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Archives for July 2015

Heads we like

A headline from the mourning (cq) paper:

“Reclusive Taliban leader dead

since ’13, Afghan agency says”

Can’t get more reclusive than that.

The state of American Journalism

It is beyond comprehension. It is unfunny. It is offensive that this passes for journalism. A reminder:

The Washington Post is the newspaper that forced Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew from office.

Consider then this horseshit.

If you missed Jason Gay’s column in the WSJ on Caitlyn Jenner,

It is not insignificant that when Caitlyn Jenner spoke in public last week, she spoke to a room full of jocks. Jocks like herself. The best, the champs, the stars, the MVPs. The unchallenged A-side of the American cafeteria, on another night they are lavished like royalty. Those ESPY Awards? That’s an intimidating crowd. Just watching at home on TV, I feel there’s at least a 20% chance I will get stuffed into a locker.

Let’s be honest: Sports can be a brilliant catalyst for social progress—it happened with Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and Magic Johnson, among many others, and its crucial lessons of sacrifice and teamwork can ballast a lifetime—but sports can be a backward place, too. Antisocial. Mean-spirited. Bullying. A sports section in 2015 veers between episodes of greatness and plunges of arrested development. The other day a pair of New Jersey fathers were arrested for having a bloody fight at their daughters’ travel softball game.

I mean, you have got to be kidding me. Grown dads.

Caitlyn Jenner’s speech Wednesday night in Los Angeles? This was rarer, bigger stuff. Sports in service of a larger idea. It might not have been meaningful to everyone, but that’s OK. It didn’t have to be meaningful to everyone. That wasn’t really the point.

There was some aggro howling about ESPN’s decision to give its Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Jenner, to which the only reasonable response is: give me a giant break. I never thought I would live to see the day when an ESPY was treated like a Fields Medal, or a Guggenheim Fellowship. Jenner’s award was contrived? You don’t say. Virtually every public awards ceremony is a contrivance—Louis B. Mayer admitted the Academy Awards were at least partly launched as a way to kiss up to filmmakers (“If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted,” Meyer is quoted saying in Scott Eyman’s “Lion of Hollywood”). The ESPYs are designed by a powerful sports network to entertain and relationship-build and to fill the humid doldrums between basketball and football. Over the years there have been genuine, stirring moments—cancer-diagnosed college basketball coach Jim Valvano’s impassioned plea in 1993 to “don’t ever give up,” and the late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott’s poignant speech last year in receipt of an award named for Valvano. But mostly the ESPYs are showbiz, a chance to watch athletes try to laugh at themselves and see how many Gronkowskis can climb out of a party bus.

Honoree Caitlyn Jenner and U.S. soccer's Abby Wambach onstage during the 2015 ESPY Awards.ENLARGE
Honoree Caitlyn Jenner and U.S. soccer’s Abby Wambach onstage during the 2015 ESPY Awards. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Naturally, as if on cue, there was a tide of Internet misinformation about Jenner’s selection—a common meme was that ESPN had passed over a deserving military war hero in order to honor Jenner, or had chosen Jenner over the late Lauren Hill, a college basketball player who had managed to play a final game despite a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. This was untrue—Jenner had upset no one’s specific bid for the Ashe award, and the inspirational Hill was honored elsewhere in the evening. Meanwhile, it was ugly how free some Jenner/ESPN critics felt to torque the legacy of Ashe, a groundbreaking athlete who led a life of extraordinary grace and compassion. Ashe’s own daughter, Camera, applauded the selection of Jenner. “She is the epitome of courage,” she told the New York Daily News.

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Backlash was expected, of course. Those willful misrepresentations exposed the intertwined currents of antipathy and ignorance surrounding Jenner’s story. This was not going to be easy.

And yet here’s the thing: Jenner got up there on stage in Los Angeles and made it look easy. Even if it was not. Even if she said “this transition has been harder on me than anything I could imagine,” a sober reminder of an experience not uncommon to her. Jenner spoke about a transgender teenager, Sam Taub, who had not long ago taken his life. Another, Mercedes Williamson, found stabbed to death in Mississippi.

It was a tough speech to a tougher room, but Jenner crushed it. “I’m clear with my responsibility going forward—to tell my story the right way, for me to keep learning, to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated,” she said. “And then more broadly to promote a very simple idea: accepting people for who they are. Accepting people’s differences.”

Every so often an athlete arrives with the power to change the status quo, because the athlete is undeniable. That’s what made this powerful. Jenner’s not an outsider. She is in the club.

 

It is very rare in American life you can actually hear the wheels of the culture grind forward in real time. But that’s what was happening here. Sports prefers to stick with archetypes—matinee idol quarterbacks, underappreciated linemen, stoic coaches, flaky pitchers. Jenner herself fit neatly into a formula: Olympic champion, symbol of American excellence, flag-draped icon from the 1976 Montreal Games. But every so often an athlete arrives with the power to change the status quo, because the athlete is undeniable. That’s what made this powerful. Jenner’s not an outsider. She is in the club.

She is also, by her own admission, flawed—that Vanity Fair cover story is unvarnished about Jenner’s past shortcomings as a husband and a father. But in her speech, Jenner made it very clear: She is suited for this moment. People may find her comfort in the spotlight off-putting or dislike that she’s doing a reality-TV show or cringe at the narcissism empire built by the Kardashian clan, but this role she is assuming in the mainstream? Not for a person who shrinks. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it,” she said, reminding the audience she was the MVP of her high-school football team (perfect). “But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

Jenner’s OK with all of the noise. With the ignorance. With, frankly, the hate (if you spend hours rattling around the Internet writing crude things about Jenner, it’s time to go take a long, contemplative walk in the forest). She’s OK with the people who say they’re fine with Jenner but just don’t want her story “in their face,” which intentionally or not, is a position that tacitly denies a person their right to live a visible and recognized life. She’s OK with the ludicrous accusation that attention to Jenner takes away from other deserving sports stories—nobody’s talking less about the amazing Jordan Spieth or amateur Paul Dunne (holy smokes Paul Dunne) at the British Open or Mike Trout or U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team or goodness knows the NFL because Jenner decided to tell her story. (Spaceships could be hovering over the Washington Monument and it would not curb coverage of the NFL.)

Jenner is OK with all of that, because she knows—agrees!—this is not about her.

But Jenner said it best:

For the people out there wondering what this is all about—whether it’s about courage or controversy or publicity—well, I’ll tell you what it’s all about. It’s about what happens from here. It’s not just about one person, it’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me, it’s about all of us accepting one another. We are all different. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.

That’s what Caitlyn Jenner said last week in public, and with courage. End of story. And a beginning, too.

Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com

Donald Trump’s bone spur

This is from thesmokinggun.com:

The son of a wealthy real estate developer, Trump received four student deferments that were followed by a 1968 medical deferment that came a few months after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

After denigrating McCain during remarks today at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Trump faced reporters’s questions about his lack of service. Asked about the last of his five deferments, Trump said that his disqualifying medical condition was a bone spur in one of his feet (he could not remember which one). It is unknown on which golf course the injury was sustained.

Clearly, Trump has enlisted Evan Mecham as his political adviser. Never in history of human endeavor has a bone spur permitted such a moron to sling so much bullshit.

Been gone a while

Where have I been?

Out.

What have I been doing?

Nothing.

Otherwise, I might have noted that Donald Trump is one scary sumbitch. Or who the hell is that woman running against McCain, and for heaven’s sake why. I did pause to wonder why we don’t settle for mutually assured destruction in the Middle East, specifically Iran. After all MAD worked well in the Cold War. Why not in the Middle East?

Speaking of war, does any politician in this country ever take note that come September We the People have been at war for 14 years? A google search on the question of how many Americans have died since 9/11 came up with the number 6,600. Whoever is elected in November, 2016 will be our third war president and offer the prospect of another 8 years of war, death, destruction and drones.

Where have I been?

Hiding.