Jeff Pearlman

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White Thought

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Throughout the whole Ferguson coverage, it’s struck me that, perhaps, blacks don’t understand what many whites are thinking.

I don’t mean this as an insult to blacks. I can’t see how they’d know what many whites are thinking—especially since the whites I’m referring to aren’t exactly spilling the beans. Yeah, there are obvious hints, and suggestions. But the thought is sorta private.

Well, I’m happy to interpret.

See, I grew up in an all-white, 90-percent conservative world. These are the people I know. In many (but definitely not all) cases, the people I’ve embraced. They’re hard working. They love their families. They’re patriotic and devoted and … and …

They don’t particularly like you.

Maybe “like you” is the wrong word. More to the point—they don’t “feel you.” To them, black struggle is a bullshit term and a bullshit thought. Why, they would ask, should it be “black struggle”? Don’t whites struggle, too? What does struggle have to do with race? They’ll proceed to tell you (without fail) that they’re tired of hearing blacks complain about not getting fair shots. They’ll tell a story about Grandpa Lou, who came to this country with nothing and got a job sweeping floors. Lou didn’t collect welfare, or complain about not getting a fair chance. So why the fuck do black people complain all the time? That’s what they want to know.

These people see Ferguson and shrug. No, wait. They don’t shrug. They seethe. The grand jury said Darren Wilson didn’t need to stand trial, well, Darren Wilson didn’t need to stand trial. Why does this have to be about race? He was a police officer doing his job. Seriously—he was a police officer doing his job. Is a cop never supposed to shoot a black person coming at him? And here’s an idea: How about black people clean up their own neighborhoods? Stop dealing drugs. Stop holding up stores. Stop mugging people. Then we wouldn’t have this problem.

I’m not using the words I’ve heard come from the mouths of those I’m describing. But—real quick—here’s a list: Nigger. Coon. Porch monkey. Spook. It goes on and on. Only they’re not uttered in the presence of blacks. No, never. If you’re around, they turn on the charm. Usually, though, the charm is paper thin. “Hey, man, whaz up?” and “Yo, bro, how’s it going?” Ridiculous. But they think it works.

These white people are tired of being victims. When they purchase a gun for home protection, they’re thinking of you. Or, at least, your skin color. Someone who looks like you, breaking into their house. They’ve pictured you sneaking through the front door, gun in hand. They never, ever, ever picture a white person breaking in. Only dark. Only black.

They hate Affirmative Action. When they see blacks entering Harvard or Yale or, hell, Albany or Iona, they presume outside assistance was involved; that it wasn’t mere merit. They utter the words, “Slavery was a long time ago …” repeatedly. They love you as athletes (LeBron, Jeter, Kobe, et al), but hate you as political leaders (Obama). That is, unless you’re really, really conservative. In that case, they love you—because they can support your agenda and feel faux open-minded in doing so.

These people acknowledge slavery was evil and Civil Rights are important. They quote Martin Luther King often, but never Malcolm X. Al Sharpton is their poster child for all that’s wrong with black America—loud, obnoxious, entitled. They won’t put up a stink if you move into their neighborhoods, but they won’t be particularly happy. They’ll offer up the lamest reason—”It brings down the property value.” Your child can be friends with their child. But don’t date. Don’t ever date.

I’d like to be wrong on this. I really would. And I always hope times have changed. But, when things like Ferguson take place, you’re reminded that people are people, and many people are assholes.

For me, the eye opener was Facebook, and the rhetoric that followed the Ferguson grand jury. In particular, there was a guy who grew up in my hometown, a guy I don’t believe I’ve ever met. After I posted this article, the guy responded, “Excuses excuses!!!” When I responded with this (“I’m oftentimes moved to embarrassment by some of the people from my old hometown, and the sheltered ignorance that guides their days”), the guy wrote, “I can only speak from what I lived and as a coach and fireman in the inner city I have reached out my hand to many young boys and a few girls a few grabbed it and held on for dear life a few used it and made good choices and over 75% made bad choices and aren’t doing as well as they could have.”

“Maybe,” I responded, “lifetimes of mistrust and getting shit on beat on people and cause them to question intentions.”

He didn’t like this.

Wrote Guy: “Ur a joke Jeff Pearlman.Born upper middle class and never new a day of true struggle Ur the one that is sheltered and ignorant.I hope u use the money U made off of black people to help those in need!!!!!”

Wrote Jeff: “Joseph, here’s the thing. You’re right. I was born upper middle class. And my parents paid my way through college. So it would be easy for me to be like you, have no empathy toward people in different situations; to look at them and say, “Fuck off” or “What the fuck are ‘you people’ doing? Right? That’d the easy thing. That’s actually what I witnessed often as a kid in Mahopac—white anger toward blacks; racism; bigotry. Watched it, absorbed it—learned from it. But there are two ways to go. You either stick with what you know, cocoon yourself in ignorance (which you clearly have) and live as your surroundings deem you should. Or you try and understand what others are going through, and then bust your ass to make their lives better. One more thing: Joe, what makes me sad is your comments are predictable, and your background (blue collar, military, firefighter) would lead one to presume you’d think in such a way. It’s unfortunate, because stereotypes suck, and you lend yourself to being a walking stereotype. Again, we’re from the same place. I could be like you: angry white guy, doesn’t understand black struggle or anger. It’s what we grew up hearing. Repeatedly. But I don’t buy it. Sad you seem to.”

Wrote Guy: “Truth hurt Jeff so u need to call names!!!U couldn’t understand what I’ve done to help because ur a taker U take take take from America and then just shit on her all day!!!”

At this point, I blocked Guy. But not before I checked out his Facebook page. Which included this …

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And this …

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And this …

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Why is this my personal favorite? Because it screams the exact point I’m trying to make. The pictured Dallas Cowboy player is Dez Bryant. He’s a young African-Amercian from a tough background. He has lots of tattoos, he talks much shit. In short, he’s the type of black person many of the whites I know fear. He’s the very reason they purchase home protection devices.

Were he marching in support of Michael Brown, I’m guessing Guy wouldn’t be cheering his name.

He’d be bemoaning his existence.

Thankful

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

It truly is, because the day allows us to gather with friends and relatives and appreciate all we have. And, lord knows, I have a lot. Fantastic wife and children (and dog). Supportive and loving parents and in-laws. A brother, nephews, sisters-in-law, cousins … I’m living a charmed life, doing what I love for a living, residing in a dream place.

I’m as thankful as one can be.

And yet … something about Thanksgiving always rubs me a bit wrongly. It’s similar to those who attend church or synagogue to pray for themselves, then count their blessings that, oh, a job worked out, or a child was born healthy. Because—if you really think about it—shouldn’t our thankfulness be coupled by a profound sadness? I mean, I’m only aware of my luck because so many others have lives cloaked by pain and suffering. So should I be more glad that I’m comfortable and happy, or more sad that so many others are not? Should I look at the child in Africa dying from Ebola and say, “God, I’m so damn lucky” or “God, he’s so damn unlucky?” And how can I be truly thankful, when there’s greed, there’s corruption, there’s starvation, there’s disease, there’s pain, there’s heartbreak. I open the New York Times and read one crushing piece after another—slaughter in the Middle East, ISIS on the march. Can I be simultaneously happy while a journalist is having his head sliced off?

I have no answers here. I just think that the happiness of Thanksgiving needs to be accompanied by heartbreak.

I’m thankful.

So many others are not.

Race, inequality, empathy and Ferguson, by Desa Philadelphia

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Desa Philadelphia is a communications and development writer at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She’s a former Time Magazine writer. One can follow her on Twitter here.

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The day after Ferguson’s prosecutor announced his office would not indict the officer who killed a black, unarmed teenager in the St. Louis suburb, my friend Jeff Pearlman ran a letter from a woman named Michele, whose husband is a New York City police officer. Michele had posted her letter on Facebook the night of the announcement—as she sat on the couch worrying about her husband. He was working the late-night shift, put in harm’s way because of, “something someone else did 1,000 miles away, or even one mile away. Someone else who just happens to have the same profession as he does.”

Michele challenged readers to, “stop and think for a minute about what you think about police officers.” She described her husband as a man who loved travel, reads Tolstoy and is a lifelong learner. Someone who was nothing like the stereotypes she assumed her readers held. Although she doesn’t, “pretend for a second to understand the hurt, injustice, and indignation of being poor and black in America,” Michele concluded, she knew what it was, “to feel angry at an injustice. To feel afraid of losing someone.”

Her letter ended with this question: “Shouldn’t that be enough to understand each other?”

Michele and her husband sound like nice people, the kind of people I want as friends. And it helps that I don’t wholesale buy into any of the stereotypes of cops she lists—bully, misogynist, uneducated. But after I read Michele’s piece I felt deeply hurt, then angry.

Because it was a letter from a police officer’s wife, I expected a police family’s take on the struggles of empathetically serving a community comprised of people who feel like no one sees or hears them unless they protest or even riot. After all, good communication begins with empathy—with trying to understand how the other person feels, even if poor and black is something you’ll never be. Instead, I got to end and thought, “Wait, am I supposed to feel sorry because people stereotype Michele’s husband and put him in harm’s way?”

This is where I’ll stop ragging on Michele though, because I soon realized the true root of my hurt was not what Michele had written (I also know what it’s like to sleeplessly worry about a husband working graveyard). It was that this felt like yet another instance where a conversation about race in America had been hijacked and turned into something else.

It’s a trend I’ve been noticing lately among friends whenever issues around race, inequality and white privilege in America flare up online. Someone quickly posts a red herring article, something along the lines of a white family that takes in black children, or a prosecutor who stared down the KKK, or a neighborhood where everyone gets along. My friend Jeff had shared Michele’s letter with the headline “Best thing I’ve read tonight, RE: Ferguson.” Really, I thought? Compared to all the articles about how long the people of Ferguson have been quietly putting up with horrible discrimination? And those that statistically lay out how rooted racism still is in our society?

To further explain, I’ll offer this analogy that inspired the same kind of hurt in someone else. An older friend of mine was close to retirement when an executive from her company’s headquarters flew in to tell her she was being laid off. After breaking the news, he launched into a monologue about how awful it was that he had to travel the country, laying off people, many of them thisclose to earning the retirement benefits on which they had staked their financial future. My friend was in shock, then hurt, then angered. She couldn’t believe she’d been made to sit there listening to his story. Yes, it was awful for him. But this wasn’t about him.

Last night we were at a friend’s house having dinner when conversation about the riots led to conversation about race. “When I was growing up kids threw nickels at me because they said if I picked it up then it was proof that I’m a Jew,” my friend offered. Then realizing what had happened, she added, “But this is not a conversation about that.”

I sincerely hope Michele’s husband got home to her and their babies (they have 18-month old twins. Cute!) without a scratch on his body. And I’ve since re-read her letter—empathetically, in the spirit she intended it.

I also understand that to protect our sanity we need to remind ourselves that there’s hope and that it’s a good thing that white families adopt black kids. But please, let’s also not shy away from the conversations of the day, those that get to the heart of what’s going on in Ferguson.

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Perry Wallace

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In the fall of 1966, a young man named Perry Wallace enrolled at Vanderbilt University.

He was black.

Now, if you’re young or naive or young and naive, this might not seem like such a big deal. Hell, turn on the TV today, watch an SEC sporting event … and there are tons of African-American faces. Athletes. Cheerleaders. Coaches. Fans.

Such was not always the case.

By signing a scholarship to play for the Commodores, Wallace became the first black man to play basketball in the (oft-racist) SEC. And while he was accepted by teammates, the road was a rough one. Wallace faced the abuse of rival fans, the excessive physicality of opponents. He always had to sleep with one eye open on the road, yet never felt entirely at home on campus.

Through it all, Wallace handled himself with remarkable control and patience, ultimately graduating in 1970 and going on to a career as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice. In 1992 he was appointed to the EPA’s Environmental Policy advisory council, and he now works as a professor of law at American University.

Wallace recently cooperated with author Andrew Maraniss on a fascinating new book, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.

Perry Wallace, pioneer—welcome to the Quaz …

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JEFF PEARLMAN: So Perry, we just found out that the police officer in Ferguson won’t face trial—and the reaction has been equally heartbreaking. Looting, violence, etc. I’m wondering, having lived through and experienced the civil rights era, what you’re thinking …

PERRY WALLACE: Nothing has been surprising about Ferguson, in my view. And this includes the decision not to indict and the explosion of violence. First, for all the progress that has occurred, America still has the potential for racial violence and confusion. This is what we get for engaging in such premeditated denial, blatant arrogance and partisan bickering. Among other things, there is a failure on the part of leaders (until an explosion like this happens) to try to bring people together to promote mutual understanding. Also, looking at the Keystone-Cops-like behavior of the local police, one sees, frankly, a fairly typical police department—lacking in the proper training, skills and insights suitable for a modern America. And unsurprisingly, the governor and the prosecutor were equally ham-handed in handling matters squarely within the range of both duty and foreseeability.

Finally, one minor, although controversial, point is that more black parents, leaders and others need to have “The Talk” with more young black men. Admittedly this would be like telling the victims to be more careful—and I recognize my peril here, but this is far from blaming the victim (as often happens in cases like this and in rape and domestic violence cases). My only point here is that I want these young brothers to “choose life” over death by “managing” and “de-pressurizing” these encounters. Obviously, this will sound like some out-of-date, old Tom talking, but plenty of black men my age and older have lived long, proud (enough) lives by not “taking the bait,”  whether wittingly or unwittingly dangled before them, from policemen and others. In other words, what if Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown had been taught how—and why—Perry Wallace exercised restraint and control in the face of virulent racism and handled his sense of anger and outrage another way—such as pursuing social change constructively and developing himself as a person? The answer, I believe, is clear. Oh, and one other thing: they’d still be alive, alive with their families and friends at Thanksgiving, alive to know wives and children, alive to know grandchildren.  What a shame this all is.

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J.P.: Perry, there’s a question I’ve long wanted to ask someone with your background: You’ve seen the vileness of racism up close. You’ve heard people scream every epitaph in the book. There were thousands upon thousands of whites who were against integration, against the mixing of races—until they learned their teams could win lots of sporting events. Then, hey, it was OK. I sorta feel like this still exists today—“We love you on the court, but we sure as hell don’t want you dating our daughters.” What I want to know is, how do you reconcile this? Does it bother you? Did you have to get past it? Or am I making something out of nothing?

P.W.: What I think is happening is that progress is partial—and often precarious or shaky. Realistically, or certainly from my perspective, we’ve come a real distance when those people accept black athletes at all. These folks are simply not able to go all the way (daughters and such). My way of dealing with this is to recognize that I have one life, and it’s going on now. In my highest moments of overcoming, I find pleasure and satisfaction in a very practical way, by celebrating the progress.

J.P.: There’s a quote in “Strong Inside” that was stated about your freshman year of college. You said, “The overwhelming number of students either ignored us or were hostile.” I’m guessing, over the past five decades, you’ve run into many of these people. Do you get apologies? Acknowledgments of idiocy and hatred? Awkwardness? And can you, truly, forgive someone who 50 years ago thought of you as sub-human?

P.W.: I haven’t seen a lot of the people in question because I have lived primarily in Washington, D.C. and farther up the coast. So the opportunities for many encounters haven’t been there. Even so, there have been a very few occasions when someone has apologized. More than likely, however, they just act as if nothing had ever happened—I call it “playin’ crazy.” Of course, I don’t bother to unearth old idiocies, or remind people of what they were like—no benefit to anyone.

On forgiveness, yes, I can forgive a person who saw me as sub-human—but it works best if they have shown some contrition. Even when they don’t, I just “play crazy” and act as if there was no problem. My thinking is that I’m actually celebrating my personal victory in overcoming and preserving my humanity, and they have to reckon with themselves and higher forces.

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Perry being inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame.

J.P.: What’s your take on the usage of “nigga” (A intentionally included) by blacks and whites today? What about African-Americans who say it’s “taking ownership” of the word?

P.W.: I think the popularization of any of the various forms of the N-word just shows that there has been enough progress that the people involved have hardly any real idea, or working knowledge, of what pain, hurt and tragedy underlies the word. They have simply drawn on the fact that, historically, blacks used it in only rather private, intimate settings, and they have put it over into the public domain as fully acceptable usage. You won’t see people in my generation and older using the word—certainly not loosely and in public settings.

J.P.: You were 18 when you enrolled at Vanderbilt in 1966. You clearly knew what you were walking into; knew it was a cause larger than scoring points and getting an education. When I was 18, I just wanted a friggin’ car. Where did your courage and forthrightness come from? How did you have the strength to step into such a world, knowing it’d be anything but easy?

P.W.: I didn’t really know what I was going into. But I soon found out. When I did, I decided to stay and fight, drawing on strength from my family and faith.

J.P.: What does it feel like to be called “n—–.” I really, really mean this. I feel like most people don’t know. Don’t understand or don’t care to know. But you’re young Perry Wallace, walking … wherever. And the word comes out. What does that feel like? What goes through your mind?

P.W.: There’s always a shock, a sting in hearing it. But I’ve never let it disarm me or throw me off course—even though it really may bother me and I may have to spend some time gathering up the strength to fight.

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J.P.: Do the southern coaches who recruited black players deserve tons of credit for doing the right thing? Or were they just trying to win? And does that distinction matter?

P.W.: Obviously I can’t know the minds of these guys. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they weren’t mainly just trying to win. Remember, they don’t tend to be great moralists or social justice advocates. The distinction does matter, however, in that it shapes both the nature of the institutional change and the protection and nurturing of the black athletes (C. M. Newton is the champion of a values-oriented coach).

J.P.: I’m pretty fascinated by something. You’re from the south, you attend Vanderbilt, you experience some horrific stuff. Then you attend law school at Columbia in New York City. Was the Nashville-to-New York move like going from Mars to Pluto? What do you remember about those early days in the Big Apple? Were you overwhelmed? Overjoyed?

P.W.: Yes, it was a culture shock. But it was softened by my having spent time in New York City and having lived in Philly. Also, I grew up really wanting to live in a large urban and urbane city. So at times I was overwhelmed and stressed. But I really wanted to make it, and since I had essentially been run out of Nashville, I had no real choice but to make it.

J.P.: I wrote a book that came out 10 years ago—and from time to time I still have people come up and tell me that they enjoyed it. And, in a way, it feels like it never happened; that is was so long ago, I hardly remember writing it. Is it strange, for you, to be most known for something that happened five decades ago? Are the memories still fresh and vivid, or do you sometimes feel like you’re telling stories about stories?

P.W.: Because I’ve given literally hundreds of interviews, it doesn’t feel strange. Even so, I feel like I’m somewhere between having a fresh memory of the times and telling stories about stories—where I am on the spectrum depends on the particular memory.

Young Perry from his childhood days in Nashville

Young Perry from his childhood days in Nashville

J.P.: I was watching Black-ish the other night—really funny show. And the father is upset with his son, because he doesn’t know he’s supposed to give the head nod to other African-Americans when they walk by. The wife says to her husband, “Maybe you struggled for equal rights so our son doesn’t have to worry so much about race.” To which the husband, to laughter, says, “Noooooooo.” I’m wondering, Perry, whether life ever feels that way? Do young African-Americans fail to appreciate the struggle? And is it ever uncomfortable/disappointing to observe society and see young blacks unaware of what so many went through? Oh, and do you do the nod?

P.W.: Of course no young black can have a full sense of what the struggle was like—and it would be unreasonable to expect that they do. But in some instances, for example when they are acting tragically because they have low esteem issues related to race and status in society, it is especially sad that they are ignorant of what sacrifices were made so that they could have a positive sense of themselves and could conduct themselves that way. And yes, I do the nod–if they seem to understand and appear ready to reciprocate.

J.P.: This is a political question and relates to little, I suppose. But you worked with the National Urban League, the District of Columbia government and the Justice Department—so it’s not altogether out of left field. I’m a liberal’s liberal. Civil rights. Gay rights. Amnesty. Etc … etc. I voted for President Obama twice, and overall think he’s done some good things. But I also think, perhaps not his fault entirely, he’s done one really, really bad thing: Killed the hope for change. What I mean is—he truly convinced voters he symbolized sweeping change, independence, the power of positive and powerful thinking to overcome so much. And yet, here we are, and it all just seems sort of the same. Politics as usual, fighting, arguing, etc. I’m not disappointed in Obama so much as I’m disappointed in the system. I feel like Obama was as good as it got, and it still sucks. Curious what you think about that.

P.W.: Obama really wanted to effect real change. But he was specifically stymied and generally stymied. The general part reflects how encased and loaded down the system has become, with campaign finance, partisanship (specifically the various right wing demagogues over the past 30 years) leading the charge. The specific part refers to the amazing, white-hot hostility and blinding fear that has gripped the country—all levels—because somehow a black became president. Now, to be sure, he has made misjudgments (starting off with healthcare reform was noble, but jobs would have stood him a chance of fighting off some of the hostility and doubt), but most of the problem, I think, relates to his being stymied.

Finally, I relate a lot to Obama, as a pioneer. I understand his care, caution and balance. I understand that blacks and others on the left would come to see him as weak and indecisive. Mostly, however, I understand that his approach was the one that had the remotest chance of succeeding. The problem, I say reluctantly, is that America (a large enough segment of it) is not really ready for a black president. And while some blacks now have learned the bitter lessons of this black presidency (although only some blacks), I can’t foresee when in the future the circumstances will be right for another black to make a run for the office.

With his wife, Karen, and daughter, Gabby.

With his wife, Karen, and daughter, Gabby.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PERRY WALLACE:

• We take 25-year-old Perry Wallace, put him on the Knicks right now. What’s your stat line for the season?: Six points, seven rebounds, four assists.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes. Things slowed down in a terror-filled few minutes.

• What happens after we die?: When it’s over, it’s over. Which is why you do your best, give your best, and enjoy this bad-boy (life) while you can.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronnie McMahan, Lucky Charms, apple cranberry oatmeal, Muriel Bowser, Gerald Ford, Eric Hosmer, Philip Bailey, dirt roads, left-handed relievers, Tel Aviv, Nirvana: Nirvana, apple cranberry oatmeal, Ronnie McMahon, dirt roads, Lucky Charms, left-handed relievers, Tel Aviv, Muriel Bowser, Gerald Ford, Eric Hosmer, Philip Bailey.

• Five all-time favorite political figures: JFK, Barbara Jordan, Parren Mitchell, Bill Clinton, Shirley Chisholm.

• One question you would ask Dana Plato were she here right now?: What support systems/groups would have saved you? (our daughter is adopted)

• I’ve lost complete faith in the impartiality of the Supreme Court. Am I completely wrong?: I think you are very right–correct. The ones on the right are just so discouragingly partisan and political. Long ago my focus as a lawyer changed from litigation for civil rights to helping secure political and economic rights.

• My dad turns 72 in a few weeks. What should I get him?: Get him some CDs of some music from his coming-of-age years and some DVDs of some great old movies. Don’t worry if he doesn’t understand at first. Sit with him and enjoy some of them to get him warmed up.

• Five reasons one should make Nashville his/her next vacation destination?: Music. Food. Culture. But let’s be honest. I grew up wanting to leave and to up North, to an urbane life. My wife grew up in NYC, I was in law school there–We love it. And we also love Paris, where we both have real connections. So I could only honestly give you three reasons.

• I’m pushing hard for the big DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince comeback album. Will you join me in my efforts?: Yes. I was drafted by the 76ers in the early 70s and developed an attachment to Philly culture and music traditions. Plus their music is high quality and not vile towards women, etc.

A letter from a police officer’s wife …

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Earlier tonight a friend of mine posted this on Facebook. Her name is Michele, her husband is a New York City police officer, and she allowed me to run her words here—sans her last name.

It’s brilliant.

I never post stuff like this. I think Facebook is for pictures of cute kids and cuddly puppies. But this one hits close to home and I can’t sleep for obvious reasons so I thought I’d offer my own perspective.

You may not know my husband, but you probably know me enough to know the type of man I would marry. In case you don’t, he is a kind, gentle man who lives simply and simply lives for his wife and children.

This man, like his wife, does not have a racist bone in his body. This man also happens to be a New York City police officer. A man who took the job because he truly wanted to help people and make a difference, and hey a decent pension after 20 years and retiring at age 43 didn’t seem too shabby either.

This man who just texted his wife that he had no idea what time he would be able to get home tonight. His wife who sits alone on the couch watching coverage of rocks and bottles being thrown at police officers and cop cars being lit on fire. His wife who can’t sleep in an empty bed so she goes online and reads of growing crowds and chants of Fuck the police! marching closer and closer to where her husband is stationed as her two 18-month olds sleep down the hall.

This man who is being put in harm’s way because of something someone else did 1,000 miles away, or even one mile away. Someone else who just happens to have the same profession as he does.

This man who may not be judged by the color of his skin, but is certainly judged by the uniform he wears.

Stop and think for a minute about what you think of police officers. Does a stereotype immediately come to mind? Uneducated? A bully? Unsophisticated? Power hungry? Gun happy? Provincial? Misogynistic? I never tire of the look of shock on people’s faces after they learn my husband is a cop. This man who has just been talking to them about Tolstoy and the thesis he wrote on the Revolutionary War. This man who has stamps on his passport from India, the Galapagos Islands, and countless European countries. This man who took Latin classes in his thirties just because he had a desire to learn. This man who does silly dances for his daughters because he loves to see them laugh. This man who tells his wife every day how much he appreciates her. Every day. This man who doesn’t bring his gun home because he doesn’t feel the need to and his wife doesn’t like it.

I don’t pretend for a second to understand the hurt, injustice, and indignation of being poor and black in America, or even rich and black for that matter. Just as I don’t pretend to understand what it must be like to go to work everyday and have to make split-second decisions that are literally life and death.

What I can understand is what it is to be human. To feel. To feel angry at an injustice. To feel afraid of losing someone. To feel sadness at a situation that we wish didn’t exist. Underneath the color of our skin or the uniform we may wear we are all human. We all feel the same things.

Shouldn’t that be enough to understand each other?

On Ferguson

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Just heard about the lack of an indictment in the Ferguson case. I’m sad, but also fearful. A few quick thoughts:

A. I’d like to officially extend an invitation for a California vacation for those Ferguson residents who need to get away. We have a barbecue, a driveway basketball hoop and a spare bed.

I truly, truly feel bad for you. Why? Because you’re (likely) African-American, you (almost certainly) simply want to live happy, productive lives, you (almost certainly) don’t trust local law enforcement, you (perhaps) own a local business and (with great certainty) some idiot (likely) from out of town is about to throw a (ridiculously heavy) trash can through your front glass window and steal all your merchandise. Then the TV stations will arrive, you’ll all be characterized as savages and life will absolutely suck.

It’s so painfully unfair. All of it.

B. I don’t know whether Officer Darren Wilson acted in self defense or with unwarranted violence. I don’t, and anyone who says they know what he was thinking (Fox News has defended him throughout, MSNBC has damned him to hell throughout) is full of crap. I truly don’t know.

That said, here’s what I do know: Throughout history, American law enforcement agencies have treated African-Americans like shit. Talk to any black male who has walked through a department store, has tried to grab a taxi, has approached an older white man and asked to break a dollar. It’s ludicrous, and every Hannity wanna-be who says, “Hey, we’ve got a black president!” as some sort of “Racism doesn’t exist” mantra needs to reexamine who we are and how we behave.

Why, just a few days ago an unarmed Brooklyn man—African-American, of course—was shot by a white cop … for absolutely no reason. And this happens all the time. All. The. Time. So, if you’re white and you’re annoyed by black anger over this … take a step back. Try to understand why these feelings exist. It’s not craziness or overzealousness. It’s a reaction to history repeating itself. Over and over and over again.

C. I have no patience for the inevitable looting. None. You know why? Because it defeats the purpose. Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement was brilliant, in that it created unarguable good guys vs. bad guys. What could anyone say when they viewed black students sitting at a lunch counter, refusing to respond as whites spit in their faces? That’s how you respond to hatred and pain—by bettering your enemies; by rising to a higher level.

Stealing televisions? Not the standard we need.

Odell Beckham and the greatest catch ever

As I write this, Odell Beckham is standing on the sideline of a football stadium, playing a game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

He knows he made an incredible catch.

But does he know what this means? I doubt it.

With the above grab, Beckham has made history. Not the kind of nonsense sports history broadcasters and athletes tend to blather on about. A team does not truly make history when it wins a Super Bowl, for example, because Super Bowls are won every year. A hitter does not make history by becoming the first lefty to drive in five RBI in a July evening game against a team named after an animal—because no one cares.

But Beckham made history. Real history. His catch was so dazzling … so unprecedented … so miraculous and spectacular and otherworldly that it will, almost certainly, be replayed for decades to come. People will remember the catch, just as they remember, oh, Michael Jordan torching the Celtics for 63 in a 1986 playoff game. Long after he retires, Beckham will be asked about it. When he dies, it makes his obituary. They will speak of the evening of Nov. 23, 2014, when a rookie receiver made a play unlike any other play.

He just doesn’t know it yet.

Which is sorta cool.

Dick moments

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We all have dick moments. Which is funny, because most of the time we don’t think we have dick moments. We only think other people have dick moments. So we find those moments, point them out, analyze them, tear down the other person as a dick.

When, truthfully, we’re not different.

Perfect example from today. The family and I visited nearby Newport Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches in the world. I was climbing along some rocks with my kids, tiptoeing through the shoreline, when a couple of kids came across a tentacle reaching out from under a rock. “What is that?” I asked.

“An octopus!” one responded.

I walked on over, and the boys were shoving a large stick beneath the rock, trying to dislodge the creature. I was mesmerized, fascinated, riveted—and I applauded their efforts. “You’re getting it!” I bellowed. And, indeed, they got it. Before long the octopus—having ejected ink as a warning signal—was being held in the arms of one of the boys.

“Wow!” I said. “Nice work!”

Only it wasn’t nice work. It was friggin’ cruel, and I can’t believe I stood there, supporting the efforts. The octopus was merely chilling, trying to live its life. No argument could be made on behalf of he boys or the stick.

Put different: I had a dick moment.

This doesn’t mean I’m a dick. But were one to judge me based off of that five-minute span, he would assume (perhaps rightly) that I’m a heartless asshole and an endorser of cruelty to animals.

The point, albeit late, is that I try really hard not to judge people off of instances. Someone isn’t a dick merely because he forgets to hold open a door for you. Or because he honks at you. Or because he tracks mud on your carpet. We all have blind spots. We all have weaknesses.

I cheered on the bludgeoning of an octopus.

That’s pretty damn dickish.

Harry Carson is Wise

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The above photo features Harry Carson, the former New York Giants linebacker and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I don’t know him, but—at this moment—I love him.

Earlier today, in a radio interview, Carson said that he regrets playing football; that the concussions he absorbed throughout his lengthy career were absolutely not worth the glory and money. Were he able to do it all again, Carson says he never picks up a football. He says his grandchildren will absolutely, positively not play.

Bravo.

I mean that. Bravo. Far too many ex-players don’t take the leap Carson made today. They’ll express reservations about the sport. They’ll say they prefer their offspring turn toward basketball or baseball. They’ll moan about replaced knees and crooked fingers. But, only on the rarest of occasions, does a player say he made a horrible mistake. That football, as a game, isn’t worth it.

With everything we’re finding nowadays, from concussions to depression to ALS, no real arguments can be made in favor of participatory football. It’s a violent, brutal game that does bad things to good people.

Perhaps more ex-gladiators will follow Carson’s lead.

They should.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
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Boys Will Be Boys Book

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.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life