Locker Room Love? Highly Doubtful!

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We keep hearing from the Sports media that there are already gay men in pro football that just have not come out. But, now that Michael Sam has come out prior to the draft, teams may not be accepting of him and his “baggage”. This just does not make any sense to me. How would a teammate feel any different if he suspects or if he knows for certain? We hear that they will be uncomfortable in the shower, yet aren’t these “suspects” in the shower now? Perhaps, the mystery just makes it a bit more exciting?

People often throw around the similarities between the military and pro football. Players say they are going to battle and call themselves soldiers. Often, resulting in media backlash, because there really is a big difference between the game of football and the life of a soldier. I spent five years in the U.S Army. Before getting married, about three of those years were spent living in close proximity to lots of other male soldiers. In using the term “close proximity”, I mean living together in barracks and in tents; and in woods and on trucks and even in airplanes that you would shortly jump out of at very low altitude. I was lucky due to timing, but most that I served with spent time on the battlefields of Iraq in even closer and worse conditions.

Maybe it is just me, but this seems like a bit more of a drastic embedding than any pro football player will ever feel as part of his team. In every Army unit I was assigned, there were gay men and women. These were not medical units. These were Communication units and Airborne Communication units. These were units that spent 45 days in the woods training several times a year and could be deployed overseas at a moment’s notice. These were units filled with people of every walk of life, and I do not remember once in five years hearing about issues between the gay and straight soldiers. This was the “Don’t ask don’t tell” era. So, no one was actually coming out, but living in close quarters like this, there was not a lot of hiding it either. I am not stupid or blind, and I am certain there was and still is plenty of discrimination in the military. I can only speak from my experiences. When you realize your life may be put on the line, you care a lot less about what someone does in the privacy of their own room or home.

I truly hope that once the media is done beating this dead horse of a story that it just blows over and Michael Sam gets drafted, at the same slot he would have before coming out. And, his NFL teammates accept him as his college teammates did. Even better yet, maybe his partner will end up being in the military! And, this would be the last time we have to talk about this “baggage”. ‘Cause like some old blue eyed crooner once said regarding gays in the military “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!” that is what he was talking about, right?

Good Luck, Sam!

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The C-town Blues

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Another season has come and gone for the Cleveland Browns.  Depression and loathing again permeate the landscape.  Another Browns vs Steelers weekend is meaningless, and the result is sure to be disgusting and embarrassing.  Another Sunday will be wasted nonetheless.  But, why?  Will it ever change?

No matter the season, football, baseball or basketball, Clevelanders always fall for the hook.  We believe the hype. We listen to the latest regime and eat it up.  “Sustainability” is the latest fodder fed to us.  Why not start with putting a team on the field that we would want to sustain?  A .500 season might be something to shoot for next season.

Instead, it is back to the drawing board again.  Let the draft talk begin.  It is after all the best part of a Browns fan’s season over the last 15 years.  Let’s just hope the front office can top the last draft! What a joke that was.  Yet, we will all be watching in April.  The Draft has become a Clevelander’s Super Bowl.  What a sad state of affairs.

I am not sure how or why we do it.  We are a special breed.  I for one have not lived in Cleveland in over 20 years and could have jumped ship numerous times.  Yet, I keep rooting for the Cleveland Browns.  Heckled by neighbors and even friends, yet I keep on, a stranger in a strange land keeping the faith.  Flying that flag should be a sense of pride, but it has become a symbol of futility.

The lone bright spot to this season finally coming to an end is at least the depression will subside.

Leadership PACs – Built for Corruption

I try to stay away from discussing politics, but recently, I have been bothered by something that is not a party issue, but a congressional issue.  For years, I have heard the term “leadership PAC” and had no idea what it meant.  I knew it was related to campaign financing, and I assumed that it was regulated much the same. I was wrong. These leadership PACs (Political Action Committees) are, in layman’s terms, slush funds and bribery clearing houses for our congressmen and women.

Friends, supporters and lobbyists are able to donate money to these PACs, which are not regulated as normal campaign funds would be.  This means the money in the PAC can be used for almost anything. This includes travel to 5 star golf resorts as long as the trip can be justified (which is not hard) as being related to the PAC.  Other members of Congress have even used this money to purchase luxury suites at football stadiums (you have to hold meetings somewhere!).  Many people donating to these PACS are unaware of this fact.  They are blindly giving money hoping that it will help with the politicians campaigning.

Unfortunately, there is an obvious problem with allowing these political action committees.  There is money involved!  And, we all know things can get dicey when it comes down to money.  Congressman can be bribed to try and sway a vote by lobbyists or individuals donating to these leadership PACs.  They are even used to strong-arm money from donors.  Donors can be told that a vote will not come up until the next session of Congress unless they donate more money to the PAC.  This money can then be used to donate/bribe other congressman to help get the vote in on time.

A leadership PAC to those with common sense is a bad idea in many ways.  The problem is the only way to get rid of them would be for Congress to pass a law to ban them, and we know that is not going to happen.  So, if you plan on bribing a politician make sure you send the check to the leadership PAC not the normal campaign fund.

F (for) the North Carolina Education Budget

second-grade-writing-class_300x300In North Carolina, this subject has been out of the limelight for a few months, but it is too important to let it slip through the cracks and be forgotten.  Raleigh and Durham seem to constantly show up on the high end of “the Best of” lists.  That is what led my wife and I to move here 7 years ago.  The job opportunities and the great education system that could be followed from Kindergarten to the many fine Universities in the area.  This North Carolina education system, especially in the Triangle, is a huge reason that many people have been, and continue to, move to this area.

Unfortunately, the continued budget cuts that have been hitting our education system in one way or another for the past 5 or 6 years will have a definite negative affect on the future growth in this area. Will the executives of new companies that NC tries to court here want a poor education system for their children?  What teachers will want to come here knowing that their pay is one of the lowest in the country, and the chances of raises will continue to be grave as  the last 5 years have proven.  How the people of this area have let this happen is truly amazing.  The new business model of State government seems to lean toward a corporate business model, but what success can come from cutting the general education budget, paying teachers poorly and perhaps worse of all, eliminating the pay raise that teachers were given by completing their graduate degrees?

Cutting the North Carolina education budget North Carolina education budget just does not make sense when, the Triangle area of North Carolina continues to grow at a rapid pace.  A sane person would deduct that a growing population would require a growing education budget, yet the NC Legislature approved a budget removing $482 million from the education budget over the next two years.  This will not only result in fewer resources in general, but the elimination of many teachers and teacher’s assistants.  The only result of this action will be larger student to teacher ratios and more students slipping through the cracks to failure.  Throwing money at a problem may not be the answer, but across the board budget cuts certainly is not either.

As a State employee (not a teacher), I can vouch for the fact that State employees have had one raise in the last 5 years.  This is not going to be a selling point to begin with in bringing the brightest and best teachers to North Carolina.  The resulting salaries are even worse though.  North Carolina now ranks 46th in the country for teacher pay.  Not a good way to recruit teachers or convince our best students to move into the education field.  If North Carolina wants to be a tech hub, it needs to pay its educators accordingly or lose its best performing teachers.

Lastly, the elimination of bonuses/raises for teachers attaining their graduate degree may be the most ridiculous decision made by the current government in North Carolina.  Why would you want to eliminate an incentive for the self-improvement of those that will be teaching our children?  In every other field on earth, your pay is directly related to how much you know, yet this Legislature has decided teachers should not be?  Brilliant!  To make it worse, this bonus elimination was imposed on those that were already in the process of completing their degree, so the money they spent in hopes of improving themselves educationally and financially were all for naught.  Eliminating these bonuses is no way to keep our education system improving; in fact, it will breed a stagnant learning environment.

As can be seen from this brief look into North Carolina’s new education budget, things are not looking good.  In fact, they are looking pretty dire.  Many of the reasons that so many have relocated to this area are in jeopardy due to the decisions of a few old men.  We as citizens and voters need to continue to push for more money to be funneled into our schools.  We cannot wait until the next elections or the next budget; our children are too important. We are destined to lose our best teachers if the salaries of perhaps our most important resource are not increased to a level that is more in line with the higher end of the states.  Finally, the elimination of bonuses for educating our educators makes no sense and should be lifted.  If North Carolina does not place the proper resources into its education system, I truly fear for the future of our children.

Bullying: A New Level of Pain

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I am a sports fan, a football fan, and after living in South Florida for 12 years, a bit of a Dolphin’s fan.  That may be changing.  My plan for this blog was to not use this forum to get too personal about things, but with the recent news about what has been going on within the Dolphin’s organization, I had to vent.  Where are we as a society that some people are defending Richie Incognito in any way shape or form on this?  Not only was this a workplace, but whether they like it or not, this was unacceptable and brutal behavior between two role models for our youth.  We as a society are dealing with a new bullying phenomenon that many adults today are unable to comprehend.

Today, many adults are, unfortunately, looking back on when they may have been bullied.  I am 41 and there were bullies in my schools.  We were called names or pushed, maybe even punches were thrown.  It was uncomfortable, but it was usually older kids picking on the younger kids and for the most part harmless.  It ended for most shortly after it started, and at that time, was a coming of age experience.

Today, on the other hand, bullying has gotten so evil and harsh that kids feel it is easier to commit suicide than to deal with this new extreme form of bullying.  This is a sad statement, and one that should reach parents deeply to their very core.  How are some of our kids becoming so aggressive in their hate for others who are different, that they can push them to suicide?  Or, on another level, make a grown man quit his job forfeiting the possibility of earning millions of dollars?  What have we become as a people…as a society?

Spending 5 years in the military, I have been through my share of hazing that easily could have been defined as bullying by higher ranking soldiers and sergeants.  The big difference was there seemed to be a purpose to most of it.  The purpose was to strengthen your mind or body to prepare you for battle, and everybody went through it.  And, no matter how many football players compare their job to going into battle, it never will be the same thing.  In the military, hazing was used to build a team.  The hazing and bullying we hear about today has no purpose, but to make one person feel weak while building up the personal ego of their tormentor.

I have often heard the answer to this issue is to punch the bully in the face.  I keep hearing “The victim, Jonathon Martin, was 320lbs he should have kicked his ass!”  Take a look at this Richie Incognito rant at a pool hall.  I can’t think of many people who would be throwing punches at someone that looks and acts like this around his “friends”!  Teammates and coaches knew this guy had drug and mental issues in the past.  Was no one watching out for him and his teammates?

The more news that comes out on this; the more it sounds like people in positions of power knew that many of these things were happening.  We do not yet know how much.  Regardless, we as humans need to take this as a wakeup-call and take a good look at today’s style of bullying.  It is a new more dangerous world, but should this behavior be anywhere in our current society, let alone in the very places we go for relief like our schools, the playground and now even NFL locker rooms!?!

Perhaps, it is time to look within ourselves and ask what are we creating and to what end?  Is this “win at all costs” truly worth the cost of our children and their childhood?  Have we become such a “Lord of the Flies” society, that the rich and powerful will beat those perceived as weaker into the ultimate submission?