Read a quote from the New York Times a few days ago, where Rick Perry—former Texas governor—says he has been called to do “God’s work.”
Now, I don’t know Perry. He’s a politician, which makes his motives sort of suspicious. But let’s assume, on this one, he’s being sincere. Let’s assume he believes, truly, that he has been called by God to work on his behalf.
Rick’s thinking: This is wonderful.
My thinking: Could you be any more arrogant?
Let’s put it different: What kind of normal humanoid believes himself so grand and important that he has been singled out by a holy entity to work on his behalf? I mean, is that a normal thought process? “I, Rick Perry, have been selected by God to carry out His plans …”
He also happens to be the perfect poster child for what happens when fame corrupts a person. I’m sure, at some point, Rick Perry was a normal guy, just trying to have fun, drink beers, catch a few movies, get laid. Then, with political power came, well, madness. You’re overtaken by money. By notoriety. You start thinking you’re worthy of being governor. Then you become governor. Then you ponder the presidency. You get slaughtered, but still believe.
And, really, why not? You’re doing God’s work, after all …
We had a lazy afternoon with the kids yesterday, which meant back-to-back family movies in front of the TV. The weather was crappy, a guest had recently left, everyone’s been running around, blah, blah, blah. It was needed.
I’m enjoying my kids at ages 8 and 11, because we’re not longer limited to films about talking squirrels and princesses. If (gasp!) a curse escapes from someone’s lips, it’s not the big deal of yesteryear. There are actual plots and nuances. Sometimes people die. It’s all good.
Anyhow, the first flick of the afternoon was The Truman Show—which my kids really liked (and I love). The follow-up was narrowed down to either Blind Side or We Are Marshall. I really disliked Blind Side, and hadn’t seen Marshall since it’d come out nine years ago. So I pushed for that one, and won.
We Are Marshall is, in and of itself, a bad sports movie. No cliche is missed, no conversation is one any human would have, no emotional moment isn’t milked like a 5,654-utter cow. It’s a paint-by-number piece of crap; not Paul Blart-bad (translation: a film that predictably sucks, as it should), but terrible in the way you feel after seeing your favorite superstar ballplayer strike out in a big spot against some journeyman righty who can’t hit 85 on the radar. Profound, sincere disappointment.
All that said, what drops We Are Marshall from awful to the depths of hell is a ridiculous, blind devotion to heart-stirring narrative over truth and historic accountability. In case you don’t know, the film is the “true” story of the 1970 Marshall University football team and the nightmarish plane crash that killed nearly all of the players and coaches. This is, unambiguously, a fantastic subject for a movie. I mean, the heartbreak. The emotional turmoil. The return of the football program. It’s all right there.
And yet McG, the (arrogantly nicknamed) director, clearly made the decision that truth matters not. It’s hard to count the number of fabrications and inaccuracies in this film, so here are some of the biggies …
1. There was no fight between the school and the NCAA for Marshall to be allowed to use freshman during the 1971 season. Like, this battle did not exist. The players died, Marshall decided to continue to play, the school asked the NCAA for the OK and it was immediately granted. Which wouldn’t be a big deal except Marshall begging for freshmen to play is a HUGE PART OF THE FILM.
2. Marshall had an athletic director, and he hired Jack Lengyel, the new coach. He knew him from previous work, and it was a relatively short search. Which wouldn’t be a big deal except the coaching search—conducted under McG’s watch by the college president (we’re told repeatedly the school has no AD), is a HUGE PART OF THE FILM.
3. The head coach of Marshall who died in the crash was named Rick Tolley. He was a young guy—only 30 and in his second season at the helm. In the film, he was played by Robert Patrick—who was almost 50. Perhaps you think, “Eh, not a big deal.” But, to me, it’s a huge deal. Tolley died. As in, he no longer exists. He was the coach of the Marshall football team. An important man with a legacy. And you, McG, decided, “Eh, young coach doesn’t work with my narrative. Because the guy taking over (Lengyel, played by Matthew McConaughey) is also young, and the juxtaposition is better if it’s a young guy replacing a veteran. So … let’s make Tolley an old guy.” Translation: The truth of the situation isn’t as important as the narrative flow. Which is understandable—save for the fact your character is named Rick Tolley, and he really existed, and he died tragically.
4. McConaughey played Lengyel as sort of a wacky goofball; this mix of Joe Maddon and Pee Wee Herman. And it’s fun and funky and enjoyable. But, according to interviews with peers, the real man was NOTHING like that. He was quiet and straight-laced and disciplined. Again, I get narrative. But when you’re talking about real people, and you name your characters after real people, and the only similarity between your character and the man who existed is, eh, a name, well, you’ve got problems.
5. The plane crash is a gigantic moment in the film. Only it didn’t happen the way it’s depicted. Wait, there’s one similarity: A plane crashed. But the entire town didn’t run to the scene; a fireman didn’t prove the accident involved the team by uncovering a Marshall playbook. On and on and on. Fabricated.
6. The famous school chant, “We! Are! Marshall!” is uttered about 100 times. Great, wonderful, fun. Only, in 1971, it had yet to exist. Glub.
Look, I understand the adaptation of a real-life event to film is complicated. Jack and Rose weren’t actually on the Titanic. In Remember the Titans, Gary Bertier wasn’t talking about the Special Olympics a day after learning he’d never walk again. Liberties are taken, exaggerations are made.
Sometimes, however, stretching the truth isn’t merely stretching the truth.
It looks like Angel outfielder Josh Hamilton is returning to the Rangers, the team he left after the 2012 season. A trade has been completed, and Texas gets back one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Which is a nice story. But, to me, not the story.
Nope, from this perspective, the headline doesn’t concern a homecoming, but the shameful and embarrassing way the Los Angeles Angels have treated Hamilton since learning this past offseason of a drug relapse he suffered. Unlike the Rangers, who dedicated a great deal of money and manpower to helping Hamilton remain clean, the Angels seemed to consider substance abuse merely an issue of mind over matter; of willpower. Which, of course, is nonsense. Addiction is a disease, just as cancer and ALS and diabetes are diseases. You can control addiction, you can function with addiction, but you’re never 100-percent cured of addiction. It’s there. Always.
When Hamilton came forward and admitted his relapse, the Angels showed the compassion of a rattlesnake. They were openly livid when, earlier this month, an arbitrator ruled Hamilton did not violate terms of his treatment program. They did not issue him a locker at their Spring Training complex, and—as reported by MLB.com—”pulled all of his merchandise and likeness from the ballpark.” I actually attended an A’s-Angels game yesterday with my son, and you wouldn’t know Hamilton played for the team. He appeared … nowhere.
For me, the worst is Arte Moreno, the team’s owner. When asked earlier this month whether Hamilton would ever play for the Angels again, he shrugged. Asked why the uncertainty, he said, “Probably disappointment. I think that’s probably the biggest word here. We understand that he’s had struggles, and obviously he’s still having struggles, but the reality is there’s accountability. When you make an agreement, you need to stand up.”
To anyone who’s played a pro sport, this comes as no surprise. Teams speak of honor and loyalty and family, but only until honor and loyalty and family stop paying the bills.
Some stories are awesome because they’re dazzling. Some stories are awesome because they’re breathtaking. And some stories are awesome simply because, well, they’re awesome. They exceed all expectations of the norm, and leave you breathless, shaking your head and saying, “Wow.”
The man featured in the above photographed is named Austin Hatfield. He’s 18, lives in Wimauma, Florida and—it seems—is not the brightest bulb in the socket. According to the Tampa Tribune, a few days ago Austin attempted to kiss a cottonmouth snake on the lips. He had captured the serpent a few days earlier, and kept it (illegally) in a pillowcase. When he puckered up, well, the snake attacked, inserting its poisonous venom in Aaron’s lips. The poor guy was hurt and hospitalized, but did not die.
I feel the need to make a few points here:
A. Don’t kiss snakes.
B. Don’t keep snakes in pillowcases.
C. This guy has the same number of votes as you and I do.
So there’s this thing with the media, where reporters and editors and, oftentimes, commentators feel like everything has to be balanced 50/50. Meaning, if you look for the negative of one side, you have to find equal negative on the other side. The same goes for positive. Example: You’re doing a piece on corporate donations to candidates. If you find a bunch of CEOs giving money to Democrats, you also have to find a similar number of CEOs donating to the other side.
It’s better in idea than practice, but I get it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this concept, coupled with the insanity of myriad political figures. Actually, lemme re-phrase that: There are a seemingly endless number of off-the-reservation insane Republicans, and not nearly as many equally loopy Democrats. It’s just true, and I don’t believe I’m biased in saying so.
Take, for example, the above clip, featuring Allen West, the former Florida representative and Tea Party favorite. In his speech to a bunch of Tennessee-based conservatives, West suggests (actually, he sort of insists) that football head injuries exist in large numbers because fewer teams pray before games than they once did. And here’s the thing: The attendees seem to agree. Or at least not disagree. They nod and quietly approve. Which, again, is off-the-reservation insane.
Earlier today I headed over to the A’s-Angels game with my father in law and my son, Emmett.
None of us are fans of the Angels or A’s, and my father in law isn’t really into baseball. We went because it seemed like a cool thing to do, and good tickets were available on the cheap at Stubhub.
Anyhow, while walking through the concourse I stopped at a concession stand and picked up a scorecard and a pencil. Now, back when I was a kid, a scorecard at Shea Stadium was either 25 or 50 cents, and the pencil came along for free. Here, in Anaheim, the scorecard was $3 (admittedly, it came inside a pretty thick magazine), and I had to fork over another buck for the pencil. Upon sitting down, I explained to Emmett that there’s this thing called keeping score, and that it’s sort of a lost art. We looked up the lineups, filled them in, and I gave the boy a quick lesson on circling 9s and 4-3s and BB and K and SB.
To my great surprise, he ate it up. With the exception of the half inning where we walked to get food, Emmett scored the entire game—well. Whereas he normally would have wanted to scoot up and down the hallways, now he was glued to his seat and determined to do his job properly. When someone grounded out to shortstop, I’d say, “OK, Emmett, what’s that?” He’d take a second, look at me, say, “4-3.”
“Now think about it,” I’d reply.
“Oh, 6-3. Right, Dad?”
Because I was raised by sports illiterates (it’s still up in the air whether my mom knows what team Walter Payton played for), I’m not sure who taught me to keep score. But it’s something that brings me true joy, and today I found an even truer joy.
The above Twitter exchange happened yesterday, on my birthday. And it truly confused me.
I don’t know if I look older than 43 or younger than 43. Neither answer would bother me, because—factually—it’s my age. I also happen to have two awesome kids, a breathtaking wife and a career I love. So … physical appearance? Not something I spend much time thinking about.
So why am I writing about the Tweet, fired off by a guy named Jonathan Vining? Because it was mean for the sake of being mean. No other purpose, no other reason. Just to make a stranger feel bad. And, in a way, it worked. I read it and felt bad. Again, not about my looks. But about who we are, and how we now treat one another with increased frequency.
I have no problem (obviously) using Twitter to complain, and even rip. A movie or book sucks—state your take. Skip Bayless’ words pissed you off—write about it. But why, oh why, are people so into personal jabs and digs, just because there’s a chance to take personal jabs and digs? I mean, I’m a nobody; a non-celebrity fortunate enough to live my professional dream.
I can’t even imagine how the famous among us deal with this stuff.
It’s not a monumental birthday; one of those moments when you traditionally say, “Dang, how did this happen?” But, well, dang. How did this happen?
I’m 43. Halfway to 86—an age statistics suggest I’ll fail to reach. I tend to think of “midlife” meaning 50, but that’s a longshot. “Midlife” is now.
I used to struggle with aging because I struggled with death. An eternity of nothingness, blah, blah. Through the years, however, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with my mortality. There’s even a part of me—and this is admittedly hard to explain—that looks forward to the final moment of life. I’m intrigued by it. The feeling. The departure. I’m in no rush. But I’m riveted.
Really, what I wish I could do is slow time down. I want it to crawl, not sprint. I used to think I had this one figured out. Spend as much time as possible with your kids, they don’t grow up in a blink. Stay up as late as possible, the days feel longer. Take moments to stop and gaze out at the ocean, smell the air, rub your hand through your son’s mop of brown hair. If I did those things, I figured it’d all take longer to complete.
But I was wrong. I wake up—snap—I go to bed. Over and over and over again. One day turns into a week. A week turns into six months. Six months turn into 10 years. It’s a boulder rolling down a steep hill, and I can’t stop it. My daughter was born. Then she was 6. Now she’s about to be 12. How?
I have some gray hairs along my sideburns. My back always aches. I’ve never felt my age, but I’m starting to feel my age. There’s a resignation when people refer to me as “Mister” or “Sir,” whereas once there was indignity. I am what I am—a 43-year-old man with lines on his face and 150,000 miles on his body.
I’m blessed in myriad ways; as lucky as one could be.
Nine years ago, I wrote a biography of Barry Bonds titled, Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero. It was my second book, and a strange experience. Over the course of two years I sought out everyone who knew the then-San Francisco Giants slugger, and the negativity was unreal. Bonds was famous for his surliness, his rudeness, his dismissive nature—and the quotes mostly backed up the perception. I desperately wanted supporters, but they were awfully hard to find.
Now, in 2015, I’ve got one. Well, sorta of.
Nikolai Bonds is Barry Bonds’ oldest child and the 203rd Quaz Q&A. He’s a 25-year-old model and musician; a lover of marijuana and Anchorman, as well as the possessor of a truly noteworthy Golden Gate Bridge tattoo across his chest. He also happens to be a Barry Bonds defender, as well as a Barry Bonds detractor. He’s both—honest, embracing, dismissive, clear, combative, empathetic.
Niko Bonds, your dad has 762 home runs. But you’ve been Quazed …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Niko, weird first question. I noticed from an Instagram photo that you have an enormous tattoo of what looks to be the Golden Gate Bridge across part of your chest. So let me ask—A. Why? What inspired it? B. How long did it take and how much pain? C. What did your parents think?
NIKOLAI BONDS: Yeah, that’s the Golden Gate Bridge! I got it about six years ago with a buddy of mine. I got it because that’s home and home will always stay close to my heart no matter where I am. I have plenty more tattoos to go to complete the piece. But I love my home. The Bay Area raised me and gave me so much, so I wanted to always keep it with me no matter where I go. But I won’t lie—it hurt pretty bad the first session. The most painful part was right in the middle of my chest. But the second session didn’t hurt at all.
As for my parents, they didn’t say anything. I already had tattoos so it wasn’t a surprise.
J.P.:So I’ve never talked to the son of a celebrity about being the son of a celebrity. But I’ve always assumed, growing up, it must sorta suck. I mean, yeah, you’re raised in material comfort. But the pointing, the whispering—just seems awful. Nikolai, I’m riveted, what was it like growing up as Barry Bonds’ son?
N.B.: Growing up as Barry Bonds’ son was many things. As a son to my parents it is no different than growing up as any other son. Your parents love you and push you to be your best. I didn’t live with my father much. I usually was with my mother. But looking at it from a son’s standpoint, it was no different.
But there is another side and that is the celebrity side. Now that had its ups and downs. There will always be perks and in the city of San Francisco my family is royalty. And I don’t really listen to people whisper. But there will always be that one person who wants to take it too far, or bring it somewhere it never needs to go. That’s tough. You want to stand up for yourself and your family but everybody is waiting for you to make a mistake so they can all point at you. But after a while you just get used to it and speak up when needed and walk away when needed.
Photo by Brad Mangin.
J.P.: I’m gonna ask something that might sorta suck, but I’m dying to understand: A decade ago I covered your dad’s home run chase, then wrote a book about him. I watched him a lot. Like, a lot a lot a lot. And what bothered me most wasn’t the PED rumors or anything like that. No, what bothered me is he didn’t seem to treat people very nicely. The clubhouse staff, the PR department, the media, teammates. I just thought your dad was sorta mean. And I know it sucks to say that to a son, but, well, it was my observation. So I ask you, was I missing something? Was I correct? And if he was, indeed, mean, why? And if he wasn’t, why did so many people see it that way?
N.B.: My dad is a difficult person to understand. Is he always the nicest person in the world? Absolutely not. But then again—and I don’t mean this to sound offensive—but are you the nicest person in the world every day of your life? That’s an impossible standard for anybody to ask you to achieve.
Now, I’m going to break it down to everybody so that maybe some people will understand, some will care—and others simply cannot be swayed. My father gives more to people then anybody I know. My father helps more children and families than most athletes/entertainers. Once you become someone everybody wants a piece of you. The good people. The bad people. The people who were always there and the people who weren’t. Some of my dad’s closest friends turned on him. My father pays for Bryan Stow’s kids to go to school. Not because he has to but because he chooses to.
My dad is a hard ass. Absolutely. He can be one of the biggest jerks in this world. Absolutely. But my dad also has the biggest heart in the world and never has any intentions to hurt anyone. He had to sit and watch as people threw things at his wife, at his daughter. Attack his family. My family had to stand quiet and tall while people were sending him death threats every single day. Over baseball. People threatening his family. So now he has to protect his family. My dad doesn’t owe anybody anything. He owed the fans entertainment, and his family a life. Beyond that he didn’t owe anything. If someone threatened your family and a reporter now wants to get into your personal life, where this person now might have access to your family, would you give it? Would you allow people close? It was easy to portray my dad as a villain. He was an easy target. A closed-off athlete. But spend a real day with that man and tell me if he is a bad person. Because he and I have had our differences but I will never say he is a bad person. My dad is a great man who. He just isn’t perfect, and he tries to protect himself and his family the best way he knows how.
J.P.:You and Alex Belisle make up the hip-hop duo, Airplane Mode. I just listened to Higher Learning, and you guys seem to really love pot. So I’ll ask: A. When did you start rapping, and what drew you to it? B. What is it about cannabis (Smoke so we don’t come down/Because this makes our world go round) that inspires your music? C. What’s the goal?
N.B.: Well Airplane Mode is no longer. And Higher Learning is actually only me. Nobody else. But I’ve been rapping since I was 13 with my friends. We would just freestyle because we liked to. But everybody started to tell me I was good. So I kept going and fell in love with music as a whole.
As far as cannabis I just enjoy it. It calms me down, makes me creative. Feeds my soul. And when it comes to music it simplifies it for me. It slows my brain down to be able to process the little things. The goal was just to have fun and inspire others to do the same.
J.P.:Related to that—there’s a long line of hip-hop artists who are inspired by their upbringings, from the guys in Run-DMC to Eminem and Jay-Z to Kurtis Blow and KRS-One. You did not grow up poor, on the streets, in a gang. So what pushes your music? What drives it? Biography? World events?
N.B.: You don’t have to be poor or in the hood to inspire others. But I also didn’t grow up with my father. I grew up with my mother and we didn’t have the extravagant lifestyle everybody thinks. We lived a normal, everyday life. Ask anybody I know. People perceive I had a silver spoon my entire life. Not true. I’ve even been homeless briefly. But that wasn’t when I was a kid. My music is driven by what I’ve gone through in life. It’s driven by me and my surroundings. My story. Little things. Simple things. That’s what I like to talk about.
J.P.:What’s your relationship like with your dad? How close are you guys? Do you talk a lot? Hang out? Vacation?
N.B.: My dad and I aren’t the closest. I mean, I love him and he loves me. We just didn’t spend a lot of time together. So we don’t know each other really. Everybody just saw me on the field. I only spent a couple weeks with my dad at a time, and then I wouldn’t see him for months. My dad and I just have never really been close like that. We are cool but, I mean, we don’t hang out and do things really or talk much. He’s an amazing person but it is what it is. The last vacation we took was Hawaii when I was 18. We have gone to wine country together once also but that’s it. I’ve gone on more vacations with my mother than my father.
J.P.:What’s your life path? I mean, I know your parents, I know where you’re from. But that’s pretty much it. You’re a little kid, you’re going to Giants games, you’re in school. Then … what?
N.B.: Then I graduate and get my degree and just live life. Does any 25 year old really know what’s coming? I just started a company with a couple friends managing music artists and I love doing that so that’s what I’m going to continue.
J.P.:OK, weird one. I was reading over your Facebook and Instagram feeds, and you use “nigga” a lot. Like, a LOT. There are a couple of schools of thought on this one, but I want to hear yours. Why use the word?
N.B.: Haha. I mean “a nigga” is just a person. It’s everyone. By me using it to everyone then it makes it show that you are no different then I am. I’m not being derogatory or insulting. It’s just how I talk I guess.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?
N.B.: Greatest moment of my life is every day. I don’t really have one that stands out. I’ve been fortunate to experience so much. Probably when I graduated college. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college so that felt good.
J.P.: I’m gonna be honest, Niko. I believe your dad cheated in baseball and shouldn’t be listed as the all-time home run king. Even if steroids and PED weren’t banned in the Major League Baseball rule books, they were illegal in America without proper medical prescriptions. It’s just how I feel, though I can certainly be swayed. You’ve stated that you believe in your father. So why am I wrong here?
N.B.: There are so many reasons why he will always be the home run king. But everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Here is mine. My dad’s job was what exactly? To entertain. That’s it. That’s the first reason. Second is, as you said, he didn’t break any rules of the game. So what did he do wrong? Third, Hank Aaron admitted to greenies. An enhancer. Babe Ruth drank during prohibition. Illegal. Ty Cobb beat a woman during a game. What we are talking about is someone who is enhancing his performance within the rules of the sport he plays to entertain the rest of this world … and he is getting crucified for it.
It’s like Michael Jackson. His entire life he entertained and wanted to be loved by the people. Once that was taken from him what did he have left? My father did nothing wrong but play the game he loved to the best of his ability. So is he wrong for that? I would hope not. Everybody tries to say you’re a bad influence on the kids. How? My dad isn’t the one out there marketing steroids or putting them on the news. That’s the media installing it into the minds of the people. If nobody ever said anything people would continue to train. Continue to get education on substances that are good and bad for you. And continue to strive to be just like the greats who gave them hope and faith that they can be there, too.
Really, think about it. We are talking about a record of a sport. Does it really matter all that much? If the world wants it they can have it. The record doesn’t bring happiness. It’s a number. But if you strip my dad of it, everyone who did something that we don’t agree with has to get his/her biggest achievement taken also.
Now does it still matter that much?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NIKO BONDS:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nothing. I went blank.
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.