Go Ella

I am the father of a cheerleader. This may sound like no big deal to you, but for me, it’s quite conflicting. First of all, let me be honest by saying that when I was younger I wasn’t too sure about having children. Not because I didn’t want children, mind you, but because I was afraid that with me as their father they would have little hope of enjoying a good life. I was dorky. I was not popular. I was not attractive. I had little in the way of hopes or dreams.

In short, I was a mopey teenager. And I was afraid that I would always be that way.

Life, as it does, turned out differently, but as soon as I found out that my first child was going to be a girl, I felt something from my past rear its head and I knew: I did not want my daughter to ever be a cheerleader.

Stereotypes are hurtful, and if you’ve watched any TV or movies over the past 20 years, you know exactly what the cheerleader stereotype is: vapid, shallow, vicious, spiteful, manipulative, insecure, hurtful, condescending, vain…the list could go on. Never mind that the woman I married (a former cheerleader) was NONE of those things – or that many of the cheerleaders I actually knew in high school weren’t either – I was still determined that my daughter, to borrow a phrase from Rick Reilly, would be better served excelling between the sidelines instead of on them.

My folly was assuming that my daughter would simply go along with my plan.

Ella, as I have documented, has a particular mind of her own, a trait of which I am very proud. Rachel and I have always wanted to foster her as a thinker and leader instead of a follower. Sometimes, as she argues with us until we want to poke our eyes out, we are all too aware of just how much we have succeeded in that regard, which highlights the problem with raising a free-thinking daughter: on occasion she doesn’t agree with you.

Cheerleading was one of those occasions.

Ella’s best friend in the world, Emma Grace, was a cheerleader last year. EG got to wear the cute skirts, the hairbows, the nifty cheerleading shoes. She got to shake pom-poms and do little kicks, flicks and tricks. And she showed Ella all of this.

Now, my daughter is a sucker for pageantry. She loves costumes. She loves the idea of spectacle and show. So this cheerleading bit was right up her alley. Almost immediately, she wanted to become one with the cheer squad.

I wanted to throw up.

Not to denigrate cheerleading, but most of the people in the stands who are looking at the girls are watching what’s going on behind them. At best, they are a moderately annoying view obstruction. At worst, they are targets for derision and flat-out hatred, not to mention sexual objectification.

Let’s not also forget that cheerleading is the most dangerous of all sports for young girls. Don’t believe me? Read this story from ABC News and get back to me. And if that’s not reason enough, then there’s this: a Federal court just issued a ruling that cheerleading is NOT a sport under Title IX, and therefore cannot be counted towards gender-equity compliance.

So cheerleading is insanely dangerous AND it’s not a sport. Put that in your pom-pom and shake it.

But I had to pause and consider something: if I carried my inherently negative thoughts towards cheerleading to their logical conclusion, I would become negative towards my daughter. I would, essentially, destroy her with my words, attitudes and thoughts. Knowing this, I vowed to keep my comments to myself. I promised that I would be nothing but a super-supportive dad. No snide remarks during sessions at the cheer gym. No cutting jokes during the choreography of the dance routine. No condescending blather while she practiced imploring her team “T-D, we want a touchdown!”

I have been the model of restraint.

Well, almost. I lost it when she tried on her bloomers (the little underwear-like thing that covers up the real underwear); they were a little too tight and little too high-cut for my tastes. I held my tongue, though, until she tried on her skin-tight long sleeve undershirt with the ridiculously deep v-neck. At that point I looked at Rachel and said, “Did we buy a cheerleading uniform or an exotic dancer starter kit?”

Let’s just say daddy has issues with the uniform.

I never imagined how challenging it would be for my child to choose her own path. I’ve learned to accept that she has chosen to do something that I never wanted her to do, but what I’ve not mastered is my own response to choice. I know it’s only cheerleading, but I feel like it’s imperative for me to set aside my own history and embrace the fact that she’s writing her own. Maybe she falls in love with cheerleading and it becomes a life-long passion; maybe she does it for a season and decides to move on. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this is what Ella is right now, and for me to be a true father, I need to be there for her in the moment.

Because some day in the future we’ll arrive at another one of these moments, and I want her to know – to really KNOW – that her daddy loves and supports her. Always.

Ironic, isn’t it? A man who hated cheerleading has become a cheerleader himself. And will always be that way, no matter what.

Go Ella.

Taking Exception

This morning, in between fetching my kids glasses of milk and trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment for Ella, I took a few minutes to read an interesting email exchange between the writers Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. The exchange was part of an article for the website Grantland, and it was ostensibly about how the world has changed with the advent of non-stop, always available media.

But as any good discussion does (whether spoken or in print) this one turned towards other matters, and Gladwell – in a tangential paragraph – related a story from his own personal experience: that once, while waiting in an airport security line, he watched a professional football player get escorted to the front of the queue for an expedited clearance. And Gladwell points out that the crowd – full of “teachers, salesmen, nurses, working moms, and hack writers” – instead of getting irate at the special treatment for the player, collectively said, “Cool. There’s [Player X].”

The author’s grand point: “Standing in line in airports and other everyday rituals of modern life are the kinds of things that civilize us: As annoying as they are, they remind us that we are all equal and they teach us patience, and they grant us a kind of ultimately useful anonymity. [Player X] and celebrities of his ilk never have the privilege of those moments.”

By now you’ve most likely stopped reading, but given the week I’ve been having, this small anecdote fascinated me because it made me realize that the only thing that makes people exceptional is the fact that we make exceptions for them.

And everyone, whether they’ll be honest about it or not, wants to be exceptional.

I know I do. Whether it’s regarding my writing, or my daughter’s health, or my finances, or some other non-important exception that only becomes important when it would benefit me in some way, I want to be exceptional. Because exceptional is just that – allowed to bend the rules that normally apply. Granted special privileges. Bestowed with particular honor for some mutually accepted and appreciated reason.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to get escorted to the front of the line, eat in the finest restaurants, have their personality flaws overlooked and their gifts embraced by the general populace? Who doesn’t want to be able to flaunt the rules or completely circumvent them, all while being adored by people to whom the rules apply?

Nobody, that’s who. Which is why our culture has created entire niches for people to develop skills that allow them to become exceptional. Football players. Baseball players. Basketball players. Musicians. Actors. Writers. Politicians. CEOs. People who are famous for being famous. Reality TV. Blogs. Podcasts.

In fact, if you look at popular culture today, it’s become a race to see who can become exceptional; and the irony is, there’s nothing exceptional about them at all, other than the fact that the collective public is willing to cede them that status.

Sure, there are only a handful of men who can say they are professional athletes. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones possessed of that type of athletic giftedness – it only means they were the ones who possessed that gift and good fortune. Becoming exceptional, as much as we may argue otherwise, is as much about luck and timing than it is about skill or personal drive. If it were purely about ability, then we would be overrun with exceptional people because there are scads of folks who excel at football or baseball or singing or dancing or acting who just never catch a break that propels them to better circumstances.

Or, as someone once said to me, “There’s a lot of wasted talent in prison.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because for me, this week has been frustrating because of its ordinary-ness. My daughter’s been sick, which has meant time spent within the bowels of our health care system, and if you’ve ever had to deal with that then you know why being exceptional – having access to instant care, the best doctors, the most cutting edge treatment, all without having to worry about the cost – is desirable. If I could choose just one area to be granted exceptional status – the ability to cut to the front and get special treatment – it would be the health care field.

And I say that fully aware that there are cases far worse than my own.

Everyone wants to be exceptional, but only few get there, and they get there on the arms of our approval. But what if we quit granting exceptional status to football stars and actors and other folks, and started granting it to a different classs of people.

Like wounded veterans. Or the chronically ill. Or students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Sure, we occasionally make exceptions for folks like that, but nowhere near as frequently and certainly with far less fuss. We elevate people who don’t necessarily need it and miss out on the ones that do because we are inured to suffering. We’re conditioned to it. It’s our daily life, and there’s nothing exceptional about our daily life. It’s common.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we were to choose, we could flip the script and make the ordinary, extraordinary; we could make the plain, exceptional, and in doing so we would all get our chance to shine. We could learn to celebrate life and it’s imperfections, instead of holding up a standard of perfection that so few can possibly hope to attain and torturing ourselves for our inability to meet it. We could, as an ancient piece of wisdom goes, “Think of others as better than ourselves.”

To do so would be exceptional.

Misery’s Hometown

The Braves have much to do with Atlanta being named Forbes' "Most Miserable Sports City". But so do the Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers...

In case the nasty weather, Republican primaries, spiraling deficit or the Oscars didn’t already make you feel like a snail’s slime trail, the good editors at Forbes have a little something to help you completely over the edge of the cliff.

Behold, Atlanta – the most miserable sports city in the United States.

That’s right, as if our private shame weren’t enough, Forbes has compounded the humiliation by dragging our futility on the field into the national spotlight. Just when the eternal hope of Spring Training and the NFL Draft were coming into sight, the magazine that’s all about money drags us backward into the horrific past: the Braves’ epic September collapse; the Falcons flop in New York; the Thrashers “relocation” to some fictional Canadian town; and the Hawks…well, the Hawks in general.

So just how is misery calculated?

“Our unique sports misery methodology isn’t focused on long-term futility… This is about misery as defined by heartbreak — teams good enough to win a lot of games and advance through the post-season, only to disappoint fans in the end by falling short of a championship. Which cities have endured that the most?  No one tops Atlanta, a combined 1-5 in World Series and Super Bowl play, not to mention numerous post-season flops in earlier rounds.”

Oh. Well, then, yeah – that’s us.

But that’s not all that’s miserable about Atlanta, right? I mean, if we’re going to pile on, let’s really pile it on. To wit:

  • Horrible traffic. On the level of Greek tragedy horrible, sort of a combo-platter of Prometheus in a Prius.
  • Air quality. My daughter is asthmatic. So are almost 80% of her friends it seems. When I was a kid we had one asthmatic in the entire school, and he only had an attack once every five years. Now, my kid barely makes it two months without some sort of pulmonary emergency, and a large part of that has to do with being number 10 on this list.
  • Transplants. Not the save-your-life-because-someone-was-kind-enough-to-donate-their-organs kind, but the kind that can be frequently overheard complaining about how “backwards”, “redneck”, “stupid”, or “hillbilly” we are “down here.” Nothing kills the simple joy of an overpriced coffee drink like some transplant wishing they’d stayed in whatever city they came from.
  • Georgia Tech. Not really, but the UGA alum in me can’t resist.
  • Road construction. As the late Lewis Grizzard once said, it’s like Sherman came back from the dead and brought jackhammers and bulldozers with him.
  • Gnats. And their insipid cousin the mosquito.
  • Local TV weather reporters. Just because someone in McCaysville saw a snowflake, it doesn’t mean we 23 news vans canvassing the state, looking for another frozen raindrop to fall. Plus, you just look silly standing out there in your hats.

I suppose I could go on, but to do so would mean further running down the place I call home. So we don’t have a Super Bowl title yet, or an NBA title, or even an NHL franchise. We still get Augusta National in the Spring, plus SEC football in the fall, the natives are still polite if not quite politically correct, and the rest of the modern world is starting to catch up on the fact that there are other Southern cooks besides Paula Deen. Plus, we’re home to the wonderful nectar that is Co-Coler.

So keep your sports titles Boston, New York, L.A., Dallas and St. Louis. That’s about all you’ve got going for you anyway.

Well, not really. But it feels better to say that.

Tebow or Not Tebow?

What does our national reaction to Tim Tebow's faith tell us about ourselves?

Let me start this blog of by admitting that I kind of like Tim Tebow, and that my admiration would perhaps run deeper had he not attended and played for the University of Florida. And let me also say that by his association with that particular penitentiary – uh, university – Tim Tebow proves that he is, indeed, no saint.

But that’s just the Georgia Bulldawg in me talking.

Collegiate allegiances aside, I like Tim Tebow. I think he’s a neat kid who’s trying to do something that very few people have ever managed, A.C. Green excepted: live a pious life as a professional athlete.

In case you don’t remember A.C. Green, that’s okay – he doesn’t remember you either. But he was a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, a teammate of Magic Johnson and the Showtime gang, and was more famous for his public declaration of his virginity than his basketball. Green, on a team whose exploits were as prolific off the court as on it, abstained from the many opportunities afforded a pro athlete because of his religious convictions.

Tim Tebow is trying to walk the same tightrope. Only with Tebow, it’s 4,000 feet higher in the air and he’s got people trying to cut the rope out from under him.

You see, Tebow isn’t just public with his faith in Jesus Christ – it’s the defining force in his life. He starts every post-game press conference with a shout out to the Lord, and he brings his faith into every interview. For many, he’s become a folk hero. For others, he’s a proselyte who should just shut up.

And that’s just among us Christians.

Listening to the radio only yesterday, I heard Mike Bell, a local sports talk host on 790 The Zone, say that Tebow needed to keep his religion out of his football. Bell pointed to Tebow’s practice of kneeling at the beginning and end of games – the now ubiquitous Tebowing – as an obnoxious intrusion on the games themselves.

“Like God really gives a crap about a football game,” Bell said.

His partner, David Archer, rebutted Bell by saying that Tebow has made it known that he doesn’t pray for victory or divine intervention in the outcome of games, but instead that the men involved in the competition will play with honor and without injury.

“And from talking to him,” and here it should be noted that Archer is not just a sports talk host, he’s also color analyst for the Atlanta Falcons radio broadcasts and a former NFL quarterback, “he’s sincere with that. He really is praying for every guy to come off that field okay.”

I appreciated the exchange. I could see Bell’s point – he doesn’t want to have someones religion shoved down his throat. Personally, I felt the same way when Mahmoud Abdul Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem because he’s a Muslim. Rauf had every right to practice his faith as he saw fit, and for him, not standing during the anthem was devotion to Allah. I remember, at the time, being disgusted by his logic and turned off to his religion, and a great many people felt the same way – public backlash against Rauf was strong and swift.

And that was just one incident.

Tebow’s faith is out there non-stop, in part because the kid just lives that way, and in part because the national media (cough-ESPN-cough) is in love with him in a way that should almost require a restraining order. We’ve been kind of force-fed Tebow for the last five months because he’s seen as a compelling story, and part of that narrative is his faith. The media doesn’t really home in on it – at least not in a way that makes them as proselyting as Tebow – but by giving him so much air time, Tebow gets countless opportunities to express his beliefs to the viewing public. And for many people that just gets old.

It’s haranguing. It’s pedantic. It’s offensive. It’s another example of the Right Wing-Nuts trying to turn this nation into a theocracy where no one but the faithful get the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Maybe. If the shoe were on the other foot, if – say – it were a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Moonie athlete getting all the press, I might feel more outrage.

But I doubt it. From every account I’ve read about Tebow, it’s not some cynical masterplan. He would live this way with or without cameras. If he had been really, really gifted at accounting instead of football, he would have prayed over tax returns or statements. If he had been a chef, he would have said the blessing over each meal he served up. He would do this because it’s his sincere belief and it’s an inextricable part of who he is.

Actually, it’s not part of who he is. It is who he is. That’s why it always comes out.

As Christians, that’s the way we’re supposed to be. We shouldn’t have to concoct systems, programs or other subterfuges in an attempt to share the Gospel – it should just be who we are, and come out of us genuinely and naturally. The fact that it doesn’t, that we all too often do come across as forced and manufactured when speaking about our faith, makes Tebow that much more of an intriguing figure because he is the genuine article.

I know a lot of people have adopted the “wait and see” strategy with Tebow – that eventually he’ll do or say something stupid that will validate the cynical among us for not believing in him. Maybe so – he is human after all. But the fact that he has weathered such intense scrutiny – for his faith, his football, and just being himself – without a moral failing coming to light just adds to the mystique.

Tebow will eventually mess up. Not because he’s a phony but because he’s a human being. But even in his mistakes, he’ll continue to be a polarizing figure, but it won’t be because of his faith.

It will be because he forces us to look at our own.

Fox Network Hates Jesus (Surprise!)

Okay – ordinarily, I’d not touch this one.

What Fox Broadcasting wants to run on their Super Bowl broadcast is their business (literally), and if they say that an ad doesn’t meet their broadcast standards, then that’s that. According to David Gibson and other media reports, they’ve rejected at least two potential commericals for, as Gibson writes, “issues of bad taste and inappropriate content.”

Now, Fox has added a third commercial to the scrap heap. Not for being too sexy, not for being too outrageous, not for being too offensive – no, this one gets rejected because it’s too…well, I don’t know what makes this one so bad. Fox says it’s promoting Christianity, and that’s a no-no for their broadcast: Fox “does not accept advertising from religious organizations for the purpose of advancing particular beliefs or practices.”

Honestly, if you go watch this video, submitted by Fixed-Point Foundation out of Birmingham, AL, do you find that it promotes “religious beliefs or practices” in any way?

Sure, it directs you to a link that not only quotes John 3:16 but offers brief commentary as well, but the commercial itself isn’t even religious. No one drops to their knees and prays to Christ. No one administers the Eucharist to a stadium full of fans (though apparently Pepsi and Doritos had an idea for a commercial that blasphemed that Christian rite; it was rejected too).

Fixed-Point’s ad is  just another commercial for another website. As Gibson and other blogsters have posited, how does this commercial differ from the GoDaddy ads or any others that use a few seconds of footage to direct a viewer’s attention to a website?

And since we’re talking about standards, take a few moments to compare Fixed Point’s commercial with Fox’s standard broadcast fare: an episode of Family Guy entitled “I Dream of Jesus.”

Which video is more disturbing?

It’s interesting that the parent company for the Religious Right’s favorite news channel – you know, the one that’s “fair and balanced” – apparently hates the Savior the Religious Right so loves. I’m sure there’s more that could be explored here, but honestly, this seems pretty cut and dried.

Fox hates Jesus. Do you agree?