Looking for my whistle

I couldn’t find it anywhere.  I haven’t seen it for years, but I was sure it was in my nightstand drawer.  There is lots of stuff in there . . . but no whistle.  I finally just gave up and bought a new one.  I need a whistle because I volunteered to be an assistant coach on Charlie’s junior-level football team.

Coach Curt is back.  It wasn’t really a big deal . . . no fanfare or music.  Nobody really noticed as I, with great reservation, slowly raised my hand at a parent meeting when the head coach asked for volunteers to go through the certification process and help out on the field.  My wife gently urged me to raise my hand.  Then she looked at me.   You know . . . that look that actually makes an audible sound.  Yeah, that one.  I had talked about helping out earlier in the year . . . and I wanted to . . . so I raised my hand.  Then I started looking for my whistle.

I haven’t coached anything in almost 10 years and I haven’t coached football in 30 years.  I coached a Pop Warner football team in Delaware in 1985.  I moved to Alaska in 1986 and didn’t have the time or inclination at that point to get back into it immediately.  Between then and 2006 I coached baseball, soccer and hockey.  Since then I have been an involved sports parent.  I always had lots of excuses for not coaching anymore . . . no time . . . bad knees . . . outdated knowledge of the game.  I had lots of them.   Then I realized that this might be my last chance to be involved with Eli and Charlie on a level that has proven so important to my relationship with Parker.  It was time.

All coaches have a philosophy, even if they don’t think they do.  Sometimes it is hard to put into words. Sometimes you can get a good idea of a coaches philosophy by just watching . . . sometimes you can’t.  You have to watch and take other factors into consideration.

At a hockey practice many years ago a player’s mom approached me and told me that I yell at the kids way too much.  I blinked at her.  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  I never had harsh words for any player.  I got into the heat of the moment sometimes, but I certainly never felt I was abusive.  She explained that I always yelled, even during practices.  I smiled at her.  I got it.  I knew that she wasn’t going to buy my explanation no matter how eloquently I put it.  I had to show her.

I asked her to step out onto the ice with me.  As players were going through drills down by the goal, I took her near center ice and asked her to stand there.  I went to the bench.  With sounds of hockey ringing through the building I stood in the bench area and began to explain in a conversational tone why I yelled so much.  She frowned at me and strained to hear.  I continued to speak.  She raised her hands in the international “I don’t understand” gesture.  Finally she yelled, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”.  I smiled.  “EXACTLY!,” I answered.  “I RAISE MY VOICE SO THE BOYS CAN HEAR ME ON THE ICE.”  I could have just explained it to her, but I knew this woman and she was telling me she had a problem with me.  She already had the issue decided and settled.  No answer other than “I will stop yelling” was going to work.  The point is she watched me coach and came to a conclusion about my philosophy without taking certain important factors into consideration.

I was never able to really put my coaching philosophy into words until I saw the movie “Friday Night Lights”.  It is about the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas.  Ok, stop rolling your eyes . . . yes a movie about football in Texas helped me put my coaching philosophy into words, but it isn’t all macho and Go Team!  The story is about how this team worked through athletic, personal and political issues to play for the Texas High School 5A Championship.  At half time of the Championship game Coach Gary Gaines makes a speech that helped me define my philosophy.  He told his players they had to be ‘Perfect’.  Really? More eye rolling?  Take a look and then wipe your eyes, blow your nose and I will talk to you in a minute.

Coach Gaines ‘Perfection’ Speech

I was inspired by Coach Gaines’ definition of perfection.  Essentially he tells his boys that perfection is the state of having done your absolute best . . . being at the end and being able to tell your teammates that there isn’t anything else you could have done.  Making this effort allows a player to move on through sports and through life with “love in their hearts”.  Before you think that Coach Gaines went all soft there, I am pretty sure that he meant that players can move on with no regrets . . . I think that was just a movie thing.

I especially like Coach Gaines’ definition because it doesn’t include winning or scores.  From the first time I picked up a whistle I emphasized effort over results.  I look at it this way because effort can be controlled while winning and success can’t.  My favorite example of effort versus results involves Charlie when he was six.

Charlie is and was big for his age.  We allowed him to play in the 7-9 year old tackle league when he was six because of his size and athletic ability.  His older brother Parker was coaching on the Rams Rook Division team that Charlie was assigned to, so that helped as well.

Charlie has always been very literal.  He doesn’t overthink things much.  He does what he is told . . . in this respect anyway.  Somewhere in the second quarter of his first game Charlie, wearing number 12, got into the game as a defensive back on the left side.  He was put on the left because that side was closer to our sideline and Parker could communicate with him.  He did well in his first few plays and got to go back in on the next series.  The ball was on the other teams side of the field about the 20 or 25 yard line.  Their running back took the ball around their left end, away from Charlie.  He broke a tackle and had nobody in front of him.  He accelerated and had nothing between him and the goal line but fresh air.  The Rams gave brief chase and then fell back.  It was over.  Nobody could catch him.

Nobody told Charlie that.

As soon as the ball carrier went around the end Charlie took off.  At first nobody really paid any attention as he ran past teammates and opponents.  The other teams spectators were hooting and hollering as their boy ran downfield.  The young man put it in cruise control as he neared the 50 yard line.  Then the crowd got quiet.  A little kid in blue and gold wearing number 12 was giving chase . . . and he was closing the gap.

As the ball carrier neared the 40 yard line, the crowd and his coaches started yelling at him to hurry.  Have you ever run really fast, then slowed down then tried to run fast again?  The ball carrier’s legs weren’t responding the way he wanted them to and Charlie was gaining.  At the 25 yard line Charlie was less than 10 yards away and he had momentum.  At the 5 yard line Charlie reached out.

The ball carrier crossed the goal line with Charlie on his shirt tail.

For a split second there was silence.  Then both crowds erupted.  Think hard.  Have you ever seen both sides of a football field go crazy over a 75 yard touchdown run?  One side celebrated a touchdown while the other celebrated an effort . . . a perfect effort.  At the Rook level here, each team is allowed to have one coach on the field during the game.  As Charlie picked himself up in the end zone the other teams offensive coach approached him.  He put his hands on Charlie’s shoulder pads and talked to him for a few seconds.  Then he patted on the helmet and sent him on the way.  It was the kind of effort any coach could appreciate.

I have told that story and been told that the story is about failure.  I have been told that the effort would have been perfect if Charlie had made the tackle.  My idea of perfection is about the players, both as a team and as individuals . . . not the result.  On that particular play, there was nothing left for Charlie to do.  He couldn’t have done anything else.  He couldn’t be faster . . . in that moment his effort was complete.  My thought is that if you emphasize effort and provide players with the proper tools, then the results with take care of themselves.  At the end you will have players ready to move on in playing level and in life.

Right now, nobody is really interested my philosophy.  You don’t need philosophy to hold a tackling dummy and run warm up drills.  I am an assistant so I get to teach skills, explain techniques, snap helmets and adjust shoulder pads.  I get to interact with kids and help teach them a game while, hopefully, giving them tools to deal with life.

Both boys are playing in the Wolfpack group within Fairbanks Youth Football.  All of the Wolfpack teams practice at the same time on the same field, so I am close to where Eli is working with his group.  It’s a great to be involved in a sport I love with the ones I love.

In fact . . . it’s perfect.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

 

 

 

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Changing Sides

I looked down at the message indicator on my phone.  This text didn’t have words, it was actually a short video.  I knew what was coming, but I was still nervous.  Things would be different after I pushed play.

After a few moments I played the video.  My oldest son Parker and his wife were in a doctor’s office.  I could hear happy chatter as Parker placed his phone near a small speaker.  There was static then a gentle, rhythmic whooshing sound.  I listened.  Then listened again.  I felt old, excited, helpless and joyful all at the same time.  That quick, soft whooshing sound was my grandchild’s heartbeat.

I am going to be a grandfather.

In and of itself that isn’t remarkable.  It happens to men my age every day.  The frequency, however, doesn’t dilute the experience when it happens to you.  Waves of emotion washed over me.  My son is going to be a father.

We actually knew about this for a little while before we got the video from Parker.  He told me when we were both at a wedding in Louisiana.  That same weekend he and his wife sent my wife and his mother-in-law packages that contained little outfits that had “Will You Be My Grandma?” printed on them.  I was happy but I was waiting until the little person gave us a sign.  That tiny heartbeat was the sign I needed.

So our family is going through some changes.  I am not sure how many of you were tuned in when I started this blog, but in the first entry Let’s Get This Thing Started I explained how I came up with the name ‘This Side of the Diaper’.  Briefly, Parker and I were changing one of Charlie’s more stinky diapers several years ago.  I was expounding on how gross it was when Parker said he was very happy to be on “this side of the diaper.”  I got to thinking about that and it seems to me that we spend our lives on one side of the diaper or the other.  For our childhood and early adulthood, we are on the smiling happy side.  Then we have kids and we move to the other side.  It is only right and proper that the young man who inspired the title of this blog is now moving to the other side.

It’s hard not to go all nostalgic.  Of course I have replayed the “Parker Story” over and over in my head.  I thought about the first time I saw him.  I hit all the highlights over the years.  I am lucky.  There have been few, if any real low points.  We were having a discussion when he was about 17 and we were discussing various topics.  He looked at me and said, “I can’t wait to be a father.”  I, of course, immediately went all dramatic and assumed that he meant within the next seven or eight months.  He looked at me with an half amused, half irritated smile. “Jeeeeez Dad,” he said.  “Nobody that I know is pregnant.  I’m just saying that I see how you are with Charlie and how you are with me and someday I want to be in that position.”  I got up off the floor and stopped groping for my nitroglycerin and accepted the compliment.

Parenthood is a funny thing.  You can think you are ready for it . . .  you can prepare for it . . . you can read books and watch videos or you can just wait for it.  It doesn’t really matter.  Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing world champion once said “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.”  Parenthood is like that.  Go ahead and plan and then wait for the doctor to put the baby in your arms.  We’ll see how long your plan lasts.

When he was about 15 Parker and I were having a  . . . disagreement.  Actually he was disagreeing with something I had laid down.  I wasn’t disagreeing with anything . . . I didn’t have to disagree . . . I just made the decisions.  Actually that might have been what Parker was disagreeing with.  Anyway at one point he looked at me and said “You just have all the answers, don’t you?”

I looked at him.  “You think that I think I have all the answers?” I asked.  “You think I I have a plan?”  I sat down in our family room.  “I don’t have a plan . . . I am making this up as I go.”  I stopped having a plan years before that.  I just did my best within the moment and prayed things would work out.  He looked at me for a long time before he went to his room.  We didn’t have many disagreements after that.

Of course Parker and his wife have a plan and strategies, but mostly they seem pretty relaxed and circumspect.  They are excited obviously, but appropriately confident.  Both have considerable experience with small children.  His wife has three younger brothers and Parker was in his teens when we adopted his brothers.  They know the basics.  Things will get real when they can’t hand off the cranky infant to Mom or Dad, but they are ready.

As for me, I am confused.  I am still trying to get my mind around the fact that Parker isn’t a teenager anymore.  Now he has blown right through teenager and become an independent, strong young man . . . with a family of his own.  It’s up to me to find out where I fit in all of this.  This is not about me . . . it’s about the kids and their new family.  I will do what I have always done . . . I’ll fill the role needed at the moment.  Being a grandfather is going to be a great adventure.  I am lucky enough to get to be a grandfather and a father to young children simultaneously.  I will keep you posted on how the familial multitasking goes.

I looked down at the phone in my hand.  I was right . . .  I pushed play and the world changed for me.  I sat back in my office chair.  The moment was profound and right.   I thought about how we all got to this point.  I am sure I had all the emotions any man has when he finds out that his child is going to be a parent.  For a long time I just sat there and savored the happiness.  Then I called my son.  I was going to say something profoundly witty and wise because . . .  well . .  that’s what I do.  He answered the phone and all I could get out was “I love you”.  I am sure he knows what I meant.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads . . . and Dads to be.  Life is good on This Side of the Diaper.  We’ll talk again soon.

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Doing the Right Thing . . . Or Not

Ever read something or hear something and the sheer stupidity and total negative nature involved immediately pisses you off?  I mean like from having a great day to instantly wondering what the hell some people are using for brains and a soul?

Last December I wrote a piece about my junior high wrestling teammate Mike Hutchinson.  Returning the Favor Mike was shot in the line of duty  as a Deuel County  Nebraska Sherriff’s Deputy. He received four gunshot wounds and is only alive today because of miraculous timing and God’s Grace. 

He has been in and out of the hospital since then and really isn’t out of the woods yet. Recently however his employer, Deuel County, allowed his health insurance to expire.  At a recent meeting the county commissioners feigned ignorance and tabled the issue while telling Mike and his family that they may not make a decision in the future.  As Mike’s daughter, Sarah Andrews, pointed not making a decision is actually making a decision.  That’s the way cowards make decisions. 

This pisses me off.  

I walked around for years assuming that any officer (actually any public employee) killed or wounded in the line of duty would be fully cared for and insured.  It just made sense.  I also assume officer’s families would be taken care of in the event the officer is killed in the line.  Two years ago Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich were killed in Tanana. Their families are currently fighting to keep their insurance.   Our legislature is apparently suffering from the same lack of soul that the Deuel County Board of Commissioners has going on.  

Simply stated our officers and other public servants deserve to know that they and their families won’t be left without health insurance or other essential benefits if doing their job means that they don’t make it home. I assume that Mike has Workers Compensation but that doesn’t cover his wife. He had insurance for his family when he took four bullets for Deuel County.  He should have that insurance after.  

According to Sarah one commissioner said that he didn’t think insurance was a wise expenditure of county funds because those funds are meant to benefit the county.  I have two answers:

1.  I am pretty sure that Mike and his family were paying taxes when he got shot. 

2.  I don’t care.  I would personally sleep like a baby with the full knowledge that my tax dollars paid for insurance for the families of wounded and fallen public employees.  

I understand that Duelle County has no procedure for this type of situation. Lack of a procedure or precedent should never be an excuse for not doing the right thing.  Deuel County . . . State of Alaska just do the right thing.  

Thanks for reading.  Please share this.  Use Google liberally to get in touch with officials and let them know what you think.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper. 

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Learning Curves . . .

Have you ever read or heard something and slapped your forehead and said “Wow . . . that’s what I meant to say!!!”?  My friend and fellow blogger Rebecca Masterson recounts her experiences with her son Jax in her blog ‘Sincerely Becca’.  In her latest blog ‘Monopoly’ she discusses how she realized that her son was capable of so much more than teachers, specialists and even she gave him credit for.

My wife and I feel her completely on this.  Like Jax, our son Charlie struggles in school within the tight academic box that he is kept in.  We have tests and papers that tell us that he struggles in math and reading, but at home he reads ingredient labels on foods and routinely uses complex math formulas to build Lego figures.

Anybody who had a child who struggles in school or faces specific learning issues should not just read this blog entry, they should show it to their child’s teachers and special educators.  They should print it and put on their refrigerator.  They should never lose sight of the fact that we, as parents, are the first and best judges of our childrens’ abilities and potentials.  We see our children outside of the academic box and we know what our children our capable of.  We owe it to them to not get so wrapped up in experts and test results that we lose sight of our children as people.  My son might never be able to consistently do algebra, but every day he demonstrates abilities and skills that he as learned.  We just have learn to recognize these abilities outside of the box.

Please take a moment and read ‘Monopoly’ by Rebecca Masterson.  I encourage you to share it with anybody you know who has children with learning disabilities.

 

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My Hometown

Kenesaw, Nebraska is about as big as it sounds.  It is a quick burst of texture along the railroad line to Hastings with houses, sheds and the remainder of a grain elevator reaching out of the Southern Nebraska prairie on either side of Smith Avenue.  It is a town of farmer’s tans and dusty boots.  Strong people built this tiny town and strong people remain.  It is a place where people in passing cars still wave and smile politely at their friends and even people they don’t know . . . or don’t recognize anymore.  It is square jawed and honest.  It is home.  It is my hometown.

That might come as a surprise to people who know me and know that I have lived in Alaska for 30 years.  There are, however, different definitions for the term ‘hometown’.  Your hometown can be where you live now.  It can be where you grew up.  It could be where you have lived the longest or where you plan to retire.  It can also be where you feel safe . . . where you feel connected  . . . where you feel yourself reflected in the soil and trees and grasslands.  It can be the place you always wanted to be because the people who loved you most were there.  It can be those things.  Kenesaw is that place for me.

In this little town I can stand on the main street among what is and tell you what was.  There used to be a supper club on that corner . . . ok . . . a restaurant, but the sign said supper club . . . I think it burned down . . . regardless, it isn’t there now.  That building used to be a Jack and Jill grocery store.  That old gas station used to have a really cool Coke machine that you had to pull the glass bottles out of.  Over there is the Legion Hall and the Silver Dollar saloon.  The Silver Dollar used to be in that building over there.  In the Dollar large men would eat charburgers, drink red beer and talk Husker football.  My cousin moved it when he bought it.  That big building there is a nursing home.  I always found it somewhat noble that the largest building in Kenesaw was a nursing home.

I don’t know if my family was there when Kenesaw sprung up along the route of the Burlington Railroad, but I know they have been there long enough that it really doesn’t matter.  The name ‘Kenesaw’ was picked because the railroad named their towns alphabetically and after Harvard, Inland and Juniata they needed a K name.  The town was founded in 1872 but the Oregon Trail brought people through the area long before that.  My grandfather was born there and lived the vast majority of his 79 years on a farm north of town.  He and my grandmother raised my mom and my uncle on that farm.  As a child that farm was my favorite place on earth.  I roamed every square foot.  Now it is a cornfield and only traces of a driveway remain.

I can’t think of my grandfather without thinking about dirt.  If you don’t have close relatives on a farm that sounds funny.  My grandfather smelled like earth . . . rich and clean and deep.  He would look out over his corn or milo for a long time.  I would look too, but all I saw was corn and milo.  He saw his livelihood . . . his trade.  He would reach down and pick up a handful of soil and smell it.  I would smell the dirt as well knowing that I should be smelling more than just dirt. I would look up with a dirty nose and he would smile.   When I think about my grandfather I remember soil, sunsets and hard work.

I see my grandfather when I look at my Uncle Jim.  He is a little bigger than my grandfather but he has the same eyes and same laugh and the same work ethic.  He doesn’t so much smell like earth . . . not anymore anyway.  He farmed until the 1990s when large farms and the economy made the small family farm impractical.    Eventually he found his way into a career selling farm equipment; a job for which he is uniquely qualified.  He and my Aunt Diane live in the preeminent house in Kenesaw on a prominent corner.  Aunt Diane came to Kenesaw to teach school in the early 1960s.  They have raised three sons who have all made their homes and are raising their families within a half mile of their parents.

After my mother died I searched for connections to the places around me.  I could never seem to find them.  My heart kept going back to this little town on a railroad in Nebraska.  When I was old enough to make my own decisions, I started coming back whenever I could.  When I go there I feel like I am part of something . . . like I am part of a history.  I walk into my Uncle’s house and see old pictures of people who look kind of like me.  I am among people who have known me since I was born or I have known since their birth.  It is a good feeling.

I am going back soon.  We are going there to celebrate my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It will be good to connect again.  I will walk down South Smith Avenue, cross the railroad track onto North Smith Avenue and look and remember.  The town is still vibrant and vital.  I will connect with what was and appreciate what is.  In my 50s I will connect with memories that I made before I was in my teens.   I will visit with my friends and family and appreciate this place and those people.  I will visit the part of the cemetery south of  town where the people I love rest.  I will remember the people that were and love and appreciate the people that are.  This place helps me bring my past and my present into sync.  Maybe that’s why it means so much to me.  It is my place of perspective.

Don’t get me wrong.  My home, my family and my life are here in Alaska.  I truly feel like I am supposed to be exactly where I am.  We all have something or someplace that we connect with. . . the thing or place that keeps us grounded.  In my case this little town in Nebraska and the people there that I love keep me connected to who I was . . . and who I am.  It helps me appreciate what I have and where I am.  It is my hometown.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mothers Day

I spent this weekend in Louisiana with my son Parker at his best friend’s wedding. The upside is that I got to spend time with my oldest; something that has become increasingly hard to do.  The downside is that I am in an airport on Mothers Day. 

Mothers Day means a lot to me, but it is bittersweet.  We lost my mom when I was 14 and my brothers were 10 and 9.  Naturally we didn’t relish that particular day in May. Every commercial or card was a reminder.  Things changed when I became a father . . . I gained a whole new perspective.  Parker loved looking through the cards and picking out his favorite candy for his mom.  That day became a lot less somber for me. 

In 2001 Parker’s mother and I divorced. It was painful for him, but he adjusted.  We did our best to make sure that he had parents, not just a mom and a dad and he responded well.  It never occurred to me that getting a divorce would make Mothers Day a bigger deal.  But then, I didn’t know I would meet the lady who would become my wife. 

I feel like everything I ever experienced was part of the process that led me to my wife.  She was the reason.  I knew almost immediately. Luckily she felt kind of the same way or I could have come off as creepy.  She and Parker clicked and became fast friends.  In March of 2003 she became his stepmother.  I have seen the stepparent thing go horribly wrong but my wife pulled it off masterfully.  She and Parker’s mom actually co-mommed, which is a tribute to them both. I’m not saying there weren’t some rough spots in the relationship, but isn’t there always?   Through the years however, she and Parker formed a special relationship.  

I should mention here that I feel like relationships shouldn’t be defined by one day.  By that I mean that is you are a jerk the other 364 days, flowers, candy and a sappy Hallmark card on a specific Sunday  don’t mean much.  Moms are special and chances to show them how special they are should be taken when they occur. Parker chose his wedding to make a very special statement.   

Marrying off a child is special kind of experience.  It is one more concrete piece of evidence that they aren’t little anymore.  Weddings also define relationships.  Every person close to the two principals Is assigned a  position . . . step parents can be tricky. 

Before his wedding Parker asked me about the Mother-Son dance.  How should he handle it?  How does my wife feel about it?  He didn’t want to make assumptions or risk hurt feelings.  I told him that it was his day and his moment.  I was positive that my wife would want him to have that moment his way.  “Just go with your feelings, son,” I told him. We didn’t think about again until the reception and the DJ announced the Mother-Son dance.  

Parker led his mother to the dance floor. I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember the song.  I wasn’t really listening.  I was watching Parker hold his mom while she tried to figure out where the preceding 20-some years went.  

Halfway through the song, Parker led his mom to the edge of the dance floor. He kissed her and turned around.  He walked across the floor and extended his hand to my wife and smiled at her.  She took it and he led her to the middle of the floor and finished the song dancing with his second sobbing woman in a row.  At the end he took my wife over to where his mother was standing. The sobbing increased.  I figured I would be in charge of tissues but before I fetched them I took a minute to appreciate what I just saw.  I saw two strong women, two incredible moms and a very fortunate young man.  I have seen step parenting done wrong but these two ladies got it right. 

So here I am writing about Mothers Day instead of celebrating with my wife. I cooked up a little surprise for her with Charlie and Eli.  Hopefully the boys remember . . . I will send a reminder text soon.  I wish I was there. To all the moms in my life, Happy Mothers Day and Happy Mothers Day to every mom out there.  I hope your day is special.   

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.  

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Know Your Rights

I had no idea this morning that I would be writing about ESPN, Curt Schilling, social justice and the Constitution today.  Funny how things work out sometimes.  It all started when I looked on my Facebook feed over my coffee this morning and noticed that ESPN fired Schilling.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

Schilling, the former Major League baseball pitcher, always seems to be offending somebody.  Recently he was suspended for comparing Muslims with Nazis on social media.  He is staunchly conservative and has never seen a ‘send’ button that he wasn’t willing to push.  A few days ago he posted an anti-transgender meme on Facebook.  ESPN issued Schilling several warnings prior to this latest instance and this was the last straw.

As I said, none of this surprised me.  He spent the last few days digging himself deeper in the hole with justifications and explanations.  It was pretty clear that Schilling’s days with the sports network were numbered.  I was also very not surprised by the comments that appeared with each social media story that announced his firing.  Abundant in the comment sections were references to how Schilling was denied his right to the freedom of speech that we all hold dear and is one the cornerstones of our governmental system.  I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have no real idea what the right to freedom of speech actually is and actually means.  Simply put, Schilling wasn’t denied his right to freedom of speech . . . he simply had to deal with the consequences.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. we took our family to the National Archive where we saw many important documents including the Bill of Rights.  Among the people there at the same time was a group of kids who looked to be about middle school age.  A teacher had several young people around her and she was talking to them about the different rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  She read the First Amendment and focused on the right to freedom of speech.  She explained emphatically how the amendment guaranteed that them the right to say what was on their minds with out “ramifications”.  She told the youngsters that they had the right to say whatever they want and “nobody has the right to stop you or discourage you.”  The children nodded in unison.  I waited for some qualifications like inciting violence or panic or even the tired old “you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater” analogy to come up.  I waited . . . nothing . . . the moved on to the right to keep and bear arms.  It occurred to me that teaching children such a narrow interpretation of this specific right set an entire generation up to fail . . . or at least set them up to post embarrassing memes.

The problem I have with the teacher in D.C. and with Schilling’s supporters are that they seem to think that we, as citizens have the right to say whatever is on our mind without the fear of somebody calling us an idiot.   That isn’t what the founding fathers had in mind.  The Constitution guarantees us certain rights will not be infringed or denied by the government.  OK . . . OK . . . I know you have lots of instances of government overreach racing through your mind.  I am talking generally and making a general point so lets generalize here.  In this case the government cannot keep Schilling from speaking his mind on this, or any other subject.  They can’t sensor him . . . they can’t punish him . . . they can’t persecute him.  Remember . . . the federal government can’t do any of those things.  The general public and privately owned organizations and businesses, however, can call him out and cut him loose.  As private citizens, if we don’t agree with him we can use our Constitutional right to freedom of speech to let him know we don’t agree.  Individuals operating a private company like ESPN have the right to disassociate themselves from him when they feel his espoused views aren’t compatible with their goals.  This is what happened to Schilling.

I think the myriad Schilling supporters who point to the Constitution and cry foul over his firing forget about an aspect of our governmental system that we tend to overlook these days.  With our God-given rights comes immense responsibility.  Schilling’s made comments over the years that offended ESPN’s customer base and advertisers and each time he was warned.  Today he was held responsible by the private company that employed him.

Many will complain that losing your job as punishment for free speech violates the Constitution.  Sometimes it is a gray area but in this case it was crystal clear.  Schilling’s ouster was a predicable outcome and a point that the middle school teacher in D.C. completely missed.  The Constitution protects us from our government but it also places the onus  for using those rights responsibly squarely on our shoulders.  It doesn’t screen us from the consequences that might occur when our views, when expressed within our rights, are contrary to other empowered citizens.  Simply put, our Constitution doesn’t protect us when others don’t agree with what we say . . . even if we have the right to say it.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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