•August 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This is why I wish I could be a gypsy…

The Homeless Adjunct

A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in…

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Why Gabby Douglas Is More Than Her Hair

•August 3, 2012 • 2 Comments

Forget for a moment that Gabby Douglas is the first African American woman to win a gold in the individual All-Around competition. Let this sink in: Gabby is the first American woman to snag gold in both the All-Around gymnastics competition and the team competition. Not even the great Mary Lou-Retton achieved this feat.Image

But some people are focusing on something  far more important than her recent accomplishments. If you aren’t on Twitter, or your head’s been buried under a rock, then you’re probably unaware of the current hot topic in the blogosphere: Gabby’s hair. Yep, her hair. Check out these tweets:

Young Skipper [@Sarocious] tweeted: “We, as a community, gotta fix Gabby Douglas’s hair.”

Brandy [@shestaken] tweeted: “Congrats to Gabby Douglas on her gold medal! I wish I could say the same.about that hair! Omg horrible!”

The Huffington Post ran an article about the attention Gabby’s hair has received on Twitter. The discussion even prompted celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Serena Williams to weigh in. Union tweeted:  “Any1 who insults a TEEN whose accomplished so much while displaying grace & dignity is beyond lame & should be ashamed of themselves #byehaters”

Union’s response only highlights the fact that winning two Olympic gold medals (and she could win more)  despite personal hardships is not enough to silence the chatter about Gabby’s hair. Some Twitter users like MisDoscentavos insisted that Gabby  do something with her hair, tweeting:

“on another note, gabby douglas gotta do something with this hair! these clips and this brown gel residue aint it!”

 Why? Did her hair  stand in the way of her getting two gold medals? Did her hair stand in the way of her picture being front and center on the Wheaties box? Why must she do something, other than what she already has, with her hair? Hasn’t Gabby achieved enough–both in gymnastics and in her personal life? Gabby, as has been widely publicized, has been living with a host family in Iowa since the age of 14. Multiple curveballs were thrown her way and she and hit each one with that resounding crack that comes when the baseball bat strikes the ball for a home run. You want to be a gymnast? Sure, you’ll just have to leave behind your family and go to Iowa to do it. Done.  You want to follow in the footsteps of Dominique Dawes? You’ll have to do it while your father is stationed away overseas. Done. You want the gold? You’ll just have to beat the Russians in every event. Done. Gabby not only beat the formidable Russians, but she never trailed them. Gabby  is batting a .408 and we’re still focusing on her hair? 

Allen Iverson, in a tone of bitter disbelief, once responded to those questioning his work ethic with “We talking about practice, man? Practice?”  I can only mutter in the same disbelieving tone:  We talking about Gabby’s hair?  Her hair, man? After watching the lovely Dominique Dawes at the 1996 Olympics, I wondered when we would see another young black woman compete at such a high level. Now I am wondering if all this hair talk will overshadow Gabby’s  success.

People’s reasons for critiquing Gabby’s hair are numerous. Some people have tried to say that they’re just concerned about the overall health of her hair. Um, Gabby Douglas is not your child and unless you’re CEO of the Save-a-Child’s-Hair organization, then I’m going to need you to stop with the shenanigans. Gabby has both a mother and father who love her dearly. Let them do their jobs as parents to make sure that her body and hair are healthy. I’m well aware of the pain we women put ourselves through to look beautiful. And, I understand that many of us want to make sure that our fellow sister is doing all she can to maintain lustrous hair and healthy edges, but stop it. Stop tweeting Gabby links with products she should use on her hair. When I went natural, some of my associates demanded that I return to the perm because the natural look did not suit my face. And yes, my hair has also been petted by a white person expressing shock at its soft texture. Both these examples are extremely rude and annoying. But if you are one of the people insisting Gabby do something with her hair, you are performing the same sort of obnoxious behavior. Quite simply, Gabby can do whatever she likes with her hair because YOU DO NOT OWN HER HAIR.

This is a point that one of my followers on Twitter rightly pointed out to me whilst I expressed my outrage over the fact Gabby’s hair had become the focus of discussion. “Are you forgetting,” she tweeted, “that a woman’s body is a battleground, and in particular that of a black woman?” This is an excellent point that we must always keep in mind. A woman’s body, particularly a black woman’s body, is never quite her own. The black female body is there to be publicly criticized, derided, dissected, and virtually consumed beneath the gaze. The focus on Gabby’s hair is eerily reminiscent of the focus on President Obama’s daughters’ kinky hair. Or, even the way that Michelle Obama’s derriere was derided by an US congressman. The black woman’s body is always already objectified. If you had fantasies of running a comb through Gabby’s hair while watching her soar on the uneven bars, then please do yourself a favor next time and turn off the TV, as it’s obvious you are missing out on the beautiful artistry taking place. It’s like looking at Michael Phelps and instead of seeing the most decorated Olympian of all time you only see his crooked teeth.  History’s being made right in front of your eyes, and you’re too busy focusing on Gabby’s hair. Seriously?

If you want to see perfectly coifed hair, go see Beyonce in concert. Although it’s not a contact sport, the physical intensity of gymnastics rivals that of football, hockey, and other intense sports. McKayla Maroney flat-out nailed her vault with a broken toe. Gabby excelled at the highest level despite pain flaring up from a lingering injury (If I cut my finger chopping up onions, I’m out of commission for a week but I digress…).  If Gabby had been more concerned about her hair, I doubt she would have had the intestinal fortitude to leave her family and compete in the Olympics.

Image

When I visualize myself at sixteen, I remember how I hated walking into a room full of people because I felt like the spotlight shone only on me. Every pimple, every bulge, every imperfection was on display. Clad in a leotard, Gabby performs in front of thousands with a self-confidence that makes you think she is the only person in the room.  Performing with a determination so absent in her teenagers her age is a mark of her precocious spirit. This is not to say that other teenagers her age are under-achievers because they do not have a gold medal. But whereas most teens are worried about that pimple on their forehead , she is worried about perfecting the difficult Amanar vault. This is what makes her unique. Gabby is so much more than her hair. To focus on her hair diminishes the success she has achieved as a gymnast, daughter, and sister. Dominique Dawes, reacting to Gabby’s impressive victory, could not hold back her tears  (see video below).  I am not asking that we shed tears for Gabby (although I did!). Simply, that we commend Gabby, as Dawes did, for a job well done. Everything else is just noise.

Bienvenido a la Familia, Lebron

•July 12, 2010 • 4 Comments

The sports world was looking  the wrong way.

They were looking at the Big Apple.

Except for Stephen A. Smith. A notable  media personality who predicted James would land in Miami weeks before “The Decision” sent shock waves through the nation. A notable sportswriter  who was perhaps dismissed because of his vociferous silver-tongued style.

Or maybe the Windy City?

Except for Pat Riley. The Giorgio Armani styled don of swag, frequently referred to as Mr. GQ, cautioned the Miami Heat fans to buy their season tickets even as the empty seats began to grow in the AAA after Shaq’s departure. (And I would have Pat, but I was a frugal graduate student. Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault–those books add up!)

It seemed a foregone conclusion. Hometown hero, hometown boy. King stays in Cleveland.

Except for me. An honest, hardworking, but parsimonious graduate student. A graduate student perpetually stressed out from her thesis, haunted by nightmares in which my thesis committee hee-hawed at my attempts to form a sentence. I managed to write an article about the possibility of the two teaming up in Miami, created a brief video on youtube, and tweeted Skip Bayless expressing my hunch: LBJ to MIA. Imagine my surprise when Skip actually responded!

Flash back to Thursday night. “The Decision” garnered outrage and shock. King James was nothing but a traitor. A deceptive coward who deserted his team, his fans, and Cleveland for the allure of South Beach. The love for Lebron in Cleveland disappeared faster than a handful of ice-cold popsicles at a summer youth camp. James’ final answer: “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach…” left a bitter taste in Dan Gilbert’s mouth, thicker than that BP oil and just as hard to contain. Perhaps Gilbert’s reaction is understandable when one considers that his franchise is as worthless as a box of Cracker Jacks even with the mystery surprise inside.

But the biggest shock in this is that no one expected James to choose Miami.  Folks, trust me, it was staring us all right in the face. Besides the fact that there is no state income tax (which means that not only is James’ contract money tax-free, but as soon as he changes his legal address to Miami all of his money-endorsements from Nike, Vitamin Water, etc. is, you guessed it, tax-free. James is actually going to make a few million dollars more in South Beach than he would have in Cleveland), James is a vibrant, attractive, 25-year-old man. When James sat down to write that Pros versus Cons list, he began to realize that Cleveland simply could not hold a torch to Miami.

But it is more than just that. Everything in James’ life has shown us that Miami is the perfect place for the King to land. Watch James’ documentary “More Than a Game” and you will understand why. While watching it,  I realized that James is, quite frankly, the furthest thing from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Sure, Jordan had Pippen, Rodman, and the rest of his cohorts to help him win those titles, but it was clearly Jordan’s team. And Jordan liked it that way. Jordan relied upon his teammates because, after all, this is a team sport. Still, if Jordan could have found a way to win those championships by himself….Say,  by cloning himself numerous times, he would have jumped at the chance. In his recent Hall of Fame acceptance speech, an older Jordan reminded us all that he had not lost that self-absorbed quality that produced greatness, insisting that “there is no I in team, but there is an I in win.”

And Kobe. Aah, Kobe. The epitome of selfish is a player unafraid to jack up shot after missed shot simply because he does not believe his teammates can actually make the shot. Kobe ran Shaq out of Los Angeles faster than Elin ran Tiger Woods out of the house. The Los Angeles love triangle culminated in Kobe demanding that Jerry West pick him or Shaq. Kobe, as victorious as a mistress snatching the philandering husband from the soon-to-be-ex-wife’s clutches, forced Shaq to move on and rebuild with another team.

Both Jordan’s and Bryant’s attitudes yielded extreme success. In the process, however, these attitudes have also redefined our conception of competitiveness; to be a true competitor is to be able to do it alone.  One of the harshest criticisms leveled against Lebron post “The Decision” is that the flight to Miami proves that he cannot win the big one by himself. The reasoning here is that James needs Wade to dim the spotlight shining on him. Maybe. But people seem to forget that the spotlight has been glaring brightly on James since his high-school debut.  When most teenagers were popping pimples, James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One” and appeared on ESPN–all before his eighteenth birthday.  Pressure is understanding that the road leading out of housing projects, drugs,  and prison is through basketball.  Pressure is realizing that although your mother loves you dearly,  she cannot free you from a life of instability.

Pressure is not about whether you win that championship game or even hit that game-winning shot as the clock ticks down. James has already achieved something few black men achieve–he “made it” out of the housing projects in Cleveland and into the penthouse suites of Miami.

It is only fitting that James views the basketball court as his home. As a child, he bounced around more than a basketball. The “More Than a Game” documentary reveals that basketball became a built-in family, complete with brothers and a father he never had. Even reporters observing the Cleveland Cavaliers were struck by the team’s unparalleled chemistry. Although the pre-game warm ups were indeed sophomoric, it was reminiscent of  locker-room antics between high-school athletes, or the close-knit quality between a large family.  James and his teammates seemed to be sharing inside jokes that to the outside world looked immature, but also seemed to say, “You have to be here to understand. Then you would know how what this means to us.”

My point for all of this is not to suggest that James is a better athlete than Kobe or Jordan. Joachim Noah was right to be angered by the shenanigans on the sidelines.  My point is to suggest that James is a better team player than Kobe and Jordan. And, more importantly, that James’ decision offered him a chance to play a team sport with two of his favorite team players.  When James dons that crisp Heat jersey, he is not shirking from the pressures of wearing the crown. Rather he reminds us that basketball is a team sport.  As soon as Jordan hung up the jersey, the search for the next Jordan was on. We were thirsty for that fade-away jumper, that pull-away that only Jordan could hit. Five player teams became extinct. Like supermodels, one name superstars became all the rage. Tyra. Carmelo. Cindy. Kobe.  Naomi. Lebron.  The NBA  became a one-man show with superstar athletes preening and strutting their stuff. Sure, superstar athletes surrounded themselves with role players, but superstars like Kobe make sure that these role players never outshine him.

And the NBA has suffered because of this “all about me” mentality.  TV ratings are consistently lower than the NFL and baseball.  There are a number of reasons for this, but  it has a little something to do with the lack of true teams in the NBA.  “True teams” like the 2008 Boston Celtics and the 2004 Detroit Pistons  remain impressive because there was no clear superstar. These teams were like watching a giant swarm of bees operating as a single mass.

I do not know what will happen this season. I do not know if James’ phantom elbow will make a cameo appearance in the playoffs. I am hoping that Gilbert’s  malevolent curse is as harmless as the South Florida breeze–fleeting and full of hot air.

My own sense of prescience makes me believe that, one day,  we will realize that James did not crumble under pressure and take the easy way out.  James’ actions prove that not only can he play with Wade while keeping his ego in check, but that he desires to play with great players to reach his highest level of athletic prowess. James covets that sense of camaraderie that is unnecessary in solitary sports like tennis and golf, but absolutely fundamental in team sports.  Miami presented James with the best chance to win a championship and the best chance to build a family on the court.  Isn’t that what teams are supposed to be? Isn’t this the same close bond Spartan warriors developed while preparing for battle?  Separated from their biological family members, their brethren became their adopted family. Did this diminish their fierce competitiveness?

Welcome to the family, Lebron.

The Great Pretender

•June 9, 2010 • 1 Comment

“We never talk about this, but why do you hate Kobe so much?” 

It was an innocuous question asked by one of my friends on Facebook. 

The Real Deal

Everyone knows I have an aversion to all things Kobe.  My hatred for him is so natural I never really consider why I hate him. It’s as natural as liking the color pink,  or hating the prickly taste of pickles–you do not know why you do, you just do. 

Kobe Bryant is on my hate list because of the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan. And, I am not just talking about lame sportscasters or columnists (Jemele Hill, what were you thinking?), but friends and family that refuse to see Kobe for the imitator that he is. During the NBA Finals half-time show, Kobe revealed his passion for studying Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, MJ, Magic, and other greats. Kobe, flashing his trademark smile, said, “I guess you could say I copy a lot of my moves.”  Therein lies the problem. 

There is nothing signature about Kobe’s style. Everything that he does has been done by

The Imitation

someone else, only that someone else perfected these moves. His pull-up jump shot, his fade away, his cross-over–Kobe Bryant is Michael Jordan’s bizarro.  Remember that episode of Seinfield where Jerry explains to Elaine that  Bizarro is Superman’s exact opposite,  living in a bizarro world where up is down, and down is up? Sounds crazy? 

Think about it, Kobe’s father is Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, former pro NBA player. Most people don’t even know the name of  Michael’s father, let alone his profession. Yet  James Jordan’s son  became  (arguably) the greatest player on the court. Kobe is decidedly cocky during his post-game interviews, letting everyone know that he is not remotely interested in what people think about him. Jordan played the media like a fine-tuned six-string guitar; you never knew about “the incident” with Steve Kerr,  his womanizing, and while there was a whiff of his penchant for gambling,  it was not enough to cause ripples. Michael had role players. Kobe has a full bail-out plan (Quick trivia question: where would the Lakers be if Artest had not saved Kobe’s air ball against Phoenix? And, what about Derek Fisher–the real closer last night? Could Boston have taken a 2-1 lead?). Kobe proves during the Finals, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, that he knows a lot more than how to speak Italian, but also, that he has mastered the art of magic. Like a poof of smoke, Kobe disappears. Arriverderci!  

Kobe has been studying this game since he was three, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a student of the game.  A few superstars  need to follow his lead. (Ahem, Dwight Howard.) But it’s as though Kobe is an actor remaking a classic film; he does not know how to own the role by adding his special touch to it. Or, maybe the problem is that Michael Jordan’s skills on the court can not be duplicated. Think Casablanca.  There are numerous Casablanca sequels and prequels. Yet everyone remembers the Casablanca with Humphrey and Ingrid.  Something tells me that a remake of Casablanca with Brad Pitt saying to a misty-eyed Angelina Jolie, “Here’s looking at you, kid” might be a blockbuster hit among drooling pubescent boys and hopeless romantics. But others would shout, or perhaps scream, that you simply cannot remake a classic! 

Memo to Kobe: Jordan is off-limits. And not because Kobe is not the greatest player alive (because the greatest of all time retired), but if you are going to remix a classic, then the remix must be better than the original. Not nearly, almost, or just as good–better. 

Kobe wants so badly to replicate what he studies on-screen that he does not play his game. This is the lure of Lebron James, and why, despite all claims to the contrary, that his “King James” moniker will not fade. James plays his game–he slashes to the rim, chases down lay-ups from the other end of the court, barrels to the rim like a football player. James is so spectacular because we have never seen a player with that speed and uncouth style that seems more suitable for the gridiron than the court. Lebron’s uncouth style is distinctly his own. Kobe’s style is like a borrowed hand-me-down sweater that sags in places where it fit your brother or sister just right. 

And while Kobe is still hitting impossible shots and eyeing another championship, he will always live in Michael’s shadow, because he refuses to cultivate his own style. Everyone is always going to see Michael in Kobe; Kobe deliberately does so much that reminds us of Michael. Sadly, this  only diminishes Kobe’s legend as Michael lives on through Kobe’s fade away jumper, which  becomes lackluster when reviewing Jordan’s ballet-like fade away. 

When you think of great players, you think of the unique talent that each individual brings to the game. Kareem had the sky hook. Jordan had the deadly fadeaway jumper. What custom (tradmark) move do you think of when musing about Kobe’s talent? Good, got that move stored in your head? Wait, no, there’s a problem? Michael Jordan’s voice keeps bumping into your thoughts, saying: “That’s not his move, man. He stole that from me.” The same thing happens to me, because all Kobe Bryant does is remind us of all how great Michael Jordan was. And,  how far from “His Air” Kobe falls.

How to Break Someone’s Ankles

•May 26, 2010 • 1 Comment

 Mix about 5 crossovers with:

 one spin move, and a reverse layup.

And, voila!  You have a recipe for broken ankles!

Will the Real Jeff Van Gundy Please Show Up?

•May 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After peeking into my crystal ball, I am predicting (surprise!) that the Magic and Suns are going to lose their conference games. So, the playoffs are sort of like Whitney Houston’s comeback tour–they’ve featured the occasional high points, but, overall, they’ve been a huge disappointment. Lately, I have been paying attention to tiny details since I am not impressed by a series in which one team obliterates the other.

Will the Real Jeff Van Gundy Please Show Up?

Which leads me to my next point: does anyone have a problem with Jeff Van Gundy as the commentator for the Orlando Magic?

I do. I think Van Gundy’s commentary is honest, hilarious, and at times, eccentric–I love it.  But pay close attention to the next game. When the game gets close or Stan makes a bonehead decision, Van Gundy’s nasal voice disappears faster than Lebron did  in Game 5 against the Celtics.  In fact, there are long stretches where Mike Breen is the only voice being heard. I know Breen does the play-by-play and Van Gundy’s job is to provide the interesting anecdotes, but the chemistry between Breen, Jackson, and Van Gundy seems tense and forced, almost as though Jackson feels a bit uncomfortable saying anything negative about Van Gundy because he doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, particularly Jeff Van Gundy’s toes.

Again, I enjoy Van Gundy’s frank analysis. And there is nothing wrong with the Van Gundys showing each other a little brotherly love. But I want the old Jeff Van Gundy back–the one who isn’t afraid to criticize the coach, lazy players, and celebrities caught picking their nose on the Jumbotron (this hasn’t actually happened yet, but I am sure if it did, Van Gundy would say: “That’s just nasty–I don’t care if she is Beyonce”).

The Van Gundy brothers can reunite at the next family reunion, not during the NBA Finals.

LBJ to MIA!!

•May 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Can they do it?

Okay, so the Cleveland fans are bitter, angry, and probably clutching their teddy bears. sobbing. Why? Why? First, Ehloe. Now THIS! And I am just about to make things a bit worse for them. I want Lebron to come to Miami.  Need I say why? If Lebron decides to join the Miami Heat, not only will I get a chance to (possibly) see him frolicking on sandy South Beach, but I am sure Wade will stay and Riley will coach these two superstars to victory.  This is a chain reaction that will pay major dividends for Miami fans. I can picture it now….

So, please sign my petition:  http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.petitionspot.com%2Fpetitions%2Flbjtomia&h=b1152 

We’re bringing the King to Miami–Cleveland can’t handle him; Miami, Wade, and Riley can.