Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sports Clichés and Mike Piazza: "We Did This"

Sports and clichés work well together. So well, that someone, somewhere decided we ought to dedicate an official week to their honor—so last week was it: Sports Cliché Week 2016. You can probably name 100s of them! Go ahead....

I suppose there are worse causes for given week; I can hang with this one. That's because clichés address a truth, state a life lesson or name a universal experience and I believe sports is a wonderful arena to qualify them. And, the induction of Mike Piazza into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend reminded me of that truth. 
SportsCenter said "Piazza is a wonderful example of the cliché: it's not how you start, but how you finish that matters." I have carried, applied, and embraced this truism to every corner of my life. I remind my students of this truth every school year. I've seen this message apply in the work environment and especially in relationships. No wonder break-ups are painful. Too often they end horribly, quickly, casually, and callously. Meh. But "how you finish" also happens to be true in the baseball career of Piazza, who was of one of the two inductees in the 2016 class. 

Mike Piazza was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. Today, teams do not draft after the 40th round, and from what I understand, anyone drafted after the 30th round has little to no shot of making it in the Bigs. But in less than 30 years, Piazza went from the 1390th player chosen to a plaque in Cooperstown. Along the way, he firmly established himself as one of the greatest hitting catchers in the history of the game (Hall of Fame 2016). 

I have wanted to write about Mike Piazza for some time now. Not because Tommy Lasorda is his brother's Godfather (which I think is pretty cool) or because he claims to be a devout Roman Catholic (in addition to being married to a former Playboy Playmate...interesting) but rather, because of a contribution he made to the people of New York in the wake of 9/11. 
The HBO documentary, "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" chronicles the role of baseball in the days following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Though sports might have seemed trivial and irrelevant, "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" demonstrates how New Yorkers embraced baseball with a cathartic passion. Yankees and Mets games became showcases for resilience and the restoration of normalcy and allowed Americans to demonstrate spontaneous rituals of grief and resurrection.

Mayor Guiliani said, "the only two things that got my mind off it for any period of time in the fall of 2001 were baseball and my son's football games." A devout Yankees fan, in an interview directed to the people of New York just ten days after the attack, he said, "One thing that I've really been missing...and I’m really going to break down tonight and go to a Met game." Good thing he did.


Guiliani was one of 42,000 people who gathered at Shea Stadium that evening. Mets manager Bobby Valentine said, "people did not know how to react at the ball game. There was all this hidden anxiety, this sense of let’s continue to mourn. Let’s not show any emotion other than mourning."

Narrator Liev Schreiber adds, "But in the bottom of the 8th with his team down by a run, Mets catcher Mike Piazza lifted the crowd in a triumphant salute to the city."


HOME RUN! Mike Piazza!

Valentine said, "with that crack of the bat, spontaneously people stopped morning and stood and cheered."

The documentary flashes over to Broadway legend Liza Minelli. She said "it was an amazing night, because everyone's intent changed. It wasn’t just a ball game.It wasn’t just up a song. It became a fight song...it became a call..." and she breaks into "New York, New York" in the way only she could.
Respondent Sydney Feldman added, "people came to Shea Stadium to be together and that sense of unity in a time of crisis is incredibly empowering. (Watch this clip here: minutes 10-12:15)"

You don't forget the leaders, the entertainers and the athletes who raise our eyes us up off the ground in times like that. Mike Piazza, who entered the Hall of Fame as a Met was one of those people, as he gave New Yorkers one of  those moments. Does it make Piazza Hall of Fame worthy? Maybe not, but it makes his induction that much sweeter.


I didn't hear all of his speech, but I did hear what he said to his father. They are three very powerful words that have become a cliché I use in sports all the time. And they are words that when said appropriately, make me cry. At least that's what I did when I heard them in the gym on Monday morning....I don't think I've ever cried at the gym at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. He talked about the sacrifice his father made so he could pursue baseball and said, Dad "We did this."

That might be my favorite spots cliché of all of them, and that's because I believe they are true. The team is never just you. I know, I know—there's no "I" in team...but there is a "me." But nothing in sports is possible without a competitor, a source of support, or a guiding hand. Piazza's father was with him at the start and honored at the finish. It reminds me that it's pretty amazing what "we" can do.

Congratulations to Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr and thank you for the impact you made on the game.


Photo Credits
Catcher

NY Post
Hall of Fame

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Your First Language in Sports; Thank you Venus Williams

I don't remember the name of the film, but the movie was Irish. Set in Ireland, directed by an Irishman with Irish actors only, I turned to my mom because I didn't understand—more than once—what was being discussed. But, she did. The characters spoke in terms that an Irishman would know....and I'm not referring to things like "crisps" for chips, a "laurie" instead of a truck or the "boot" of the car, rather than the trunk. No, they were using language I had never heard before, beyond terms of endearment. They were addressing ideas about simple things in life and deeper ones too. I looked at my mom and realized she knew their language because it was her first language. My mom's parents were from Ireland and everyone my mom knew growing up was Irish American. In many ways, their world was more Irish, than American—and so was their language. And watching Venus Williams play tennis at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University last night reminded me that we are all raised with a first language, and this is true in sports too. 
Perched not far from the center court, I found myself watching and speaking about tennis in a way that required little to no effort. I surprised even myself as I shared insights—good ones— about the match with my friend. When I watch basketball or football, though I understand a lot, my input isn't as nuanced or natural. My comments are didactic and calculated. I can feel the processing in my brain that requires me to speak thoughtfully, not just emotionally, about the game. I suppose you might say I speak tennis with proficiency. 

I have said before that tennis was my first love. I took my first lessons at age seven or eight, but didn't give it much thought. At twelve years old, however, my dad stepped in to my life in a way that he has many times since. He found a two week camp, led by a great player and instructor. He thought I might love tennis in the way he did. He signed me up, told me about why tennis is a great game, and my life was forever changed.

My love for tennis was evidenced by my calendar and my checkbook, or in this case my babysitting kitty. It brought me friends, I learned its history and the lives of the greatest in the game. I subscribed to not one but two tennis magazines. It's safe to say, I fell hard.

That love for the game not only colored my vision, it strengthened it. I watch tennis like I watch no other sport. I feel the intensity that those on the court are battling. I understand the mental fortitude that is required point by point. I have used tennis as an analogy for every other sport I watch! 
One of the many reasons I love to watch Venus Williams play tennis is because of her love for the game. She has said she can't imagine her life without it. Perhaps it is the only language she speaks (and loves), but in the same way that French sounds delightful to the ear, her strokes are a sight to behold. Venus' combined athleticism and grace, power and poise is like no other player on the tour (her serve clocked in at a high of 118 mph). I love how different her game is from her sister's, who sat in the corner of the stadium last night. I thought about what it might be like for one to see the other compete. What words do they exchange before, after and especially during the game. I know they are communicating with one another!. 

Many athletes today are distracted by the money, power and fame that comes with the celebrity of sport. At 36 years of age, Venus Williams however stands 6'1" and as a 20 year veteran in a game that has never seen anyone like her before. She makes speaking the language of tennis, a romance one. Thank you V!

Photo Credits
Serena Watching V

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Losing is Winning: Thank you Phil Mickelson for helping golf grow

Jordan Spieth won the 2015 Masters by shooting a remarkable 18 strokes under par; a historic low score he shares with Tiger Woods. Few people remember those who finish second, but not in that major. Justin Rose posted an impressive 14 under par at the finish. After his round, a sportscaster asked Rose what he would have done differently. "Nothing," he said. His words were without bitterness or sarcasm. He added, "the only thing I needed to do was play better than Jordan, and today that wasn't possible." I was reminded of his words at the conclusion of the 2016 British Open; I wouldn't have been surprised if Phil Mickelson said the same thing. 
This year's finish reminded me there are different ways athletes win and a variety of paths to a championship title. Sometimes a victory is born from an epic collapse (2016 Masters). Other times a lead is so strong, the win is earned without much contest (2014 World Series). Some wins aren't even possible to watch given our personal biases or the intensity of a given rivalry that colors our vision (2016 NBA Finals). But the 2016 Open was one to appreciate for the sake of what it was—near match play competition between two exciting competitors. Though it didn't come down to the 18th hole—akin to a game 7 in MLB or NBA finals—both men raised the game of golf and one another in the process. When that type of win transpires, it helps golf grow. 

I am a Phil Mickelson fan for simple reasons. I've always loved a lefty (even though he's right handed), I like his aggressive style of play (it's cost him...and I'm ok with that), I admire his 28 year relationship with his caddy Jim "Bones" Mackay, I think gamblers can be fun (sorry!) and and any time a professional athlete is older than me, I celebrate their achievements. For example, I was upset when Tim Duncan retired not because I think he's such a classy and talented athlete, but I was sad to lose someone over 40 still making a run for it! Mickelson turned 46 in June. Therefore my bias toward Mickelson over Stenson, permitted the camera—otherwise known as my eyes and mind—to go out of its way to watch him on the course. I found myself psychoanalyzing his every move. I asked myself What is his body language suggesting? Why isn't Phillie walking with Bones right now. How much does he love finishing his putt first? 
In my humble and limited observations, amidst the pressure of every single shot on Sunday, my take away from the final round is that Phil truly enjoyed the competition. Shooting a bogey free Sunday at 6 under par, the highlight had to have been the eagle he made on the fourth hole. His putting was excellent and were the golf gods just a little bit kinder, more than two of them would have fallen (including the putt on 18 on the first day. It lipped out...he posted a 63 instead of a 62). But they didn't....and Henrik Stenson who has been flirting with a major longer than people might think was incredibly precise. I believe Germans are known for precision, but I'd like to make a case for his Swedish engineering of the game.

Some competitors lose sight of the larger game that is unfolding before them. I know because I've been that athlete, but I can't say that was true of Phil Mickelson during the Open final. He recognized good strokes and putts by Stenson, he smiled when the Swede completed an incredible up and down, rather than pouting or walking away without acknowledging what he did. He offered an extensive congratulations to Stenson—the number six player in the world— upon his victory. The face to face dialogue reminded me of the exchange between Payne Stewart and him at the US Open, Pinehurst in 1999. But in that duel, not this one, the man ushering the warm words was the victor, not the one who walked away in defeat. 
Henrik Stenson will represent his country at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, but other golfers like Rory McIlroy have opted out. McIlroy, himself a former Open champion explained "I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win majors."

I will be blogging about McIlory's comments soon as every fiber of my being disagrees with his outlook. Though I believe professional athletes must have a mindset that their goal is to win championships and win majors, I also believe it can and should be done in a way that grows the game. I think Mickelson's words affirm that it did: "I played close to flawless golf and was beat. It's probably the best I've played at not won. But Henrik made 10 birdies, so what are you going to do?" Like Justin Rose said, "nothing."

Phil, you may have lost on Sunday, but you have won the respect of the man who holds the 2016 Claret Jug and most especially those who love the game of golf. I hope you and Stenson said three powerful words as you walked off the course: "We did that." You did....he just did it better.  Thank you

Photo Credits
Two champions
Stenson and Mick
Thumbs up
YES

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How I Know the All Star Game Still Matters....

I love the midsummer classic. I won't come Wednesday, when I feel a little lost without a Giants game to listen to on the radio or a dull SportsCenter report, but every year I make a point of watching a game that many fans think is meaningless. So meaningless that the former commissioner Bud Selig put some stakes into the game: the team that won the game earned home field advantage in that season's World Series (a best of seven game venture). Think of the implications of that measure! It's a collective bargain agreement between the players of the NL and the AL to throw and hit strikes. And so I believe the All Star game adds yet another chapter to the narrative of sport. All Star games matter.Here's some evidence—beyond the cost of the ticket to attend the game!—that it does.
Early Friday morning, as I got in my car, I cursed the city I have lived in for the past 15 years. If you've spent a summer in San Francisco, you probably know what I'm about to say. Mark Twain said it best, so I'll let his words—a down right cliche in this town—do the talking.

There is something wrong with turning on windshield wipers, and wearing a down jacket in the month of July. My head tells me I should know better, but my heart can't accept this cold and wet truth. As I turned on the heat in my car, I fired a text message off to a friend who purchased tickets for that evening's Giants vs Diamondbacks game. I asked where we were sitting. I said that if we were in the upper and outer reserve, I didn't want to spend the time or money going to AT&T Park. 

I felt like a spoiled brat. My brother, in town from Washington DC was so disappointed that he wasn't able to get to a ball game during his five-day visit. Others would love to have a team that has the best record in baseball in their backyard. I just didn't have it in me to sit outside in a cold and windy seat for over three hours.
I put these points into perspective and actually got excited when I realized Jeff Samardzija was the starting pitcher. One beanie, three base layers and blanket later, I found my way to the Yard where I was confronted by another truth: Orange Fridays live up to their name and something else, an electric spirit in the house. I thought about the accolades Giants fans have gotten from objective outsiders for the past 10 years, but this crowd was super amped. I'd felt that energy before, and it wasn't during the NLDS or NLCS. It was in the hallways of school before Christmas break. 

Christmas break signifies the half way point of the school year. Everyone is ready for a little break and for the joy of the holiday. Though not a member of MLB, I wouldn't be surprised if insiders told me that sentiment is one they take into the All Star Break. The baseball season can be a grind. Players, coaches and staff play for six days in a row, sometimes more! They travel far and wide to places they want to be and others they do not. The majority of athletes, won't head to San Diego to participate in the Midsummer Classic, but for those that do, it's an honor: one that I was a witness to in a new way at that Friday game.
This year, the Giants have four players who will take the field tonight at PetCo Park. Buster Posey won the fan balloting to start at catcher for the third time. Both Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto will take the mound and for the first time in his career first baseman Brandon Belt will suit up for the game. He got to San Diego by way of the Final Vote ballot. Belt was in the running among four other players.

When the Giants announced that the Baby Giraffe made the cut, fans went nuts. Their voting via text and Twitter #votebelt paid off. He got a standing ovation when he came to bat. The Giants recorded a personal message from the Texan thanking fans for all of their support. His words sent this raucous crowd to their feet; fans were clapping and cheering. It was as if they said to one another: we did this. They did! We did!  And it wasn't a one time affair. When he returned to the plate, again fans gave it up for this All Star. I turned to my friend and said "this is remarkable. You can't tell me the All Star game doesn't mean anything."


The All Star Game matters to me because it reminds me that every season brings surprises, new gifts and new reasons to celebrate. It gives me pause to think about the narrative of a season that is well underway. It makes me miss baseball! and yet it shifts my eyes to those players we love and those who give more than their all. Every Midsummer Classic includes a lead up to it, something I may never have thought about before....not every visit to AT&T Park that make me say "wow," but this one did. I felt a spirit among both players and fans that made me smile. It got me to drop my blanket for but a few moments, and forget how cold it may or may have been outside. That energy was a warm one. Beanies off to the team that is #1 in the NL West. Thank you San Francisco, thank you summer, thank you MLB. Here's to the All Stars and the fans that confirm them. Play Ball!

Photo Credits
Logo
Baby Giraffe

#VoteBelt

Monday, July 11, 2016

But One Chapter in the Narrative of Sports: Thank you Serena Williams

Days after Serena Williams lost the French Open, a sportswriter raised an unfortunate question: Will Williams ever win another Grand Slam title? As many tennis fans know, Serena, who had already completed the Serena Slam (winning the Grand Slam in a non-calendar year) was going for history as she sought the 2015 US Open title. This victory would not only give her the distinction of becoming the fourth woman in the history of the sport to win a Grand Slam, it would be her 22nd—tying her with Steffi Graf for the most major wins in the modern game. She lost in the semis. 

In 2016, Serena went on to appear in the Finals of the Australian and the French Open, she lost in both. When I read that probing question, I put my magazine down with disgust. It's one that's not uncommon in sports. Golf fans are reading it on a regular basis this year as Jordan Spieth has yet to win a Major in 2016. And rather than answer the question, I thought instead about a larger one: What are the narratives that characterize professional sports today? I invite you to answer this question. Please share your response. For today, here is but one thought, among hundreds.
So...it looks like we have an answer to that question.
Default Language
Lying on the floor while stretching at the conclusion of a group exercise class at my gym, I looked up to read, actually read what the banners hanging from the ceiling had to say. They listed different championship titles that various teams within the club won and what year they did so. It was obvious to me that certain eras created a dynasty. But there was something on one banner that wasn't on all of the others; an interesting descriptor. It said "Women's Championship." I quickly realized that the default language in sports speaks of men and their accomplishments. You might make the argument that the club was originally for men only, so the history of the narrative stems from what was, rather than what it is today.

For example,  SportsCenter reported this morning that the US Women's Open champion in golf is Brittany Lang. When Dustin Johnson won the same title, sports media does note him as the "Men's Open championship," It could. My question is, Should it?
The same is true in professional basketball. The NBA is the National Basketball Association of male athletes. Though David Stern could have changed the name to the MNBA when the WNBA was created in 1996, he did not. Were a woman the commissioner, I'm not sure she would either. Norms in society are hard to change, but it doesn't mean they're not worth examining, considering, and questioning For example, I wonder: What are the implications of a language that suggests that athletes are male and when they are not—then and only then—do we let it be known otherwise?!

I'm okay with making distinctions. I have a favorite female athlete and I have a favorite male athlete. Evidence provided: here. You should say to me that Andy Murray was crowned the men's champion and Serena Williams is the women's champion of Wimbledon (although in this case, their names help me figure that one out. Not always true!). Though some would prefer to do away with these descriptors, they point to a truth. There are divisions by gender for a reason (which I'm not really interested in qualifying here. I'll leave that to some physiologist). In some arenas these divisions might not be necessary, but in others they are needed. For example, if Serena were to play on the men's tour, as much as I would want her to win, she wouldn't have the 22 titles that she does today. Men hit harder, their serve is faster and they play longer. Serena's serve is pretty close though! 
Michelle Wie comes to mind as a female athlete who attempted to play on the American men's tour, but did not make the cut. She is however the second woman to have made it on the Asian men's tour; Se Ri Pak of South Korea is the first. Unfortunately, Wie finished the year with disappointing performances on both the men's and the woman's tour. 

This too was not met without controversy. Female golf legend Annika Sorenstam criticized Wie for her decision to compete on the PGA tour. If you let the narrative of sports rest with those words, you would miss her larger claim. Wie wasn't even winning on the women's tour. Were she looking for the next level of competition, playing against men might make sense. Sorenstam was holding the claim at the LPGA has tremendous competition already. Why miss out on it? 

Without a doubt, Serena Williams has elevated the sport of tennis. And I say that with all due respect for the boys and girls, men and women, seniors, paraplegics and any fan of this great game. I love her for hundreds of reasons I have written about on this blog and as mentioned in this outstanding piece "The Singular Serena." She contributes much more than a singular chapter to the narrative of tennis and to that of all of sports. Today, I thank her for her contributions past and those to come....especially #23!

Photo Credits
Serena

B Lang
M Wie

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

OJ:Made in America: 5 Thoughts

For the past five years or so, I have made a point to watch a baseball movie over the 4th of July weekend. Independence Day is my favorite holiday, I love baseball, America's past time, and as an American Studies major, I celebrate this country's relationship between sport, leisure and culture—a rich, diverse and complex one. 

But this year, a different movie has taken hold of my thoughts and imagination. It's one not without controversy. Many people wonder why I would spend 7 hours and 43 minutes watching it. If you've seen parts of this "30 for 30" film,  you know why. It's haunting. It's a look into America's original sin. It's humanity at it's worst. It's OJ: Made in America

"OJ: Made in America" is split into five episodes and has been airing on ESPN since early June 2016. I caught Episode 3 with my brother as we switched back and forth between it and Game 6 of the NBA Finals (there are a lot of ads in playoff games). And since that first viewing, I have tried to make sense of the man, the narrative that he carries and the cultural climate of the past and present. Here are but a few thoughts of what I've thought about. Please share your own.

The very first scene
Pay attention to the very opening scene. The three-minute interview between OJ and two employees at Lovelock Correctional facility symbolically captures what will unfold—"a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence and the criminal justice system." I also think it speaks to the genius of the director, Ezra Edelman. 
 
OJ is asked to account for how he has spent the past five years in the penn. He speaks about the responsibilities he had when he first arrived and what he is doing today—working in the gym and cleaning the equipment. As he begins to boast of a team he coaches inside the prison, a familiar OJ—the one that America loved emerges. He brags in an unassuming way about the success of "his guys." His story, however is interrupted by the female employee. She asks him "How old were you when you were first arrested?" Her question is totally unrelated to the prior one. It has nothing to do with his report  and yet it does. OJ's first arrest has everything to do with who OJ was, is and will be—as much as he would like to forget.

The Music
I enjoy reading the inside of an album/CD cover: lyrics, who wrote the song, the dedication, the names of band members their instrument: drums, keyboard, guitar, base, percussion, etc. However, one item on that list was once confusing to me: vocals. I had not thought of the voice as an instrument. That realization, that truth helped me to understand that in many songs, the voice isn't the only instrument that tells the story. We can also learn the meaning of a song from a violin that "speaks" the lyrics. For example, in Springsteen's hit "Bobbly Jean," the final minute plus features Clarence Clemons on the saxophone. That sax is telling the final chapter of the story. My imagination gets to figure out what that is.
I say that because the music used in "Made in America" is as haunting as the story is. It's brief at the introduction, and upon the conclusion of each of the five episodes, the screen fades to black and music with a strong trumpet resumes. It says so much, without words. Listen to it.

Where do you LIE?
For his sheer giftedness in athletics, it's hard to believe that OJ's golf swing is as raw and ugly as it is. It's almost painful to look at, but nearly every episode features OJ on the course, playing with friends, breaking racial barriers at certain clubs and exercising that swing. It's safe to say OJ played a lot of golf—enough to be considered, well...a golfer. 

Golfers know certain rules in the game are sacrosanct, and one of them is honesty. You keep your own score, but if you're playing competitively, you are asked to tell those you are playing with what you shot, or where you lie (meaning, I've hit three balls that are fair so I'm lying three, hitting four). Several of OJ's friends describe how dishonest OJ was when he played golf. He had a hole in the pocket of his pants and would let a different ball drop through them if he hit out of bounds or in the rough. His golfing buddies each shared the same story as well as the same response. I didn't know what to say to him or I never called him on it.
I believe when you are dishonest in one area of your life, it shows up in other ways too. I say that with the utmost humility, as I've seen that in myself. But I hope the metaphor here is obvious. When I am dishonest, my actions and words affect other people. Nothing is in isolation. Hopefully people who love and care for me will call me out on it. It's not easy to do, but it's important for personal growth. OJ's dishonestly, extended far beyond the golf course. He was a known womanizer, unfaithful to both Marguerite, his first wife and to Nicole. In that sense, Where do you lie? has another meaning.

I think honesty is something everyone must work at daily. Although we expect people to be honest, and though we assume it's a given, I think it's where the devil loves to play and reap rewards. (read "The Screwtape Letters" for more information on this topic).

The face of Courage
One of my favorite units to teach in "Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice" —a truly remarkable course—was Care for Creation: Environmental Ethics. Through this curriculum I learned about the Goldman Prize. The 2009 winner is a woman named Maria Gunnoe, who fought against "environmentally devastation mountaintop removal mining and valley fill operations in her home state of West Virginia." Because my students don't know much about this issue, I share a video clip about her and one respondent's words have stayed with me. Don Perdue a member of the WV legislature describes her by saying: "irrespective of how you fall on a particular issue, when you see courage raw exhibited courage,then that's something you have to pay attention to." Perdue nailed a feeling, a reaction I've had in my own life. When I watched "Happy Valley," Amir Bar-Lev's investigative look into the Penn State scandal, I sat up straight when Jerry Sandusky's adopted son Matt admitted that he had to testify against his father. And I would like to say that I saw courage when LAPD officer Ron Shipp took to the stand to testify against OJ. 

Shipp had been friends with OJ since he was a teenager. His brother had played football with "the Juice." Shipp weighs in throughout the documentary. He was happy to do favors for OJ in the past and OJ consulted him very shortly after the murder. Shipp appears, gentle, honest and very credible. As a viewer, I found myself listening to his words without suspicion. I was not expecting that he would testify against OJ, but as the story unfolds, you understand that he had to.

Ron Shipp saw the photographs of Nicole Brown Simpson at the crime scene. The documentary flashes over many of them. They're horrifying, barbaric. Shipp's voice quivers as he recalls the first homicide he witnessed as a police officer. "It's something you never forget." He has to stop talking, as the tears he choked back for the 19 year old girl who was violently murdered. 

Whereas some of OJ's life long friends value loyalty, I believe Shipp values honesty and justice. In caring for OJ, he came to care for Nicole. And what he saw and knew (he heard OJ give three different excuses for what happened to his finger the day after the murder) he couldn't live with himself or others, without speaking the truth. He knew it would cost him his friendship with OJ; he was aware that he would accused of betrayal, but he had to do what is right. I think that takes guts—true courage.

The defense did everything in their power to destroy his character. But even twenty years later, I see that his courage trumps all. Mr. Shipp, your courage, raw exhibited courage is heroic to me. 
The danger of Charm
Every Jane Austin novel I have ever read includes one character who has a fatal flaw: they are charming. Initially I did not understand why charm is a bad thing. Seemed to me that a charming person makes you feel good, they hand out compliments with ease, the capture your attention and you want to spend more time with them. But Austin shrewdly teaches her reader that charm is not a virtue because ultimately, charm is self-serving. A person exercises charm so that you will like them. I want and need you to like me because of my ego, not because I care about you, not because I want to make you a better person, or help you grow more human. 

After his time in the NFL, Simpson pursued a career in acting. Had he sought a part in "Pride and Prejudice" he would have played Mr. Wickham well. Simpson's charm is hard to deny. Episode 5 chronicles Simpson's life after the Civil trial. It was unsettling to see how many people sought to take a photograph with him, chasing him down for an autograph and more. He appeared on a radio show and the hostess says "I did not want to like you one bit, but I hate to say it, you're simply charming, OJ." He laughs and leans in for a big hug. His charm is part of what made him the star he became. Is it fair to question the role it also holds in his downfall?

In closing
I was old enough to watch and understand it all, but I missed a lot of the OJ case in real time. I feel as though I didn't watch any TV the entire four years I spent in college (maybe that's a good thing?!). For example, I never watched "Friends" or "Seinfeld" until they became re-runs. I remember the Bronco chase and where I was when the OJ verdict was handed down, but most of Edelman's project—a deep dive into "Simpson's rise and fall and how it reflected issues of race, the atmosphere in Los Angeles and the relationship between the police and the black community" was new to me. I was fascinated by the 72 subjects he interviewed, the uncompromising and sensational images and unseen video footage. 

This tale is a tragic one; it's a hard look into the best and the worst of what this nation can create. I expounded on five ideas, but could have written about 50...or 500. And I'll admit, I didn't take on some of the hardest ones I've thought about. But that's what we must do—what I must do —to get a better sense of who and what America can make in the future.

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