Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘basketball

Easter Meditations on Christian Laettner

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Happy Easter, one and all!

A few years back, I wrote a blog called “Meditations on Easter.” In that blog I discussed the nature of forgiveness, redemption, and hope through the story of Jesus Christ. It is still my own, personal gold standard as to why people of all faiths should try to recognize why Easter remains such an important holy day, 2000 and some odd years later.

And this got me thinking.

Recently, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called I Hate Christian Laettner. It’s about former college and pro basketball star Christian Laettner, who sank a game-winning shot in 1992 for his Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA championship game…but because he’d also stepped on an opposing player’s hand (Aminu Timberlake) earlier in that tournament and was unrepentant about it, his game-winning shot was highly controversial.

People still remember the shot, years later. But it’s not because Laettner was brilliant. It’s because many people, myself included, felt Laettner should’ve been suspended for stepping on Timberlake’s hand. And when he wasn’t, most fans were indignant — even furious — as it seemed like Laettner was getting special treatment due to his star status as one of college basketball’s best players.

And that has fueled a whole lot of hatred toward a guy who, at the time, was only 22 years old.

Yes, he was an arrogant cuss. Yes, he was a difficult and prickly personality.

But maybe he had a reason for being that way. He was a tall guy who was often mischaracterized in the press as something he wasn’t. He was called wealthy and overprivileged, simply because of the fact he was white and going to Duke. And it wasn’t true — his parents worked hard and were members of the middle class, something I never heard one word about until I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Laettner.

This particular documentary really made me challenge my assumptions.

Simply put: We humans still have a lot of growing up to do in some ways, don’t we? We judge people based off the appearance, the outward aspect, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

In this case, much of the outward aspect of Laettner was flat wrong. He was a middle class guy who would never in a million years have been able to afford a high quality education at Duke unless he had a compelling gift for playing basketball. He needed that scholarship so he could go, grow, learn, and improve himself, both as a player and as a human being.

Now, did he do some stuff that was juvenile? Sure.

But at 22, I have to admit that I did all sorts of things that were juvenile, too. I was just fortunate enough not to be in the public eye, so my immature behavior was not trumpeted from the bully pulpit as Laettner’s lapses were.

After watching that 30 for 30 documentary, I was left shaking my head at how even someone like me — someone who’s very well aware of how the narrative can be framed as a writer and editor — can’t realize that Laettner’s story was far more complex than had been reported in the media.

Personally, I think Laettner showed a lot of class dealing with some of the stuff that was yelled at him during the NCAA Tourney back in 1991 and 1992. (“Ho-mo-sexual” and the like was yelled at him, and yes, that was considered a slur. How far we’ve come…that behavior today would not be tolerated. But I digress.) And I think, upon reflection, that he did try to rise above a lot of the nonsense directed his way.

But the most important thing I learned from the documentary is this: You have to know yourself. And you have to learn to forgive yourself.

Laettner knows he’s a much different person on the inside than was reported. He doesn’t give any weight, he said in the documentary, to people who don’t know him, because that wastes his time. (This is my best paraphrase, mind, as I watched this movie at least a week and a half ago and I don’t have a transcript in front of me.) The people who matter to him are those who do know him. His wife. His family. His coaches. His friends.

Everything else — everyone else — can go hang. Because they are irrelevant.

As Laettner knows, appearance is not the reality. And we human beings have to learn this, whether we’re sports fans or not.

And as it’s Easter Sunday, that got me thinking. If we’re supposed to forgive people who did us wrong, as the example of Jesus surely shows us we should do, why is it that many sports fans still cannot forgive Laettner?

Maybe it’s a flaw in ourselves that keeps us on the hate-train. And maybe it’s something we should try to rectify, before it’s too late.

Sports Roundup: Alison Gordon, Ray Rice…and the Milwaukee Bucks?

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Folks, this sports roundup column will be unusual, as three disparate, but noteworthy things have happened in the past week that I want to comment on.

First, pioneering baseball reporter Alison Gordon died at 74. Ms. Gordon was the first-ever female reporter for any team in the American League and covered the Toronto Blue Jays, starting in 1979. She faced much criticism when she started her career — I’m just barely old enough to remember some of it — yet persevered and prevailed. Later, she wrote a series of murder mysteries where a baseball reporter solved crimes in and around baseball. Here’s a bit of her obituary from cbc.ca:

(The) Baseball Writers Association of America infamously issued her press accreditation as Mr. Alison Gordon, as it had no female-specific or gender-neutral honorifics at that time.

Gordon was also one of the first females allowed into a Major League Baseball locker room, which was controversial at the time but since paved the way for female sports reporters. She was also the first woman on the American League beat, the division of baseball the Jays play in.

Ms. Gordon’s accomplishments were profound, and it’s partly because of her that so many other female sports journalists have gone on to have stellar careers.

Next, Ray Rice’s long-awaited apology has been released as of earlier today (link is from Yahoo’s “Shutdown Corner” NFL blog). In it, Rice expresses remorse, but also thanks the fans of the Baltimore Ravens (his NFL team). Here’s a bit from that apology:

To all the kids who looked up to me, I’m truly sorry for letting you down, but I hope it’s helped you learn that one bad decision can turn your dream into a nightmare. There is no excuse for domestic violence, and I apologize for the horrible mistake I made. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and I hope to make a positive difference in people’s lives by raising awareness of this issue.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I said “long-awaited.” No one else, save perhaps Keith Olbermann, is likely to say this, but it’s the truth: without a heartfelt apology, it’s unlikely that Ray Rice can resuscitate his career, not in the NFL, not in the CFL, not anywhere.

See, there are female football fans out there — many of them, as I’m far from the only one in the history of the universe. And we need to see some remorse and some signs that Ray Rice has learned not to abuse women any more. (One wonders what female reporters think of Ray Rice; most haven’t said much, except that he needs counseling and a consciousness raising and to never, never, do this again. Which seems a bit incomplete.)

There are some players, such as Brandon Marshall of the Bears, who after an earlier incident have become outspoken advocates for women and domestic violence. These are players who’ve truly learned that they must do better as human beings, and I hope Ray Rice, down the line, will join their number.

At the moment, though, all I can say is that Ray Rice has apologized. And since he has, I think some team out there should give him another shot, providing Rice stays in counseling (both personal and marital) and gets the anger management he needs.

And finally, how about those Milwaukee Bucks?

Last year, I wrote about how awful the Bucks were. They didn’t even win two games in a row, they were so bad…they only won 15 games, and set a team record for the worst season in the history of the franchise.

What a difference a year makes.

This year’s Bucks squad is 30-23. They’ve doubled their amount of wins in a year, and they’re only at the All-Star break despite losing their #1 draft pick F Jabari Parker to a knee surgery, losing PG Kendall Marshall to a knee surgery, losing C Larry Sanders to a variety of issues, and losing F Ersan Ilyasova to post-concussion syndrome for a month.

Coach Jason Kidd has revitalized the Bucks. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has become so much better this year in every respect. Center Zaza Pachulia’s career has been revitalized. PG O.J. Mayo has regained his three-point touch. And best of all, Milwaukee now plays excellent defense, something they decidedly didn’t do under former coach Larry Drew. The Bucks now believe they can win every single night no matter who’s in shape to play– and that enthusiasm and self-belief has become infectious.

As a long-time Bucks fan, I’m pleased with how the 2014-2015 season has turned out thus far. I fully expect the Bucks to make the NBA playoffs (if the season ended today, the Bucks would be the #6 seed), and I wouldn’t have believed that was possible a year ago.

Any thoughts regarding this sports roundup? (I’m guessing there might be a few regarding Ray Rice, at least.) Give me a yell in the comments!