Sixteen years ago this month, I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and it changed the course of my life.
Sports & Leisure
Colin Kaepernick & Captain America: Two Caps Fighting Their Own Civil Wars
Have you ever thought about the similarities between Colin Kaepernick and Captain America, who are both referred to as Cap (Kap)? Stay with me. I know it’s a stretch, but if you’ve seen Civil War, you know that Captain America defies popular public opinion, and defends a known criminal, openly defying Congress’s call to register all superheroes and “profile” America’s defenders. His opinion is not a popular one, and this once popular superhero becomes labeled a traitor and demonized by a large portion of America. However, he does have his commited defenders, and this is why the superheroes are split, and the reason the film and comic story arc is called “Civil War.” How appropriate.
Colin Kaepernick was once a hero of the NFL, and he has decided to stand up to police brutality by taking a knee. He has had an overwhelming majority of negative press, and people calling him a traitor and un-American, but he also has a large group of supporters, not unlike Captain America.
Whatever you may think of Colin Kaepernick or Captain America, they both represent the best of America. It just depends on what you see when you look at our nation. Do you see it as a perfect and flawless nation that we should make great “again” or a great nation in need of improvement, and the ongoing effort to “form a more perfect union” — for every American?
I think they are both superheroes, and saying I support Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter does not mean I hate cops or don’t support “all lives” or “Blue Lives.” 151 years later, we are still fighting the Civil War.
Photo Credit: Drawing by Dave Rappoccio
The Case For the Patriots As Greatest NFL Dynasty Ever
There are several NFL teams considered dynasties, but which deserves to be called the best?
Over fifty years ago, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics all won five or more championships in a row. Those days are long behind us, and we never see major professional sports leagues dominate their sports like they used to, particularly the NFL, where Free Agency has made it difficult for teams to keep players and maintain consistency and cohesion, and where we’ve never had a Super Bowl three-peat, and have now gone over a decade without a successful title defense. And yet, pro football does have its dominant teams, and a few can be considered elite.
What makes a team a dynasty?
This excerpt, from the article, Where Patriots dynasty ranks among NFL’s most dominant franchises, says this:
“This is, to a degree, subjective. You and I might not see eye-to-eye on the importance of regular-season success vs. playoff success or Super Bowl victories vs. Super Bowl appearances. Longevity could also be considered a point of contention here, both in terms of franchises that didn’t sustain their success for very long (the 1990s Cowboys, for instance) or those that spread their success over longer stretches (the 1980s/1990s 49ers come to mind).
That last part factors in the whole quality vs. quantity conundrum, which only further complicates the whole dynasty debate.
Some tenets we might be able to agree on:
• A dynasty needs to win multiple championships within one era.
• Within said era, most of the key figures have to remain the same. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2005 and then again in 2013, but those teams shared zero players and had entirely different coaching staffs. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to include New England’s 1996 Super Bowl appearance in that team’s current dynasty profile.
• A dynasty can’t simply be a team that wins back-to-back championships. In other words, a third championship should be required at some point in the same era.”
Using that criteria, the teams most commonly referred to as dynasties are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots. Other teams often included are the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders, but because their personnel changed and there were many years in between titles, they don’t meet the definition above, and I will be leaving them off this list.
The team that seems to get the votes for best dynasty most often is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are actually my second favorite team, and I can totally understand why people would consider them the best dynasty. There are three major reasons why the Steelers are often considered the best: 1) They are the only team to win four Super Bowls in only six years, 2) They have the most Lombardi Trophies (6), 3) They have sustained excellence for over the longest time — over 40 years, and 4.) The organization was founded by Art Rooney, and is still owned and run by the Rooney family.
These are all very legitimate arguments for Pittsburgh, and if you consider only championships, then sure, the Patriots fall two trophies short. However, I would argue that there are many other intangibles that make up a great football team, and many more factors that make for a football dynasty. And the best? That’s the argument I’d like to make now. Here are some reasons why I think the argument can be made for the New England Patriots being the best NFL dynasty ever:
(Don’t bother making Deflategate jokes or calling the Pats cheaters, because it’s all been said before. You may hate New England, and detest them for cheating, but everyone knows they didn’t need to, and everything they earned, they earned with talent and having arguably the best coach-quarterback duo to ever play the game. If you honestly believe Tom Brady and the Patriots had 14 amazing winning record seasons, won multiple playoff games, appeared in six Super Bowls, and won four Lombardi Trophies by filming some low quality videos on opposing team’s sidelines and deflating a few footballs, then you are an idiot. If you can’t see how profoundly talented this team is, then you probably don’t know much about football, or are blinded by jealousy. You don’t have to like them, or what they might have done, but at least have the humility to accept that this hugely successful team deserves to at least be considered a dynasty. I don’t like that they might have cheated either, and mostly because they never needed to. In this essay, I’m not looking to moralize and pick the team with the most pious character and spotless record. I’m looking to choose the team that won the most, dominated the most, had the most talented people, and did it all year in and year out. I ask that you have an open mind…)
1. The Patriots made it to all six Super Bowls and won four times with the same head coach and quarterback. Pittsburgh can’t say that. The Cowboys can, and won three in four years. So did the Patriots. And then made it to three more, and won the last. As the players around him changed, Brady has always had Belichick as his head coach, and has been blessed to have had only three Offensive Coordinators in fourteen years — Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Other coaches have been there for years as well. It’s easy to see what a revolving door of coaches and coordinators can do to a quarterback. The Raiders have fired seven head coaches since 2000, and had a losing record nearly every year since. The other teams that are infamous for firing multiple head coaches and coordinators are the Browns, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers and Jaguars. All have had multiple losing seasons. There have been a number of very capable quarterbacks who have suffered and faltered due to losing their coaches, and often having to learn new systems and playbooks. Many thrived under certain coaches, and shriveled under others. Look at Colin Kaepernick’s pitiful regression in San Francisco. Brady has thrived under all three offensive coordinators, but it’s obvious that much of his success comes from having a consistent coaching staff, and talented people to trust and rely on.
2. Brady has had to win games with a revolving roster of talent, and apart from Moss and Gronk, has never been surrounded by superstar, big name players. However, even despite this deficit, Brady has been able to turn those players into superstars, by making the cast around him look great, and elevating his fellow players to greatness. Brady is so good, that he has made mediocre, average, or good players look MUCH better than they are. When it comes to his receivers, Brady has made stars out of players who might not play as well otherwise. In fact, over time, we have seen several of Tom Brady’s targets go elsewhere, and have less than stellar success. Deion Branch was never as good as he was in New England, and Wes Welker was all but a bust in Denver. Who knows how good Julian Edelman would be without Tom Brady throwing to him? Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is a star, on track to have a Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss will certainly be in Canton sometime soon. But most of the average wide receivers Brady has had to make do with, have not been naturally gifted and fabulous players. If anything, he has made them so, and done it year after year. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann. Peyton Manning had Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr, Phillip Rivers has Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown…and the list goes on and on. Plenty of Super Bowl winning QBs have had star receivers, but most of the time, Tom Brady has made do with what he had. And did it better than anyone, ever. As the leader and heart of that team, Tom Brady has welcomed and rallied a rotating team of misfits and malcontents, and made them look better every step of the way. He inspired them with his competitiveness, skill, and enthusiasm, and compelled them to be better and reach higher.
3. Even the years the Pats didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they still made it far into the playoffs, and always had winning record seasons. That means that they didn’t win the Super Bowl one year, and then tank the next. Teams like San Francisco, the Ravens, and Seattle were all in the Super Bowl within the last three years, and all have struggled to win. The Patriots never have an off year. Even the year Brady got injured and missed the season, the backup QB and team went on to an impressive 11-5 record, and just narrowly missed the playoffs. In 2005, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the very next season, went 8-8. In 2002, they made it to the Divisional Playoffs, but the very next season, went 6-10. Last season, the Detroit Lions went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, and this year, they are 1-7! The Patriots have been good, and competed EVERY season, and that’s something NO other team can say. They may have the occasional bad game, but never has Tom Brady and the Pats had a losing season and not had a chance at winning it all. In 2014, the Pats had a terrible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and were massacred 41-14. The press went crazy, and everyone swore it was the end of an era, and Tom Brady’s career was over. Well, the Pats went on to finish with a 12-4 record, breeze through the playoffs, and beat dominant Seattle in the Super Bowl. The reason I bring this up is that the reason people were so quick to call for the Patriots demise, is that we just aren’t used to seeing the Patriots lose, and never by that much. It was so extreme and out of the ordinary, people naturally just assumed it meant Tom Brady could no longer play. But he can, and he is, and as long as he’s under center, this team will keep winning, season after season. Their winning percentage, and consistency at winning should make them an easy contender for top dynasty.
4. Tom Brady has won more playoff games than any other QB, and the Pats have won more playoff games this century than any other team. When it comes to the postseason, Brady is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Nobody has been more clutch when it matters, and played so many big games, and been successful. The Patriots are a team built for the postseason, and snowy playoff games in New England have become a tradition.
5. The Patriots did it all in the era of Free Agency, which meant that they often couldn’t keep great players, and never could depend on the same reliable and cohesive team from year to year, like the Steelers and other teams could. The era of unrestricted free agency has all but dismantled dynasties in professional sports, and entered the NFL in 1992. That was right in the middle of the Buffalo Bills’ streak of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and four straight losses. It’s hard to imagine that any team could make it to the big game four times in a row today. There’s just too many moving parts. Last season, the Patriots had arguably the best cornerback in the league, in Darrell Revis. They won the Super Bowl, and then during free agency, he left and signed with the Jets. And he had already replaced arguably the second best corner in the league — Aqib Talib. In two years, we lost the two best CBs in the game, yet here we are, with a patchwork motley crew of players, and inexperienced corners, and we’re still 8-0. You think about a team that could have been a dynasty, like the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, who lost the Super Bowl four times in seven years, and they had one of the greatest defensive lines in the game — the Purple People Eaters. The Steelers had the Iron Curtain. These teams had the same dependable roster of players year in and year out, and could build a defense like the Steelers and Vikings had. Those guys knew each other intimately, and built solid cohesion and trust as a team. Montana and the Niners had the same consistency a decade later. Brady never has. There are zero players from the 2001 Patriots championship team but Tom Brady. He’s built all this with his hands tied behind his back, and no other quarterback or team on this list had to do quite so much, with quite so little.
6. Tom Brady may not have all the records Peyton Manning does, but he’s got as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana, and is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Others will say Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, or Montana, but Brady played in six Super Bowls, won more playoff games than any other, holds plenty of postseason records, and most importantly of all, knows how to win when it matters. Brady is more clutch than any QB to ever play the game. He not only wins, he wins big when it matters. He’ll never come close to reaching Payton Manning’s records, but Peyton has a nasty habit of losing in big games, while Brady has won more than lost. Sure, he lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, but they were close, and fluke circumstances ended up deciding both games. Other QBs may have stronger arms and throw tighter spirals, but Brady is one of the fastest releasers in the game and reads defenses masterfully. Some people argue Brady’s a system quarterback, but you needn’t look further than how lethally skillful he is at reading defense coverage, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. Only Peyton Manning is as good as Brady in this area. However, Brady is probably better at exploiting opposing team’s mistakes, and making them pay. His game has only gotten better with time, and has grown and evolved to adapt better to defenses and changes in the game. So sure, Peyton may have records, but he doesn’t have rings. Bradshaw may have rings, but he doesn’t have records. Brady has both, and may only be rivaled by Montana in this regard. But as I stated above, Tom Terrific did it in the era of free agency, and with fewer star targets at his disposal. Imagine what Brady could have done with a Jerry Rice, or even Randy Moss in his prime, and for a few more years. The thing is, unlike Montana and Bradshaw, Brady’s not even close to being done. It’s hard to see Peyton going beyond this year, but Tom could very well win for many years more. He says that he’d like to play until 48, and while that would be nearly impossible, the way he’s playing, there’s no reason he couldn’t play for another four years. He takes care of himself, and seems to be evolving and adapting his style so much, he only seems to be getting better with age. His release time is the best in the NFL, and as a result, he takes far fewer hits in the pocket. He also seems to be moving more, and willing to takes steps to clear defenders and getting better shots downfield. This athlete may be on the tail-end of his career, but he is by no means close to being done. As the face of the franchise, Brady has been the force of nature driving this team to greatness year after year, and why this Pats Dynasty is so consistently good, and arguably the best.
7. Bill Belichick is arguably the best head coach to ever lead an NFL team. Him and Brady are the winningest coach-qb combo in NFL history. He has an impressive 240-118 record, and has been to eight Super Bowls, winning four rings with New England and two with the Giants — more than any other coach. He has won Coach of the Year three times, and is often mentioned as one of the top three coaches, along with Don Shula and Bill Walsh. I think Belichick’s accomplishments in the era of Free Agency are stunning, considering he had a constantly shuffling cast of characters. What he did was nothing short of genius, constantly rearranging the pieces, and trying to make it all work. Belichick demonstrates great vision and has been so innovative as a coach, he has changed the game and inspired a lot of imitators. His dynamic approach includes using players in new and effective roles, not being sentimental and knowing when to cut aging and under-producing players (although often unpopular with fans!), designing complex offense with a large number of plays and clever tricks and maneuvers to fool defenses, and navigating and exploiting the draft to make smart trades and swap draft spots, and often drafting undervalued bargain players who often turn into great players. As the former Defensive Coordinator under Parcells at the Giants, Bill is a gifted defensive strategist, and has used the draft and solid training to always field a defense that competes and manages to get Brady back on the team. There are many more ways Belichick innovated the game, and continues to find new ways win, but perhaps it’s the special bond between him and Brady that makes the best case for why the Patriots could be the best dynasty ever.
8. The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, and all since owner Robert Craft bought the team. Just like the Steelers wouldn’t be the Steelers without the Rooney Family running the team, the Patriots would not be winners without Craft’s support. He has given Belichick more power than most coaches get, and hired good GMs and support staff to help Bill win championships. The Craft family are strong owners, and have fostered an atmosphere of winning.
9. New England actually ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight. Their record is 4-4. However, a team should rightfully be recognized for just getting to the Super Bowl, which is a victory in itself. These teams had great records, and played well all season and throughout the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both went to the Super Bowl four times each, and with terrific teams, but lost each time. But we don’t call them dynasties because they never won when it counted. The Patriots have won though, and even when they lost, it was often very close. Under Brady, the Pats lost to the Giants first by 3 points and then by 4. In the Brady-Belichick era dynasty, we’ve rarely lost, and then, only barely lost.
10. The Patriots nearly matched Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season record in 2007, falling one short, to go 18-1. The 1972 Dolphins went 14–0 in the regular season and won all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, to finish 17–0. However, the Pats’ season was two games longer than Miami’s, so the Pats hold the record for being the only team to win 16 regular season games, and the only team since Miami to win every game in the season. This was an incredible season, and a truly remarkable accomplishment. Naturally, Patriots fans are bitter about missing out on a perfect season, and losing such a close game, and one that they had dominated throughout. We’ll never get over that loss. But here we are, once again, at 8-0, on potentially on to another perfect season. I don’t necessarily think we’ll get there, but this is only the second time we’ve made it to 8-0, and you know when the last time was. The fact that we have such a great record, and always have one of the best records in the league, is further proof that this team deserves to be considered for number one.
11. Tom Brady and his revolving cast of characters over the last 14 years have an incredible record, and no team in the NFL has a winning record against Tom Brady. There are multiple teams that have never even beaten Brady. At home, the Patriots’ total home record, in all regular season and playoff games started by Brady, is an astonishing 108-18! Brady and company have simply dominated the league for over a decade and a half, and have run roughshod over every team in the league. There are dozens of teams that have been victimized by the Patriots, and suffered stinging losses of 20, 30, or 40 points. During the 2007 season, the Patriots were accused of showing off, because they kept scoring on their hapless opponents. Apparently, some people forget a game is 60 minutes, and we play to the end. If they had the ball, and were in a position to score, they did. No one cried foul — least of all, us — when the Chiefs put 41 points on us, but have no problem calling the Patriots out when they do it. No one likes to consistently lose to the same team, and that’s what the Pats have done to this league. Between that and accusations of cheating, it’s no wonder so many people hate the Patriots. They hated the Cowboys too. And the Raiders. If it’s not your team, everyone hates a winner. Simply put, no team has so expertly executed the field and dominated and devastated so many teams over such a long period as the New England Patriots. The Pats have been winners, and their record unmistakably reflects that.
12. It’s not over yet. As long as Tom and Bill are in New England, you can never rule out the possibility that the Pats may win more Super Bowls. I think we can all confidently say, if the Patriots were to win won more Lombardi with this duo, there could be no doubt who the greatest dynasty was. Of course, as you can see, I already think they are!
The Harms in Our Arms: What’s Wrong With Our Right
Armed Anti-Islam Bigots Protest a Mosque in Phoenix, Lawfully Brandishing Guns and Intimidating Innocent Americans
Breaking News: Friday, May 29, 2015
“Armed bigots protested outside a Phoenix, Arizona mosque on Friday, openly carrying guns as state laws allow. That’s what the gun lobby (and the gun manufacturers who profit from greater gun sales) is pushing to have legal all across the US — that’s federally mandated concealed carry.’ The two groups lined both sides of the street in front of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and yelled at each other, with a line of police officers standing in the middle of the street to keep them separated.
The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix is the mosque that Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi attended for a time. They’re the men who drove from Arizona to a Dallas suburb to shoot up a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest there. Both were killed by police early this month. Many Muslims consider demeaning depictions of Mohammed to be blasphemous and banned by Islamic law.”
I am not a hunter, but I support a hunter’s right to own a gun. I just can’t see any justification for these high powered assault weapons, high round ammo, fully automatic guns, and laissez faire screening process for purchasing a firearm. Are hunters using machine guns to take down game? What exactly is the purpose of a weapon that lethal other than to decimate another living thing? Increasingly, it is other human beings who stand in the cross-hairs and are the hunted. Apart from the battlefields of war, I cannot conceive of a place in civilian America where such a weapon of warfare would be needed, nor belongs. We don’t allow citizens to possess deadly toxins like Ricin or anti-ballistic missiles, so why should we allow the average American to possess lethal machinery meant to kill in large numbers, in the shortest amount of time?
When it comes to sensible restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods, why is the powerful gun lobby so hostile, defensive, and unwilling to compromise for the sake of public safety. They argue these measures don’t work, and that a criminal will gain access to a gun regardless. Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. A teenager will likely acquire alcohol if they want it, and drive if they choose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to prevent such a tragedy. Why exactly does anyone need a weapon on the spot? Gun activists would say, because I bought it and it’s my right to take it home upon purchase, as I would a DVD player or new car. The difference is, a gun’s primary function is to kill, maim, wound, or mark a target. It was invented and engineered as a lethal weapon, for the purpose of killing or incapacitating a subject. That is its purpose. A car may kill someone in a crosswalk, but that’s not the intended use for a vehicle. We don’t allow 12 year olds to have licenses or vote for similar reasons. Owning a gun is a responsibility, and handing over such a deadly piece of machinery must be a careful and thoughtful move. Not everyone deserves to own a gun, and we must keep them out of the hands of those unfit to possess them. If that means a law-abiding gun owner has to wait three extra days to get their weapon, so be it. That is the price of safety and protecting the general good. Americans sacrifice every day in this country. After 9/11, we selflessly and sometimes begrudgingly gave up some of our freedoms and conveniences for the sake of safety and security. We even allowed far reaching legislation to tread on our rights of privacy and autonomy. We’ll never fly the same again, like we did before 9/11. These are the sacrifices mature adults make in the interest of public safety. With gun violence at an all time high, we are at war in this country, and public shootings have become a sad everyday occurrence in America. If there were any possible way — no matter how remote — to save one life and prevent one stray gun from falling into the wrong hands and endangering men, women, and children, why wouldn’t you choose to act? Isn’t it our moral duty and responsibility to our fellow citizens. If that minor inconvenience outweighs the worth of a life, I am frankly more frightened of those who would choose their lawful weapons over the life of a child, and act as recklessly as those who carry illegally. Who occupies the moral high ground, when both parties place such little value on human life. The right to live should trump all other freedoms.
Many gun advocates like to argue that a hammer or broken bottle can be used as a weapon and kill just as easily as a gun. That of course, is patently untrue. The carnage at Sandy Brook and Aurora, Colorado could not have been inflicted by a butcher’s knife or any sharp object. Not even a bow and arrow or crossbow. That could only have been done by a high powered assault weapon, with high capacity magazines, and capable of discharging ammo at a frightening rate, and with bullets that are lethally designed to inflict as much damage as possible, and exceedingly more destructive and fatal than the limited range and carnage a simple knife or machete could inflict. A gun is a weapon with fatal results at any distance. The range and versatility of a gun is unlike any other weapon, and just isn’t in the same league as any other weapon.
Guns are dangerous instruments, and if I have to live with the fact the Second Amendment will never be struck from our Constitution, we should at least be able to compromise for the sake of public safety. And yet, of all the freedoms afforded by the Constitution, it seems that this one is the most cherished and fiercely guarded by gun enthusiasts and guardians of the second amendment. As if any day now our tyrannical government is going to take away guns and enslave its citizenry. They speak of arming themselves for another civil war, in which Americans are pitted against their totalitarian government and fascist regime. They see this cultural armageddon on the horizon, with absolutely no evidence of a conspiracy, and a very unlikely and infinitesimally small chance of something ever occurring. In the 200+ years since we overthrew King George, has the government institutionally and egregiously restricted the rights of the people or abridged their freedoms in any substantial way?
The Civil War was the closest time the government has infringed upon the rights of its citizens, but it came only after the South had seceded, and Lincoln officially decried the contemptible institution of slavery and called for it to be banished from this country. It was the South’s livelihood, and it’s no wonder they were bitter and defiant. But they were wrong, and they were (and some still are) on the wrong side of history. Lincoln took drastic measures to hold the fragile and crumbling Union together, suspending Habeas Corpus and restricting other rights and imposing the North’s will on all Southerners. He knew to take the fight to the South, and fought to preserve the nation on their sacred soil. Men like Sherman punished the South, and they would never forget the treatment they received at the hands of the North If it hadn’t been for the long tradition of gun ownership and hunting in the South, many of the Confederate’s soldiers wouldn’t have had arms to fight the “war of Northern Aggression,” as many of them still call it to this day.
Americans have a long and storied relationship and attachment to their firearms. We wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without the civilian arms provided by citizen soldiers. The Civil War might have been different had Americans not been in possession of so many guns. The West was won by the flints of America’s guns, and the pioneering spirit of Westward expanding settlers. Guns were used to fight off Native Americans, whose own troubled history might have been different had they had guns to fight off the aggressive and land grabbing Europeans and their descendants. Guns were what provided food for Americans, in every state and territory in the Union. Guns were what young boys learned in their youth, and prepared them for the harsh realities of life in the trenches of World War I and on the beaches of Normandy in the second World War. That tradition lessened over time, and there were less gun savvy youth in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, yet they still represented. Each subsequent war has seen less practiced sharpshooters, but with a volunteer military, the men and women that do enlist are more likely to come from gun owning households. Today’s wars are increasingly becoming more and more remote, as we try to minimize casualties and conduct warfare remotely. As long as there’s war though, there will always be soldiers, and more than likely be a need for ground troops trained in guns and infantry weapons.
That being said, we live in a different world than even our grandparents lived. Despite the surge in terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, the world is actually moving slowly towards peace and global harmony. It may seem hard to believe, given the carnage we see in the news everyday, but the planet is much safer than it used to be. There is more civility and more of society values human life and are willing to at least work towards peace and compromise. And yet, we still possess guns, and gun owners still cling to a diminishing relic of a bloody bygone era. As a sporting tool, I see no problem with some guns and regulated ownership. But as lethal machinery designed to kill and maim on the battlefield, certain guns are more of a danger and threat to innocent Americans than a right worth protecting. Time and time again, it seems that the news is full of stories of home invasions gone wrong, mistaken identities, and innocent children being gunned down by mistake. Statistics prove that those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death. The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6). Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. The misconception that guns magically protect their owners more than harm them is a myth, and numbers prove greater numbers of accidental and intentional self-harm in houses with guns. Somehow those of us who don’t own guns manage to more often than not survive home invasions or take other measures to prevent them from happening, and we are not dying in staggeringly greater numbers because we have no gun to protect our homes and families. In fact, those of us without guns are not only dying less in our homes than gun owners, but actually living more safely and longer those with firearms. Perhaps the truth many gun owners can’t understand is that the very guns they consider their God-given right and defense against anything that threatens their traditional way of life and long-held beliefs is the very object of aggression and symbol of defiance that makes the rest of the country view them as hostile countrymen and unwilling bargaining partners. Guns are safety blankets for many, but ironically provide little safety and often more harm.
I should reiterate that although I am fundamentally and spiritually opposed to the very concept and idea of guns, I am not so unreasonable, that I am calling for their boycott or a their legal status revoked. I do feel that SOME other countries have struck a good balance between gun ownership for sport and defense, and violent makes and models flooding the streets and used as violent weapons in crimes. Most other developed countries in the world have stricter restrictions or outright bans on guns, and as one might expect, they have dramatically lower rates of gun violence and violent crime. Their homicide rates and suicide rates are remarkably lower than that in the United States. Zealous gun rights activists don’t want to admit the correlation between stricter gun control measures and the significant drop in gun deaths and violent crime. Having said all that, I don’t necessarily want to take away all Americans’ guns. I see it is a time honored tradition, and a cherished right of many Americans. I simply want to be reasonable, and add sensible restrictions and safeguards on gun ownership. How can a gun enthusiast even credibly make an argument against background checks? We can’t just put guns in the hands of anyone. Police run background checks on drivers they pull over, employers run background checks on potential hires, credit card companies run credit checks when approving credit cards. As hard as it may be for some Libertarians and Tea Party members to accept, we live in a nation of laws, designed to protect us, and provide the most freedom and liberty to the most people. But such freedom has a price, and that is the personal sacrifices we make to live in a peaceful and law-abiding country. Our laws and regulations are what keep us above the mire of chaos and anarchy. Some would shrink the government to a size that would fit on the head of a needle, ensuring greater personal liberties and more states’ rights. Unfortunately, history has taught us that society, when completely left to its own devices, actually recedes back into a primal and combative state, where survival of the fittest dominates the landscape, and there are no laws to protect people from each other. Big businesses won’t voluntarily police themselves, and regulate their carbon emissions, Wall Street CEOs won’t stop themselves from price gouging, and GM won’t willingly recall its large batch of defective cars. The environment will have no protector or steward, and America’s relationships with other nations will wither and die. We live in a nation of laws, and although there sometimes are too restrictive and stifling regulations, industry needs the watchful eye of the government. If Libertarians and government conspiracists distrust the government so much, how and why do they consider themselves proud Patriots? Don’t they understand that the government we have is roughly the same one our Founding Fathers chartered over 200 years ago? The Constitution is a document of laws and regulations and sensible checks and balances. Requiring a background check might be a minor inconvenience, but it is a sort of checks and balances, to make sure our weapons are ending up in the right hands.
Why should a gun owner object so vociferously to a three day waiting period on guns? It seems that hot tempered and inconsolable psychopaths and mass murderers should be the only ones desperate and frothing for a weapon immediately, as they attempt to act quickly on their troubled and feverish urge to kill. These unstable individuals are deeply disturbed, and are hell bent on acquiring a weapon, if they don’t already own one. Similarly, crimes of passion are committed by men and women caught up in jealousy or some other dangerous passion, and are more apt to commit murder within 24 hours of making the decision. They must rapidly acquire a gun in order to fulfill their murderous rage. And lastly, those who commit suicide have thought about the act for days, months, and years, but when they actually decide to act on it and make an attempt, it is a spontaneous and unthought out decision, made in desperation and cloudy judgement. If there is no access to a gun in the home, those with suicidal tendencies head to a store that sells firearms, in hopes of procuring a weapon to end their lives. The very presence of a waiting period would allow each of these individual cases to cool off, and perhaps seek another solution. It demonstrably could prevent hundreds, if not thousands of deaths in this country. There is no reason why a hunter or gun enthusiast needs a gun in less than three days. We often buy items and have to wait for them. This is more than just purchasing a book on Amazon. A waiting period is hardly an imposition, but has the potential to save countless lives.
Guns are only tangentially used to hunt for meat for the family, and have come to be tools of sport and leisure. They also provide many with the game of target practice for fun or for competition. And sometimes war. They no longer accompany us to war, and wars have increasingly made them obsolete. Guns aren’t practical at our side in public, as we rarely have need to attend a gunfight at noon. Guns in our homes for protection are dangerous, but a large majority of Americans would rather die than give up their right to bear arms. But what of the assault rifles and weapons of lethal destruction, meant for no other purpose than to cause mass carnage? Where do they fit into the American landscape? These are weapons for the battlefields, and have no place on our streets or in our homes. Realistically and rationally, there simply isn’t any revolution or governmental attack coming in the near future. There is absolutely nothing to indicate otherwise. And honestly, if there was, an attack, what could a rugged bunch of militia men do with light weaponry against the full force of the United States military, with state of the art missiles, sophisticated drones, ships, planes, ground vehicles, and all the other myriad toys of modern warfare? It is the most powerful army in the world, so do a rag-tag group of armed outdoor civilian militiamen think they can actually defeat a sitting government. This isn’t scrappy Patriots vs. old King George and the British Empire. America is here, and would be more than capable of squashing any organized rebellion. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not going to happen. Placing restrictions and limits on gun ownership isn’t taking away the right, but regulating it, as we do voting, driving, expressing free speech, and pursuing personal liberties. No matter what, such a measure to curb gun violence is no excuse for a second Civil War and revolution against a perceived oppressive government. We have a right to protect children and the innocent from gun violence, and if a relatively unobtrusive background check saves just one life, it has done its job.
Once again, I call for responsible gun ownership, a waiting period on purchases, a background check on buyers, an end to the gun show loophole, a ban on assault weapons and fully automatic guns, and any other restrictions and regulations that are reasonable and least restrictive to gun owners. I do not suggest we ban guns or regulate them as severely as other nations. Like I’ve demonstrated, guns are an undeniable part of this nation’s history, and are inextricably linked to its people, for good and for bad. Americans are often called ‘cowboys’ and it seems a fitting sobriquet as any. I ask for sensible gun control and reasonable legislation. Putting limits on something is not the same thing as taking it away. I applaud responsible and reasonable gun owners, and have many friends who own firearms. I see their value and worth, and although I don’t want them in my life, and think the world would be better off without a single gun on earth, I respect an American citizen’s lawful right to possess arms. My attacks are on those who refuse to compromise, and those who show up at Mosques with guns meant to frighten, bully, and intimidate. These are bigots, plain and simple, and their xenophobia is blatant and dangerous. They descend on Muslims and accuse them of terrorism, but who’s the ones with the guns and the hatred in their hearts? There dangerous men and women are the domestic terrorists, wielding their guns and their cowboy mentality, and threatening the very essence of what this country stands for. These are the gun owners I attack, and not the reasonable and lawful ones.
Belligerent gun owners and hostile lobby groups like the NRA are some of the most powerful, vocal, and aggressive groups in this country, and seemingly unwilling to budge an inch, no matter what good it might do. These men and women would apparently give up the freedom of speech before they’d surrender one weapon. Yet all we’re asking for is sensible gun laws to protect our families and children, and a ban on weapons of war meant to decimate and inflict carnage, not hunt with. They simply have no place in a civilized society. We also take issue with some right to carry permits and freedoms, especially in areas of sensitive need and soft targets like churches, mosques, and schools. Gun advocates would argue those very places without guns are the very ones that need them, because they are the ones targeted by lone shooters. As mentioned earlier, there is no statistical evidence that the presence of a weapon in crisis situation provides significantly more protection or stops the event any faster. That includes bank security guards, school SCO officers, armored car heists, military base shootings, and others. Often, those that get hurt or killed are the innocent victims and bystanders.
When would a gun at a protest rally ever be a productive and responsible decision? How is such a decision helpful or necessary? The truth is, it is a clear and deliberate declaration of war. Without a doubt, brandishing guns in a menacing way in public is a calculated act of aggression and a provocative show of force and intimidation. They were there to at least symbolically massacre Muslims and remind them just whose country this is. These “patriots” who wrap themselves in the American flag, and who bleed red, white, and blue forget and desecrate the very inclusive and egalitarian principles this country was founded on. Even if our Founding Fathers could not practice what they preached, and extend freedom and dignity to their slaves and other African Americans, women, Native Americans, and other minorities, Jefferson’s words transcend the contradictions of his own human frailty and the unavoidable ceiling of social development and human enlightenment of the age. Despite such realities, the words of the Declaration of Independence ring out with fundamental intrinsic truths bestowed on each man and woman from birth, regardless of class and station. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America is not the possession of any one group, but is all our inheritance. Holding on to one’s guns because the right is enshrined in the Constitution at the cost of innocent lives all around is sick and depraved.
Waiting for three days or submitting to a background check is a minor inconvenience, if it helps save even one life. Why would you violently resist such an easy and harmless imposition? No one is proposing taking all guns away, but reasonably removing the most lethal and those that pose the greatest threat to public safety. Showing up with guns blazing to threaten and intimidate law-abiding Muslim Americans is reckless and ignorant. Such bigoted aggression is the very root cause of distrust and division between many Islamic Americans and those touting traditional American values. Showing up with their guns sent a message loud and clear, and declared their intentions in no uncertain terms. Sadly, their guns were legal, even though I can think of only a few unlikely scenarios where these modern cowboys would need to draw their weapons for protection and in defense of the common good. More often than not, history has shown us that civilians who respond in times of deadly gunman often end up catching innocent people in the crossfire. A gun is often as useless as a woman’s purse, but much more apt to kill the wrong target. Those who carry guns to protect and defend often end up poor clumsy cowboys. as bad at the draw, as they are at tolerance. The U.S. Constitution ensures that these xenophobic bigots had the right to openly carry firearms to what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. It begs the question: Just because you can do something, does it necessarily mean you should?
The Aging Athlete & The Plight of the Elderly
Whether or not you are a sports fan, I’m sure we can all recognize that there exists a heartbreaking end date, which all professional athletes are hurdling towards, and is perhaps unfairly abbreviated, in contrast to the average lifespan of an adult. It is a date etched into the minds, and perhaps more suggestively, into the bodies of those who earn their living in pro sports. Anyone who is familiar with professional athletics knows that there is a relatively tight window of time with which an athlete is in their prime fit condition, and able to compete at the high level demanded by their respective fields. The athlete on the verge of retirement must contemplate a life after sports and the uncertain abyss of a life devoid of what they had prior to worked their entire lives towards. There are economic factors to consider, health concerns, and feelings of grief at how much they truly stand to lose. In much the same way, the elderly face their own troubling retirements and increasing physical impairments, as well as the existential grief which often accompanies end of life and depleted purpose. Like their civilian counterparts, aging athletes must also grapple with an often abrupt and unceremonious end to their careers, and surprisingly many of the same challenges found in the elder population. Although it may seem unusual to draw comparisons between a vitally young athlete and a senior citizen, surprisingly, both face similar voids of despair, deteriorating health, uncertainty, and the perception that neither is wanted or useful anymore. Indeed, in many ways, the end of a vibrant and celebrated sports career must seem like the end of one’s life, and for some, it is. For the rest, it’s at least symbolically so.
Watching Peyton Manning struggle last night, and indeed, over the last couple years has been rough. The last half of this season, Manning simply did not look like himself — his throwing was erratic, and he was undoubtedly not the Peyton we all knew. Like Tom Brady, Manning has never been particularly mobile in and out of the pocket, but has arguably been the best drop back, in the pocket passer the game has ever known. Many would argue that Manning is the best quarterback of all time. Had he simply retired from Indianapolis after his potentially career ending neck surgery, Manning would have still been a legend. Peyton holds many substantial records, including most season MVPs and most career touchdowns. And yet, despite having been to three Super Bowls, Manning has only hoisted the Lombardi Trophy once, in his win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Despite having less impressive statistical numbers, Manning’s friend and on-field rival, Tom Brady, has been to the Super Bowl five times, and won three rings. No matter how many stats Manning compiles, there is no getting around the fact that one Super Bowl win is relatively unimpressive, and not commensurate with a player of his caliber. Even his less talented brother Eli has won two Super Bowls! (and both at the expense of Peyton’s nemesis Brady, no less!)
I say all this because it sets the stage for a man so driven by his love of the game AND ensuring his legacy in the history books, that he pushes himself immeasurably — perhaps beyond his remaining natural abilities and limitations. Defying the odds, Manning came back from neck surgery, and was summarily released by the Colts (in favor of a hot, new number one drafter QB in Andrew Luck), and was consequently signed by John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Despite much skepticism, Peyton proved critics and naysayers wrong, and had an impressive first season in Denver, making it to the playoffs, and losing to eventual Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens. The next season was unprecedented: Peyton broke Brady’s record for most touchdown passes in a season with 51 on a 25 yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas, he finished the regular season with 55 touchdown passes, in addition to throwing for a league record 5,477 yards. His 450 completions is tied for second most all time. The Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points, becoming the first team to ever to eclipse 600 points in a season. They had more 50 point games in a season than any other team in NFL history, with three. Four Broncos receivers recorded at least 10 touchdowns, an NFL record and Manning set the record for most 4+ touchdown passing games in a season, with nine. His 115.1 passer rating ranks fifth all time and he joins Tom Brady to be the only two QB’s to have a passer rating of 110.0 or higher in more than one season. The Broncos went on to win their Divisional Round playoff game against the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17. In a satisfying victory, the Manning beat arch-rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game by a score of 26-16, advancing them to the Super Bowl, against the formidable defensive-led team, the Seattle Seahawks. Despite dominating the whole season, the Broncos lost to the Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII with a shameful score of 43-8. Perhaps for the first time in his sixteen year career, Peyton Manning looked old, diminished, and helpless. And yet, it also brought back the whispers that had plagued his entire career — that he was an unparalleled regular season quarterback, but couldn’t win when it mattered, and had a long history of being knocked out of the playoffs often and early. Conversely, Tom Brady is renowned for winning in big games, and currently holds the record for most playoff touchdown passes, most playoff yardage, most playoff wins by a quarterback (19), and most playoff games started (27). Tellingly, Peyton Manning holds the record for most playoff losses with 13. His second Super Bowl loss was undoubtedly harder though, after being dismantled and pummeled by a merciless defense. Peyton looked washed-up, and stood in stark contrast to the handsome, young Seahawks QB, Russel Wilson, who managed to make Peyton look even more obsolete, with the remarkable use of his legs and speed. Manning never looked so much like a dinosaur.
Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh on Manning, but I will point out that Peyton is just two short months older than I am, and although my allegiance has always been to Tom Brady, I respect and revere Manning, and perhaps even regard his own struggles with age and diminishing strength with my own fears and anxieties of age. He is my peer, after all, and his necessary fall from favor and triumph is perhaps a metaphor for my own life. Regardless of however else little we have in common, Peyton and I are Bicentennial babies, and generationally linked. If I don’t share the particulars of his collapse, I symbolically recognize a changing of the guard, where aging icons like Brady and Manning are replaced by the next generation of superstars, like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Very soon, I won’t even recognize the old NFL, and we may have a position filled with uber-athletes, taller than 6′-5”, heavier than 250, and yet, as devastating rushing and evading tackles as they are dropping back and delivering bullets downfield. This new breed of quarterback is exciting to watch, and certainly good for ratings, but it begs the question: what kind of longevity can a running QB who gets tackled frequently have? Are we drafting franchise athletes who will have even shorter NFL careers than they already have? Will we ever have passers who reach their late 30s and early 40s, and can still lead teams to the Super Bowl?
Yesterday, Peyton Manning got knocked out of the Divisional Round Playoffs by Andrew Luck and the Colts. It’s hard to deny the symbolism of his losing to a man named ‘Luck’ who no one thought could win that game, and what’s more, being the young QB that replaced him in Indy. This was a sort of symbolic changing of the guard. Much like Wilson had looked like the new face of NFL football in the prior Super Bowl, Luck actually looked like…well…Peyton. Only younger. Stronger. More focused. Meanwhile, Manning decidedly did not look like Manning. He was sacked twice, threw for a measly 26/46 completions, a modest 211 yards, and one single touchdown. All night long, Peyton threw erratic and misplaced balls, and looked like he was hopelessly pushing, as he sent long and inaccurate bombs downfield, invariably out of reach of their targets. In short, Peyton looked much like he has the last half of the season, as he battled injuries and raised more than a few questions about his arm strength and diminishing throwing capacity. It surely was no coincidence that the Broncos were running the game over twice as much as they had been at the start of the season. For one reason or another, the Broncos woes all started somewhere around the time they lost a costly game at Foxborough, to Tom Brady and the Patriots. That game would come back to bite them, as they remained behind New England the rest of the season, and due to that loss, were denied home field advantage throughout. As ‘Luck’ would have it, Denver was unburdened by the true sting of that injury, as the Colts denied them a chilly trip to Gillette next week. Peyton might have missed his last chance to meet his old friend and rival, Tom Brady, and once again try to avenge a bitter regular season loss, as they had in last season’s AFC Championship game. In fact, if you would believe skeptics and naysayers today, you could easily be convinced that Peyton Manning has played his last game of professional football. Perhaps an ignominious last game, but perhaps more merciful than another bright light humiliation in the Big Game. Can Peyton handle much more of that kind of scrutiny and speculation? Manning clearly is tough and resilient, and seemingly immune to criticism after so many high profile losses, but that was when he was a powerful and efficient passing machine. He had the advantage of youth, cockiness, confidence, indisputable athletic prowess, and the support of fans. “This” Peyton Manning got loudly booed last night on more than one occasion. While you can’t pin your worth on the whims of fans or prognosticators, there is something to be said for observable data, and based on what we’ve seen of late, Peyton Manning is compromised as a passer, and may only deteriorate more rapidly next season, and after a long and challenging off-season of camps and training. What’s more, it is likely that the Broncos will lose at least a few key players to free agency, not to mention the greatest blow — the likelihood that Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase moves into a Head Coaching job elsewhere. That would require Manning to become comfortable with a whole new OC and learn an entirely new system. Taking all these challenging factors, it doesn’t seem reasonable to conclude that Peyton Manning may simply opt to retire, rather than confront this slew of troubles.
There is a precedent in sports of athletes who stubbornly refused to accept their limitations, and perhaps stayed beyond their welcome. There have been numerous retirements rescinded, and players re-entering the sport, switching teams, signing compromised contracts, switching sports, or playing in the minor leagues, in an attempt to stage a come-back. Who can forget the end-of-career exploits of Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, and Gordie Howe, to name a few. Some believe it’s time for current NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett to retire. In the case of Kobe, it’s hard to deny that even though he sometimes looks like the best part of that team, he also is what’s holding them back, and not allowing them to redefine themselves as a new Laker organization — post Bryant. But like Peyton Manning, Kobe is a fierce competitor, and in many ways, their respective sport is all their lives. Tom Brady has admitted as much. Sure, he has a model wife and beautiful children, but make no mistake: Tom Brady breathes football and winning ball games. How do you replace that after you retire? What will ever be as fulfilling to these guys as winning hard-fought ball games was? Just last season, Peyton broke numerous records, had arguably his best NFL season under center, and took his team to the Super Bowl. Does that sound like the last gasps of air from a dying animal unwilling to lay down and die? Hardly. As Kobe knows especially, and Peyton knows just once, the ultimate ring and trophy — what it’s all about — is too tempting and addictive to walk away from. Despite being on a hopelessly awful Lakers team, Kobe once hoisted trophies — many — and in his mind, so can once again. Since 2007, Peyton has been chasing that ever elusive second ring, and has been denied twice since then. Tom Brady is blessed to have won his three rings in just four short years, but perhaps that’s also a curse, as it’s been ten years since his last win, and he’s also been denied twice since then. (by the same team no less!) What’s remarkable about the Kobe’s, the Brady’s, the Derek Jeter’s, and the Peyton’s, is that they’ve all tasted a slice of that pie — multiple times, for most — and yet, even as their bodies deteriorate and their skills diminish, they crave that cake even greater, and will do whatever it takes to attain it. It should not be lost on us that Peyton Manning’s own boss, John Elway, lost three Super Bowls before the age of 35, and through sheer force of will, managed to win his last two while approaching 40 years old! You can’t ignore the fact that that’s likely on Peyton’s mind, as he mulls his own retirement and ultimate legacy. It’s often harder to walk away when you’ve come so close just a season before. Like gambling addicts, they are undoubtedly intoxicated by the winning, and find it nearly impossible to walk away, once you’ve been up. Owning a string of Papa Johns or used car dealerships is impressive by most standards, but hoisting multiple Lombardi Trophies is something else entirely. Whatever choice Peyton Manning makes in the coming weeks, you can be assured that it’s a tough one. Whatever embarrassment or uncertainty Peyton may face in returning for another season sure to be fraught with uncertainties, perhaps there is nothing more frightening or intimidating as facing a life after football. Where once you led a charmed life and were a King among men, you most certainly face a humbling future. In some ways, it’s harder to be a has-been, than a never-was. Peyton faces the abyss today, and must certainly contemplate his future, and all its sobering monotonies.
Unlike the law, science, politics, craftsmanship, the arts, and nearly every other vocation on earth, professional athletics necessarily has a finite date of efficacy, beyond which, the average human body cannot be expected to stay competitive and execute the high demands the sport asks of them. And yet, the minds of professional athletes are undeniably sharpest and keenly wise about their sport in those golden waning years — unquestionably surpassing the skill sets and knowledge base of their younger competitors. So then, how profoundly unjust it must feel to have an unparalleled body of knowledge about your sport, and an increasingly weakened and ineffective physical body, unable to execute the acuity of the mind, but not for want of trying. With such an infuriating dichotomy of mind and body, one could conclude that the aging athlete is more acutely familiar with the plight of an elderly person than anyone else. It’s clear to see the parallels, when you consider that both older athletes and the elderly experience heightened feelings of trauma and grief, depression, feelings of hopelessness, despair, feelings of uselessness, isolation from friends, family, and fans, loss of esteem, accelerated deterioration of the physical body, forgetfulness and cognitive degradation, concerns about shrinking economic resources, challenges of retirement, and even struggles with end of life issues!
To understand the mindset of an athlete, you must first consider the ubiquity of sports in our lives — for good and for bad. Regardless of nation or ethnic origin, we humans are practically weaned on sports, and for every athlete that competes, there are thousands who do not play, but are enthusiastic fans. Unlike other professions, sports are with us from an early age, and are arguably more ubiquitous than any other pastime-turned-job, being required in school curriculums, played in organized clubs intramurally and through organized academic organizations, and informally played in the schoolyard, on courts, and on fields across the world. In short, we are surrounded by sports from the womb to the tomb, and it is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. Just as an actor who goes on to become a star in Hollywood once acted with amateurs in community theatre, the professional athlete also likely got his or her start playing organized sports with other children, for the purpose of discipline, distraction, exercise, or what have you. Somewhere along the line, they developed an aptitude for their pursuit, and undoubtedly began to stand out on the field. From there, one can only assume coaches, parents, and teachers helped cultivated their love and skills, and ultimately stepped up their involvement and level of commitment. Personally, I was never really any good at sports, and in fact, I often felt persecuted by gym class and organized team sports. I was the kid who naturally found my way into theatre, where I too excelled, and spent just as many hours honing my craft, as athletes spend in the gym and on the court or field. Although I used to hold most sports in contempt, my opinion changed over time, and I grew to love attending any sporting event live — whether amateur or pro, and became quite an enthusiastic fan of football and basketball. The NFL is one of my greatest passions, and as I stated earlier, I am a devoted New England Patriots fan. But as a kid growing up, I felt pressured to play sports, and then consequently punished for not being any good at them. Although I am now quite an ardent sports fan (as well as theatre, film, tv, and other artistic expressions!), I do acknowledged that our society places too much emphasis on sports and are too quick to praise the athlete over the scholar or artist. I personally believe in a world where the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I don’t have to choose between liking sport or liking art. Or science, or what have you. Funding for the arts is imperative, and should always be on equal footing and valued as much as sports funding and support. Our society needs to find a better balance, as the ancient Greeks and Romans once had. The citizens of Athens were equally comfortable attending a Bacchanalian Play Festival as they were the Olympic Games. They prized both endeavors of the arts and mind and recognized the value of the physical specimen and games of sport and competition. Both belong in equal measures within our society.
As our society now operates though, it is clear to see how sports become integral to a child’s development — either in support of, or against. Invariably, thess young athletes spend their childhoods playing sports, and so by the time they get to the professional or Olympic level, they have logged years of passionate play behind them. Perhaps it is fitting then, that their careers are cut shorter than their peers, since they began much earlier in life, and inevitably took at least some of their careless childhood’s away, while others were still busy being kids. Those salad days were more than just play however, and coaches of youth no better than anyone that those early years are impressionable, and the best time to instruct and instill lifelong strategies and work ethics. Without a doubt, by the time the social worker and the pro athlete graduate college, the latter has unquestionably logged hundreds, if not thousands of hours into their sport, and is perhaps more ready for their debut than their hopeful counterpart. Writer Malcolm Gladwell posits that one thing that most highly successful people have in common is at least 10,000 practice hours attained in whatever their given field. One can imagine how many lessons and training and practice it must take to take a child from age six and unskilled, to first violin of the New York Philharmonic. Or dominant and legendary shooting guard/ small forward of the Chicago Bulls. It’s not hard to accept Michael Jordan spending hours a day perfecting his jump shot at the local rim. Perhaps you have to be a fan of sports to appreciate how much they are as much an artistic expression as they are about physical strength and endurance. You need only look at Michael Jordan’s masterful ball play and delicate finesse to see that transcendent sporting events are about expression and creating something beautiful far more often than a primitive instinct to pummel and compete. Since most professional athletes essentially started their careers around ages 8-10, but the time they arrive at a franchise, they have spent over a decade training to be the best in their fields. And regardless of how poorly a professional athlete may play or underperform, they beat out thousands of others to get those jobs, and should be considered the finest in their respective sports. Yet still, once drafted, most will not last past year three, and only a finite measured few will make it past five, even less for a decade, and only an infinitesimal fraction will have the stamina, endurance, strength, willpower, and talent to last nearly two decades. These athletes must necessarily be considered elite outliers, and understandably, the greatest of their generation, if not of all time.
Despite the accolades, the money, the respect, and the personal satisfaction one gets from achieving a high rate of success in their vocation over a sustained period of time, athletes also must face the scrutiny their inevitable aging brings. There are generally agreed upon windows of opportunities for an athlete, and outside of that time frame, they are either considered to young and inexperienced or too old and unreliable. For each sport, there is an age range most of the elite last men standing traditionally retire, and are heavily lobbied to do so, for the good of the team, the integrity of the sport, salary cap considerations, or other factors. Perhaps only in Hollywood and the media is our society more obsessed with youth, and putting such a high premium on being young and beautiful. Many in Hollywood bemoan the lack of roles for men and women over the age of 40 or 50, but consider for a moment that there have only been a few dozen NFL players in the history of the league who have played past 40, and none who made it to 50. (George Blanda retired just shy of his 49th birthday). It’s also important to note that longevity is often entirely determined by position, making skilled speed positions like running backs the first casualties of age (typically 30 is considered the end of the road), whereas quarterbacks and kickers tend to be the oldest members of any roster. (Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is the oldest active player, at 42, and shows no signs of age).
If golf can be considered a top American sport, then far and away, it has the oldest average players. A golfer is often not even considered in his prime until he is at least 30, and it’s not uncommon to see men and women in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s on a PGA tour. The most obvious reasons for such longevity, are the fact that it’s necessarily always played in warm and temperate weather, it is not a contact sport, and injuries are generally self-inflicted from bad swings and back ailments, the range of motion is not prohibitive for most moderately healthy adults, and finally, it is actually good exercise and has potentially healthy benefits for stress, high blood pressure, and other similar afflictions. It also seems to be a sport of finesse and experiential knowledge, where golfers tend to improve with age (to a point). Finally, golf is seen as game enthusiastically played by the retired, and therefore, most friendly to older players.
Of the four major American sports, hockey undoubtedly has the oldest active rosters, with many players playing into their 40s, and some, like Gordie Howe, playing into their 50s. Considering how physically demanding of a sport hockey is, it’s hard to understand how repeated shoves into glass walls and falls on cold, hard ice could be preservative of an athlete’s career, but apparently it is. I also have to give a nod to the toughness and grittiness of most hockey players. I don’t doubt they play through excruciating pain sometimes. (not to mention the endless fist fights!) Perhaps on par with hockey’s elevated median age of its players is the game of baseball. Like golf, baseball is “ideally” a non-contact sport, and most injuries are self-sustained. Although speed is important for base running, and perhaps chasing down balls in the outfield, those skilled players on the infield are far more concerned with skill and precision than being the fastest player on the field. Obviously, arm strength weakens over time, but the distances are far shorter than in football, for example, and more manageable to maintain. That being said, baseball has the most grueling schedule, and players may not be getting as physically pummeled as their NFL counterparts, but they are forced to battle high rates of fatigue, muscle soreness, and the dangers of repetitive motion. Baseball is definitely about endurance and stamina over long periods of time (even the games are long!), but they somehow manage to preserve elite players at higher numbers than in other sports. It is not uncommon to find players in their 40s, especially at certain skilled positions. The oldest players on a baseball team tend to be the catchers, pitchers, and designated hitters.
Of all the major sports, perhaps none is a young man’s game more than the game of basketball. Arguably, only soccer rivals basketball in this regard, and understandably so, since both share similarities in offensive and defensive strategies and methods of play. As much as basketball is about finesse and the technical mastery of repeated attempts at delivering a ball into a finite hoop, it is also about endurance. Like soccer, basketball is about fast breaks and running up and down a court repeatedly, for over an hour. This exhausting sustained effort, paired with a punishing schedule of multiple games per week for months on end, makes for high burnout and frequent injuries. Although not ostensibly a contact sport, it is often quite physically punishing, and especially for those in the “paint,” a constant barrage of assault and contact with opponents. The sheer sustained and unyielding trips down the court understandably tax players, and is not ideal conditions for older players. When players age, they tend to “lose a step” and the game they played as a young player necessarily changes, or becomes untenable. Older players often shift to more defensive modes, and no longer retain the speed to drive to the basket, or attack a defense as they did in their youth. Most players have a u-shaped curve in the NBA. The get better as they reach their 25th birthday, then peak around 25-26, and after that they slowly decline as they approach 30 and after 32 they rapidly decline. Given this trend, most players in the NBA are in their early to mid-20s, with some playing into their 30s. Although there are notable examples of players playing into their late 30s and early 40s (Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, etc.), most are mere shadows of their former selves. Perhaps more important than the points they contribute, is their veteran leadership and ability to inspire and mentor younger players. That being said, most basketball players can expect that over the age of 32, they will see a rapid decline in production, and only the elite make it that long anyway. The average length of an NBA player’s career is about six years.
Inarguably, the sport with the greatest turnover, lowest number of years played, and highest season and career-ending injuries is the National Football League. Whereas the other sports have incidental to no physical contact, the very nature of football is full contact engagement and shutting down an offenses attacks at the end zone. Although there is skill and finesse involved with the game, it is as much about pure and unbridled physical domination over an opponent. For every play of speed and agility, there is a defensive play of aggression to stop and punish such moments of skillful artistry. There is no player immune from attack, and the quarterback routinely gets sacked, hurried, or hit after release, and expected to get up and do it again, about 40 more times. The offensive line is attacked and manhandled by the defensive line, as they try and force their way to the passer. The running backs and receivers (tight ends and wideouts) are expected to catch and/or carry the ball, but are nearly always roughly tackled by the D-line or members of the secondary. Even the punt and kick returner are expected to be clobbered, and though less frequently, the kickers sustain hits themselves. As much as football is about agility, speed, artistry, grace, and finesse, it is also equally about physical domination, endurance, playing through injury, intimidation, and freakish feats of strength. Football is a wonderfully complex game of strategy and skill, but it would be irresponsible to think of it as anything less than brute force and iron willpower. The NFL is a punishing place, and as the last few years have attested, a place where injury is not only common, but expected. Sadly, many of these injuries may lead to longer chronic pain, illness, and even death. The NFL has made great strides to combat its dangers, but there is absolutely no way to completely mitigate injury and pain. It is a fundamentally dangerous sport, and many of its detractors would say, lethal to your health. Even barbaric and unacceptable in a civil society. And yet, the NFL has never known such unprecedented popularity. Some consider football no more ethically acceptable than the gladiatorial fights held in the ancient Roman forum, and gladly cheered on by Rome’s bloodthirsty citizenry. Scholars argue that the idea of these ancient “bread and circuses” were no more than a narcotic for the masses throughout history, and a way to inflict punishment, without getting our hands dirty. Perhaps football is a barbaric act of aggression, and merely a visceral release for the harms and injustices we bury inside. Whatever it may be, it is unquestionably the most polarizing of sports, and enjoys perhaps as much — if not more — direct animosity as it does popularity.
It’s interesting to note that where most professions place a high premium on the wealth of knowledge and expertise achieved with experience in any given field, sports places much more emphasis on youthful vitality, innate ability, strength, agility, speed, and all the other trappings of youth. Only when athletes are still miraculously competing at a high level even after they’re reached the ‘twilight of their careers,’ are they typically praised for their experience and wisdom, and generally considered formidable for having withstood so many years in an unforgiving line of work. Whereas in most professions, adults are expected to refine their skills over time and improve with age, professional sports offers few analogues. It is a foregone conclusion that politicians and legislators grow into elder statesmen, aged and emboldened with years of experience. Some might accuse them of being unyielding, entrenched, and incapable of the creativity and vitality of youth, and the progressive enthusiasm it injects into politics, but few would choose green rookies over the steady hand of experience. With a few notable exceptions, professional sports proves time and again that it is obsessed with the “next big thing,” and nine times out of ten will choose a high draft pick over a seasoned, albeit less formidable veteran. John Elway knows a thing or two about second and third chances, and winning in your declining years, and that no doubt played a factor in his decision to hire Peyton Manning — fresh off a season ending neck injury that most assumed would end his career. Peyton has brought the wild success, not seen since Elway himself was under center in Denver, but still fell short of bringing the Lombardi back home to Mile High. If Peyton retires this year, was it all for nothing? Empty handed and down one Hall of Fame quarterback. Elway invested in age, experience, and all the baggage that comes with it, and only time will tell if his decision was wise. Most athletes wouldn’t get such a generous second chance. Peyton Manning is not “most athletes.”
So what kind of decision is Peyton, and unquestionably many other athletes facing now, as their careers draw to an end? And how does it in any way compare to the challenges and struggles of the elderly?
As the aged all over the world contemplate their golden years, they must certainly deal with the inevitable challenges that face them today, and since time immemorial. Perhaps the most vexing issue in any senior citizen’s life is the management of their own health. By the very nature of their being old, the elderly are often plagued by a series of diseases and ailments commonly found in those of advanced years. The human body is degenerative, and at a certain age, our systems begin to fail and our immunity is compromised, leading to various infections, chronic pain, and unavoidable sickness. The elderly are the most frequent visitors of hospitals, and in-patient and out-patient care. Due to age, many older patients will experience osteoarthritis, joint pain, diabetes, dementia/ Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, poor vision, hearing impairment, balance and equilibrium problems, poor cardiovascular health and disease, poor kidney function, cancers, low bone marrow, gastrointestinal conditions, urinary disorders, fatigue, general reconditioning, forgetfulness, medication side effects, diminished appetite, weight loss, and falls, to name only some. What’s perhaps most frustrating is that numerous conditions often afflict a patient at the same time, and life becomes overwhelming at times, as seniors must try and manage multiple conditions. That often results in a copious amounts of pills to manage, and doctor’s appointments to schedule and attend. Given the fact that many elders live on their own, they are subsequently overwhelmed by managing their health, while maintaining their home, arranging for transportation, paying their bills, and generally trying to look after themselves. All while faced with impaired mobility and failing memory. Even when the mind is sound, the body invariably fails, and the sad reality is that it is a law of diminishing returns. There are choices and treatments to mitigate poor health, but we all must die, and unavoidably, our body is at the mercy of nature and time.
Although I have not said anything new or surprising, it cannot help to give one pause about their own mortality and future health. I think most of us live our lives purposefully avoiding the inevitability of our own deaths and the challenges we all will face when we’re old. Perhaps it’s life-affirming to remind ourselves, and prepare as best we can. Although we can no longer avoid the destiny of nature and our genetic inheritance, we can take positive steps to improving our current health, and our very futures. For many elders, they must live with the mistakes of their youth, and the choices they made as adults. Years of unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, drug abuse, and other preventable and avoidable vices inevitably catch up with us, and the old and infirm are well too aware of those consequences.
The athlete must also live with the scars of a life lived of strenuous, and often hazardous exercise and exertion, and the ravages of repeated abuse. Although athletes are ostensibly in better shape than the average public, they often punish their bodies with injuries and prolonged behavior that is detrimental to their longterm health. Such injuries include illegal steroid use, legal substances to build muscle mass, crash diets, repeated muscle strain, broken, dislocated, fractured, and sprained limbs, multiple head injuries (including concussions and other brain trauma), various and sundry cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and puncture wounds, cardiac arrest and other convulsions and heart-stress, repeated hits to the torso and body proper, broken teeth and orthodontic trauma, pneumonia, exposure, and other numerous injuries. This is not to mention the long lasting effects of compromised mental health and depression. Athletes at the pro level are subjected to anxiety-inducing scrutiny, personality tests, psychological evaluations, prolonged and sustained stress, the constant threat of being cut, traded, or demoted, the anxiety of failure and pressures of being in the public spotlight, and the very real mentally corrosive realization that one’s capabilities are slipping and that time is deleterious to the athlete. As much as genes play a role in determining who will be plagued by the most serious of post-athletic career ailments, it is inescapable that decades of willful or naive abuse will catch up to every athlete. And the reality: it will happen sooner than later, and the very fact that they played competitive athletics for so long will only accelerate their physical health and well-being. That means that society’s most fit and healthy specimens in their prime are disproportionally more likely to develop health problems after retirement. What’s more: ex-athletes have a higher mortality rate than their contemporaries in the civilian world and are twice as likely to die before the age of 50. Many former athletes let themselves go after they retire, and particularly NFL players suffer high rates of obesity and stroke. There are obviously notable exceptions, and many examples of former athletes living long and rewarding lives, but statistically, the average athlete is more likely to be troubled by lingering pain, disease, and ailments, some of which may contribute to death rates exceeding actuarial expectations.
With the almost certainty of facing a post-play life of compromised health, and the prospect of having to manage their ailments so carefully, it seems reasonable to make the connection between the challenges of elder healthcare, and that of the ex-athlete. Granted, the ex-player has presumably more resources at his or her disposal, including managers and agents, but the parallel still works. It reasonable to assume that the memory and lucidity of the average player is also significantly more stable and reliable than that of the seniors. That kind of autonomy sets these two groups apart considerably. That being said, it is still remarkable to draw the analogy, since both groups are often afflicted by many of the same conditions (osteoarthritis, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). What’s more, the athlete faces a relatively rapid onset of health problems after retirement, as does the elder, not many years after they retire from their jobs. Both are suddenly faced with depleted senses of purpose, more free time, less structured schedules, less discipline, relatively more sedentary lifestyles, and the reality of depleted energy and the slow onset of age and costly life choices. The striking difference is that the athlete is often facing these same struggles more than 20 years earlier than their peers. The two groups have more medically in common than one might think.
Another interesting parallel to make between the two groups is the dramatic changes in personal fortunes and economic stability that both ex-athletes and retired senior citizens encounter. Although it is obvious the average pro-athlete makes far more money over their lifetime than the average senior from the private sector, the fate of their fortunes are more aligned than one might guess. Whenever someone retires — whether at 40 or at 65, they each have some serious things to consider about investments, managing their money, living within their means, and making sure their amassed income and annuities are sufficiently spread out over time and their expected lives. Regarless of whether someone made a million dollars a year, or forty thousand, the reality is that from that moment on, they are expectedly making significantly less than they once were, and that lifestyle changes must be considered. Retirement may seem like a windfall for some, a much deserved rest for the rest of us, or increasingly so, a terrifying reality for many. When we work, we at least can take comfort in being compensated regularly for our labor, but for those who retire, there is less certainty about how long that money will last, and how to best manage it. Even though most professional athletes go on to work second, third, or multiple jobs after their sports careers are over, they still face their own brand of insecurity. For however many years, they have lived in prosperity, and probably even above their means. Much like many of us, in our own small ways. Yet, once that paycheck is reduced or no longer coming, the pro athlete is no different in his or her concerns about their economic futures. And as it turns out, this fear is well founded. Athletes may boast eye-popping sports abilities, but when it comes to money, their reliably unreliable at managing their bank accounts. 78% of former NFL players are broke or financially stressed after retirement, and 60% of former NBA players go broke five years after retiring, according to Sports Illustrated. Broke athletes are practically an epidemic. Although their fortunes are vastly different, both the athlete and the senior citizen are consistently challenged by economic woes and trying to support themselves after retirement.
But perhaps the most tragic fatality is that of the athlete’s mind, suddenly cast aside and plagued by self-doubt, ennui, and despair. Depression is common in both the former athlete community and among seniors. The thrill and temptation of triumph, fame, and glory come at a price, and nobody knows that better than an athlete at the end of their career, and seemingly at the end of their life. The elderly are shamefully neglected, taken for granted, and left to fend for themselves in an increasingly confusing and complicated world. There are devastatingly high rates of suicide, loneliness, isolation and despair for those over the age of 70. For those athletes just reaching mid-life, but unceremoniously separated from what had been their whole lives for decades, retirement must seem like an end, and a disappointingly anti-climactic way to finish their lives. For both, the world may seem grim, and at times, it may feel like they’re simply waiting for death. Many members of both groups often share a diminished view of life, and struggle with ways to find purpose and happiness.
And yet, there is hope beyond the inevitable. Peyton Manning is undoubtedly mulling over whether it’s his time to retire, and ultimately let go of his dream of another meaningful championship. He is surely facing an abyss of uncertainty and probable disappointment. And yet, he carries with him the knowledge of all he accomplished, and the legacy he will inevitably leave behind. Just as those of us working stiffs can always find comfort in the belief that we’ve lived lives of purpose, raised families, made our mark, and worked hard for all we’ve earned. There is something undeniably rewarding and sustaining in past accomplishments, even in the midst of failure and regret. However affirming it may be to live fondly with our memories, neither the athlete nor the elder can hope of facing life’s inevitable end of life challenges without a renewed purpose in life. History has proven that those whose lives were solely their jobs, statistically died shortly after retirement, unable to redefine themselves and find purpose for carrying on. Whether it’s coaching football or twirling pizzas, Peyton Manning must find what makes him happy, discover what else he’s good at, and dive headlong into a new chapter in his life. Similarly, the 70 year old retired school teacher must also explore her options, and grasp onto to something new to be passionate about. For many, it’s grandchildren and investing in future generations. For others, it’s finding ways to constantly challenge one’s mind, and reinvent themselves as someone who lived to tell about it. For all of us, we must find happiness wherever we can, and live life as though each day were our last.