I’m working on a story about the National Pro Grid League. And, it’s so fascinating. Kind of like if you just invented a sport with your buddies and made it super crazy.
Two weeks ago, a visitor to one of my classes told us to write about how the Ray Rice incident has completely changed society’s perception of domestic violence. I’ve been putting off the assignment, because there’s only so many ways to say, “Has it, though?” But, given that the judge has now ruled in Rice’s favor against the NFL’s suspension, it seems like an ok time to finally find another way to say: It’s incredibly rare for any one thing to change everything. That’s not typically how massive societal problems are solved.
Putting aside the entire issue of rehabilitation v. retributive justice and whether (or for how long) a person should be punished before they can re-enter society, the judge’s decision still is not surprising. And, it’s not necessarily wrong.
What Rice did was wrong. Knocking someone out — unless they’re about to knock you out, which I think we can all agree was not the case here — is wrong. That’s why it’s a crime and why there are punishments outlined for that crime. That’s why the NFL followed its however-flawed protocols when Rice was charged initially. If those punishments and protocols are not appropriate, then they should be changed. (Clearly, they should be changed.) But, in our system, generally speaking, the rules can’t be changed after the fact. The guilty are meant to be afforded just as many rights as the innocent. It’s sort of part of the ugly beauty of the system.
And, that’s pretty much what the judge said. Seriously, read what the judge said. The NFL doled out its initial punishment and then changed its mind later. The NFL changed its mind not because any facts changed, but because suddenly everyone was forced to confront exactly how badly the rules needed to be revised. I’m glad we’re mostly all on board with that now and I’m sorry it took actually seeing someone get knocked unconscious by a loved one to finally believe that this happens, but our mass ignorance is not Rice’s fault. We may want it to be. We may want him to be punished more thoroughly for getting videotaped punching his wife. We may want to unleash all our righteous anger on a very deserving target. But, our desire to turn one person into a rallying point doesn’t make it so.
So often we want the particulars of any one terrible event to be such that if we resolve them then that absolves us of fixing whatever caused that injustice in the first place. If Ray Rice can’t play football, then domestic violence isn’t a problem. But, clearly, that’s not how it works.
The Ray Rice incident — as it has, unfortunately, come to be called — did not fundamentally change the country’s perception of domestic violence. It changed it slightly. It made slightly more people realize that domestic violence is a problem, particularly in situations where we give one half of the couple undue power and influence. It made an even smaller number of people start to wonder if football is inherently one of those situations. It made the press slightly more inclined to ask a few more questions. It made the NFL likely to change the rules for how it deals with future domestic violence assaults. Because there will be future domestic violence assaults — of course there will be, not that much has changed. Not yet.
Can you imagine if the big three sports were covered the way running is covered?
There’d be the story each weekend of the player overcoming tragedy and the third-stringers doing it for their own reasons. You’d have the strange play-by-play that’s more about the weather than the game and the self-reflective essay. And, what would you do without the off-beat slightly related story with its vague misunderstandings of the stats of the sport (not that I don’t like Ben True, because I do, but I’m not sure he’d “get bored” at 4:20 pace)?
Yes, these are all New York Times articles, but it was the New York Marathon, so if anyone should get it right, it’d be them. And, no, there’s nothing particularly bad about any one of these stories. Some of them are a little bit interesting. I’m sure all of them were probably aimed right at the paper’s target market. That’s fine.
But, all together it creates a picture that isn’t entirely accurate or true. It’s like the Kona coverage on NBC that’s almost entirely full of sob stories and people overcoming looming obstacles. It’s not that those people weren’t there or that their stories aren’t important. It’s just that they’re important enough to be told with more honesty.
In one of my classes the other day, we had an editor come in to talk about his experience and listen to our story pitches. He was funny, a former high-flying New York writer who succumbed to drug problems back in the day and is now on the rebound.
It was all cool until we got to my pitch. I had decided to write about what it’s like to race as a pro triathlete, yet never quite be good enough to actually make it. I thought it’d be interesting to people and interesting to talk about the system of never-was athletes underneath all the successful ones.
I got one sentence in — “I raced as a professional triathlete for three years.” — and he interrupted to say, “As an addict, you know what it sounds like to me, it sounds like you’re addicted.”
Um, yeah, I dunno, shrug, shrug.
He kept going: Why else would you do it? You must be addicted to it. Endorphin rush and stuff, right? I’ve heard of that.
Everyone thought this was genius. I kept shrugging — yeah, I dunno, this sounds more about you than me — until eventually I got really annoyed. Later, the rest of the class couldn’t quite figure out why it was really annoying, what if he just called it “passion” instead of “addiction.” And, anyway, they just all find the question of why anyone would do these sports so fascinating.
People tend to think that comparing a desire to run (et al) to an addiction is super witty. So original. So funny. See it’s supposed to be healthy, but it’s an addiction, so it’s not healthy; you’re addicted to being healthy. Hahahaha, I am so clever.
It’s actually probably the second or third most common thing people say. The first being, “Oh my god, that’s just soooo amazing. I could never do that. I don’t even know how you do that. It must take so much discipline.” Not that I’m not amazing, obviously, but there’s a creating of otherness here that I find strange. At the highest level of sports, yes, there is a degree of commitment and self-sacrifice that is not normal and that is also no different from what you would find at the highest levels of music or dance or writing or competitive holding your breath to see how deep you can dive. Any of these things are exceedingly hard and require a stunning degree of discipline, talent, and luck. But, I am not at that level. Neither are most of the people who run or do triathlon or bike or swim or Crossfit or whatever. I have very little insight into what it takes at that level. I am, most likely, at the same level (in our respective interests) as you, as the person asking the question and acting like I am so different from them.
Some people play video games. Some people sing a cappella. Some people are in competitive chess leagues. Some people are recovering drug addicts and former hard-partying New York writers. And, some people run. We are not so different, you and I. And, we are not all the same either.
Here’s the answer to your question: People do sports for all the different reasons that people do anything.
Yes, I went to Turkey. That’s sort of why I’ve disappeared from the internet, though that may have as much to do with the fact that I’ve also simply stopped sleeping. People keep asking if I’m jet lagged and if that’s why I look so terrible. But, I’m pretty sure I’ve been back for a quite a few days. I think it’s more the lack of sleeping.
Turkey is an interesting place. I don’t have a ton of insight into it, since I was only there for a week and we mostly were on a strict schedule of five-hour dinners and hitting all the highlights. There’s a lot of history, including a bunch I didn’t know, and a pretty big cultural divide I think between eastern and western Turkey. I think. Because there really was no way I was going to the south-east border to confirm that suspicion. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m super American. I basically can be spotted for American from across a packed crowd. I think it’s the hair and the clothes and the accent and the attitude. After some time in Morocco (back in the day), I’d get mistaken for Belgian occassionally, but that was only after I got a lot quieter and collapsed in on myself from the months of misunderstandings and general wearing down of being a woman traveling by yourself. So.
Here are some Turkish observations:
– Istanbul is really crowded. There are 15 million people there and I’m pretty sure not a single one of them gives a rat’s ass about not walking in front of moving cars.
– Izmir was my favorite of the places we went.
– In Izmir, a bunch of teenagers (or tiny college kids, who knows) hung out in the big square at night to roller-blade.
– There were also leeches for sale at the bazaar/market. And wedding dresses. And tupperware. And scuba gear.
– Stray kitten were everywhere. Not cats, kittens, even baby kittens. They were like the rats of Turkey, but cuter. See:
– People don’t seem to run outside much. At first, I thought maybe they just aren’t that into the whole fitness thing fills up nearly every large American park on weekends. But, on closer inspection, the gyms were full. (I even walked in on a cycling class in the hallway of the hotel gym full of local, very attractive and very made-up yuppie Turkish women, and a DJ.) But, I did not see a single woman, besides me, getting her sweat on outside. Evidently, though, there was a Northface ultra in Cappadocia, which I totally should have done if I had known about it beforehand, and there were women who finished it. So, who knows. Maybe I’m completely wrong.
– They are into their swimming though. Nice pools.
– I saw one person in spandex riding a road bike — through the insane Istanbul traffic. That’s got to be rough.
– If you are interested in working out not indoors, head to the waterfront. There are really nice paths in most of the coastal towns and crazy big palaces that have now been turned into hotels. And, it’s a worthwhile way to see things and people you wouldn’t usually see.
– Of all the tourist sites — and Turkey has a lot, because it has a lot of history — Ephesus was the one that was totally worth it.
– Do the tourist places, yes, because they’re impressive, but wander around some too. Turkey strikes me as a place that can’t be known without wandering, and I don’t feel like I did enough of it.
– For somewhat understandable reasons, Americans aren’t that in to going to Turkey right now. I get that. But, in the Western big cities and along the coast I don’t think you have a ton to worry about. It’s a total cross between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and you should mix right in just fine, unless you’re an idiot. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that nothing would happen, but it seems ok. I would, though, probably stay a decent amount away from the Syrian border.
– I went to Turkey as part of a media press trip for travel writers with Trafalgar Tours. And, they were all totally nice and 96% of the people were cool. And, if tour groups are your thing, they seem to do a very solid job. But, groups (or, really, people in general) are not my thing and I was so, so, so tired.
– Also, I overate beluga caviar at one point. I think that sums things up.
I have recently been the subject of more trolling than usual on the internet. Trolling, itself, isn’t new. Pretty much since I started reporting, there have been trolls online. That’s fine. Or, rather, it’s not fine, but it’s a fact of life. That trolling has gotten more intense as I’ve written bigger stories with wider audiences, or maybe just as more people have gotten into the anonymous hate game on the internet. The essay I wrote on the Billfold (which I had actually titled “Lessons from My Parents: Don’t Have Kids”), prompted strangers to give me unwarranted life advice and speculate about my attractiveness, sexual history, and dubious life choices. Some of the craziest comments I ever got were actually in response to a very small local news story that I wrote as straight news about a councilman arguing with another councilman and who voted what. This evidently made it clear that I hated the Constitution, was an un-American communist, and most likely a radical unattractive hack.
Now, I generally just don’t read comments, especially on controversial things I write, like about sexual assault, smoking bans, or oyster farms.
Recently, though, the trolls have left the news sites and are forcing themselves into my life. They’re sending me (lots of) Twitter messages and long personal emails. And they’re doing it in a way that is very clear that they wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t a woman — or, to a small degree, if I wasn’t a woman who looked young and small and intimidate-able.
Yes, I expected the hate for a story I wrote for the campus site on the ‘yes means yes’ law, especially since I expressed an opinion! About sexual assault! But, the long email cajoling me to grow a pair and start smiling more in my profile photos was in response to a fun piece on the best places to tailgate. Tailgating: always a hotbed of outrage. And, the funny recap of “How to Get Away with Murder” prompted both crazy sexist AND racist comments. Because, you know, that’s a totally rational appropriate response.
There’s been more written recently about how the internet is becoming a dark alley for women. It’s not just uninviting, it’s dangerous. People say ignore them. Yeah, no kidding. People say don’t feed the trolls. Just super great advice. And, after my initial reaction of “Fuck them!,” I also didn’t want to give any of it any weight. I didn’t want to respond — because that never goes well — or say anything or mention it to anyone. As if by ignoring abuse it’ll go away. When a friend asked what the Twitter handle was of someone who deliberately followed me just so he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tell me what “shitty feminist propaganda” I write, I didn’t initially want to tell her. I didn’t want to egg him on or let him know I thought about him at all or that this was even a question in my mind. But, then, I thought, “If you want to invade my personal space, I don’t see why you deserve any either.”
Now, I sort of hope she is sharing her thoughts with him online, though I doubt anyone has the same level of commitment and lack of anything else going on that so many of these people seem to have. Mostly, though, I hope we just start saying, “See that person over there, that person is a real person in real life, and it’s not ok what he says when he thinks no one is watching.” We’re watching.