Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Four Fathers

Four Fathers

Besides the obvious,
The sperm donors,
The issues from whose loins
I grew:
More fathers.


Genetic meaning,
Heir of Christ, Jahweh,
David (aren’t we all?)—
I knew,
Adams. Lots.

In human events’ course,
There at nation’s birth,
Revolution’s call,
Fought through,

Tumultuous youth disbursed,
With models besides
Pep, Peter, Pop, Grampa.
Men who
Stand with me.

Civics, history, mentor,
Encourager, Crile, challenger,
Groomer: national Pride
Made new.
Pushed, pushes.

Language in skin, words
Made whole together.
Sam Salving my wounds: Sweet

First friends’ father,
Then-present surrogate,
Pack dad, politicker: San

Mother’s princess-maker,
Prince-ing me by marriage.
Not just “step,” but Bob “is,”
Dad too.

Birth to spirit, to thought.
Birth to lifebloods fraught.
Born before, reborn again,


Cosmic orgy: Four fathers,
Beyond blood heritage,
History alive: concurrent. By
These few,
Super blessed.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Other Sams: Football Kickoff

THE OTHER SAMS: Football Kickoff

Perhaps the line that runs between Michael Sam, Sam Singhaus, and Tim Tebow is not completely straight. I’ll admit that it is pythagorean and that the angles of right are bisected with complements that dance—in what some might call uniforms but others may prefer to think of as costumes—through the gridiron. It’s the start of football season, after all, and Miss Sammy is the only guaranteed star here along the I-4 corridor (our new obsession with soccer and the Buc’s new quarterback notwithstanding). 

Traditional arguments for public-private partnerships, between sports moguls and their host cities wrap around money, community-building, and victory. Even when professional sports teams are middling, at least the traditional arguments go, they provide opportunities in the form of ancillary tax revenues, tourism, and quality-of-life bonafides for corporate neighbors’ recruiting. Unfortunately, much of the (true, vetted) economic scholarship on the subject argues that a new Burdines brings as much economic boost as a new soccer team (for instance), even when they decide to build their own facility.

Republicans always like a good economic argument.

Assuming that, just for a moment and to move onto the grander point of this article, the economic impact of a sports team is only ten percent greater than a Dick’s taking over the empty third Dillards at the Volusia Mall, why might communities want to embrace a new sports franchise (or venue) when the returns are so little? What can the Buc’s bring to a city that a new library or civic center can’t? Why shouldn’t a municipality subsidize that Burdines instead?

There aren’t many things that groups which include Mike Sam, Miss Sammy and Timmy T. can get behind—that cross the borders of partisanship—than a winning team to rally around. Witness the recent winter celebrations of all things Bolts in Tampa this year. 

And so, why? 

The people that step into the sports spotlight fulfill a need that we, Americans, all have deep down: to be the best at something. Regardless of what Charles Barkley so disappointingly asserted in the nineties, we look to sports figures as role models. We want those athletes whom God has blessed with superhuman ability to also be leaders off the field. We invest ourselves—publicly, privately—in them.

Whether this is fair or not, we pucker at Michael Sam’s kiss felt round the world as a victory for Pride. We look at Tim Tebow’s unassailable Christian faith as a victory for another minority—the outspoken “walk the walker”  in the the otherwise secular locker room. We see these men and we cheer for them. We want them to succeed, not just at football, but in life. We want them to be what we cannot all always be: leaders and victors: personal Jesuses. 

We install our own dreams in them, each according to our needs and to their abilities. 

What happens when they fail? What does it say about us—as investors—or about our aspirations as a people when they fall short of the glory of either God or, in our case, the gays? What of us, when we have invested so much in the success of Michael Sam and he quits, shoving an un-lubed middle finger at the Canadian football team that scraped him off the bottom of the NFL’s collective cleats?

Unfortunately, we are all embarrassed. His unprecedented and unrepentant retreat dealt a blow, not merely to the pride of the SEC that spawned him, but to the LGBTQ community (assuming his ridiculous self-promoting stint on DWTS hadn’t already done so) that claimed him. He solidified the rest of the world’s discriminations that gay men can’t cut it in professional sports. He was, at best, a flash in the pan: allouette (a lark).  At worst, he set back the timeclock for anybody else to come out in professional sports. He wasted the thunder that a legitimate, hard-working, blessed star might have struck in the absence of this Michael Sam.

And Tim Tebow, good God, even Seminoles (this one not excepted) and Mizzous have to love him. He, while concurrently embracing dying children AND supporting the unborn AND working on his throwing technique, has become the (triangulated) poster child for all-Americanism.  The Tim Tebow Foundation, which raised $4 million during his first year in the NFL, continues to reach out across politics and religion: fulfilling the wishes of children facing life threatening disease, helping kids in the developing world that suffer from treatable disabilities, and supporting abandoned and homeless orphans, just to name a few of its downfield targets. 
He makes us all want to be in that conference—if not legitimizing true Jesus-centered humanism. He is the anti-Sam, working hard for a second, third, and fourth chance: never quitting.  Now forced into a punting situation, even as the Eagles have closed the door on Tebow’s status as a third-string professional quarterback, he falls back deep into the pocket of our hearts. The reality, though, is that he too has failed to live up to our public-private partnership in him. He may continue to lead, but he no longer carries the panache of the  sports world (TV, that’s different). He has failed us in no smaller way than Michael Sam. 

Differently—separately—but equally:  failed proselytizers.

Don’t get me wrong about Michael Sam. I want him to succeed. I was one of the thousands of people that made his jersey the second best selling in the NFL of 2014—before he ever played a down for the St. Louis Rams (and before he was cut, and before he was cut from the Cowboys, and before he quit the Allouettes (PUNT)). I wanted him to be “our” Tim Tebow. He had all the promise, but none of the follow through. He asked to be a role model when he came out publicly. He failed as a role model in his private meltdown. 

Ultimately, neither Tebow nor Sam have proven out to be the role models we wanted. Maybe I expected too much. After all, there are millions of Americans that don’t have a platform like professional sports from which to glow. Because he won’t be leading an NFL team shouldn’t diminish the value of the good works Tebow does. Because he won’t be sacking quarterbacks shouldn’t diminish the fact that Michael Sam was brave for becoming the face of an otherwise-invisible group in the world of professional sports. But, however unfair it may be, they lose credibility in their works because they are no longer center-stadium.  

Finally, back to those stadiums. 

For every Tebow and Sam whose careers veer from the gridiron to other venues, there are many more good-hearted, generous, successful athletes whose activities serve as examples that hard work, persistence, faith, and sportsmanship provide returns. There are specimens of genetically blessed humanity to make us all proud of our species and of our potential. Every player on a football field is a promise and a promise fulfilled. Those stadiums become civic meeting-places, where all varieties of people can come together and for a few hours each week find community where it might otherwise seem to not exist. 

Now, I fear I have played to a tie on the economic argument as well as the argument for role models. Does this diminish the “community argument?” 

Sudden death overtime: I think the answer is, “No!” We may have lost the single-faced polarizing forces in individuals Sam and Tebow, but we have not lost the communities that polarized around them. Economists argue that, despite a difficulty in monetizing such benefits, the “public goods” and “externalities” of Tim Tebow and Michael Sam provide ongoing returns. They were good investments in community and in ourselves. In these men, we were given something to cheer for. Football is a team sport.

Buc’s fans are still—losing season after losing season—Buc’s fans, after all.

We have space that, were it not for professional sports, would not exist. If nothing else, we have pre-game and halftime shows where sousaphonists get vast audiences, where “students of the week” are honored, where veterans are thanked, where the National Anthem is proudly sung, where pee-wees—aspiring athletes in their own right—get a feel for turf under their young feet, where Kiwanians honor teachers, where we are reminded that, deep down, we are a community of communities. 

Externalities. Community. Unlike a library or a performing arts center—two also-important institutions—we are encouraged to interact together in public celebration of our private similarities. 

In choosing our role models, though, there are other venues to consider, other stages whose financial impacts may be ten percent lower than a Beall’s or Fashion Square Piercing Pagoda. We have models that are strengthened by and for their relationship to other parts of a wider community.  We have those types of leaders who have never wavered, nor been waived.

Let’s look no further than downtown Orlando and its perennial entertainer extraordinaire. Season after season, venue after venue, show after show, Sam Singhaus carries himself with grace and aplomb. We see, in the two sides of Sammy, the best of Timmy T and Mikey S, minus the failures. Resilient and consistent, even as Parliament House changes bankruptcy statuses and Southern Nights changes names, Sammy is our All-American dragster.  We can all admire him for never giving up, for never getting cut, and for always representing us—Republicans and Democrats, Seminoles, Knights, Bulls, and Gators; Bolts, Buc’s, City, and Magic alike—in a way that we can all carry proudly in our bosoms and under our pads: public-private. 

Let’s look to Sam Welker, a huge-hearted high school English teacher from Gainesville, whose commitment to education is as impressive as the decades invested volunteering as leader and adult advisor to America’s largest youth service organization, KEY Club

Let’s look to Good Samaritans, to the extent that we are their heirs—even if our venue is Sodom—to give selflessly of our flesh, pillars of salt, and our safety. 

There is a place for professional sports in our world. There is a place for defeat—even outright failure—in our world.  The winning argument for sports is not based in dollars or in professional role models. Rather, it is based in community: a community that is triangulated by the likes of Tim Tebow and Michael Sam, but that has the strong and sturdy right angles of the proud and resilient winning records—the geographic trilateral I-95-I-4-I-75, ceteris parabus—of our Miss Sammies, our  Sam Welkers and the good Samaritans all around us.