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The top 10 sports stories of 2020*

20Oct17, Photo: Anthony Moretti

*Coronavirus is not considered in this list; the impact it had on sports all over the world is so obvious that it ought to be its own Top 10 list.

Here we go…

10. The Los Angeles Dodgers finally get it done, winning the World Series and ending a 32-year championship drought.

9. LSU wins the college football national championship. The Tigers, behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow go 15-0 and break the vise-like grip Alabama and Clemson have held on the sport.

8. Two different stories involving black race car drivers. Lewis Hamilton — again — dominates Formula One. Hamilton wins his fourth straight championship and seventh overall. This year, he wins 11 of the 17 races the sport contested. In the U.S., a different story, as NASCAR drivers rally to support Bubba Wallace after a noose is found in his team’s garage before a race in Alabama

Public Domain image

7. Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller goes from an anonymous college soccer player to the first woman to play in a major college football game in the span of one week. She later converts an extra point, becoming the first woman to score in a major college football game.

6. The Houston Astros can their general manager and manager after Major League Baseball releases its report about sign stealing.

5. Russia is again sanctioned, this time for two years, amid accusations of state-sponsored doping of its elite athletes.

Public Domain photos

4. College athletes move closer to being able to profit off their name, image and likeness.

3. Kim Ng is named the general manager of the Miami Marlins, becoming the first woman to hold that position in the history of Major League Baseball.

2. Athletes from across sports embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, offering public demonstrations in support of equality, racial justice and more.

1. Kobe Bryant, one of his daughters and seven other people die in a helicopter crash. Bryant, who played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was only 41 years old.

One enemy after another

Modern American history, which for purposes of this blog post begins with the 1950s, has been one of constant real or imagined enemies in the United States.

Not a decade has gone by since the end of World War II in which an “enemy” of white, middle-class, married, heterosexual, majority America hasn’t existed. That “enemy” has always been vile and evil, and always has sought nothing more than to destroy the country.

Remarkably, that enemy never has been the menace the people believed it to be. However, middle class America now accepts vicious people are always at the ready to attack. These Americans must arm themselves with guns and celebrate the massive amount of nuclear weapons and other hardware the military has. All in the name of protection from an enemy that almost always lacks bark and bite.

Hunkered down America with its massive, phallic-looking weapons is a proud, strong America. Of course it is. The narrative of the past seven decades is clear: arming while establishing consistent, though changing, enemies has hurt the U.S. more than its helped it. (The military-industrial complex is quite happy, mind you.)

The 1950s saw the unleashing of those big, bad Commies who were determined to ruin “our” way of life. Dr. Elaine Tyler May’s book Fortress America begins with a discussion of how the United States commenced the militarization of the homeland because of the ridiculous belief that the Soviet Union had spies lurking everywhere, and those spies were eager to chip away at the foundation of the U.S. May reminds her readers multiple times that the manic pursuit of safety throughout the 1950s (and beyond) has offered no evidence Americans were, in fact, safer. What were they? Isolated in quiet suburbia, which provided an image of hard-working men, stay-at-home women and the affirmation that the nuclear family was the only “right” family.

No people of color and most definitely no gay people were welcomed in this utopia.

The 1960s brought a new villain: those pesky Blacks who wouldn’t stop talking about civil rights as they stormed through American cities committing crimes everywhere they went! Of course, Blacks were not committing crimes everywhere they went, but image overruled reality: White Americans began to fear Blacks, especially Black men, leaving the inner cities and bringing their mayhem to the quiet, pristine and safe suburbs. Women learned the “necessity” of clutching their purses a bit more tightly whenever they spotted a Black man walking toward them. Men and women casually crossed the street for no apparent reason whenever a Black person was coming their way. What no one wanted to hear was that Americans were twice as likely to die in car crashes as they were to be victims of crime.

Turns out the Blacks weren’t pesky, but the facts about crime were.

The 1970s were undermined at the beginning of the decade by the non-stop bleating of liberals, pacifists and others about the Vietnam War. If only they’d have done the manly, American thing and fought for their country! Sherry Gottlieb’s book Hell No, We Won’t Go!, an oral history of the men who refused to join U.S. forces fighting that war, provides a reminder that too many Americans held a visceral hatred of the men who believed the war in Vietnam was immoral and who therefore couldn’t bring themselves to join the military.

No doubt, these wimpy, probably Commie, Americans set the table for gays, Hispanics and all sorts of special-interest groups to take their groveling and whining to the media, which lapped up these stories with intensity by the end of the decade!

The 1980s brought the Japanese menace, an enemy not even Ronald Reagan could rein in. The Japanese — flush with money — were everywhere, either on vacation (taking all those pictures with their Japanese-made cameras) or buying signature American properties for much less than they were worth. Dr. Kristin Vekasi spoke to NPR about the trade war and hostile feelings that developed between the U.S. and Japan during this decade, noting

We were buying so much stuff from Japan, and our manufacturing sector was getting hollowed out. We were losing American jobs; we losing American products. As a response to that, a lot of Americans started to have “Buy American” campaigns. There was something called Japan-bashing, which was rhetorical but was also literal when, particularly in auto manufacturing centers, people were taking baseball bats and smashing Japanese vehicles in the streets to show their dissatisfaction and anger.

How nice.

The real enemy of the 1980s (which carried over into subsequent decades) is told very well in George Packer’s book The Unwinding. It details how the hollowing out of many U.S. economic centers ended the unwritten contract between citizen and government that there would always be a steady, reliable income from a job that would always be there.

The 1990s again meant war! Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait…because of oil. Oh, hell no, no country but ours marches into another land for oil (under the guise of vital national security interests, of course). America again proved it wasn’t to be messed with on the battle field (unless that battle field was located in Southeast Asia). Knocking out Saddam and his paper-thin army brought temporary relief that was quickly ruined by terror at home. When one of those terrorists turned out to be a scrawny young man from middle America, the storyline was destroyed: Why would Timothy McVeigh blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City? He wasn’t Communist, or black, or Muslim. Heck, he’d been in the military.

Little did we know what was to come.  

The 2000s were all about those scary, disgusting, evil and awful Muslims. They were the new Reds: Everywhere. Forgotten in this Islamophobia is a frightening fact: Domestic terrorists brandishing those long, hard guns have killed more Americans than Muslims have over the past two decades. Slate reminds us of one important reason why white men shooting people of all ages aren’t assigned the label they deserve: domestic terrorists.

The FBI devotes far fewer resources to right-wing terrorism than it does jihadi terrorism, and programs for countering violence extremism also focus largely on jihadis. Most social media companies are aggressive in trying to get jihadis off their platforms. They are far more cautious, however, when it comes to white supremacists, fearing political backlash. Legally, federal counterterrorism officials have far more power to go after those associated with international terrorist groups than they do for domestic terrorist groups, no matter how lethal. 

The 2010s brought those Blacks back. Yup, they simply refuse to accept “we” have done all we can for them. More importantly, if they’d just do what the cops told them to do, well, none of them would be shot. While Blacks shout “Black Lives Matter,” the hunkered down crowd has to scream “All Lives Matter.”

Gun sales also soared in this decade, even though — and this will sound familiar — crime statistics were on the decline. Dr. May reflected on a study by a sociologist who concluded, in May’s words, “gun ownership reflected a desire to reclaim a sense of dignity and security at a time of economic uncertainty.” Many of these gun owners opted for concealed carry; May also notes there is no evidence to link the concealed carrying of a gun to increased public safety.

When does this create-an-enemy game stop? 

We know that answer: It won’t stop. There always has to be an international enemy so that the incessant building up of military might can continue. (China. Russia. Iran. North Korea. Syria.) And the MAGA crowd needs a domestic foe to remind them that America is heading right off the cliff if “those people” are in charge.

Dr. Timothy Snyder writes in his book The Road to Unfreedom that peoples must accept either the politics of inevitability or the politics of eternity. The former acknowledges that the present built on the past and the future will do the same. The future, unsettled as it is, should be viewed with optimism and hope.

The latter looks backward. In looking backward, the politics of eternity places a nation in a non-stop loop of victim hood: There always is an enemy at the gates, and government leaders can’t bring about progress because they’re trying to save the homeland.

Too many Americans are looking backward. Whether it’s minorities at home or enemies abroad, there are bad people out to get “us.” Snyder argues that Russia will never surrender its victim status while Vladimir Putin is in charge. Nations that want to be great again act that way, too.

Militia patrolling the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin

It’s 21st century America, and militia are patrolling the streets of one U.S. city.

And they might be shooting private citizens.

According to the Guardian,

Two people were shot dead and another injured when at least one gunman opened fire on protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid demonstrations against the police shooting of Jacob Blake three days ago.

David Beth, the county sheriff, said one person was shot in the head and another in the chest shortly before midnight on Tuesday. Another person was shot in the arm. The victims have not been identified.

Beth said people describing themselves as belonging to a militia had been patrolling Kenosha’s streets in recent nights but he did not know if the shooter was involved with such a group.

“They’re a militia,” Beth told reporters. “They’re like a vigilante group.”

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports

On Tuesday, a group calling itself the Kenosha Guard, asked members and followers on Facebook to come downtown and be prepared to defend the city.

One post read: “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend out (sic) City tonight from the evil thugs? Nondoubt (sic) they are currently planning on the next part of the City to burn tonight!”

The Kenosha News reports that local officials are urging the governor to authorize the National Guard to brought to the city.

A police state brought about by one white officer choosing to shoot a black man seven times. That black man, Jacob Blake, is now paralyzed from the waist down.

What a country.

“YOu can’t trust a n*****”

I find it both odd and sad when adults who are the first generation of their family in this country become infected by racism. (Don’t read that as any kind of defense for generations that have been here longer.)

How can they speak so forcefully in defense of their parents, who faced scorn (and often worse) when they arrived in the U.S., and yet be so hate-filled in their reactions to people of color?

Their parents told stories of what people said to them and about them. Those words had to make an impression on their children, who nevertheless grew up determined to defend “their” people, but quite comfortable attacking minorities.

How do they not see the similarities?

“You can’t trust a n*****” and other racist sentences were not uncommon to hear in my youth. I’m sure my friends heard similar words, though, as kids, we were too young and innocent to talk to each other about what these words really meant. Nor did we dare even think of confronting our families. No one family has exclusivity on this kind of rubbish, and we’d also be making a terrible mistake presuming only one geographic part of this country espouses racism.

“Of course, we’re not racist” almost instantly followed those racist diatribes. One can hear the unstated “our family is much too good to be racist” in such words. We children were, of course, merely being counseled to recognize good and bad.

Of course.

Children lack the education, confidence and maturity to confront racism, but their parents can, and must, serve as the adults who constantly instill an idea that says “those words and those beliefs have no place in this house.” If children learn racism is wrong, there’s a good chance they’ll become adults who affirm racism is wrong.

Earlier this week, I was part of the first of what will be many Courageous Conversations on my university campus. As much as I enjoyed seeing (albeit via a web camera) nearly three-dozen colleagues whom I’ve not seen face to face in almost four months, I was much happier to see the five total kids who were listening in, even if for only a couple of minutes, on what their parents were saying or hearing.

If my memory is being kind to me, those kids are 10, 9, 8, 7 and 4. (Yes, I know, kids grow up way to quickly, so I might have missed a birthday somewhere in there!) In reality, it doesn’t matter their age; what is important is that their parents didn’t tell them to leave or get out of the way. No, their presence, however brief it was, was a reminder that this was a moment to learn.

One of my colleagues was in another part of the state with his son. He mentioned that as they drove there (and, no, I’m not naming the location), they saw more and more indications of race and hate.

Yes, my friends, we have so far to go to kill the cancer that is racism. And each of us as adults — whether we be parents or not — must demonstrate anti-racist conduct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

That might seem hard; but remember the racists are spewing their hate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And children are listening.

Tearing down statues alone won’t get the job done

Throughout the United States and around the world, significant discussions continue to take place about statues erected many, many years ago to honor long-dead men now under intense scrutiny for how they lived their lives.

Here at home, there are a lot of people who want those statues to these slave-owning or misogynistic or racist men torn down.

I’m all for it.

But tearing down statues is a bit like cutting the top off a weed; if you don’t dig deeper and attack the root, then nothing of substance will change.

I’m much more interested in that.

Critics of Black Lives Matter abound; and if we are to be fully honest, a whole lot of that crowd is racist. Of course, they won’t admit it; that would be uncivilized. But those critics will lock onto any controversial element of BLM — factual or not — as they demean the effort’s overarching goal: destroying structural racism at the root.

Structural racism exists because Americans allow it to remain alive. We who want change don’t elect enough political change agents, demand education reform so that poorly financed public school systems get more money to spend per pupil, stop legislative efforts that throw more Blacks in jail and remain adamant that legitimate career-type jobs are created.

On this day of America’s independence, it is important to remember that real freedom for roughly 13% of the country’s population still hasn’t been earned.