Jeff Pearlman

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Jesse Martinez

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Every so often, a Quaz arrives back at jeffpearlman.com headquarters and is greeted with a yawn. You know how it goes: I’m super-psyched to read it, then I open the file and … pfft. Boring, uninspired, flat. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen all that often. But, truth be told, it does happen.

Well, not today.

Before this Quaz, I knew precious little about skateboarding, and even less about Jesse Martinez, a hard-nosed 51-year-old boarder and a man whose successful fight to bring a skate park to Venice Beach resulted in the riveting new documentary, “Made In Venice.” To be blunt, Jesse isn’t a guy to fuck with. He’s edgy, hard, determined, steely. He fears neither death nor violence and (as you’ll learn in this interview) he responded to a horrific beating with … well, trust me. His answer will blow you away. Jesse emerged in the 1980s as one of the best street skaters in Los Angeles, and was a founding member of Steve Rocco’s original SMA World Industries team. In other words, he’s legend.

One can learn about “Made In Venice” here, and pick up some more Jesse details here.

Jesse Martinez, you are Quaz No. 271 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jesse, I’m gonna start with a weird one, just because you seem like you’d have a good answer: Back in the 1980s, when I was a kid, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e who had a skateboard seemed to worship Gator. I mean, he was the man. Beyond the man. Then all sorts of shit happened, he wound up in jail, etc. And I wonder—does he have any legacy to speak of? Do kids know he existed? Should they?

JESSE MARTINEZ: That’s a touchy one with me because I was such good friends with the guy. Gator should not be forgotten. What he did for skateboarding was totally separate from the one big horrible mistake, but it’s hard for me to stand up for him. From knowing the guy personally and doing demos with him, he’s an extremely good guy with a great heart. What happened that night with him and that girl, I’ll never know.

Long story short, he should not be forgotten, and also what he did should not be forgotten. What he did is unforgivable. If that was my daughter, it would be a totally different scenario right now. I would be like, “The guy better be on death row.” There would be no ifs, ands or buts about that. I know the guy so well and I was actually with him, that girl and his girlfriend in Arizona a few weeks before that happened. It was weird when I found out what happened when I got back into town. I was shocked. Knowing Gator, I knew it had to be a horribly drunk, drug-related mistake. Deep down inside, Gator is not that guy, but we all make mistakes. You can ask other skateboarders who have made horrible mistakes and are still in the limelight. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, but it’s like in any sport, your heroes fall sometimes. That’s why I tell people. “If you’re going to idolize somebody for what they do in a sport, don’t be disappointed when you find out that, in real life, they are not who you thought they were.”

For good and bad, Gator should not be forgotten for what he did for skateboarding and for what he did that ruined his life and ruined a whole family’s life. That’s all I have to say about that one.

J.P.: What is the absolute worst injury you’ve ever suffered via skateboarding? What happened? How did it feel? What was the aftermath? And did it have any impact on you?

J.M.: Okay, we were shooting the Thrashin’ movie, in the mid 1980s and I was bombing the hill. There were a bunch of us. One of the guys, his name was K.O., he’s from the Jaks. He’s a really good friend of mine and he’s still skateboarding to this day. He came shooting by me and I knew things didn’t look good, and I caught up to him, and he got the wobbles really bad and flew off his board and we ended up colliding into each other. I ripped all the muscles in my thigh of my leg right below the hip and I was bleeding internally. I had to go to the hospital for a couple of weeks … blah, blah, blah … I wound up not skating for a good six months that I was injured, but there were really no repercussions from that injury.

As a skateboarder going on 44 years of skating, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I don’t know what it is, but I have taken some of the worst slams—like all big-time skaters. If you want to be one of the best, you have to throw caution into the wind. That’s just the way it’s been for most of my life. Maybe it was built in me to where I don’t know the words, “Take it easy.” I just do what I can do the best that I can do. That injury really didn’t affect me at all.

What has affected me now is time. Like Jay Adams said, “Skateboarding didn’t get old. I did.” As I’m inching toward 50 years of skating non-stop, which is my goal, all of the small injuries that I’ve had—knee injuries, ripped ligaments, and just being beaten, nothing ever broke—are now catching up to me. There isn’t a step that I take that doesn’t have pain. I’m literally crawling out of the car when I go to skate a hill. With all of the pain in my knees, ankles, elbows and my back, I’m amazed that I can skate like I do. It’s weird, though, because I’m in more pain when I’m not skating. When I’m skating, I feel nothing and I don’t recognize any of the injuries that I know I have. It’s like I’ve told people, “The less I skate, the quicker I die. The more I skate, the more I live.” It just seems like I gotta keep skating. That’s the bottom line.

Jesse with some of Venice's skate kids (photo by Dan Levy)

Jesse with some of Venice’s skate kids (photo by Dan Levy)

J.P.: You’re the focus of a new documentary, “Made in Venice” that details the decades-long fight to have a skate park built on your home turf. Looking back, how much of the struggle was based upon a certain perception of skateboarders as slackers, druggies, vagrants? In other words, do you think a good number of people accustomed to suits and ties just didn’t want you guys around?

J.M.: That sort of goes both ways. It was 50 percent the city’s fault that it took so long to get the park and it was 50 percent our fault. To get the park, you have to remember, this was Venice in the 1980s. It was coming off the era of the ’70s, which was just out of control. We were all influenced by what came before us. In the ‘80s, you had 30 of the top professional skaters in the world living in one of the roughest beach communities in the United States. I’m not exaggerating. In the ‘80s, Venice was no place to be acting like a fool. If you did, most likely you got your ass handed to you very swiftly, so the perception of the skaters from the city back then wasn’t the best. The Venice skateboarders were inter-tangled with the local gangs. They were our friends and family members or we went to school with them since birth. The city looked at us in the same way as any other group that they didn’t approve of in Venice, because it was a rough time. There were a lot of fights and a lot of shit went down, but a lot of skating went on.

Some of the best pros in the world came out of Venice in the ‘80s, but the city looked at us as kids who were out of control with no direction. Honestly, if I was a city guy, I might have thought the same thing because we were a little out of control. When we first started approaching the city for the skate park, I got that feeling that they looked down on us and I still get that feeling today. They look down on us and on me, especially. I know this for a fact. The City of Los Angeles is just wishing that I would disappear because I have been a thorn in their ass for over three decades now. I saw how they looked at us when it came down to getting the skate park. They thought, “Oh, okay, you guys are organized now.” One thing the city didn’t realize is that just because we’re skateboarders and we look a little bit edgy doesn’t mean we don’t have smart friends all over the world. In the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, there were a lot of crazed skateboarders, and now those skateboarders aren’t kids anymore. Those kids are adults now and you’d be surprised to find out what a lot of those skateboarders have become. They have become police officers or city people, and some of the most respected people in society. The city found out real quick that we weren’t just the scraggly hoodlum skateboarders on the beach any longer. Like I said, skateboarders have a large network of friends and skateboarders have a special bond. No matter if decades have passed, skaters still look out for each other. That’s what happened with the Venice Skate park. Throughout time, people reached out to us and said, “Hey, I used to skate with you guys in the ‘80s and I want to help.” Through the network of skateboarders, we were able to get this skate park approved.

We always reached out to people when things got tough. When I say tough, I mean when the city handed us paperwork that we didn’t understand. When they handed us paperwork, it was 100 pages thick with requirements that we had to fill out. That’s where Scott Brown, Stephanie, Melanie, Juice Magazine and all these people stepped up who are really knowledgeable about this and, if they didn’t know it, they could find it out. Between the skateboarders who grew up in Venice and all the people back in the ‘80s and ‘90s who came in, they really became our support system. What we didn’t know how to do, they did. Juice Magazine wrote all the paperwork for us. Scott Brown and his girl did so much legal stuff for us, too. I saw some of what Scott Brown’s girl had to do one time and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m glad I skate.” I couldn’t understand how that much paperwork had to be filled out just to propose a skate park. I think just the sheer amount of support, from everywhere, made the city go, “You know what? We have to approve this.” With support from the skate community and the people in Venice, it just became overwhelming for the city. It seems like they really never wanted a skate park there, so we had to tell the city guys, “None of you really live in Venice. None of you were born and raised in Venice, so how do you know what Venice needs and wants? You don’t live here. You come to the beach every six months to shoot a photo under a tree.”

That’s what I brought up to the city in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, when they asked me how can I keep going for seven years of cleaning the park every day for free. I said, “I was born and raised in Venice and I love where I live.” That’s one of the problems. You have a lot of the city employees that are not from Venice and they didn’t grow up in Venice and there’s no attachment to Venice. To clean the park so thoroughly and love it so much, it would be smart to hire people who live in Venice. There are a lot of local people who would love to have city jobs. I really do think the city truly underestimated the skaters of Venice and how we could actually get together and resource people who could do things we couldn’t do. It took almost three decades, but we got it. Now I look at that park and go, “Wow. We did it. Everybody pulled together and everybody who loves Venice got this skate park.” I think it’s pretty amazing what we did out there. The city just has to realize that they have to play ball with the skateboarders in Venice because we are not going anywhere.

Photo by Dan Levy.

Photo by Dan Levy.

J.P.: Weird question—but I’m 44, I’ve never boarded in my life and I’m increasingly aware of my own mortality, as well as my bones’ propensity to break. Would it be impossible for me to learn to skateboard? Like, is this something that must begin at youth?

J.M.: It’s advisable to start when you’re young. At 44-years old, I suggest you wear full pads and just enjoy skateboarding as much as you can without really injuring yourself. There’s one thing about skateboarders, 40 and up, who have been skating since 8- or 9-years old, their bodies have built up a tolerance for pain. You’ve gone through years of small fractures or decades of hitting the ground and it’s strengthened your body. I wouldn’t doubt that a lot of skateboarders out there have hairline fractures but don’t realize it. You just build your bones and strength. By the time you get to my age of 51, your bones are as hard as a rock and you can take a beating and, let me tell you, I take beatings almost monthly that would normally kill a 51-year-old man. That’s the thing. I see other guys my age who don’t skate who are 51 and they look 60. I think to myself, “Am I really 51? Why do I feel like I am 22?” That’s the other thing about skateboarding. It keeps you mentally young. To start at 44, with no background of skateboarding experience, my advice is to wear full gear and take it really slow and find a professional skateboarder like Eric Britton or Bennett Harada, to give you lessons. That’s the best advice I can say. Take it slow, wear full gear and wear a helmet, and good luck.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? You’re a kid in the world; Southern California. How did you find skateboarding? When did you first realize you were good at it? Great at it?

J.M.: Well, the first time I ever came in contact with a skateboard was in 1971. One of my cousins found a car and took it to my grandma’s house and, in the back seat, there was a skateboard and they gave it to me. That’s how it all started.

When did I realize that I was good on a personal level? I’ve never considered myself top-notch. I’ve always considered myself an all-around great skateboarder. I can skate everything. I’ve never sat back and asked myself, “When did I become good?” There was really never a time. I knew one time I was on a run, whooping ass and winning amateur contests left and right, but there was never a moment when I was like, “Now I’m ripping and I’m the baddest guy in the land.” I was always too busy skating to ever really stop and think about it until just now when you asked me. There was never a day where I thought, “Now I’m really good.” I’m still learning. I took up downhill skateboarding a little over three years ago, at age 48, and I’m learning all over again. Even though I was a professional street skater and so-called master vert skater, I got into this new realm of skateboarding called downhilling and it’s almost like I’ve started over skating again. I admit that I have an advantage with decades of background in skating.

To answer your question, there was never a time when I looked back and thought, “Now I’m ripping.” I never really thought about that. I’m a humble dude and I know that some dudes are better than me. There’s no way around it. I’ve skated with the best, most gifted skateboarders that have walked the earth. I was standing next to Mark Gonzales at contests, or Christian Hosoi, and these other gigantic names like Eric Dressen. I know for a fact that these dudes, all around, are better than me, but if they’re going to beat me, they’re going to have to work to beat me and prove they are the best. There is no way I’m going to let them walk over me without making them work for it. That’s how I’ve always felt. I’ve always accepted that there are guys who are just naturally better than me. There’s always somebody better. You can accept it gracefully and be who you are and wait for your moment where four guys fall and suddenly you are first or second, which has happened, but I’ve never had this big head where I thought that I was the best in the world. I’ve always accepted my role in skateboarding. I knew that the odds were 99-percent sure I wouldn’t win an event, but I’ll be damned if I was going to make it easy for anyone else to win.

J.P.: Shortly before the first anniversary of the skate park’s opening, you were jumped and severely beaten while working at the park. You wound up with swelling of the brain. What do you remember from that night? And does it at all cause you to lose some faith in humanity?

J.M.: Well, no, it doesn’t make me lose faith in humanity at all. That happened about a year after the park opened. This is LA. It’s a rough town. If you’re going to walk up to 15 or 20 guys by yourself, you best know what you’re doing. I kind of overstepped my bounds that night. I should have used my years of experience to know that I might have been getting myself into some serious shit.

When everything went down in the park and I wound up getting jumped, and had to go to the hospital, I had no hard feelings. After a couple of days, I was fine. I was beat up, but I’m a skater. It takes more than that to put me down. I got up after a couple of days and I was a little beat up, but no big deal. I had no animosity toward the guys who jumped on me. I knew they were all young—18, 19, 20. I know how it is at that age. You’re not making the best decisions. They did arrest some of the guys that did that, but I told the judge and the prosecutors, “These are just kids who made one mistake. You’re telling me that your’e going to charge them with multiple felonies?” They shot me with tasers and sprayed me with Mace and jumped on me, but everybody gets one in their lifetime and that was my one and I accepted that. I told the prosecutors that I refused to press charges and I refused to identify any of them. They were shocked.

The family came up to me about a week later at the Venice Skate Park. One of the fathers walked up to me and wanted to thank me because they were offering his kid a five-year prison deal for that. I’ve seen what five years in prison can do to a person. Five years is enough time to change a man. At that point, that kid wasn’t a man, but he would come out of prison a man, and after five years inside, he would not be the man that society would help, unfortunately. I told the prosecutors that I was not going to cooperate. That’s when the father came up and thanked me. I said, “Hey, no problem, man. Your son made a mistake. Big deal. I’m alive. I can take an ass whooping. I ain’t no pussy.” I basically let them all off the hook. I saw one or two of them and shook their hands and they said sorry to me and I said it was no big deal. If everybody else would handle stuff like that, the world would be a better place. Just because you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean that I need to ruin your life.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

J.M.: The lowest moments were both my parents dying, and my brother. Those were some of the lowest moments in my life, like anybody. That’s standard issue. Everybody’s parents die and sometimes your brothers die before you. Those were the lowest points in my life.

Greatest points in my life? That’s hard to say because every day is the greatest day. I always try to remind myself of how lucky I am. Even though I’m not rich and I don’t own a fancy car, I’m rich in friends. I came up from a rough upbringing, so maybe I look at life a little different than other people. A little for me, is good. I don’t need a whole lot to think that I’m rich. As long as I’m alive and I can skate, every day is a great day.

J.P.: You’ve listed “Bones Brigade ‘86” as the greatest road trip of your life. I love road trip stories. Why was this the greatest? What happened?

J.M.: Well, first of all, it was the Bones Brigade tour. Second of all, I’m with the most legendary skaters on the face of the earth. Suddenly, I’m in the tour van with them. My career went from driving in a pickup truck and barely having enough gas to make it to a contest to have a great time with Natas, to being in a tour van with the most legendary skateboarders in the world. That’s what made it so incredible. There were a lot of great moments, all the people we met and all the great demos and all the wild stories on the road. It was just the fact that I was riding for Powell and I was in a tour van on the Bones Brigade tour with every skateboarder who every skater in the world would kill just to sit and talk with. All of a sudden, I’m a teammate and I’m in the van with them.

When I get out of the van, they would always announce, “Here is the Powell team.” In the ‘80s, there was no other team. Powell Peralta was it. There was nothing better than Powell in the ‘80s. They had it all: freestyle, street skating, vert skating. Everybody was a winner on Powell. They were all champions; the world’s best. Suddenly, for me to be on that team, in that van, with those guys, that’s what made it the greatest tour ever.

J.P.: How has age impacted your skill-set? Are there things you could do at 25 that you can’t do at 50? Do you think you’ll still be skateboarding at 60? At 70? Is longevity a motivator? A source of pride?

J.M.: Okay, there’s a big difference between 25 and 50. A 25-year-old and a 50-year-old are not going to be doing a handrail session together. As you get older, your injuries catch up with you and that limits what you can do with skating, and that varies from skater to skater. There are skaters who have great insurance and financial backing and they can get the best operations possible. On the other hand, you have guys like me. I get hurt, I heal, and then I keep on skating. As you get older, it really depends on how your lifestyle was. Were you a big drug user or a big drinker or a healthy eater? I’m an exception to all that. I’m extremely lucky. I love Hostess cupcakes. I don’t like health food. I do nothing to advance my health, but somehow I keep going.

Then you have other guys that eat all the right foods and do all the right training and have great insurance and get all the best medical, but they’re just as jacked up as me. There are a lot of variables. On the other hand, I’m out here beating 20-year-old kids down legitimate mountain runs. It’s kind of hard to say if you’re better at age 25 or 50. It all depends on the skater, your physical health, your mental health and straight drive. Number one is your drive to keep skating, that fierce determination to continue on ripping. The guys who go on for decades and never quit are the ones who truly love it. They love skating day in and day out. They can’t live without it. I have such a drive for skateboarding. It’s all I know. It’s all I do. I know many guys just like me, like Steve Caballero, Steve Alba, Micke Alba, Ben Schroeder and Lance Mountain … I could go on and on. There are guys who are fighting their injuries and just keep skating. Ben Schroeder and Allen Losi and dudes like who have gone beyond suffering for skateboarding and they continue to skate.

I know Allen Losi can’t skate right now, but I know the moment he can, he’s going to jump on a skateboard. Those are the guys who continue to rip their whole life. It’s a tough question, but I would say that it depends on the person and the drive in you and how much you can throw fear into the wind. Fear is always a part of you with skateboarding. It will never leave you, no matter how big you get. The fear of slamming gnarly will always keep you on point. It all depends on the 25-year-old and the 50-year-old. It’s all about that person and what kind of person they are. That’s the difference. Are you a maniac with no caution or someone who just takes it easy? If you see a guy who just always wants to take it easy, that’s the guy who’s probably not going to last through four decades of skating. They won’t want to keep doing it. You have to have that drive to keep going no matter how old you are.

J.P.: You received a letter from Jay Adams when he was in jail—and you never opened it. Why?

J.M.: You know what? It’s because I’ve never opened a letter from jail. I’ve always had this rule of, “I’ll see you when you get out.” That’s sort of the way I was with Jay. I never opened his letter. I just thought, “When you get out, I’ll see you and we’ll carry on our adventure here.” I know it’s kind of weird and maybe even a little rude not to open that letter, but I don’t know. I really can’t give you an honest answer why I never opened it. I have opened some of them, but I opened them after he got out of jail, and then I read them. Maybe it’s because I know what can happen in prison, that I’ve always had this fear of opening any letter from prison. Maybe that’s it.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JESSE MARTINEZ:

• Five greatest skateboarders of your lifetime?: Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Shogo Kubo.

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Neil Blender, London, “Silence of the Lambs,” The Osmonds, My Uncle Marty, Lance Armstrong, Brett Favre, Belinda Carlisle, Tampa, Oreo cookies: Neil Blender, Lance Armstrong, Oreo cookies, London, Uncle Marty, Tampa, The Osmonds, Belinda Carlisle, “Silence of the Lambs,” Brett Favre.

• Three memories from first-ever date: 1. Her brother said, “Who the f— is that?”; 2. Her dad came out and said, “Who the f— is that?”; 3. They both tried to jump on me and I beat them both up.

• Why did your parents name you Jesse?: I have no idea. None.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Flying into San Francisco with Tommy Guerrero, we got hit by a gust of wind. I was sitting in the window seat and the wing literally missed the ground by just a couple of feet. That was close. Guerrero didn’t see it, just me.

• What do your shoes smell like?: My shoes smell great because I only wear my socks for a week or two and then I throw them away and buy new ones.

• The next president will be …: You want to know who the next president will be? It’s not going to be because of a vote. It’s going to be because this is the way it’s just going to be. It’s going to be Hillary Clinton. I don’t trust her for nothing, and I believe that Trump would do more than any other president in the last 40 years because he does not care, but it’s like rolling the dice with Trump. It would either be incredibly good or it would be shit. He’s either a go-getter or he’s going to totally fuck everything up. With political power or who knows who, Hillary is going to win because of that. She is in the game and she knows everybody and she’s got the backing. I don’t care how much money Trump has or how many votes he gets, he is not going to win. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s just the way it is.

• I have a wrist wart that refuses to go away. Any advice?: Go to the doctor and get it frozen off.

• Best advice you’ve ever received?: It was from my father. “It’s better to have more friends than enemies.” He was right because I’m rich in friends, which is better than having enemies.

• Who’s the world’s greatest insanely tall skateboarder?: Everybody knows that. It’s Ben Schroeder. There’s no one bigger. He’s taller than Neil Blender. If you want to talk about the gnarliest big guy, it would be Neil Blender. Neil Blender could kick some ass if he ever wanted to. Neil Blender is one of the greatest forgotten skaters in the history of skateboarding. If you ask the younger generation of skaters about Neil Blender, they will say, “Who?” Neil Blender is one of the most unique professional skateboarders ever to be born. That guy is a cut above the rest, even more unique than Hosoi or Gonzales. I’ve seen that dude skate. Even with a hand plant, to this day, I’ve never seen another human being attempt it the way he does. He’s doing one foot inverts, noseblunt in, and he would stop it on the coping and rip it like a soldier. I would just sit there amazed at how such a big man could be so graceful. That’s how it was.

Weiner’s Weiner is not a story

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Visited the CNN homepage a few moments ago and was greeted by the above image.

I am not happy.

I get why we love stories like this. They’re funny, they’re titillating, they allow us to escape from our humdrum lives in front of a screen at the ol’ corporate cubicle. We can look at another person’s downfall and feel better about ourselves. We can laugh and point and Tweet (fuck, as I did last night).

And yet … no. No, no, no, no, no.

Anthony Weiner is not an elected official, and hasn’t been for a long time. He is a guy with some real problems; who can’t control his sexual impulses and whose demise has dragged along with him a spouse who (it seems) did nothing to earn this genre of public humiliation. This isn’t Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, or Donald Trump’s birther efforts, or Bill Clinton having sex with an intern, or George W. Bush wearing a military jumpsuit and declaring, “Mission accomplished.”

Nope, this is a disgraced private citizen whose exploits make for ideal 2016 bullshit.

Oh, and here’s the worst part: CNN.com’s editors know this isn’t a real news story. They 100-percent know it. So how to dress it up as one? Turn it into “CLINTON AIDE ANNOUNCES SPLIT AFTER NEW SEXTING ALLEGATIONS.” That makes it timely and editorially meaningful. Or at least that makes it seem timely and editorially meaningful. Which, of course, it’s not.

It’s just American voyeurism at its worst.

* To be clear, I’d be saying the exact same thing were Weiner and his wife Republicans. This has nothing to do with an election, and everything to do with click-generating public flogging.

Colin Kaepernick, the American flag and selective outrage

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So earlier today someone I know sent me a DM on Facebook that read, simply, “you going to blog about KaeperDICK?”

Well, yes. Yes I am.

KaeperDICK is Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who, before a recent pre-season game, sat during the national anthem. He later explained the stance to the NFL Network, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, it’s bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This, predictably, did not go over well with many Americans. On social media, Kaepernick was branded everything from a traitor to an ingrate to an un-American piece of [fill in the blank with myriad curses]. And, to be clear, I get it. Patriotism can be a beautiful thing. You pay homage to those who died fighting for our country by standing and facing the flag, hand over heart. You appreciate what you have, you appreciate what the flag symbolizes, you appreciate the freedoms you enjoy.

And yet ... here’s what pisses me off. In the midst of this election cycle, MANY of those slamming Kaepernick appear to be arch-conservatives who vocally back Donald Trump for president. Which means they vocally back a man who mocked John McCain and other POWs for being captured. Which means they vocally back a man who led the birther movement (based entirely on lies) against a sitting United States president. Which means they vocally back a man who said an Indiana-born judge could not rule on a case involving Trump because his parents were originally from Mexico. Which means they vocally back a man who encourage Russia to spy on us.

This sort of thing is driving me absolutely batshit nuts of late. You’re a patriot? You think it’s gross when a man doesn’t stand at attention for the flag? OK—I’m with you. But at least be consistent. At least express equal (or greater) outrage when a leading presidential contender (one who, ahem, dodged the draft with repeated bullshit deferments) says a POW is not a hero because he was captured—”and I like people who weren’t captured.” Yes, Kaepernick may well have been misguided.* But he’s the backup quarterback to a bad starting quarterback on an awful football team. His actions are relatively insignificant. I don’t care if Kaepernick throws an interception … so why should I care if he stands and covers his heart?

Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to lead our nation.

Let’s keep it all in perspective.

* For the record, I don’t think he was misguided. Hell, I applaud Kaepernick. Freedom of speech is a powerful thing, and a person exercising that freedom to make a point he believes in should (almost always) be applauded. (I say “almost always” because I don’t applaud racism, sexism, etc. But a guy not standing for the flag? Big deal).

Maybe sooner than later

Tubby Raymond

Tubby Raymond

Thought of this story last night. No reason to share. Just made me laugh …

Back in the mid-1990s I was sports editor of The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware. The plum assignment that accompanied the gig was covering the Blue Hens football team, an elite Division I-AA program.

The Hens were coached by Tubby Raymond, a legendary coach who could be quite ornery and, at times, mischievous. I was a small fish in a small pond, and I liked using my weekly column to poke and prod the football team. It was the typical stuff from a young kid with a pen and an ego. I’d rip Tubby for this, criticize him for that.

Anyhow, one day a note arrives at the newspaper office. It’s for me, in an envelope. I tear the paper open, and it’s a letter via the coach.

Hey Jeff,

Maybe sooner than later.

— Tubby Raymond

That was it. I had no idea what he was talking about, but—in all my big-headed awfulness—presumed it to be a threat. Was the coach trying to intimidate me? Well, that wouldn’t work! I was sports editor of The Review! I would not be intimidated! Not by the quarterback! Not by the free safety! Not by Tubby Raymond! Hell no!

That Saturday, following his weekly press conference, Tubby pulled me aside.

“Funny, right?” he said with a chuckle.

Um …

Turns out, a few weeks earlier, I’d written a column that included the sentence, “Sooner or later Tubby Raymond is going to kill me.”

Awesome.

Emma goes to college

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An image punched me in the nose yesterday.

I was skimming through Instagram when Scott, my old University of Delaware pal, posted a picture of his daughter Emma on her first day of college. The photo showed her in her sparse dorm room, sitting atop a bed, looking happy and perky and eager and, well, collegiate.

I shuddered.

How did this happen? How did she get there? Hell, how did I get here? Back when we lived in New Rochelle, N.Y. Scott and his family drove up to our house once or twice for the annual summer barbecue. I vividly recall Emma, small and giggly, trottng through our yard, a little girl with lots of little girl experiences to come. That’s the way this parenting thing works, and it’s all myth: Your kids are born, and you presume they’ll be babies forever. Then your kids are toddlers, and you presume they’ll be toddlers forever. Then they’re small children, and you presume they’ll be small children forever.

Then they’re off to college, wishing you goodbye as the tears stream from the corners of your eyes.

I remember my first day of college like it was a month ago. My parents and I pulled up to the Delaware campus. We unpacked my stuff, said our goodbyes—and then I dashed off to a meeting for the cross country team. That night, a bunch of the kids in my dorm gathered together in a room. Some put in money for beer, and a brave student went to Main Street and bribed an upperclassman into buying some cases.

I was there, but didn’t drink.

Scott, I’m guessing, sat in his room across the hall. He was always on the phone, after all, talking to the high school sweetheart who attended nearby West Chester College.

Her name was Kathy. She was blonde and pretty and lovely.

Yesterday, her daughter went off to college.

The Family (Hey, Let’s Fuck) Feud

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Back when I was a kid, The Family Feud was a Pearlman household staple. At the time it was wildly popular; the biggest game show in the era of big game shows.

If you’ve never seen the Feud, it’s basically a trivia contest pitting two families against one another. In the late-1970s and early-80s, the host and star was a man named Richard Dawson. Ol’ Dick was extraordinarily good at his job. He has this flowy way about him; glided from contestant to contestant. He was charming and smooth and (gasp) more than a tad bit horny. Dawson’s trademark, if he had one, was the kissing of female contestants. It was rarely a mere peck on the cheek. Nope, the dude was straight-up gangsta flirty, and if Dawson didn’t get laid backstage from time to time, well, I’d be shocked.

Anyhow, Dawson left the show in 1985 (he returned briefly in the mid-90s), and Family Feud sorta faded off. There were other hosts, other sets. But it was never quite the same.

Beginning in 2010, Steve Harvey, a legitimately funny comedian/actor, became the face of Family Feud. This meant little to me, because—frankly—I didn’t care. I barely watch TV as it is. I sure as hell wasn’t scheduling time for a game show.

Alas, a few months back my kids saw the Family Feud listed on the Game Show Network programing, and asked whether we could watch. Thinking back to the old days, I agreed. We flipped to the channel and there was the Feud. It felt like the 1980s all over again, and I was happy. The questions were innocent; along the lines of NAME SOMETHING YOU BRING TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE and WHAT’S A FRUIT THAT PEOPLE HATE.

All good.

All really good.

Then, however, the questions got a bit funky. Mixed in with the normal stuff were inquiries like THINGS PEOPLE SAY WHEN THEY’RE MAKING LOVE and TOP FIVE THINGS THAT TURN A MAN ON and THINGS YOU LIKE TO HEAR DURING SEX. I let it slide as first, but then—whenever we’d watch—I found myself having to change the channel for certain questions. It’s not that I’m a prude. My kids listen to Tupac; hear my curse; have seen R movies. But the Feud was just getting … weird.

Tonight, it all ended. We were watching, and Steve Harvey says: WE HAVE THE TIP 6 ANSWERS ON THE BOARD. NAME SOMETHING A WIFE MIGHT BUY TO PUT ON A STRIP SHOW FOR HER HUSBAND AT HOME …

Goodbye.

Sal Fasano and the bullshit of baseball

Sal in bygone days

Sal in bygone days

You probably missed this one, but a few days ago the Toronto Blue Jays fired Sal Fasano, the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator.

This wasn’t big news, but—for me—it’s quite heartbreaking. I covered Sal extensively during his 11-year career as a Major League catcher, and I can say (quite strongly) that he’s one of the three or four finest people I met in the business. Put simply, Sal is your kind of guy. He’s an everyman; a blue-collar scrapper who worked his butt off to carve out an extensive Big League stay. Sal was one of the least-selfish players you could find. As a catcher, he took great pride in nurturing young pitchers; in grooming them for long stays at the highest level. What he lacked in natural skill, he made up for with desire, drive, grittiness, empathy.

Best of all, in an era when, oh, 70 percent of the players were cheating with various PED, Sal was clean. I can say this because, through the years, I really got to know Sal and his family. We’ve spoken on the topic myriad times; on the record, off the record. There are things I know, and things I don’t know. Sal Fasano—a man who places ethics over statistics—did not cheat.

And here’s what pisses me off: While men of integrity like Fasano are disposable, both Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire still work as Major League hitting coaches. You’re talking about two guys who disgraced the game; two guys who looked at the legacies and records of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and said, “Eh, fuck it.” I know … I know—yawn. Old news. I get it. But I’ve long maintained that for all the damage Pete Rose did by betting on the Cincinnati Reds while managing, his misdeeds are dwarfed by a reckless, callous drug-powered dismantling of the once-hallowed record books.

Meanwhile, I challenge you to find a person in baseball to say a bad thing about Sal Fasano.

Meanwhile, I challenge you to find a member of the 2011 New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Sal managed the team to an Eastern League title) who has a bad thing to say about Sal Fasano.

Alas, it matters not.

Sal Fasano, man of integrity, was sent packing.

And the cheaters continue to be rewarded …

Donald Trump and spilled balls of paper

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So most readers know I’m working on a USFL book, which will come out next year. And the stories are endless. About players. About coaches. About fans. And, of course, about Donald Trump, king of the New Jersey Generals. This one, told to me by someone who worked with him, is an absolute gem …

Donald called me when the league was winding down. He wanted to meet and talk business. I flew up to New York with my lawyer. And we went to Donald’s office and he was there, behind his desk, and his lawyer, Harvey Myerson, was also there.

We’re talking, and he says, “We should work together. We could do good things.” And I told him I’d never worked for somebody before. He said, “No, you wouldn’t be working for me. We could be partners.” Well, at that moment his knee accidentally hit the wastepaper basket beneath his desk, and it fell over and all these balls of rolled-up paper went all over the floor. I’m sitting here, across from him, watching all this stuff. All these little balls of paper everywhere. As Donald looks at me, Harvey—his lawyer—gets out of his chair, gets on his hands and knees and starts picking up this paper off the floor to put it all back in the basket. I can’t help myself, I’m laughing aloud. Here he says I won’t work for him but with him. And his lawyer is on his hands and knees, picking up paper. I think Donald, when he saw me watching, he figured out what was on my mind and he started screaming, “Harvey, get up! Get the fuck up off the floor!” I couldn’t stop laughing.

I’ll never forget that.

The piano rookie

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Way back in 2003, shortly before my daughter was born, I bought a guitar and started taking lessons. My instructor was an 18-year-old high school kid who lived about a mile away. I think I paid him $40 a week and—after a bunch of months—I could play a semi-incompetent version of “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band.

My goal, of course, was to be the cool guy in his 30s who jammed on the guitar. I pictured myself in the corner of a coffee shop, a hot drink on a table to the side, steam gently blowing in the air as I impressively strum away “Hard Luck Woman” and “Desperado.” Maybe I’d even join a laid-back band; sorta like the final segment in the seen-by-absolutely-nobody 2001 Wahlberg/Anniston film, “Rock Star.”

I digress.

Casey was born on July 31, 2003, and with her arrival my morphing into Eric Clapton ceased. The guitar gathered dust, the note-covered pages yellowed and I remained as musically inclined as a deaf napkin holder. Hell, I can barely clap to the beat of “We’ve Got the Beat.” It’s that bad.

Meanwhile, for the past six years Casey has been learning piano. It’s one of the absolute joys of my life—lying on the nearby couch as she plays any number of songs. One day, when I’m old and drifting away, odds are the final sounds I’ll hear are my little girl’s long-ago piano notes. I truly don’t care if she’s great or good or terrible. Nah, I simply get a kick out of hearing her create.

I also, for that matter, get a little jealous. I want to be musical. I really, really, really do. I want to sing and play and be the life of the party. Hence, last week—13 years after my last guitar lesson with a teacher who’s now (egad) in his 30s—I returned from the acoustically dead and signed up for my own piano lessons. The teacher’s name is Giana; she comes every Monday at 4 o’clock to instruct Casey, and agreed to return at 5:30 for my turn.

The debut was, um, rough. Back in the day I used to suffer from some pretty awful health anxiety, and while that hasn’t reared its head in five or six years, as soon as Giana sat at the piano I was overcome by jarring panic. It began with sweat. Armpits. Back. Neck. Then my head started to spin—Giana spoke, I nodded, but absorbed nothing. She showed me some beginning stuff, and I kept stumbling over the easiest of morsels. The keys go in order—A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Yet, somehow, that basic fact eluded me. It was mortifying, and the more I bumbled the more I felt like a dolt. To her credit, Giana was cool and laid-back, and left me with some basic concepts to work on.

What followed was, well, delightful. I practiced every day, and loved it. As a longtime sports writer, I used one of my old mind-word tricks to make things easier. F and G were no longer F and G—they were Colts halfback Frank Gore. A and B turned to former Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks. C, D, E now stands for Clyde Drexler Explodes. It’s pretty much the same way I remember numbers (82,315 is Yogi Berra, Don Mattingly, George Foster, for example), and when Giana returned I was ready. Not brilliant, mind you. Or even particularly competent. But more relaxed, more at ease, more prepared.

I’m only two lessons in, but I’m absolutely loving the experience. My brain doesn’t think in these ways. It feels like I’m learning a new language—which I dig.

Best of all, I’m actually proud of myself.

And, I’m quite certain, Frank Gore and Aaron Brooks are proud, too.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
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