Sports Heroes and Gay Marriage

Same sex marriage is now legal in New York. Most people seem to be happy about it, but browsing the internet and Twitter for reaction to news can be very self selecting and biased. We can guess how "real" New Yorkers feel about it - "real" in the Sarah Palin "real" America sense - but for the most part, the city seems to be pretty stoked that a sizable group of people now has basic human rights.

I was down on Christopher Street the other night and remarked to my friend how it felt extra gay for some reason - perhaps because it is Pride month, and the parade is fast approaching, or simply because it was a warm Saturday night and I was standing outside of Duplex and who isn't at least a little gay when they're down in the Village? Either way, there was a general feeling in the air, with rainbow flags fastened to the facades of buildings and couples walking hand in hand that perhaps gays in New York were on the precipice of something huge.

Of course, not everyone was happy. Sports and gays have a complex relationship to say the least, but the major story last week involved former NY Giant David Tyree coming out (ha!) against gay marriage, claiming legislation would incite "anarchy" in New York.

He is right about the anarchy: in 30 days, every single Williams Sonoma in the city will be crushed by a wave of wedding registries, Fire Island will sink into the ocean under the sheer weight of honeymooning couples, and Christopher Street will run red!... with roses from thrown wedding bouquets.

He backed off his comments a little bit, but the point was made: Former Super Bowl Hero Hates Homos.

Pro sports are institutionally homophobic for many claimed reasons: naked men in the locker room, tradition, machismo, etc. Obviously, all of that is bunk. It can all be attributed to the fact that athletes spend their entire lives training, very little time socializing and tend to be ignorant about a whole host of social issues, let alone gays. We should not expect our athletes to have opinions about anything important: politics, global warming, the homeless, war, even reality TV. Why? BECAUSE THEY PLAY SPORTS FOR A LIVING. They do not create legislation, or solve issues, or do anything besides run and jump and throw and catch. Ask your neighbors or friends or parents about gay marriage, don't ask freaking David Tyree.

Now Tyree is well within his rights as an American to not like gays. By the way, that is the clear subtext to all anti-gay marriage proponents: if you are against gay marriage, you are against gay people. There is no separating the two. Tyree is allowed to not like gays, and talk about it freely, and donate money to anything. But when he says he would trade the HELMET CATCH for a defeat on gay marriage, that's when I get pissed.

David Tyree, shut up. Just shut up. You are responsible for the single greatest sports moment in my entire life, and in the lives of countless other Giants fans across the world. Do NOT sully our memory with your backwards ass opinions.

Which brings me to the absolute lunacy of having sports heroes. We live in a world where our athletes are constantly revealed for being idiots, in the same way our politicians and celebrities and normal folks are constantly exposed. It is all thanks to the internet. People did not get dumber, the exposure just became more universal. Bob Costas can love Mickey Mantle all he wants, but he needs to acknowledge that being a grown man and liking anything about an athlete other than how they played the game is an exercise in heartbreak.

I have essentially three male heroes in my life: my father, who is an excellent and heroic man and inspires me every day, his father, who kindled my love for writing, and my mother's father, who taught me it's possible to be both Jewish AND a gambling, scotch drinking badass. All three of them love or loved sports. None of them played them professionally - they are just fathers who actively and passively schooled me in what makes a man a man.

Not everyone is as lucky as I was, growing up with positive male role models. There are kids out there with sports dreams who idolize athletes and put them on a pedestal unbefitting of a glorified gladiator. But there are about 100 other places to go before choosing to love someone like David Tyree.

David Tyree was certainly not a hero of mine. He caught a ball in a game that made me happy for whatever reason. I had no stake in that game other than emotional, and if he had dropped the ball I would have kept on living. But he held on, and for that reason wove himself into my memories for all eternity. When I am using FutureTube to show my kids the day the Giants won the Super Bowl, I'm going to mention his name and hopefully will never remember his bigoted opinions.

Supporting gay rights is not about being progressive, or having gay friends, or being for equality, or accepting the inevitable or even recognizing basic human rights. It's about a moment in human history that is bigger than Catholics or Tea Parties or Republicans or Democrats or Stonewall or your nephew or hairdresser or teacher or friend. It's about a moment that is a microcosm of a bigger moment that we are all part of, when actual change is on the horizon and humanity lurches forward just an inch or two.

And it's about pulling your head out of your ass long enough to trap a ball against it.



Me in other media:

My lovely roundup of the best 20 NBA players of my lifetime. Apparently no one likes Vince Carter except for me!

Post on the soul sucking endeavor that is apartment hunting coming soon. Plus, are my best friends in New York all doormen? Check back soon! (Hint: yes, they are)


Rory and Tiger

So Rory McIlroy won an absolutely historic US Open today, going wire to wire and finishing 16 shots under par. All in all, a spectacular weekend of golf from a kid who nearly won the Masters in April but choked away his lead on the last day. The lead today was so big that he would have needed a Greg Normanesque meltdown to have given it away. And the headlines on ESPN.com? "He's only just begun."

Just begun what, exactly?

The reason Tiger Woods was so fascinating before his personal life exploded was the fact that he was unstoppable. Through injury, through courses designed to make him lose, through caddy and coaching and club changes, Woods was basically unbeatable for 10 years. His streak of dominance is unlike anything else in sports. There is a good chance he was the best athlete I will ever see by virtue of sheer winning - better than Jordan or Brady or Pujols or whomever else you want to hold up as the best. The compelling thing about Tiger was not that he was going to win - that was a foregone conclusion. It was by how much, with what ballsy shot or insane luck. It wasn't a question of if he would win the most majors of all time, but when.

And as soon as he started to fade, the media went looking for "the next Tiger." In the same way that Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were all the next Jordan, journalists have been looking to cast anyone as a successor to Tiger's dominance. None of those NBA stars went on to win 6 championships. In fact, they have less than 6 combined.

Rory McIlroy has just won his first Major at age 22. Tiger notched his first victory at the Masters, the tournament McIlroy coughed away, at age 21. He then won 13 more, with relative ease. It took Jack Nicklaus 25 years to win his 18 majors. It took Tiger 14 years to win his 14 majors. Easy math, right? If Rory wants to catch up, he'd better get crackin'.

Tiger is number two on the all-time Majors list, as everyone knows. Of course, he is the only active member of the top 10, and that's a top 10 that includes five dead guys. There is a distinct possibility that Tiger will come back and absolutely annihilate Nicklaus' record - remember, he was on pace to do so with ease before taking off what amounted to two years from golf.

McIlroy should not be anointed the next anyone at this stage in his career. He is not the savior of the PGA, he will never draw ratings for CBS like Tiger could, and he will probably fall way, WAY short of 14 Majors. But if the media wants to pump him up as the next Tiger, they better give him a nickname. Perhaps Roary the Lion?


On Walkoff Balks and Agony

Rooting for the Mets is like watching a child take its first shaky, unsure steps. The baby's face is contorted in fear and excitement, he struggles valiantly to keep his balance, he puts one foot in front of the other and he actually does it! He takes a few steps, a few more with more confidence, and suddenly he is sprinting - straight off a cliff onto a bed of spikes.

The Mets lost in absolutely stunning fashion last night, thanks to a walkoff balk. Yeah, that's right. This team doesn't both to rip your heart out. They leave it in your chest cavity and simply bash it with a hammer ever second or third night. A team that had finally climbed back to .500, a team with a patchwork offense and a budding star in Dillon Gee and a transcendent season from Jose Reyes finally looks like they are putting it together. Then DJ Carrasco bobs his head and the game is over.

The sequence itself was so indicative of the Mets of the last decade that I'm surprised they didn't trade for Kris Benson and sign Kaz Matsui during the 7th inning stretch. Francisco Rodriguez has been on fire as of recent and managed to blow a save thanks to a Brooks Conrad homer. That's right, the same Brooks Conrad who made so many errors in the playoffs last year that everyone kept looking around hoping his mommy would take him home early from Little League.

In the 10th, 'defensive replacement' Lucas Duda came way off the bag to field a ground ball, a play that was so bad it looked like it was happening in slow motion while Gary Cohen loudly confused Duda with Daniel Murphy. Realizing his misnomer, he said it was "a Daniel Murphy-type mistake." Yikes.

Next, the inevitable single to right, which I'm fairly sure Ron Darling predicted out loud - either that, or it was me talking to myself. Clearly Ron and I have both seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. Now there are men on first and third. Jason Heyward stepped to the plate, a universal feeling of dread. There was no way this would end well - the only question being how the Mets would lose.

They chose the road less travelled. Carrasco leaned forward to get the sign, started to come set and stopped short, and Heyward ran out of the box and pumped his fist before the umpire even made the call. Game over.


My house is a mass of boxes right now as my family prepares to move out for a renovation. I will embark on my second apartment excursion later this day, most likely winding through the streets of Chinatown, through alleyways with hanging laundry and up staircases to closet sized apartments with gorgeous views of other closet sized apartments. I will continue to fret about not having a job, I will continue to run into old friends and make awkward smalltalk and walk around the city until sweat pools in my shoes and fogs up my sunglasses. It is officially the "Dog Days," and I say that with a small white fluffy dog staring at me from her pillow. She's not happy about it either.

With basketball season over and football looking further away, I am dreading these dog days. We are still a month out from the All-Star game and I am still not really watching the Mets. The last few years have brought so much pain and anger, so many late season collapses and injuries and bad signings and financial meltdowns and embarrassing press that I simply compartmentalized my fandom and packed it away as much as possible. My Mets hats and tshirts and the like will have to go into a moving box this weekend, in a stunningly ham-fisted metaphor.

I made a promise with myself to not get sucked in this season. But all it took was watching Jose Reyes for a little, and seeing Carlos Beltran showing flashes of his old self, and here I am. I am the old Michael Corleone, grey haired in a red cardigan: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." It has been such a joyless experience rooting for this team for the last 5 years, and yet I know that come September I will have watched 40 more Mets games and seen probably 20 losses and think to myself, "They're still in it!" The scouring of the MLB standings on ESPN.com, the playoff odds calculators, the box score watching will all come right back. And then they will lose 8 in a row and that will be it.

It is not quick or painless. It sneaks up on you like a jungle cat in the brush. It hits you like an anvil in a cartoon. And yet, baseball season is so long that it is easy to get lulled back in. Just when you thought you were out.


Me in other media

In lieu of a post today, here's a link to my piece on LeBron's fiasco last night. Thanks to Jerod and MSF for posting.



Patience Paradox

I have a real impulse problem. When I latch onto something in my head, be it a new toy, new gadget, new restaurant, anything new, I need it now. I am capable of waiting, but only if I push the item so far out of my mind that the release date or opening or meeting sneaks up on me, otherwise I am simply paralyzed.

Thus searching for a job triggers all of my impulse problems at once: the concept of a job is so intangible and so unknown, the date is completely hypothetical and in order to be proactive it has to stay on my mind at all times. It is driving me freaking crazy, and I have only been home for two weeks.

I take solace in the fact that a first job is somewhat of a stepping stone, a footnote to what I hope is a career as a writer. I am no longer hemming and hawing and aw-shucks-ing with people when they ask me what I want to do. I want to write, and I want to do it now, and I want to do it exceedingly well.

But of course, I cannot be a writer right now because, well, I don't know shit. I have experienced a fair amount in my 22 years, but I think that still seeing a pediatrician precludes one from writing the great American novel. A writer can have all the talent in the world and still be limited by his or her experiences - I remember trying to write a play as a 16-year-old that basically turned into 20 pages of me and my friends sitting on a stoop eating bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches because that's the only thing I knew.

Of course, great novels can come from people with incredibly limited experiences if they delve into those experiences with great detail. You can grow up in the middle of no where and be William Faulkner. But Faulkner did not write his first novel until he was in his late 20s.

So do I have to wait to be great? I grew up watching so much sports and seeing so many phenoms break into the league at age 20 or 21 or 22 and be dominant. I assume the life of a writer is much less early fireworks and much more slow burn, but then I remember that Bret Easton Ellis was a hit at 21 and feel like a failure again.

What is the virtue in being patient versus being aggressive? Do I harp on these editors and writers I have emailed, bother them until they deign me with a response, or just wait and put my faith in God and the passage of time? Do I wait to have a measurable impact on the world, or grasp at every possibility and drive myself nuts?

All of these feelings stem from today's launch of Grantland.com, the new Bill Simmons/ESPN joint venture that is packed to the brim with mostly young writers. Now obviously, young is a relative term - a lot of these writers are 10 years older than I am. But if they are considered young in the literary world, does that mean I have 10 more years to develop a voice and a following and a style before I'm an old never-was?

Because 10 years is a long time to wait to be a hot young writer.


Anthony's Weiner

I sent a recent cover letter out to a prospective employer urging the person to read my blog, follow my Twitter, check my LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. I followed it with a meta-referential joke: " I realize that previous sentence would have been complete gibberish about 6 years ago but here we are!"

I have not heard back.

The future is strange. While waiting for the job offers to start flooding in, I am embarking on a personal project of increasing my online profile through this blog, my Twitter, a personal website, updating my LinkedIn, expanding my knowledge of Wordpress and Tumblr and all of these various items that would make 10-year-old Evan look up from his Legos in confusion. Just a few years ago, the only people who had Blackberries were lawyers and the phones looked like the cheap electronic travel version of Texas Hold'Em my grandparents have kept in their car for the last 10 years. My iPod still required me to press physical buttons to change songs. Webcams came separate from computers and cost hundreds of dollars. Cell phone cameras were around but cost like $1 per picture message. This was not the days of the telegraph or carrier pigeon or dial-up MOM HANG UP THE PHONE I'M TRYING TO CHAT WITH MY GIRLFRIEND but still.

So imagine trying to explain this Anthony Weiner thing to your past self. A congressman put a high resolution cell phone picture of his penis on a website that shares 140-character koans with millions of people at once in an attempt to send it to a woman he had met on a website designed to connect college classmates, then claimed that hackers had remotely broken into his $300 touch screen smartphone in order to post the pictures.

"Whoa," says past self. "Did this set off a huge scandal that brought down the entire telecommunications industry?"

"No!" you'd say to your past self. "This stuff happens ALL THE TIME."

Whatever happens in this increasingly sordid and stupid fiasco (and it looks like it might get worse before it gets better) the important thing to remember is that the old adage about the cover up being worse than the crime still holds true. We've come to expect a certain amount of sexual perversion from our politicians simply because the internet reveals these perversions on a daily basis. Weiner will probably, PROBABLY have to resign over this given that he lied a whole bunch and that other bad sexy things will probably leak out in the next few days. But other politicians have weathered these storms and we increasingly don't care.

The fact is we live in a representative democracy. We the people hold no legislative authority - we just elect the guys who do. If everyone had to vote every day for HS154-2B Increasing the Fiduciary Commitment for Federal Funding to Project zzzzzzzzzzz.... Well, we'd all fall asleep.

So we trust these dirtbags to do our voting for us, and for the most part we don't care what they do in their private lives until it ekes into the territory of outright hypocrisy. Weiner is fiery, and handsome, and I think we all could see him being a horndog. It's not like he claims to be a family man or is running on a family values platform. John Edwards went down because he cheated on his dying wife and lied about it and covered it up with campaign money and just looked kinda creepy. Larry Craig went down because he was living a lie and voting against every gay rights bill that crossed his desk. Eliot Spitzer went down because he transported hookers across state lines.

Weiner sent some dong shots to some people. Is that on the same level as those other guys? We'll find out when his letter of resignation gets leaked online.

Weiner is another in a long line of victims of the internet. A professor of mine loved to say that the internet is content neutral, in the sense that it is a tool with no negative or positive connotations. Anyone can use it, therefore it cannot be good or bad - it is dependent on the intentions of the user. In general, more information is better for society, better for shining a light on wrongdoing and glorifying goodness.

But a content neutral information pipe is only as good or bad as the people using it, and everything on the web is interconnected and permanent. If you want to use it for sending dong shots over a private message, you better expect them to bleed into other public arenas.

Of course, it's clear Representative Weiner had little to be embarrassed of by the junior member of the House. If I were organizing a PR strategy for Weiner, I would have set up an immediate press conference and put him up at the podium. "Mr. Weiner, is that a photo of you?"

"Damn right."


Shaq and Mortality

This NBA season was the first essentially Shaq-free year in my lifetime. Yes, the big fella was technically still around, wasting away in the trainer's room in the belly of the TD Banknorth Garden, but for all intents and purposes Shaq retired last year.

That's why today's announcement was not a surprise in the least: any NBA fan saw how totally finished Shaq is and saw how little he could stay on the court and how little an impact he made and figured that was it. He had basically two good games this year, each launching a thousand "Diesel Has Something Left in the Tank!!" headlines, but that was about it. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Shaq gave it the old college try and then packed up it up while the Celtics went home.

Shaq has been an important player to me for my entire life - I think the first reasonable sports argument I ever made was that Shaq deserved the MVP award every year and the media simply did not want to vote for him because it would be boring. His free throw foibles are well documented, but dammit if Shaq wasn't a winner. Maybe he wasn't the most valuable, but no one could dominate like he could. He looked like a grown man playing in a middle school YMCA game. He was a physical freak in the truest sense of the term: he looked like a person of normal height who suddenly turned into Apache Chief: INYUK-CHUK!!

Watching him breakdown after seeing him at his peak was the second time I'd see a lifelong favorite athlete wither before my eyes. Last year brought the far more traumatic retirement of Ken Griffey Jr., which made me break out the N64 and fire up Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr, a relic from my childhood that I will never sell.

But Shaq was different than Griffey - Griffey's breakdown was slow and robbed him of so much time that by the time he retired, it was easy to forget he was still around. Seeing the Heat face the Mavericks in the Finals reminds one that when these teams faced off five years ago, Shaq was already seen as "on the decline" and STILL managed to deliver on his championship promise. The guy looked sure to hang around forever, despite the ballooning weight and the nagging injuries and the silly feuds and the TV shows and Twittering. When he signed with the Celtics and pretended he was still pissed off and chasing one more ring, it seemed so utterly hollow. Shaq was lying to us.

Watching a player retire when his career has spanned my entire life makes me feel incredibly old, and incredibly sad, and is further compounded by the fact that Blake Griffin is younger than me and more famous and rich than I will ever be. When I loved Shaq, I still daydreamed about the NBA and getting tall and dunking a basketball just once. Seeing him break down reminds me that the only way I will ever dunk a basketball is on my unborn son's kiddie hoop.

Shaq gets to retire at least somewhat gracefully, and will probably pop up in a million places on TV and in movies and in the news and online until we all get sick of him. But remember when Shaq could just decide it was time to score and do this?

Remember that when you see him at 400 pounds, wearing a suit that is clinging on for dear life sitting next to the similarly rotund Magic Johnson. Remember how Shaq was a force of nature, and not the Big Media Whore.

Pedro Alvarez and my one sports triumph

The Mets are playing the Pirates tonight, but Pedro Alvarez is out of the lineup. Alvarez is the pride of Horace Mann high school up in Riverdale, and was a full fledged phenom by the time I faced him in a game 6 years ago last month. He was an all-city, all-everything third baseman absolutely annihilating the 5'5" Jewish pitchers from Dalton and Trinity. I was really damn good at filling out a scorecard, but picked up a bat maybe 8 times that whole season. Let's say we were on opposite sides of the spectrum.

He was huge; even though he was only a year older than me he looked about 25 and scooped up groundballs with ease and swung an aluminum bat like a weapon. After the game, he picked up a wood bat and crushed batting practice fastballs in front of about a half dozen major league scouts. I will never forget the image of Alvarez, standing in the batter's box at Horace Mann's picturesque baseball field sending moonshots over a 4-story building that served as the right field wall. It was so clear that Alvarez was born to play baseball, I thought, and so clear that I was destined for something more... intellectual, let's say.

But back to the game. It had rained the night before and the field was slick, which worked to my advantage. With the bases clear in the 6th inning and my team down several runs, my coach told me to grab a bat and loosen up. My heart began racing; my father looked on from behind the backstop and smiled as I worked furiously to get my muscles loose. I strode into the batters box and from the corner of my left eye I saw the hulking Alvarez take several steps in towards the infield grass. Clearly, he had less confidence in my hitting ability than even I did.

The details of the at-bat are fuzzy, but the outcome is crystal clear. I swung hard and screwed myself into the ground and pounded the ball into the grass down the third base line. As the ball spun, I pushed off with my back leg and hauled ass down the first base line at my absolute top speed. The first baseman stretched out his arm and I thought I was dead to rights, but no 'out' call ever came. The first baseman stepped off the bag and kicked the dirt a little bit, and as I sped past the base I turned to see Alvarez swearing and looking at the wet ball still stuck in the grass.

The inning ended shortly thereafter and my day was already done, but I returned to the bench to check out the scorecard.

The sweetest play in baseball. E-3.