Monthly Archives: June 2020

My Top 10 favorite athletes of my lifetime. Coach K does a fantastic “Black Lives Matter” video. And R.I.P Carl Reiner, a damn funny guy

So I did a fun exercise on Facebook the other day, one of these things where a friend “tags” me and challenges me to do one of those cool lists they had just done.
And I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I’d share it here. My Top 10 favorite athletes of my lifetime. Would love to hear your input as well, dear readers:
1. Roger Federer: Huge surprise, I’m sure, to find him on my list 😊 Simply the most beautiful tennis player I’ve ever seen, and the greatest. Watching him compete in his prime is the most pleasure I’ve ever had watching a single athlete. He may not end up as the greatest Grand Slam champion of all time (pretty sure Novak Djokovic will pass him), but that’s OK, he’s still the greatest to millions of fans.
2. Mark Messier: Another shocker on my list, I’m sure. My all-time favorite team has only one championship in my lifetime, and he delivered it in 1994. When he arrived in New York in 1991, he completely transformed the franchise. An incredible captain and leader, Mr. Clutch had the best game by a Ranger I’ve ever seen, Game 6 against the Devils in 1994, when the Blueshirts absolutely had to win.
The picture of Messier when he first takes the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman is one of ultimate joy; I’ve never seen a human being happier than he was at that moment.
3. Don Mattingly: My first sports hero. Younger people forget just how awful the Yankees were for much of the 1980s, but Donnie Baseball was always someone we could look up to. The lefty swing, the Gold Glove at first base, the incredible 1985 season when he almost won the Triple Crown … he was sensational.
4. LeBron James: Just an absolutely incredible athlete, and an even better humanitarian. On the court he is, in my opinion, the greatest basketball player of all time. Has had a dominating career, scoring, rebounding, passing and lifting his teams to three championships, including an improbable one for the starving Cleveland fans in 2016.
But his impact off the court has been even bigger. He built schools, he’s giving every kid in Akron who goes to his academy free college, and he’s taken on social issues and causes way, way more than other athletes of his generation have.
5. Billie Jean King: I’m cheating a little here because her career ended before I learned my ABC’s, but she’s always been a hero and idol of mine for so many reasons. A trailblazer and pioneer in women’s sports, she championed so many causes that were unpopular, and took on the sexist male hierarchy for decades. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in real life a few times, and she has absolutely lived up to her reputation.
6. Shane Battier: My all-time favorite Blue Devil. Just a fantastic leader, all-around player and the most entertaining interview subject I ever had the pleasure of meeting. His defensive plays in the 2001 title game against Arizona were all-timers. When I covered him in the late 1990s at Duke he always sent us scrambling for our dictionary after post-game chats.
7. Usain Bolt: The most exciting athlete I’ve ever seen. I can’t describe the feelings of watching him in the Olympics: It was like seeing a person who was 2-3 levels more evolved than anyone else. His incredible 100-meter and 200-meter performances in Beijing were mind-blowing; he slowed up in one of the races at the end and STILL set a world record.
8. Curtis Martin: There is so much misery and sadness associated with my favorite NFL team, but for a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we got to see an all-time great. One of the very few Jets who never let me down, No. 28 was always so dependable, so elusive, and such a good teammate.
9. Henrik Lundqvist: The King. One of the best goalies in the history of the NHL, he singlehandedly kept the Rangers in so many playoff series, winning a bunch of them they had no business winning. He’ll never get a Cup, but man did he get close in 2014.
10. Martina Navratilova: On the Mount Rushmore of women’s tennis, she revolutionized the sport by being stronger and fitter than everyone else. I loved watching her play, and her courage in defecting from Czechoslovakia, and in coming out as a gay athlete long before it was accepted, will always make her a hero of mine.
**Next up today, I meant to share this powerful video on Monday but I forgot. I’m always proud to be a Duke fan and call Mike Krzyzewski a coach I greatly admire, but maybe never more so than after watching this video.
Three minutes of pure brilliance, in support of the Black Lives Matter Moment.
Just sensational.
**And finally today, a few words about Carl Reiner, whose magnificent life sadly came to an end Tuesday at age 98.
Reiner is maybe one of the funniest people who ever lived; the creator of so much great comedy. He created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” did sensational stuff with Mel Brooks, directed “All of Me,” a truly underrated classic film, and much, much more.
By all accounts, Reiner was a decent man as well: Humble, gracious and kind to the end.
Michael Schur, a comedy writer and creator of “Parks and Recreation,” wrote this lovely tribute to Reiner, and if you need a good laugh today, I posted the famous “2,000 Year Old Man” sketch above.
The world is slightly poorer without Carl Reiner in it.

This Russian spy bounty story is outrageous. Sarah Cooper’s latest Trump lip-sync video is fantastic. And WiFi is coming to the ocean and dolphins are excited

I’ve said this before in this space, but I totally get it if you have Trump fatigue.

It’s so damn difficult to keep track of just how many ways he and his administration have failed this country. Just this weekend, we learned about his re-election campaign, unfathomably, removing social distancing warning stickers from the arena where he had his Tulsa speech last week, and saw Trump re-Tweeting a video, approvingly, of supporters of his yelling “White Power” to protesters.

So yeah, I get it, at some point you just get exhausted by Trump news.

But this shit right here, I’m sorry, I can’t ignore, and I hope you don’t, either.

According to the New York Times, then confirmed by many other major outlets, Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.

What’s more, the White House is claiming Trump and VP Mike Pence weren’t told about it, and that this news has been known for months.

And the U.S. has done nothing to retaliate, or sanction, Russia for doing so.

Let’s just take this in for a second: Russia, a country that four years ago absolutely, positively meddled in the Presidential election to try to help Trump win, which has done many, many provocative acts in the past four years with very little repercussions, has now had a secret military intelligence unit offering MONEY to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And we have DONE NOTHING about it. Nothing.

Because our President believes Vlad Putin walks on water, is the greatest guy in the world, yada yada yada, he has sat by and refused to condemn, or lift a finger, in opposition to another nation intentionally targeting our soldiers.

Soldiers, you know, those people this President talks about all the time, how we’re the greatest, toughest fighting force in the land. Soldiers who, like everyone else in the world, he doesn’t give a damn about.

Just absolutely deplorable.

**Next up today, by now I assume most of you have heard of Sarah Cooper, the incredibly-talented comedian who’s been doing these fantastic lip-sync videos of Donald Trump interviews or press conferences.

The woman is brilliant, and I have to say, this one is my favorite so far. It’s Sarah, doing a Trump answer from a Sean Hannity question. And it truly is art.

**Finally today, the modern world is an amazing place, Part 4,323:

A team of researchers from Saudi Arabia has developed an underwater WiFi system, called Aqua-Fi, that supports internet services.

From this story that kind of blew my mind:

“For a while now, industries and researchers have been monitoring and exploring underwater environments. And these divers use wireless internet underwater to communicate and send live data to the surface.

The conventional underwater communication relies on radio, acoustic, andvisible light signals. Unfortunately, they’re still far from perfect.

For example, the radio can only carry data over short distances. Meanwhile, acoustic signals support long distances, its data rate is relatively limited.

Visible light doesn’t have any of these two issues — it can travel a long distance and carry lots of data. But, it also uses a narrow light beam that requires a direct line of sight between transmitters and receivers.

To address these shortcomings, a team of researchers created an underwater WiFi system called Aqua-Fi. It uses LEDs and lasers to send multimedia messages from an underwater environment.

The Aqua-Fi prototype sends multimedia from a small computer to alight detector connected to another system using green LEDs or a 520-nanometer laser.

The first computer converts the multimedia data such as photos and videos into a series of 1s and 0s. These are, in turn, translated into beams that turn on and off at a very high speed.

Upon sensing this variation, the light detector converts the beam back into 1s and 0s. Then, the receiving computer turns the binary figures back into the original footage.”

Kind of incredible. Do you think the dolphins will start watching Netflix now, or just share a Hulu subscription?

Good News Friday: A Baltimore kid with cancer gets a parade from the Ravens and Orioles. A national anthem singer gets a wonderful surprise co-star. And a man creates a mailbox for people to write letters to their departed Dads

Happy first Friday of summer, y’all! We are living in a bizarro world here in New York these days, as for most of the pandemic we were Ground Zero and the worst place possible, and now just about every place in America is seeing Covid-19 cases rising like wildfire and New York is one of the few places where cases are declining.

On the one hand, I’m very happy all of the hard work and sacrifices my fellow New Yorkers have made to get the virus under control here. But of course, on the other hand, I see cases rising all over America, especially in states where the governor and other leaders mocked mask-wearing and opened up their areas way too fast, and I’m terrified.

We are far, far from past this. Anyway, it’s Good News Friday, so let’s get to the great trio of stories I’ve got for you this week.

First, I love, love love this story. The Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens teamed up to give an amazing local kid a parade in honor of his 8th grade graduation.

From the fantastic Jamison Hensley story on ESPN.com:

About 20 steps from Mo Gaba’s garden apartment in Glen Burnie, Maryland, hundreds of people drove their cars down the street Tuesday, honking and screaming his name to celebrate the Baltimore sports superfan’s eighth-grade graduation.

A few minutes after the parade, Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman presented a game ball to Gaba. It looked exactly like the ones given to players after starring in a game. This one, however, featured a touching inscription: “#MOSTRONG.”

“Actually, this doesn’t go to me,” Gaba said, lifting the ball over his head. “This goes to my mom.”

Gaba, 14, is in the midst of his fourth battle with cancer. He has impressed local sports fans and figures for years with his positive attitude and selflessness. When he received news recently that his cancer has spread, Gaba’s first question was about who was going to help his mother.

“If we all had a little more Mo in us,” Bozeman said, “the world would be a lot better place.”

It has been estimated that Gaba has spent 75% of his life at hospitals. His mother, Sonsy, first discovered Gaba’s health issues at 9 months old, when she noticed his eyes appeared white in a photo taken at a family gathering. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the retina and soon lost his sight.

Gaba has since had operations, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant to treat tumors on his neck, legs and lungs.

Recent scans showed cancer has spread more into his lungs and now his brain.

“Things are bad,” Sonsy said. “Just keep praying. Mo hasn’t given up, so we can’t either.”

When the Ravens learned of the news, coach John Harbaugh put out a statement: “We’re asking everyone to pray for our No. 1 fan.”

The whole story is a moving testament to the power of hope, the power of one 14-year-old boy, and a community’s sports teams rallying around him.

Here’s footage of the parade.

Way to go, Orioles and Ravens. And Mo: Keep fighting.

 

**Next up, this kind of knocked my socks off. A Portland State University graduate named Madisen Hallberg was recently practicing in public for her upcoming performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the school’s commencement, and was being videotaped by the school.

A stranger named Emmanual Heinreid walked by and heard her beautiful voice, and asked if he could join in on the next take. And so he did.

Sometimes, the unexpected duets make the best duets.

**And finally today, it’s been awhile since I’ve featured the great Steve Hartman of CBS News, but this story really moved me so I wanted to share.

A man named Barry Lampke in Hinesberg, Vt., has installed a mailbox in the middle of a park, with just one purpose: It’s for people to leave letters they’ve written to fathers who’ve passed away. Barry always bonded with his Dad over letter writing, so this is a way to keep the tradition alive.

The letters are sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always from the heart, and Lampke just felt that there should be a place for children to still be able to write to the parents they miss so much.

There are hundreds of messages written in the blank journals left inside, with people pouring out their deepest emotions.

Barry’s most recent letter to his own Dad included this, about the mailbox: “So many people have found this to be a place of love, appreciation and healing. As we struggle to survive this pandemic and heal the wounds that we have created as a country, your gift will be a place where we can all come together to connect with our Dads, and share their stories. Love, forever and a day, Barry.”

A really beautiful, wonderful idea.

Major League Baseball is coming back, and it looks like a disastrous plan. “Almost Famous” is having a 20-year reunion podcast and I’m so there for it. And Novak Djokovic has COVID-19, a completely unsurprising development

BOSTON, MA – MAY 25: The American flag is dropped over the Green Monster on Memorial Day as the Major League Baseball season is postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic on May 25, 2020 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Well, it looks like we’ll have a Major League Baseball season after all.

After more stops and starts than a faulty old lawnmower, word came down Tuesday that truly, really, we mean it this time, the MLB owners and the players union finally have an agreement to play 60 games, starting July 24.

I know it’s easy for me to say this is a bad idea since I’m not really a baseball fan anymore, but this is a REALLY bad idea, the way they’re going about this.

Forget about the fact that the owners and players have looked like petty, insensitive fools squabbling over money for the past three months while a global pandemic raged. That has been said enough.

But the details of this current plan seem crazy. For one, they’re going to play 60 games in 66 days, an absurd pace considering the difficulty of baseball and the wear and tear it’ll take on the bodies of players who haven’t played in three months.

Then, it appears that instead of isolating all players and team staff in a bubble setting like the NBA and NHL plan to do, baseball appears set to have its players and coaches fly around to each city to play the games. The Yankees will be going to, among other places, Washington, D.C., Boston, Toronto, and Philadelphia, bringing whatever they’ve picked up from one city to another.

Absolutely, positively nuts. The likelihood of multiple players on multiple players testing positive for Covid-19 is higher than Shaquille O’Neal’s reach. But this is what baseball is doing.

I’ll be stunned if they actually complete a full 60-game season. From the start, baseball’s return has been a mess, an absolute mess.

But hey, baseball fans, maybe you’ll get a few weeks of games, at least.

**Next up today, I was thrilled to learn the other day that one of my all-time favorite movies, “Almost Famous” is turning 20 this year, and that a lot of the cast are reuniting to talk about the iconic flick.

On James Miller’s “Origins” pod, starting July 8, Cameron Crowe and the team will be discussing the greatness of Stillwater’s music, who really is incendiary, and if Frances McDormand’s mom performance was based on anyone’s “real” mom (I  have no idea if they’ll be discussing any of this, but it’s stuff I wonder).

This is such a wonderful, wonderful movie. And writing about the five-part reunion podcast is a good way for me to watch and share the above airplane scene, which I can watch over and over again it’s so amazing.

Enjoy.

**And finally, Novak Djokovic hasn’t played an official match since March, but man has the world’s No.1 men’s tennis player has been on a hell of a losing streak.

Since coranavirus started, He’s come out as a bit of an anti-vaxxer (leading to the fabulous nickname “No Vax Djokovic”), he’s touted an insane quack doctor on the Internet who believes positive emotional energy can affect the molecules of drinking water, and then organized the Adria Tour, a collection of top men’s pros who toured Serbia in the past few weeks and acted like there was no pandemic at all.

The players hugged each other and fans, stood super-close to each other, sweated all over each other, and had a grand old time. And shock of shocks, guess what? A whole bunch of them came down with coronavirus.

First we learned Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric, two Top 50 players, tested positive, and then Tuesday it came out that Djokovic himself also tested positive.

So, so, so incredibly stupid, to taunt the virus like he and the Adria Tour players did, and thanks to them the rest of the 2020 schedule in pro tennis might be in jeopardy.

Djokovic released a statement    in which he accepted little responsibility for all the positive tests, which considering he organized the tour and allowed the players and fans to act normally, he certainly bears some.

I hope he and the other players get better soon. But wow, what an absolutely moronic thing to do in the middle of a global pandemic.

Hey Democrats: Way too soon to be burying Trump and being overconfident about November. A fantastic brain-teaser about great works of literature. And my favorite-ever video about awful Dad jokes

Happy Father’s Day to all my fellow Daddies out there. Hope your day was as enjoyable as mine was, when we had the family over for a socially distant afternoon of Wiffle Ball, food, and my mom kicking all our butts in cornhole, a sentence I never thought I’d write.

So you may have heard the current President of the United States had a rally on Saturday night.

It was billed as a huge, sellout “return to greatness” kind of rally for Mr. Donald Trump, but it was, to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace in “Pulp Fiction,” pretty f’ing far from great.

The arena was barely half-full, a whole bunch of teenagers seemed to have punked the campaign by registering for hundreds of thousands of tickets, and Trump was his usual blustery, nonsensical self up there.

And so, as was the theme in media leading up to the rally, a lot of what I read Sunday was basically this: Trump is cooked. Done. Finished. Biden leads in all the polls, he’s leading nationally, he’s leading in just about every swing state, and Trump is well aware the end is near. Get ready for President Biden, it’s just a matter of riding out these last few months.

To which I emphatically say: STOP. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.

It is June 22. This race is far, far from over. After the debacle of 2016 election predictions, when every “prognosticator” had Hillary Clinton winning easily as late as two weeks before the election, you would think people would’ve learned.

There is still a TON of time between now and the election. Trump looks finished now, but don’t you dare underestimate how much worse it can get. He will play dirty tricks in this campaign that would make Lee Atwater or Roger Ailes blush. He will do everything possible, just like an authoritarian strongman, to hold onto power.

And remember, this is Joe Biden we’re all pinning our hopes on. Biden could still screw this up in any number of ways: He could pick a terrible VP candidate (unlikely, but possible). He could say something monumentally stupid, which is what he does sometimes.

The economy could start to get better. Voter turnout might not be as strong as hoped. The vote-by-mail crusade to allow more Americans to cast their ballots that way could turn out to be impossibly difficult.

I’m just saying, there’s WAY too much premature dancing on Trump’s political grave right now. Way too much.

The man is like a mythical creature for a storybook: No matter how many times you think they’re dead, they still come back to life.

It’s June 22. There’s a lot of time left. There’ll be plenty of time for celebration on the night of November 3, if we’re lucky.

**Next up, my smart friend Kelly posted this on Facebook the other night and I’ve been showing it to everyone I know since (we had a great time with it on Father’s Day).

It’s one of these brain teaser games with 25 famous works of literature listed, but using synonyms for their titles. Your job is to figure out what each description refers to.
For example, I’ll give you No.1: “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Some of these were really hard and stumped me, and most of them are crazy-clever (No. 11 is my favorite).

Enjoy this brain workout.

**Finally today, I looked Sunday night for some new Father’s Day videos to share with you today, but nothing I saw was as good as this one I shared two years ago in this space. It’s a PSA from Australia in 2015, called “Dad Joke Survivors.”

It made me laugh really hard, again. I am a huge fan of Dad jokes, because of course I am. And these were so bad they were great (the constipation one is a particular favorite.)

Good News Friday: A wife tells her husband she’s pregnant in a delightfully bizarre way. Two teen girls reunite after a long absence and it’s beautiful. And a woman gets into law school and films her Mom’s incredible reaction

Happy Friday, y’all! It’s been a big week in the news as always, and for once not all the news has been bad: The Supreme Court actually came out against President Trump in two hugely important cases, involving rights for trans workers, and DACA kids, which must have made conservatives’ heads explode; there is encouraging news on many police reform movements, and oh yeah my kid lost his first tooth, so that was fun.

I’ve got three great stories for you today and much to my amazement, two come from the Twitter feed of ex-NBA player Rex Chapman, who has become a one-man band of happy on social media.

First up, in the video above, is the strangest way I’ve ever seen for a woman to tell a man that she’s pregnant.

And given the current state of relations between police officers and so much of the public, especially people of color, I thought this was a very nice change of pace kind of story.

A very sweet change of pace. I love how long it took the new Daddy to realize what the officer was talking about.

Next up, for the second time I want to feature one of these “Friend reunion after coronavirus” videos, because they make me so happy,

From the “Good News Movement” Twitter feed (shared by new pal Rex), these two 9-year-old best friends in Louisville haven’t seen each other in nine months.

And when they do, well, that’s the best squeal I’ve heard in a long, long time.

And finally, more excitement and joy from the world. A Twitter user named Mel  Oliver recorded the reaction of her mother when she found out Mel had been accepted to DePaul University Law School.

The mom flipped out. Then she read that Mel will be getting $40,000 per year in scholarship money and, well, Mel’s mom just about lost her mind.

So awesome.

The ex-girlfriend of a Netflix user creates a brilliant way to keep using his account. A man puts a GoPro camera on a turtle. And the U.S. Open is happening without fans, but it’s still happening!

Sometimes in life, you just have to tip your hat and acknowledge genius, even if it is of the devious variety.

I’m not talking out and out criminality here; those people should be punished. I’m talking about slight bending of the rules, almost-victimless crimes, that are committed in brilliant fashion.

That brings me to this story of an ex-girlfriend who proved her genius. Seems her boyfriend and the woman broke up about two months ago, but it was only just discovered by the boyfriend’s brother that the lady was still using the family Netflix account.

How? She created a new Netflix profile and called it “Settings” and made the profile pic (above) a picture of a spinning wheel, as if it was loading.

For two months she sponged off the account, watching anything and everything she wanted, until finally Twitter user @yellowgengar2 noticed that the window marked “Settings” wasn’t actually settings.

“My brothers ex had been stealing our Netflix for the past two months now by disguising her account as ‘settings’ and honestly I ain’t even mad,” he wrote. “I’m just really disappointed in myself for actually believing that an account named “settings” would legitimately be Netflix settings.

Brilliant. Good for her. Even Netflix itself was impressed, re-tweeting the brother’s message and simply adding “Respect.”

I love it.

**Next up today, how about a totally random nature-ish video to give you a different look at life?
SI.com’s Extra Mustard column on Tuesday for some reason posted this fascinating video from 2019 of a man strapping a GoPro camera onto a turtle’s back, and then showing us a few minutes of life from the reptile’s P.O.V.

I dunno, I found it oddly fascinating. I hope you do too.

**Finally today, the news I’d been hoping to hear for weeks now finally became official on Tuesday: The U.S. Open, the tennis Grand Slam I love the most and have attended for a majority of my 44 years on Earth, is going to happen this year.

For two weeks in late August and early September, some (certainly not all) of the world’s best men’s and women’s tennis players are going to be here in my backyard, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Now look, it’s going to be wildly different. There will be no fans, there will be very little player support staff, and there will be extraordinary safety measures being taken.

We may not see Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal play (Roger Federer just had another knee operation and won’t be healthy enough to compete). We may not see Serena, or Osaka. No one knows. So far there has been a lot of bluster and posturing by players unhappy with proposed conditions, and some very legitimate concerns about travel during this age of COVID-19.

And I completely understand all that. But when push comes to shove, it’s still a Grand Slam tournament, the prize money is still going to be huge, and I think most of the major stars will play.

There are many of you who will argue it’s ridiculous and wrong to hold a major sporting event, even without fans, in New York in just two months.

And I totally get that. But as a tennis fan, and a huge U.S. Open fan who has gone as a fan or as a journalist for many years, I’m a happy guy today. I’m starved for tennis, and today I find out a feast is just around the corner.

There’ll be plenty of time to worry as it gets closer. Today, I’m just very very happy it’s gonna happen.

After a week of enormous changes, NASCAR banning the Confederate flag gets a huge “wow” from me. A hilarious video of what tennis “should” look like when it returns. And the man who broke into a bank just to use the microwave

The picture above has nothing to do with anything I’m writing about today, but I didn’t want to run a photo of a Confederate flag and the kid’s face here … I mean, I’m melting.

Last week was an enormous week of change in America. My head was spinning, the changes were coming so fast. Police chiefs were resigning left and right from major cities, we had statues that had stood for a hundred years finally being toppled, and probably 10 other seismic events you missed just because it was impossible to keep track of it all.

But one thing I was absolutely struck by, and stunned by, I want to pay some attention to this morning. It’s something I never, ever thought I’d see, but it’s 2020 and I’m seeing a LOT of things I never thought I’d see.

I’m talking about the news Thursday that NASCAR was banning the display of Confederate flags anywhere at its races.

If you’ve never lived in the South, or never been to a stock car race, maybe you can’t fully appreciate how big a deal this is. I lived in Daytona Beach, Fla. for five years, and went to 10 races when I lived down there (besides the iconic Daytona 500, there’s a July NASCAR race in town every year).

The Confederate Flag is everywhere at NASCAR races. Women wear Stars and Bars bikinis. Men have the flags on their trucks, on their T-shirts, on their hats.

It’s displayed in the stands at Talledega, or Richmond, or Charlotte, or any of the NASCAR tracks. It’s as much a part of NASCAR races as wrecks or laps under a caution flag.

“Heritage, not hate” is what so many who still believe the flag is OK in public always say, and it’s crap now, and has always been crap.

The Confederate flag stands for one thing and one thing only when you display it: Wishing for a time when whites were in charge, African-Americans were slaves, and American nearly disintegrated because of it.

But still, NASCAR’s fan base is overwhelmingly white, and based mostly in the South, so if I thought about it at all in recent years, I thought some things would never change, and that includes seeing the Confederate flag at races.

But following two weeks of protests, and a direct plea from the sport’s top African-American driver, NASCAR decided to remove the last of any gray area — no recommendations, no suggestions, just get the flag gone.

“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special,” NASCAR said in a statement Wednesday. “The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

Two days earlier, Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver on the tour, asked NASCAR to ban the flag. But there have been calls to ban the flag before, and they’ve always been ignored.

The times, man, they sure are a-changin’.

I’m still stunned. Better late than never, NASCAR.

**Next up today, my old pal J.C. Aragone (OK I met him once but he gave me one hell of a story at the U.S. Open that year) posted this video on Twitter the other day, a hilarious 90 second spoof of what tennis will be like whenever the ATP and WTA Tours return.

It’s probably a slight exaggeration 🙂 The part from the :37 mark until the :47 mark is my favorite, but it’s all fantastic. (Credit to EssentialTennis.com who made the video).

**And finally today, the expression “killing a fly with a sledgehammer” came to mind when I heard this story on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

A man in San Diego was recently arrested for breaking into a bank late at night and not stealing money, or property, or anything like that.

He simply wanted to use the bank’s microwave to heat up his Hot Pocket.

Around 3 a.m., the local Wells Fargo bank alarm was triggered. When police showed up, they found the man in the break room of the bank, heating up two Hot Pocket sandwiches.

“Was it worth it?” a reporter on the scene asked the man as he was led to a waiting police cruiser.
“Was it worth it? Yeah, it was worth it,” he said. “A Hot Pocket? Hell, yeah.”

Sir, I’m sorry you caused so much trouble, but let me tell you a little secret: 7-Eleven’s all have microwaves, and they will let you use it for free!

All that ruckus for a Hot Pocket. They are yummy, though.

The Daddy Chronicles Returns, as we’re almost out of quarantine! Tales of potty-training, bike-riding and discovering “Madagascar”

Happy Friday, my fellow Earthlings! School is just about over here in New York, as are (hopefully) my days of homeschooling my kindergartener. With another week of mostly bad news behind us, I thought it was time for another edition of the Daddy Chronicles, starring a 5.5 year old reluctant but good bike rider, a potty-training 2.5 year old, and a camp decision I’m sure many of you will disagree with.

On with the show!

— The big news in our house the last month has been potty-training the little guy. Just past 2.5 years old, we decided to start him a little earlier on that than expected, but hey, we’re in a pandemic and not going anywhere for a while, so why not?
He took to the potty like Gretzky took to hockey, doing sensationally well. Within a week he was running to the pee and poop-catching device  without us having to prompt him, and four weeks in now he’s at like 90 percent effectiveness.

He still has a little trouble making it to the potty in time, but he’s always running for it and sometimes just doesn’t quite make it (don’t we all have that trouble, though?)
But we’ve run through several packages of Sesame Street sticker chart stickers as prizes for him, and we’re starting him on big boy underwear soon.

On a related note, God almighty does his room smell SO much better! I am so damn thrilled not to inhale that awful odor every time I entered.

— The big news with our “original child” is that Nate has officially learned to ride a two-wheel bike by himself. He was a little hesitant still once we took off the last training wheel, but riding around on grass fields for a week made him a little more confident.
So 99 percent of kids in America, once they’ve learned, would want to ride as much as possible.

But I have a kid in the 1 percent. Even though he hasn’t fallen once and is totally competent at riding, he doesn’t seem to want to much at all. He’s still afraid to fall, even though he hasn’t even come close to falling. Every time I suggest bike riding, he makes an excuse not to. He’s still afraid of going too fast and falling, and other than practicing, I’m not sure how he’s going to get over it. But he doesn’t want to practice.
We’re trying really hard not to push him (metaphorically, of course; I’m happy to push him when starting to ride) but I don’t want him to lose the gains he’s made.

Things I never thought I’d have to worry about as a father…

— We’re on the verge of our first Tooth Fairy visit! Nate’s got a tooth that’s more wiggly than a kid in a suit at a wedding, and he keeps trying to pop it out. He’s asked all sorts of questions about the Tooth Fairy, and the semantics of how she knows he’s lost a tooth, how she gets in the house, etc. I’ve tapped into my creative writer side and given him a whole song and dance about signals going up, leaving the door slightly open, the whole nine yards.

Lying to your children, it’s delightful!

— So after months of hoping and wondering, we finally got the word from our governor about two weeks ago that summer day camps were allowed to open.

Fortunately for us, Nate’s camp that he loved so much last summer had waited out all the uncertainty and didn’t cancel its program, so now it’s scheduled to happen, which thrills us! Of course there are going to be significant modifications to their regular Day camp, with kids needing to wear masks on the bus, smaller group size, and other restrictions.

Several of our friends are declining to send their kids, and others are, like us, cautiously going forward.

I know there are many of you who will “tsk tsk” us for sending our boy to camp. But he needs the camp experience, and socialization, after three months of isolation. We also need him to go to camp, as parents, to get a little break. And I do have trust and confidence in the camp’s directors that they will do everything possible to keep our loved ones safe.

We have lived in a bubble for a long while now, and for good reason. We have struggled with this, but we really do think he’s going to be fine at camp. Swimming, running around, being with kids again … it’s exactly what he needs.

— On another front, we have finally progressed past watching the only two movies my spawn had previously deemed acceptable: “Toy Story 2” and “Cars.” My brilliant wife scoured kids movie reviews to see which ones are the least frightening possible, and we came up with three winners they now love. “Madagascar, “The Secret Life of Pets,” and “Sing.”

Better yet, I can tolerate all of them, and the pets movie is freaking funny. No offense to Lightning McQueen, but we were getting awfully sick of him and the Piston Cup pursuit.

— The little one has become obsessed with dessert. He always gets to the dinner table first, wolfs down a lot of food, then runs over to the freezer while yelling “Can I have dessert now?” Dinner is merely an impediment he must plow through to get to the good stuff.

He also doesn’t believe in making choices. If I offer him two things from the freezer, like a Chipwich or an ice cream sandwich, he looks at my hands for a few seconds, moving his tiny head back and forth, then declares “I want both.”

— Finally, shout-out to all the parents who have officially survived three months of home-schooling. As I said to my wife a few weeks ago, “I love my kids. But I’m ready to see them a little less.”

 

A college freshman writes the best story I’ve read in a long time: A gripping tale of cleaning up after a shooting. An NFL player’s “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video is terrific. And a nurse is reunited with the firefighter who saved her life as a kid

The best stories I read make me have two reactions: 1, I’m so glad I read that, it was so well worth my time, and 2, Who wrote that amazing piece?

I admit the second reaction is usually only the one other writers and journalists have; as an editor once famously said, “the only people who read bylines are other journalists, and mothers.”

But once I read this fantastic piece in the Indianapolis Star this week, I immediately had to know who wrote it. It was so sensational, so mature, so advanced, I figured it had to be a 20-year veteran journalist who’d written hundreds of stories.

Except, this piece was written by a college freshman, which seems insane.

Mary Claire Molloy, who just finished her first year at Indiana, wrote this story about an Indianapolis man named Ben Jafari, who saw blood on the street near where he lived and decided to clean it up himself. It was the day after some heavy violence and protests in the city, and Jafari saw blood, and wanted to do his small part to help clean up.

Then he found out whose blood it was.

This story very strongly echoed, for me, maybe the most famous newspaper story of the 20th century: When legendary New York newspaper writer Jimmy Breslin went out to Arlington National Cemetery on the morning of JFK’s funeral and interviewed the man who was digging the President’s grave.

Here’s an excerpt from Molloy’s fantastic story. Highly, highly recommend reading the whole thing.

He knelt in the back alley, one hand steadying, the other scrubbing. As he worked, the bristles of the plastic brush turned red.

Blood washed down Vermont Street, mingling with a puddle by the yellow curb. The stain left in the alley was stubborn.

It was the stain of two nights of rioting and police confrontation that overshadowed daytime peaceful protests. It was the stain of one of two killings Saturday night near the protests in Indianapolis, both by bullets. There were flames in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York City. People died in St. Louis, Chicago and here on this patch of concrete Downtown.

Ben Jafari didn’t know whose blood he was scrubbing, or whether the person was black or white. He knew George Floyd had died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, the economy has left millions of people out of work, 100,000 people in the U.S. were dead from COVID-19 and that the country was a tinderbox.

Jafari, who lived a few blocks away, didn’t know who was supposed to clean up the mess. On a Sunday morning in a week where it felt like the world was erupting and it was hard to say or do anything to make it better, he figured he could do this much.

“Somebody had to,” he said.

And later in the story…

The Circle City was waking up. The morning sunshine tinted the destruction golden. The shards of shattered windows winked in the light.

Jafari scrubbed.

People, mostly white, were out on Massachusetts Avenue getting their Starbucks fixes and ordering Sunday brunch. A woman, pointing at her menu, said, “Oh, maybe hash browns? Let’s do that!”

Graffitied buildings declared, “I can’t breathe.”

Jafari scrubbed.

urther down on Mass Ave., a couple held hands with their little boy and little girl, the daughter’s pink dress a splash of color against the plywood that covered the windows of a looted Walgreens.

In the alley, a discarded protest sign demanded justice for George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Philando, Sandra.

Jafari was still scrubbing.

“I wipe it down, ” he said, pouring more ammonia. “But it never goes away.”

**Next up today, former NFL football player Emmanuel Acho put together a video that went viral this past week, and for good reason.

Acho has been getting a ton of questions from his white friends since the George Floyd protests have begun, and so he put together a video trying to answer them.

This is very interesting and instructive for white people like me who want to help.

**And finally today, this is a terrific story about a nurse who never forget the firefighter who once saved her life.

A New York City nurse on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight named Deirdre Taylor had a life-altering experience when she was 4, as a fire in her apartment building almost claimed her life.

From this fantastic story from OnlyGoodNews.com: “A New York City firefighter who she’d never seen again saved her life that day in 1983, and for decades she’d wondered if she’d ever get a chance to meet him and thank him.

Deirdre is a nurse living in Virginia now, but she has always kept the newspaper clipping of her rescue. She returned to New York City this spring to help fight Covid-19, and some kind of miracle happened.

Two weeks ago, Deirdre was working the evening shift at the hospital when a group of firefighters paid a visit to thank all the healthcare workers. She decided to ask them if they knew the man in the photo, Eugene Pugliese.

One of them answered, “Oh, Gene. I know Gene. I’ve got his number in my phone.” An hour later, she received a call from Eugene, and learned that he had never forgotten her.

“You’ve been on my wall for 25 years,” he told her.

Now 75, Gene remembers the day vividly. “I didn’t even have gear on. I had a helmet and an axe,” he told the Daily News. First, he found Deidre’s mother. She pleaded with him to save her baby too. His crew brought the mother to safety, and sure enough, he found Deirdre a few minutes later.

Because Deirdre saves lives from a contagious virus, she can’t see Eugene in person. But they have promised to meet as soon it is safe. In the meantime, Deirdre is counting her blessings.”

Wow. What are the odds of her keeping the clipping, then running into a firefighter who actually knew Gene? Crazy.