro venture capitalists have reduced the game to people thinking sprinting to corners to launch threes is the only valuable skill a player can possess? THANKS FOR YOUR INSIGHT, Pierre! Maybe next you can tell us why Scottie Pippen would actually suck today because he shot below 33 percent from three for his career, or why Anthony Mason wasn’t a fun-as-hell point forward because he probably couldn’t have guarded today’s wings. Seriously, please hammer us with more “well actuallys” for people who innocently enjoy watching beautiful basketball players.

Basketball is art. Who cares how people watch it? When you overvalue statistical analysis or contrarian takes to the point of killing the unique style and individuality that truly makes basketball the most creative of sports, what’s the point? Your voice is not adding anything of value. It’s noise.

Be a Feminist for Your Sons, Too

President Obama wrote an essay for Glamour, proudly proclaiming why he is a feminist. The entire thing is beautifully written and worth reading, but this particular passage really stood out to me:

Michelle and I have raised our daughters to speak up when they see a double standard or feel unfairly judged based on their gender or race—or when they notice that happening to someone else. It’s important for them to see role models out in the world who climb to the highest levels of whatever field they choose. And yes, it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.

President Obama is speaking here from the perspective of a father with two daughters. But I’d like to expound on that a bit as a father of both a son and a daughter.

A cliché that I’ve long found grating is the notion that men don’t become more receptive to sexism and gender inequality until they have daughters, then expect some sort of pat on the back for having a way-too-late-in-life epiphany that, hey, maybe you actually shouldn’t treat women like garbage. Here’s a recent example of this phenomenon from former ESPN blogger and epitome of Cool Dad syndrome Bill Simmons, via Sports Illustrated:

“One of the ironies of my life is that I was definitely a chauvinist with men’s and women’s sports before, I’d always make WNBA jokes and stuff like that. And now I’m like a feminist, and it’s all because of her,” he said in reference to his 11-year-old daughter. “In L.A., they have all these academy teams for boys, and the girls are treated like second-class citizens. The fields we have are worse than the boys’, too. It all just drives me f—— crazy.”

In his essay, President Obama pointed out that his early experiences with strong women in his life influenced how he viewed sexism, the glass ceiling and the myriad other challenges women are faced with in our society. I had similar experiences in my life – I’m one of four kids raised primarily by a single mom and my paternal grandmother was one of the strongest women I ever met. She put up with insane behavior from men in her life and held her family together despite unimaginable grief and destructive behavior by people she cared for. Both were extremely influential figures in my adolescence, and I realize not everyone has that same set of experiences, but I still for the life of me can’t understand how someone makes it through life with the sort of blinders on that Simmons displays in that above quote. You don’t realize society is plagued with gender inequities until, well into middle-age for you, your privileged family starts getting involved in youth sports in some bougie suburb?

I’ve always considered myself a feminist and a believer in equity and inclusion, but becoming a parent does make me focus more intently on those responsibilities. It is important as a father of a daughter that I help her learn what she should expect and demand from men she will encounter in any relationship as she grows up – social, professional, romantic or otherwise. But I think too often, discussions of feminism gloss over the importance of fathers teaching their sons those same values – not focusing solely on how to treat women with respect, but how to immediately call attention to or not be passive bystanders to bad or destructive behavior from men in their peer groups.

My son finished kindergarten this year, and I had the opportunity to spend time in his school and in his classroom on multiple occasions. One of those days was field day. He was part of a group that included both boys and girls, rotating to different stations to play games outside. One game – I can’t even explain what the object was, as I’m a pretty useless volunteer and didn’t pay attention when the gym teacher explained all of the game rules to the parents beforehand – required kids taking turns doing something. I think throwing frisbees into a bucket … whatever, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

A girl in the line next to ours was getting frustrated because all of the boys who were also in her line weren’t giving her a turn. There was nothing malicious going on – she wasn’t being purposefully picked on or excluded. The kids were excited, she was smaller and shyer than all of the boys, and the overall exuberance of overhyped six-year-olds caused her to get lost in the shuffle. But it’s also the sort of behavior – accidental exclusion, ignoring the needs of others, etc. – that contributes to many boys growing up believing that not knowing a problem exists is a fair excuse for not caring about said problem.

So I talked to Oliver about what was happening. I explained to him that it was important to make sure everyone got a turn. And he immediately went, picked up some frisbees and let her go in front of him in his line. It’s amazing how much sense simple fairness and respect makes to children – that’s by far my favorite aspect of being a parent. Common decency, something adults struggle with on a daily basis, is second nature to children. They naturally want to love and respect each other. It’s adults who eventually ruin that beautiful world kids are trying to show us is super easy to create.

Oliver is incredibly lucky to have women in his life who obliterate any potential for him to give any credence to gender stereotypes, especially one that he’s growing up right next to.

My daughter is only two, and she and my son are already best friends. He has friends who exhibit the stereotypical “no girls allowed” behavior, and occasionally he brings that home. Fortunately, he has a sister who, even at this young age, REFUSES to be excluded, and anything he picks up from boys at school is quickly extinguished at home. And he honors that because, even at his young age, he enjoys being around her and understands that he needs to respect her wishes and interests in order to have a strong friendship with her.

He has a sister who enjoys playing with his WWE wrestlers and superheroes as much as she enjoys wearing princess outfits or putting on tutus and dancing. She’s completely happy to wrestle with him, watch his shows and, when she feels like it, demand that he watch Sofia the First or Frozen with her. They certainly have fights like all siblings do, but not only does he often comply with his younger sister without any protests, there are times when he actually suggests they watch her shows or turns them on for her (she still relies on him for his mastery of the Roku, but I assume she’ll figure that out and further solidify her independence soon).

The beautiful part of their relationship, to me, is how they cooperate. He doesn’t like Sofia the First that much. But he watches it because he enjoys her companionship, respects her and likes making her happy. In turn, she can recite the New Day (she REALLY hits the ‘feel the POWAAHHHH’) entrance theme (along with the Ric Flair ‘Woooooo!’) verbatim because she has fun with him doing things he likes.

Even at their early ages, one is clearly introverted and one is clearly an extrovert. But they love each other and respect each other, so they humor each other. If Isla wants to dance, Oliver … reluctantly … will dance.

That’s the greatest gift being a parent has given me … hope. The times I’ve been able to observe my kids in environments with their peers, things are just … easy. There are no preconceptions, there are no complexities, they are all just nice to each other. Or, when they’re not, they quickly resolve whatever petty issue got in the way of them having fun.

Younger generations are increasingly willing to simply reject the outdated notions we adults continuously effe up. Current news is depressing, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in it. But my kids and their friends have allowed me to just check out. They’ll fix it. I have no worries. My only job is to support them and to tell other adults to wake up and pay attention to the beautiful world they are going to create.