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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BALABAN: Maybe all of us are hypocrites?

All WNY News     Wednesday, August 16, 2017    

Most of us know the phrases that deal with opinions and assumptions. Opinions are like our rears; everyone has one and they all stink. And to assume is to, well, you know.

We are roughly three-quarters of a year post-election, and people's opinions and assumptions are becoming more and more blurred with the actual - not "fake" - news of the day. Among the loudest and most recognizable of these are from celebrities, many of whom are sports figures.

If anyone has been on any social media platform and seen such comments from professional athletes or the people who cover them, then the odds are quite good that the idiotic comment, "Stick to sports!" has been seen or heard. It's far too common a refrain from a public that would rather bury its collective head in the sand. And it is said to athletes and reporters alike.

Admittedly, I follow politics and the goings on in D.C. about as often as I look at the sun. When issues that interest me do arise I do my best to educate myself before taking a side. Normally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm not an extremist on either side, for to be one would remove the possibility of rational discourse. Those who fall on an extreme side both annoy and sadden me, as I question how and why they became that way.

Meanwhile, as Americans, we all have the right to our opinion, and here's one that should at least be considered: If a high-profile athlete (basically, any one in any of the four major sports) wants equality and no hate, then what does it mean if none of the four major sports have any openly gay players at the highest level?

America is "woke" in 2017, is it not? (Did I use the word right? I hope so. Half the buzzwords in the news today make my head hurt.) I find it a statistical impossibility that none of the more than 3,500 professional athletes in the four major sports are homosexual. The four leagues condemn hate speech and even suspend players for using slurs of any phobic nature.

However, a brief discussion with a few friends of mine led to the following conclusion: if an athlete were to come out, his career would be over. We need to ask why?

Look at the athletes who have come out and the impact they have had. Jason Collins and Michael Sam were hailed as heroes by many, but I feel their impact was quickly forgotten. Collins played in a few NBA games after coming out, with few but diehard fans remembering what kind of impact he had on their result. Sam was actually drafted after coming out, but failed to play a regular season game in the NFL and wound up playing in the Canadian league.

One NFL general manager suggested prior to the 2014 draft that Sam's stock would drop because he had made his sexuality public. Meanwhile, I'd put up even odds that if that same GM had a chance to sign an all-star linebacker charged with domestic abuse, he'd do so in a heartbeat. That makes zero sense because chances are any of us who had a criminal history who applied to work at just about any fast food place would be turned away. So by that logic, your local burger joint is more selective than, say, the Dallas Cowboys.

I guess what I'm ultimately wondering is, why all the mixed messages?

Who and what do we want to be as a people?

Our military historically has been made up of some of the bravest souls to ever walk this earth. And the men and women who constitute it protect our rights. They may disagree with what you have to say, but they will defend to the death your right to say it.

But again, where is the line drawn?

Non-violent protests, if they lead to conversations about how to better society, should be welcome. Non-violent protests in which the lead protester does not participate in change should be rightfully criticized. Yes, I'm referring to currently unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who infamously took a knee during the National Anthem all of last football season to protest...something. His message was lost on many when he decided to deify Fidel Castro while in Miami. He had a point in his original protest in that there are some bad apples in law enforcement.

You know what, though? There are bad apples in every job. Every. Job.

There are those in the media who will craft stories around certain narratives and lead the public to believe Point A when in actuality the story is really about Number 22 and the end result should be questioning Point C. It's a misdirect, and far too many in the mainstream media are guilty of it. The blessing of 24-hour news is that we are able to see stories as they unfold, but the curse of that is we (viewers, readers, reporters on the scene, anchors in the newsrooms, etc.) fall victim to believing what is first reported, when in reality the facts of the story may change multiple times before the real truth comes out. And by then it is too late.

For instance, a swastika was painted on a dugout in Wellsville, NY shortly after the election. The picture of it went viral as quickly as one could imagine. You know what didn't go viral though? The story of how the grotesque symbol was gone within hours thanks to a small group of citizens in the small community who showed through their actions how they know right from wrong.

Again, though, the picture of the swastika was all anyone could talk about. Painted by a coward, probably under cover of night. But the do-gooders who painted over it? Forgotten. Or worse yet, largely ignored. Social media erupted in a fury over the first symbol. The actions of the citizens who corrected their community's embarrassment were met with applause equivalent to that of a crowd consisting of a single mouse. You could make a solid case the reaction to the graffiti was underreported because it didn't fit the mainstream media's narrative du jour. I won't argue with you.

The point here is that change starts in our own backyard. All the -isms and -phobias are not inherent. They are taught. They are learned. And we should question those with high profile platforms how they are helping to bring about change on a larger scale.

At the same time, we must be careful to let the pendulum swing so far in either direction that an "all or nothing" mentality develops. I'm reminded of a line in of all things, Pixar's "The Incredibles." The beauty of America is in its diversity. We have people of all races, creeds, and colors. Some of us work harder to be better, meaning that not everyone is excellent, a fact seemingly forgotten. The villain in The Incredibles said, "With everyone super, no one will be."

Howie Balaban is a stay-at-home dad who loves sports and pop culture, aside from their hypocritical tendencies. He is a regular contributor to Niagara's Water Cooler

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