It’s Who We Are

In my latest blog post I asked questions about the world around us or to be much more general – the world around me.  What is real?  Is what I see the same thing that you see?  How would we ever know if that is true until it is completely over?

Those questions resonate at the heart of a lot of fear.  For someone who likes to know the answers I struggle with the unknown. Who was D.B. Cooper?  Is there a Yeti?  What was that object I saw over Roanoke in the fall of 1997?  Yeah, yeah go ahead and tell me there are no aliens but I know what I saw that afternoon was not of this world,

As a person who demands resolution, life proves to be a bane of my existence.  Can someone please tell me what our goal is?  Furthering society?  Making ourselves better?  Proving that we can destroy the planet?  Hell we don’t even know what happens when we die.  No one has ever been able to come back and supply us with a conclusion – well maybe that’s not the best word?  Do we truly want a conclusion to life?

There are many people who wish to spend hundreds if not thousands of years on this planet alive.  At the time that their bodies cease to give their brains oxygen, a service comes in to freeze and preserve those cells until such time that we can recreate that “life” in another form.  From what I understand baseball legend and hitter extraordinaire Ted Williams had his grey matter put into a vat until such time that it could be placed into a suitable life container.

What is Williams’ life state?  Is he currently experiencing a dream state?  Based upon what I know of our bodies I would think there is no brain waves in that organ so isn’t he technically dead?  Aren’t we trying to create an Igor without understanding how the mind works?

If I’m not mistaken our bodies are full of electric currents or parts that conduct that form of energy.  When we tell our feet to move as we are walking we are sending that signal in the form of a charge to the muscles to make them move.  When we dream and our body moves, our brain is still active and sending that wave to the part in question.  If you take a battery and put it the freezer you are just storing that energy until it can be used because it is not connected to a circuit or device asking for that signal.

So Williams’ brain is frozen and in a neutral state, somewhere that none of us know what it is going through or what will happen when it comes out of.  With that in mind there’s no way to know what the brain will “see” if it ever does get connected to a body or what it will even “remember.”  After all , these things are all a matter of perception.  What I perceive to be real, you most certainly may find to be fake.  Again it comes back to the state of reality.  How you describe the world around you verses how I describe it.  Is green the same shade of a color to you as me?  It can’t be – otherwise we would not have “color blind” people.

What does it all mean?  Are there any answers?  As far as I can tell it’s the same thing that smarter men and women before me have been asking for years and years.  What I have come to realize is that for every question and every answer the most important thing is to realize that we are human.

For every good thing we do we tend to screw up something else.  We can’t take ourselves too seriously.  We can get mad at something but we have to keep from taking it out on someone else.  We have to realize that the same material that makes up the stars makes up us.   One day the star that we call the “Sun” is going to burn out – that is a day we will never see but it will happen.  When that happens the world that we know, the real to us, will cease to exist.  Everything from America to Europe to Asia will suffer if it still exists.

We are simply who we are.  We have the ability to make choices, or even the curse of making choices.  We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  But choose we must.  We struggle to understand that this choice is ours and not something that has been granted to us our even pre-determined.  We would like to think that some higher power pushed us to a resolution or a conclusion just so we don’t wrestle with the problem of being in control of our lives.  But we are confined to this determinism.  It’s the reason that we turn to our friends and family and ask what we should choose, we sub-consciously struggle with making decisions.

One of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre, who ironically I didn’t understand when I took philosophy as a 19-year-old, said the following:

“Man is condemned to be; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.  It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

Once we start to realize that we have the curse and the blessing to make the choices that control our lives, the same lives that are short, we are the only ones who are in control of the short time that is our reality.  Or better yet, your reality, not mine.

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Reality Buffet

Another year of my life has past and the more I think about it – the more I realize what I’m left with is memories of yesterday.  Thoughts of what happened in the years some – five, ten and even twenty years ago.  When I was able to run a mile without feeling like my back was going to fall apart or even the days of my youth.  The details are hazy but the picture is still there.

But the question becomes – “what is the past?”  Is it anything more than something that happened the day before?  As the days of a calendar go forward how do we even understand the past?  All we have are our memories and sometimes those can be deceiving.  Turning 40, I can remember all those times when the people who were older than me talked about that number like it was a “halfway point” or some kind of moment in life when their life would go downhill.

However, as I aged I stared into the face of time, memory and the future and asked the question – “what is reality?”  It’s a question I still can’t answer.  I still haven’t been able to come up with answers to questions that I’ve been asking since I was 19 years old and sitting in a philosophy class taught by a Roman Catholic priest.  Most importantly “who are we” and “why are we here?”  Those two questions pale in comparison to the major conundrum that I pose to the ether – “is what I see the same thing that every one else sees?”

To be fair I’ve spent the entire length of this webpage discussing sports issues with a human slant but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something more?  With all the changes in the world and the growth as an individual I question the cosmos.  The same stars that have been shining for billions of years.  The same stars that may be already dead or they may be the home of a more intelligent life form (which is a completely different conversation).  Imagine the thought that thousands of years before us humans saw the light from stars that have already burned out – it is an incredible and scary emotion to me.

Is there a way to answer the question of why are we here?  I guess it depends on who you are and what you believe.  For me, I have spent the years since that philosophy class trying to figure out what we are.  Who we are.  We rule this planet and destroy this planet.  We enslave animals and control nature to an extent.  But at what cost?  What for?  Sure, when my reality is long gone they say the sun will burn out.  But how do I truly know that?  All I know is the now.  All I know is what is going on in the now.  All I know is what I can control in front of me.

While that is a very selfish position it is a position I can control.  I don’t know what you see when you look at a blade of grass.  It might be “green” to you – but what is “green?”  Green might look differently to me than you.  A square might not look the same to me as you.  I can describe it as four equal sides but we all know that things don’t always look the same to everyone, case in point is going to an art museum.  What I see as crap you might be influenced by.  Or even music.  I can describe a song differently than you.

So who are we really?  As individuals we stare into the abyss of death every day and brush back the clouds of doubt and fear of nothingness.  No matter what situation we are presented with we seem to overcome it.  Our minds put up barriers and somehow we seem to overcome them.  But why?  What is it that we are supposed to keep going for?

I’ve wondered at times if we aren’t an experiment – some alien race put us on this planet and is watching us from a distance.  Kind of like playing a computer simulation on a larger scale than our tiny brains can comprehend.  So what if we are an experiment?  I’m not the first to ask the question – I’ve heard a 12 year old ask the same question.  Are our memories and thoughts implanted to see how we react?  Who can truly tell me they are not?

We can try as hard as we want but we don’t know what will happen when our bodies die.  Is there something inside them?  Is there a soul?  Is it something more than the “life” that we go through every day?  No one has ever come back from the “dead” to tell us what is out there.

Ask yourselves – is there anything more than the current day?  The now.  Who knows what we are.  There are so many people in the world that have the ability to end the world as we know it – whether it is a dictator in foreign country with a nuclear weapon or the many weapons that can snuff out our lives.  But yet we keep going.

Why?  Is it the money?  Is it the promise of a better life?  Is it a guarantee of something more?  Or is it the human spirit?  A spirit that may or may not exist.  Something that we may just be making up in “our reality.”  A reality that is full of good and evil yet incomplete – because we can’t be sure it truly exists.

With all these questions being posed and no answers being presented I have nothing but a few sentences.  Live every day like it is your last.  For all I know, it’s already over.  It may be done and I’m just looking back on what’s been done.  Then again, I can’t remember a lot of what I’ve done – in many ways that’s a good thing.  Maybe there will be a time when I come to find peace – but then again as a work in progress I’m just another man.

Missing The Ice

It’s been almost a year since the last time I laced up my Bauer skates and scratched some ice. My last experience left a lot to be desired however and I was determined that I was going to get better once 2017 came along. “After all ,” I thought,”this is one of my dreams and I’m doing something I always wanted to do.”

Then I hit one of those potholes in the road that someone forgot to patch up. Kinda like the department of transportation around here. I found myself staring down a bucket of onions and peppers. Tomatoes and avocados were on the other side. I heard pans and pots being moved, the unmistakable sounds of a professional chef chopping cilantro and a printer that seemed to never stop even when I thought there was nothing left.

Yeah, I’d seen Gordon Ramsey and other celebrity chefs on television who advertise their show is what restaurants are really like. But they are not what restaurants are really like. I thought I was good cook – I had no training and I went into the kitchen to learn from two culinary trained chefs (one C.I.A.). I had my pride handed back to me in the first hour. You can’t walk in a kitchen and know anything.

Honestly, some of the best things I learned from the chefs were to stay alert and be humble about your abilities. Be quick. Be prepared. Don’t do two things when you can do one. If you did something to a dish – own it. Don’t let it go out and come back. Don’t ever stop learning.

One of the biggest moments when I was learning was when I was struggling to fit in with one of the line cooks. He was very vocal to everyone. He yelled and made jokes about everything. Being the new guy it was my turn to face the wrath of him. He watched me like a hawk. No matter what chef said – this cook would take me to task whenever I did the slightest thing wrong.

“Move your ass,” he’d scream at me.

“Are you still chopping onions? You’ve had 20 minuets.”

Oh p.s. – nothing prepares you for the already hot kitchen with no breaks and no time to eat or drink until the rush is over. Just FYI.

It took me some time to realize that he was trying to push me and make me angry to do better. He saw that it was a button to push. By the end of my learning experience with the kitchen I considered him a friend and held no reservations for the way he treated me at the beginning even if I didn’t understand it. Keep pushing yourself even if you think you can’t.

Since that experience I wanted to try to get back on the ice and see how my willpower has changed. Life gets in the way. There’s no way to push aside the barricades that get thrown in your way sometimes. Mostly you have to do things you don’t want to. You have to suck up your pride, swallow your fear, look deep inside yourself and believe there’s something there that can push you forward. At least that’s the attitude I had when I started hockey. It’s something that translates to the kitchen too. It’s something we have to be reminded of from time to time. But it sure would be great to get back out there again.

Number 8 Will Always Be Number One To Me

There was a time when the NBA allowed high school basketball players to jump directly to the league without any college experience. There was no talk of “one and done” players joining University ranks before being drafted into the Millionaire Club.

One of the players who paved the way for the NBA of today came straight from Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A man who did exactly what I wanted to do, a player I admired for being the talent that everyone said he couldn’t be, a guy who created a legacy around one name: Kobe.

Say what you will about the 18 year old Kobe demanding to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe at times during his career he played with a swagger that certain fans did not like. His inauguration into professional basketball came at a time when Jordan was ruling the league. No one wanted to see the King dethroned – certainly not by some flashy teenager straight out of high school that could speak Italian fluently and signed with Jordan’s shoe rival Adidas.

But I did. I believed that 18 year old kid was just like me – wanting to live out a dream and I wanted to live out my dream of basketball through him. As much as I don’t like the Lakers I always wanted Kobe to win. When Kobe came out with shoes I got them – I’ll never forget the “spaceman” shoes – I still have them.

Now that the NBA has moved on from Kobe and my dream, the league is different. 20 years of Jellybean Bryant’s son and now he’s gone. Life moves on and as I watch Kobe as a man and not that 18 year old kid – I realize that I’ve grown too. I fight the feeling that I’m getting old, but seeing the years on Kobe’s face I realize we both have aged. It doesn’t matter to me about the championships or the awards or points. What matters is Kobe did the things I wanted to do at a time I wanted to do them. Kobe was me.

A Cubs Fan Finally Gets His Championship Ring – And I’m Fine With It!

The Chicago Cubs are giving Steve Bartman a World Series ring this week for all the hell he's been through since that ill fated night in Wrigley Field 14 years ago. Bartman has led a sheltered and very secluded life after the death threats he received in the wake of the Cubs 2003 National League Championship Series loss. Cubs fans hit the radio waves to express discontent for the man they believed caused the team to never reach their destiny. A man who had to be escorted from the stadium after reaching for a foul ball.

Among many sports fans a debate has raged about whether the Cubs are breaking an unwritten rule of professional athletics by handing out a ring. Questions like Bartman didn't play with the team so why give him a ring? Or does doing this cheapen the accomplishment of the 2016 champs? What if the other clubs decided to just hand out rings to whomever? Should Bartman even accept the gesture in the first place?

For all the questions, the answers aren't as clear as one might think. No one can truly say but Bartman whether he should take the offer from the club. He is the one who has had to separate himself from the team he loved so dearly. Can you imagine your team winning after 107 years and not being able to be at the game to celebrate? Much less having the ability to show your face in public all because people thought you were the reason a team lost?

Teams can do whatever they want with their rings. If New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft can give one of his Super Bowl rings to Russian president Vladimir Putin how can we criticize a team giving one to a fan? A ring from a championship is merely a symbol of a win, something that most players simply lock up and put away in a safe only to come out at special events. A championship win by players builds bonds and families within a locker room that no piece of jewelry or banner can match. How is it any different than any other memorabilia that is sold after the playoffs? In fact, players sell them all the time.

I'm not sure if there is a team that doesn't do what it wants when it comes to victories. In 2016, the Denver Broncos took the Lombardi Trophy to a late fan's funeral. The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers gave rings to janitors and food vendors. Why is everyone getting so excited about the Cubs? Give Bartman some peace finally, he's been through hell.

Last Chance U Part Deux: Buddy Stephens Revisited

When the first season of Netflix's football series "Last Chance U" ended we saw the JUCO program of Eastern Mississippi exiting the Mississippi state playoffs after getting into a brawl. Coach Buddy Stephens was berating his players as "thugs," much to the dismay of many of them.

The new season of the series promised more football and more drama. What I didn't count on was Stephens announcing that he was embarrassed watching the first season of the show and that he was going to be nicer to his players. Call me skeptical but I didn't buy it at the time and as the show went on, I was right.

The first couple of games he preached change, positivity and how he was a new man. His use of swear words in practice led to him having to drop down to crank out push-ups in front of the team. I was more stunned than impressed, he almost seemed to be embarrassing himself in front of the team.

As the wins mounted, so too did the immense pressure lofted onto Stephens' shoulders. Injuries hit star running back Isiah Wright. The defense struggled to stop anyone who ran right at them. When Coach would attempt to talk to a player it felt as if he was begging that person to say anything at all. One word and Stephens would snap.

I lost count the number of times he kicked Wright out of practice. As the defense struggled to find an identity he berated the Defensive Coordinator for not doing enough. When the refs asked Stephens to back up from the sidelines he freaked out on them.

"Don't touch me. I don't touch you." Stephens screamed at them. So much for the kinder, gentler coach.

Near the end of the season as the team played for the Mississippi state championship Stephens sent his offensive coordinator up to the press box. The same offensive coordinator that had been there for years. I thought that Stephens wanted to turn over a new leaf, but no.

Even though the team won the game and the state championship, Stephens had damaged his team in the process.

Team mother Brittany Wagner left Eastern Mississippi to form her own company to help students.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Wood stepped down from his duties after his interactions on the sidelines of that championship game.

Quarterbacks coach Clint Trickett left the program to work at Florida Atlantic University.

Defensive coordinator Ed Holly left to coach high school football in Florida.

Who else?

To paraphrase Isiah Wright, he said "I can tell when someone cares for me and when they want something from me." The former running back of Eastern Mississippi couldn't have been more painfully clear about the situation in Scooba, MS. It also becomes obvious less than halfway through the season that the head coach's driving factor is to win football games.

The series visits former players and examines their current situation. My favorite is Ronald Ollie who looked happy to have left Eastern Mississippi for Nicholls State. Even former quarterback John Franklin III smiles for the camera while explaining his situation as a backup quarterback at Auburn University. Their lives are drastic comparisons to what the athletes are experiencing back at the junior college.

Eastern Mississippi's defense shows a disconnect because of the malaise that starts at the top. The offense runs well only because former offensive coordinator Wood cares about his kids and sheltered them from Stephens' negativity.

By the end of the season even he can't keep away the drama and is swallowed up by it. I believe Stephens' lack of self control is ultimately going to be his downfall. Even if he wins football games, his lack of compassion guarantees he will never grow as a person. I feel bad that he never gets to understand the kids the way Wagner and Wood did but one day he'll realize that humanity is more important than wins.

Losing Faith Or Sports Is So Screwed

Apparently the Dallas Cowboys are so worried about a man named Lucky Whitehead supposedly getting arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting from Wawa in suburban Virginia that they cut him from the team. The same Cowboys team that has fielded players charged with domestic violence, gun charges, drug charges and DWI incidents. I'm guessing that as a Cowboy you are held to a higher standard- no shoplifting but plenty of beating, drinking, drugs and poor decisions.

I feel for Whitehead because the police now admit that it wasn't him who they arrested for shoplifting. All that drama from the Cowboys and it turns out he wasn't even there, imagine that. Jerry Jones is going to do what he's going to do. In fact Jerry's son, Stephen said that it was a "culmination of things over a period of time." You mean he missed a practice or skipped a meeting or claimed his dog got kidnapped? Sure, he's probably a knucklehead but he DIDN'T break the law.

The starting running back was questioned for domestic abuse charges. A linebacker was charged was assault for hitting someone with a truck. Another player was charged with DWI. In 2015 they fielded a player who was a repeat drug offender. Of course they signed Greg Hardy.

They are hardly the only team to put questionable people on the field. The NFL is full of players that are on the edge of falling off the cliff. The problem is that the league is all about money. When the only reason guys are on the field is because they can play a sport and normal people would be in jail it's because of power, money and influence.

I have a huge problem with the fact that a guy like Whitehead lost his gig over some arrest that never happened. He doesn't even have the ability to sue the Cowboys over wrongful termination because of the way NFL contracts are written.

I wonder what the arresting officers must feel today knowing they helped contribute to the man's loss of employment. Did they just say "hey he said his name was Lucky Whitehead and he had his information so we aren't going to look at his mugshot?" Isn't this a statement on its own? Lucky Whitehead's picture is easily found on the internet- is there no due diligence? If someone was arrested with my information would they verify that it truly was me? I'm scared for this world.