Monday, March 26, 2012

Bittersweet Sixteen

“Be true to your school now, and let your colors fly.” – The Beach Boys

An interesting thing happened to me between the Ohio Bobcats upsetting Michigan and South Florida to reach the Sweet 16 and the subsequent heartbreaking, gut wrenching, holy-crap-we-were-this-close overtime defeat at the hands of North Carolina: I went from being an Ohio University student to an Ohio University alumnus.

I have been fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to graduate a quarter early from Ohio. The release of Winter Quarter Final Grades – which took place last week after the Bobcats parlayed their #13 seed in the NCAA Tournament to a pair of Cinderella victories – were the final determinant in my educational status changing from pupil to graduate. (Basically, this means I didn’t flunk.) And while it still hasn’t quite hit me that my days as a student are over, in the immediate aftermath of Ohio’s 75-63 (OT) loss to UNC I did manage to realize just how many moments Ohio Bobcats basketball will hold in my vast collection of college memories.

These general reminiscences and recollections of which I speak are ultimately comprised of many various events, people, places and instances from college, most of which will forever be special and meaningful only to me and maybe a select group of others. I suppose if I contemplated each of them long enough, I could come away with a handful of significant “life insights” or points of wisdom, but that doesn’t really interest me. What’s more intriguing at this particular time is the connection that so many of them have to the basketball program.

As a journalism major and sports fan, I spent a great deal of my (nearly) four years in Athens watching, covering, rooting for and writing about the men’s basketball teams. I can remember the first time I watched a game from press row during my freshman year, and how the nerves forced my voice to crack while asking a question in the post-game press conference. I remember having the perfect angle on Tommy Freeman’s game-winning three-pointer to beat the Miami RedHawks my sophomore year. I remember that team’s improbable run through the Mid-American Conference Tournament, during which Armon Bassett nearly caught on fire like a character from the old NBA Jam video game. I remember the Bobcats going to the Tourney and shocking Georgetown, with D.J. Cooper’s over-the-head alley-oop to DeVaughn Washington remaining the sickest dunk I’ve ever seen.

(1:05 mark)

I remember talking to Bassett about that incredible stretch of winning the conference bid and upsetting the Hoyas; about how he knew the team would surprise some people – which was true – and how he couldn’t wait to finally settle down and be a senior the following season – which wasn’t true, as he ended up leaving the program for a myriad of reasons. I’ll remember sitting courtside in Cleveland and covering the MAC Tournament my junior year, watching Nick Kellogg’s desperation heave fall just short as the Bobcats lost to Ball State. And I’ll certainly remember this year’s team.

I’ll remember Ohio coming back from a halftime deficit to beat the RedHawks (yet again) in front of a packed house on Gary Trent Day. I’ll remember Ricardo Johnson’s flat top. I’ll remember David McKinley’s beautifully feathered hair and Nick Goff’s beard. I’ll remember Walter Offutt’s hustle and determination on both ends of the floor. I’ll remember Stevie Taylor’s energy. I’ll remember the impeccable passes thrown by Cooper, as well as the countless clutch shots he hit for this squad when they desperately needed them. I’ll somehow forget all the bad ones he took. I’ll remember a second run through the MAC Tournament and berth in the Big Dance. I’ll remember the big wins over Michigan and South Florida. And I will always remember Friday’s game against North Carolina.

I’ll remember being shocked by the Bobcats only trailing by 7 at halftime after getting down by as many as 15 early on. I’ll remember all six of Offutt’s three-pointers. I’ll remember Kellogg’s major bomb from downtown to give the ‘Cats the lead late in the game. I’ll remember Cooper’s “and-1” to give them the lead again a few moments later. I’ll remember UNC coach Roy Williams burying his hands in his face on the bench as the Bobcats kept inching ahead on the scoreboard. I’ll be forever haunted by Offutt’s missed free-throw that could have clinched the game in the waning seconds, but only without forgetting his big bucket just prior to that to knot the score and his monster game-saving stop on the defensive end immediately after. I’ll remember watching Cooper’s last-second, half-court heave clank off the rim, seemingly in slow motion, as the breath swelled up in my lungs and hung there for a few seconds. I’ll remember wishing that shot could have just gone in. I’ll always wish it could have just gone in.

That game wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did. It was supposed to be a beatdown, a massacre at the hands of the almighty, #1-seeded Tar Heels of NCAA lore. But this Bobcats team was special. This tournament was special. That game was special – to the team, to the school, and to me. In many ways, it signified my last moment as a student and first moment as an adult. And even in defeat, that’s what I’ll always remember.

The Ohio Bobcats played like men last Friday night. They grew up a little bit. I suppose it’s only fitting that I will now have to do the same.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, March 15, 2012

With God on Our Side

I would argue that the biggest problem we have as a society today is the manner in which we react when someone has an opinion different than our own.

I don’t think people should have to agree on everything. I don’t think people should always be politically correct. I think it’s admirable in most cases when individuals are upfront about what they believe, regardless of how it might be perceived by others. But I generally don’t agree when someone(s) speaks out against an opposing side in a completely disrespectful way (unless the opposing side is trying to argue that diet soda tastes better than regular soda, because that’s just ridiculous). Especially in America, I think you have the freedom to believe and practice as you wish (within the confines of the law and basic societal structure, of course), while in return, facing the prospect of complete and utter disagreement from a counterpoint. I just think that counterpoint should be approached with some amount of respect. If there is a group of people that love eating Thin Mints and an opposing group of people that prefer Caramel deLites, I find it perfectly acceptable for the Caramel deLites camp to vehemently disagree with the Thin Mints eaters, and even voice that opinion if they so choose. I just don’t think standing across the street with signs and megaphones while screaming insults at the Thin Mints eaters is the way to go about it.

Extreme example, I know, but it can be extended to pretty much any subject. That’s just how I feel. And if you disagree, then you’re a dumbass.

Anyways, it is for this reason that I largely avoid heavier topics here at Arbitrary JudgEment. As simple as my mind may come across (which is accurate for the most part), I actually do have specific opinions on topics that might be deemed “hot-button” by the general public, whether it be politics or religion or whatever. I usually refrain from writing about them for two reasons. The first is because they can so easily become misconstrued with the way media is digested in our culture. Me writing an article about my affinity for Caramel deLites over Thin Mints is more likely to label me a raging, intolerant, anti-Thin Minter as opposed to merely pro-Caramel deLites. The second reason is because I am indeed more impassioned about my preferences on Girl Scout Cookies (or sports, music, film, cereal, etc) than I am about the previously mentioned “hot-button” issues. Odd, yes, but it’s true.

Yet having said all of that, Jeremy Lin and the subsequent rise and fall of Linsanity have had me wondering about the relationship between race and religion – specifically in terms of how that relationship is publically perceived, and specifically within the context of sports and athletes. What is it that gauges how emotional/combative the response is from the general population in regards to an athlete and their religious beliefs? Is it the degree to which the athlete trumpets these beliefs, or is the skin color of the man or women trumpeting them?

I’m going to assume that if you are reading this you have a basic knowledge of the recent story behind Jeremy Lin of the NBA’s New York Knicks. If not, take a second to do a quick Google search. In the wake of the (inter)national “Linsanity” and overblown media attention surrounding Jeremy, he was naturally compared to another pop culture-athlete sensation in Tim Tebow, quarterback of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. The overwhelming amount of fandom, passion and coverage surrounding the two men made such comparisons unavoidable. Linsanity has tempered to some degree over the past week or so, but even at the height of its powers, there remained an obvious dissimilarity between Tebow and Lin: despite the outspoken belief in Christianity made by each of them, Tebow is a much more divisive and polarizing subject than Lin, a result largely stemming from his aforementioned religiosity.

Tebow (who is white) seems to have just as many people that unconditionally love, support and root for him as he does people on the contrary side; his very public and seemingly constant profession of his Christian beliefs is often the cause of this polarity. But with Lin (Asian American), the sentiment surrounding him was and is much more favorable and one-sided than Tebow, while those few against Lin were never invoking his explicit Christianity as a reason.

Why is this? You could probably argue that Tebow has been more outspoken than Lin in his religious views, but this is also a product of how the media covers it and how people respond to it. Lin has never shied away from what he believes, and yet the contrast in perception is clear. So is the general public divided more by the extent to which these athletes profess their beliefs, or is it the athletes’ race that determines how people respond?

There are others. Kevin Durant (black) and Mariano Rivera (Latino) are two of the more popular and widely covered athletes in their respective sports. Both are also openly religious, with little-to-no backlash or mockery coming as a result. Dwight Howard (black) is the same way, when he isn’t whining about wanting a trade or filming cameo spots. The best counter-argument that can be made is probably Kurt Warner, who (despite being white and very open about his faith) seemed to face little disparagement. Although this could have largely been a result of both an incredible underdog story (grocery store shelf stocker to Super Bowl champion) and the fear of coming across as insensitive in regard to his wife’s battle with cancer. Either way, the public reaction surrounding Tebow and his religion is noticeably dissimilar to that of his minority peers.

The simple fact that the majority of America is white naturally means that the majority of those disparaging (or not disparaging) Tebow’s religious views are white, just as they are with every other athlete. It is also highly unlikely that these (mostly white) people would be largely supportive of Lin, Durant and others only because their openness about their faith is arguably a little less persistent or defining than that of Tebow; this would imply that people’s religious tolerance is predicated solely on fervor and not the subject in general. (Child please.) Which leaves the only logical conclusion to be that sports fans’ tolerance for uncensored Christianity is trumped only by a concerted effort (whether conscious or subconscious) to come across as accepting, progressive and anti-racist. If a minority athlete wants to be religious? No comment. But if you’re white, prepare to face the wrath of public opinion. (And remember, this sentiment is being implied by a largely white audience.)

On the opposite side of the coin, what is the motivation of those that support Tebow mainly or exclusively because of his staunch Christianity? Do they align with him purely because his beliefs match their own? Would they be as supportive of an athlete that publicly expressed himself/herself as an atheist? A Muslim? A Buddhist? Would they, at the very least, respect the athlete’s right to do so? Would their general reaction hinge principally on the skin color of the athlete involved? The modern and idealized portrait of America is as a place that prides itself on freedom of expression, regardless of one’s race or religion. Yet it seems that in relation to athletes, this freedom depends on how those two qualities come together.

For the sake of transparency, I am proudly a man of Christian faith. I also don’t particularly like Tim Tebow, but not specifically because of his public embrace of Christianity. For the most part, I admire how candid he is about his beliefs and respect how he responds to those that think differently. And, conversely, even though I might not agree with them, I imagine I’d feel quite the same way about an openly atheist, Muslim or Buddhist athlete, despite their gender, race or nationality. They’re certainly entitled to that degree of courtesy.

Unless, of course, they like Thin Mints.

Thanks for reading