Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Paper Gladiators

"Because of his personality, because of who he is, nobody would have ever believed he would have done it."

Those were the words of a close friend of Kenny McKinley, a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, who was found dead last Monday at his home just miles from the Broncos training facility. Two female friends who were taking care of his son discovered McKinley's body Monday and called 911. Detectives who responded to his home a few miles from the Broncos headquarters found McKinley's body with a pillow over his head and a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol on top of the pillow. They also noted a strong odor of freshly burned marijuana, according to the report. Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen said Tuesday that McKinley died of a gunshot wound to the head. He said a preliminary investigation "suggests the wound to be self-inflicted."

McKinley, who was a standout player at the University of South Carolina, was selected by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He played eight games in 2009 as a kick returner. He returned 7 kicks for a total of 158 yards. He also recorded 3 special teams tackles. McKinley was placed on injured reserve December 28th, 2009 following knee surgery, ending his season. Teammates reported that, shortly after the surgery on his knee, McKinley made statements about not knowing what he would so without football. While playing dominoes in the Broncos locker room, McKinley reportedly told a teammate that he should "just kill himself". "No one believed he was serious", an officer investigating the case reported.

"If it had been said to me, I probably would have been like, 'Yeah, whatever, Kenny.' It would have completely gone over my head," a close friend of McKinley said. "That's not the type of thing he would say and if he did say it, that's not the type of thing that you would take seriously coming from him." McKinley's teammates and coaches seemed to agree that the possibility of him taking his own life seemed impossible to anyone who knew McKinley for even a short time. "I actually saw Kenny a week and a half ago. He was over here picking up some stuff out of his locker," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "He was always a guy that used to love to joke with me and I would joke back and forth with him. But he had a big smile on his face. He just walked out of the building." Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said in a tearful news conference last Tuesday that nobody with the Broncos sensed any warning signs from McKinley about his state of mind. "We've all seen him recently. He's been the same person every time we see him. Liked junk food and chips and things like that," McDaniels said. "He was in the cafeteria, or in the training room, when we were seeing him the last so many weeks here. Nothing that would alarm us to anything like this."

A close friend of McKinley reported that, over the last month, he was having a hard time with not being able to play football or being around his teammates every day but it didn't appear as if he was struggling to the point of harming himself. No one knew that McKinley owned a gun. Woodyard said despite what it might look like to fans, NFL players have lots of pressures in their lives even though they're living the dream. "Well, you know, football's a stressful job," he said, adding that players have to reach out for help. "It's the same thing with people in everyday life, you've got to talk to somebody in your life, so just to help you work out those problems."

People who are dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts aren't always outwardly despondent, said Dr. Michael Allen, director of research at the University of Colorado Denver Depression Center. He said suicidal individuals don't always reach out for help, even to those closest to them. In a 1994 article entitled "Injured Athletes and the Risk of Suicide", Aynsley M. Smith, a nurse counselor at the Sports Medicine Center of the Mayo Clinic and Eric K. Milliner, a consultant at the Section of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic explained that research on the emotional responses of athletes to injury shows significant depression that may last a month of more, paralleling the athlete's concept of if and how they will recover. Injured athletes cared for by athletic trainers are often between the ages of 15 to 24 (McKinley was 23), the high-risk age group for suicide, which is currently a leading cause of death for young Americans.

Smith and Milliner went on to state that the more seriously injured athletes in their study experienced significant elevations in depression, anger, tension, and decreased vigor compared to their peers. The researchers found significant pre-injury and post-injury differences in the moods of the athletes, suggesting that the way athletes feel post injury is likely attributable to the injury and not to a pre-existing mental disorder or altered mood. "Clearly, during times of injury when athletes have lost their ability to achieve in sport, post-injury depression may place them at an added risk for suicide, particularly if other risk factors are present." NFL players go through rigorous psychological evaluations prior to being drafted and there appeared to be no pre-existing warning signs that McKinley would harm himself. All of McKinley friends, teammates, and coaches described him as a generally happy guy but, as Dr. Michael Allen states, this can be a front for something stewing behind the amiable front. "For many people in the mild to moderate range you wouldn't know they're depressed. They're able to put up a good front of joviality."

Reaching out for help can be difficult for those in the military and in sports. "In any group of men where toughness is valued, talking about anything that may be viewed as weakness goes against the grain," Allen said. Case and point - Ricky Williams. The Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Texas and current star running back for the NFL's Miami Dolphins has been the poster boy for athletes struggling silently with debilitating mental disorders. Williams, who eventually self diagnosed himself with social anxiety disorder, was often maligned for his weird behavior towards teammates and coaches and his many run-ins with NFL disciplinarians for repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy. Williams recalls a time when he was with the New Orleans Saints and went on the disabled list for a broken ankle. The team treated his recovery as a matter of vital importance. Trainers and rehab specialists oversaw his every move and asked for near-daily updates on his condition. Teammates texted him daily. Williams was struck by the contrast. "There's a physical prejudice in sports," he says. "When it's a broken bone, the teams will do everything in their power to make sure it's OK. When it's a broken soul, it's like a weakness." Depression and other mental illnesses are often stigmatized as maladies for the weak in sports. "Gutless" was the term Bobby Valentine, then the Mets manager, allegedly used to describe Pete Harnisch after the pitcher suffered a depressive episode. "Run it off," an NBA coach once told Vin Baker when the player tried to explain his depression. "Don't let the blues get you down!"

Rob Lunn of, in a recent article, asked the million dollar question: With the millions of dollars spent by college and professional football programs, where are the mental health resources for athletes? "With all the millions of dollars spent by college football programs, and athletics in general, there are zero dollars allocated to mental health. It is a mentality of "your body is ours, your mind is yours," and it is a dangerous mantra to live by..." Lunn goes on to say, "If a player goes down with an ACL tear, a broken bone, a pulled muscle or even a minor sprain, it is met with the full onslaught of a college or university’s sports medicine budget. Millions of dollars go toward weight rooms, doctors, training staffs, rehab pools, ultrasound, [and] vibromassage. It’s all state of the art, all designed to get athletes back to playing shape after an injury. Yet there is no institution in place to help players cope with the stress of major...athletics"

In a recent article in Psychology Today Elana Premack Sandler, a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion, talked about the need for mental health care that parallels the physical care that athletes receive from their trainers. She called on collegiate and professional athletic programs to create a system similar to that of Major League Baseball, which allows players to go on a "mental disabled list" when they are battling non-physical maladies. National League MVP candidate Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds and 2009 American League CY Young Award Winner Zack Greinke are two recent success stories of MLB's "mental DL". "A lesson, both for college and pro football and for all of us, is that even people who appear happy, who have a lot going their way, may be struggling. To me, these deaths reinforce the importance of how we listen, that we believe people when they talk about suicide, and that we do the things within our power (like removing guns or other dangerous items from a home) to decrease the chances that someone will die by suicide."

The unfortunate and untimely death of Kenny McKinley once again brings the stereotypes that our society holds about athletes and those with mental disorders to the forefront of the public consciousness. As Rob Lunn states in his article, "the tough guy attitude in sports is one of infallibility -- if it breaks, we'll fix it." However, unlike a bone, muscle or, in the case of Kenny McKinley, a knee, there is no quick fix for mental pain and anguish. That sort of pain requires an in depth analysis of one's thinking process, which calls on the athlete to come face-to-face with their own weakness and infallibility, an action that flies opposite of everything that athletes have been coached to be. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly a quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. By necessity, issues surrounding mental health have become better understood and accepted in the mainstream and the stigma attached to athletes with psychological issues is beginning to lose some of its adhesiveness. In recent years welters of athletes such as Jennifer Capriati, Joey Votto, Stephane Richerin and Zach Greinke in a variety of sports have unashamedly admitted to battling mental illness. It was the inimitable Ron Artest, of half-time cognac drinking, jumping into the stands and beating up patrons fame who, during his memorable monologue after winning his first NBA championship, expressed profuse thanks to his psychiatrist.

But, for every success story there are a thousand Kenny McKinley's suffering anonymously and feeling like the only way out of their despair is in the chamber of a loaded hand gun. We can't hope to prevent every athlete from taking his/her life but we can provide them with the resources and care that they deserve for their extraordinary efforts on and off the field of play. Let's start by mandating professional mental healthcare for collegiate athletes, who are often under similar stresses as their professional counterparts. In addition to access to therapy and medication, let's also encourage social stability and a solid home life for our athletes. There are a lot of perks associated with being an amateur or professional athlete but social stability does not rank high on the list. From road games to homework to the possibility of being traded or injured to an all-consuming high stakes regular season and post-season to the dissonance that occurs when young men and women come into vast sums of money seemingly overnight, sports are hardly conducive to social stability.

Most importantly, let's change how we as consumers view our collegiate and professional athletes. They aren't gladiators in the arena mauling each other for our sadistic consumption. Athletes aren't points in our fantasy football leagues or an extension of the affections we have for our alma mater (or, conversely, disdain for another school). They aren't infallible, indestructible, unfeeling, or disposable robots. They are human beings just like us and are subject to the same mental and physical struggles that make living life such a precarious daily ordeal; that makes life so precious.

So, the next time you call an athlete "soft" for sitting out a game due to depression, upbraid a friend for being down on him/herself during a difficult time, or shrug off feelings of self-hatred as temporary doldrums, think about Kenny McKinley, his family, friends, coaches, teammates and his now fatherless child. If you won't assist a friend in need of professional help or seek support for your own battles for yourself, do it for Kenny's young son. There's someone out there who cares for you that will be eternally grateful that you did.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Happy National Unmarried and Single Americans Week!

(Photo: Logo of the National Association of Single People)

Today marks the beginning of National Unmarried and Single Americans Week. It is a holiday (of sorts) that celebrates being single and not necessarily being in a hurry to mingle. It may seem like an odd comparison but choosing not to be in a committed relationship (whether it is of the homosexual, heterosexual, or other variety) garners some of the same responses with the same tenor as conversations regarding the moral and legal validity of gay marriage. I've lost count of the number of times someone has asked me why I don't have a girlfriend, why I'm not actively pursuing a committed relationship or marriage and, my personal favorite, when am I going to come out of the closet because I don't have and am not actively pursuing a girlfriend. Having a significant other is a status symbol that says something about the viewed to the viewer (whether it's valid or not). Like it or not, it is just not popular in our society to be past a certain age and not shacked up with someone for reasons that do not involve being a divorcee, widower, or eunuch.

The forums and events taking place this week will celebrate the lowest common denominator --the individual-- in all her/his glory. Enjoying life as a single or unmarried person is much more than navigating the dating scene. While some people are looking for romantic love, many others have no immediate or future desire to couple up. Some people are focusing all of their energy on building carrers. Others are in no hurry to replace the relative freedom of single life for the yoke of commitment. Still others identify as being asexual and have no sexual desire for the same or opposite sex. An unintended consequence of choosing to live a single lifestyle is that single individuals shoulder more of the tax burden because they are not eligible for many of the tax breaks and incentives that married couples receive. For example, a single first-time home buyer will pay more in interest during the life of their mortgage than a married couple. Additionally, single people can expect to pay more on average for such essentials as healthcare, life insurance, and car insurance.

Being single shouldn't be viewed as being juxtaposed to or an indictment of the institution of marriage. It is a lifestyle choice that we should embrace and support so long as it doesn't adversely affect the lives of non-single people. Celebrating the rights of single people to remain uncommitted and unmarried is as essential to the sustenance of our individual rights and liberties as upholding the right for our gay brothers and sisters to demonstrate their eternal love and devotion to their partners via the bonds of marriage. When we view both lifestyle choices through this lense, we will have made a giant leap forward towards allowing every law abiding citizen to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness on their own terms.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One In the Hand Is Worth None in the Bush

On Tuesday, current New Orleans Saints running back and former University of Southern California standout Reggie Bush became the first player in the 75 year history of the Heisman Trophy to forfeit the award. The 2005 Heisman trophy winner has been under pressure to relinquish the award after USC was fined, placed on probation, and banned from playing in bowl games after an NCAA investigation determined that Reggie Bush received improper benefits during his time at the university. New USC athletic director, and former Heisman Trophy winner, Pat Haden relinquished the university's copy of Bush's Heisman Trophy several weeks ago in a show of support for the NCAA's decision. By forfeiting his 2005 Heisman Trophy, Bush preempted a possible vote by the Heisman Trophy Trust to strip him of the award.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Bush cited his former teammates, coaches, and family as the reason he chose to relinquish the award. "One of the greatest honors of my life was winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005. For me, it was a dream come true. But I know that the Heisman is not mine alone. Far from it. I know that my victory was made possible by the discipline and hard work of my teammates, the steady guidance of my coaches, the inspiration of the fans, and the unconditional love of my family and friends. And I know that any young man fortunate enough to win the Heisman enters into a family of sorts. Each individual carries the legacy of the award and each one is entrusted with its good name.It is for these reasons that I have made the difficult decision to forfeit my title as Heisman winner of 2005."

Reggie Bush received the second highest number of total votes (2,541) in history for a Heisman Trophy winner. Fellow USC great O.J. Simpson received the highest number of votes (2,853) in the history of the award. Reggie Bush rushed for 1,740 yards and 17 touchdowns, had 478 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, and had 672 total return yards and a touchdown in his remarkable 2005 season. In his electrifying two year career at USC, Bush finished with 2,648 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with 987 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns and 115 total returns for 1,585 yards and 3total touchdowns.

Bush's 2004 season ended with a victory in the 2005 BCS championship game against Oklahoma while his Heisman Trophy winning season of 2005 was punctuated by a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game. In June of this year, the NCAA penalized USC with a 2-year bowl game ban, four years probation, the loss of 30 football scholarships over 3 years, and the vacating of 14 victories in which Reggie Bush took part from December 2004 through the 2005 season, including the 2005 BCS Championship after a 4-year NCAA investigation found that USC lacked "institutional control" by allowing Bush and former USC standout basketball player O.J. Mayo, now with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, to receive numerous improper benefits during their respective tenures.

In their investigation, the NCAA said that Bush, referred to as a "former football student-athlete" in the report, received lavish gifts from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush’s family apparently lived to a limousine and a new suit when he accepted his Heisman Trophy in New York in December 2005. The NCAA determined that Bush was ineligible beginning at least by December 2004, which initially opened discussions about possibly revoking Bush's Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, first awarded in 1935, is named after former Brown University and Georgia Tech player and coach John Heisman and is given annually by the Heisman Trophy Trust to the "most outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity". The last part of this statement, "the pursuit of excellence with integrity", is what ultimately damned Bush's chances of hanging on to the prestigious award. One of the few guidelines given to Heisman Trophy voters is that a player must be in compliance with NCAA rules to be eligible for the award.

Many people are outraged that Bush, by all accounts an upstanding citizen off the field, has been pressured into giving back his award when former USC star running back and 1968 Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson is allowed to keep his honor. Simpson, who is widely believed to have been complicit in the murders of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, is currently serving a 33 year sentence with the possibility of parole in 9 years for his actions in a 2007 attempted armed robbery, assault, and kidnapping at the Palace Station Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas where he was allegedly attempting to recover stolen sports memorabilia. Much to the chagrin of O.J. Simpson haters, he did not violate any NCAA rules or federal laws during his time at USC. ironically, Simpson's 1968 award was sold in February 1999 for $230,000 as a part of the settlement of the civil trial in the O.J. Simpson murder case.

Reggie Bush has swallowed his pride by returning the trophy and he will be vilified in the media for time immemorial as the poster child for spoiled star athletes receiving special favors over pedestrian athletes and the general student body. Granted, he will no longer be introduced as "Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, a title that its recipients cherish. However, Heisman Trophy or not, he will be just fine. In 2006, Bush signed a 6-year, $52.5 million contract, which included $26.31 million in guaranteed money. Money may not buy happiness but, if the award means as much to him as he claimed in his statement, Bush could have replica Heisman Trophies embroidered on every square inch of his house.

The real losers are the 30+ athletes that will either have to foot their own bill as they continue their athletic careers at USC or attend another school when going to USC has been a life-long goal. The real losers are the current juniors and seniors on the USC football team that will not have the opportunity to experience post-season play at the culmination of their 4+ years of hard work and sacrifice. Matt Barkeley, USC's sophomore quarterback, attempted to keep things in perspective when he discussed the sanctions levied against the school. “It does stink to possibly not play in a bowl game...but, at the same time, I came here to get a degree from one of the best universities in the country and to win football games. If we play 13 instead of 14, then we’re going to try to win all 13 of those.” It doesn't just stink Matt, it wreaks.

The folks that are sitting pretty in the midst of this scandal are Athletic Director Pat Haden and the rest of the USC brass. You may be asking yourself, how could the trustees at USC possibly be in a good position after being placed on 4-years probation, forfeiting 14 victories including the 2005 National Championship, losing 30 scholarships over 3 years, and forfeiting their copy of Bush's tainted trophy? The answer is the fact that no one in a position of authority and influence has asked USC to fork over the estimated $42-53 million that the university reportedly earned during Bush's stint at the school. Make no mistake about it, it's all about the money. If it wasn't, football programs wouldn't adamantly oppose replacing the financially lucrative Bowl Championship Series (with it's Christmas and New Year's Day games and the associated advertising dollars) with a playoff system that many experts believe would solve college football's problem with computerized rankings and crowning a unanimous national champion. If it wasn't all about money, colleges wouldn't be allowed to reap large profits on the backs of unpaid employees (who are bound to their programs for a minimum of 3 years) and, as soon as an athlete attempts to buck the system or is discovered to have received money and benefits outside of his/her scholarship and measly stipend, can wash their hands of the student-athlete and exile them to the amateur sports version of Elba. Former Ohio State running back and current ex-con Maurice Clarett and, more recently, former Oklahoma State and current Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant both come to mind. If it wasn't all about money, the top collegiate football coaches wouldn't accept multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts, recruit top players to their respective colleges and universities dangling enticing treats such as guaranteed playing time, cohesive coaching staffs, and the elusive opportunity to play at the next level in the recruit's face only to leave after a year or two to pursue a higher paying gig at a bigger college or in the professional ranks AT NO PENALTY, leaving the kids that they promised the world and more to to fend for themselves. Nick Saban and Lane Kiffen anyone?! When a collegiate player breaks his/her scholarship and transfers to another school, they lose a year of eligibility. Tell me again how football programs like USC are the victims here?

I'm not in any way condoning the actions of Reggie Bush as an amateur athlete at USC. He took improper benefits with the full knowledge that, should he get caught, the ramifications could be embarassing and hurtful to more people than just himself. By the letter of the law, Bush was ineligible to play college football at the time that he was awarded the Heisman Trophy and, thus, was ineligible to receive that award. However, as a poor kid from Compton or even as a middle class kid from San Diego like Reggie, how could you not grow tired of waiting for your piece of the pie when you see your coaches pulling in six figure salaries, new academic buildings going up all over campus, and the athletic director and other university brass enjoying swanky dinners with boosters due in large measure to your blood, sweat, and tears. As the NCAA's own promotional commercial alludes to, most collegiate student-athletes "go pro" in something other than sports after their time on campus has passed. For those who are talented and fortunate enough to make it to the National Football League, they can expect to have an average career of 3.5 years and make significantly less than $1 million dollars in that period. A career ending injury is just one snap away so, for the athlete, time is of the essence to take full advantage of a fast closing career window.

We live in a day and age where it is popular to decry rich athletes as spoiled brats who are out of touch with the daily plight of the rest of the citizenry. With a few exceptions, they are. However, we are not so quick to condemn the institutions that create these figures and, when it is convenient, disposes of them like spoiled food. Reggie Bush is no one's victim but the men who are used by college and university football programs to line their pockets and then kicked to the curb without having attained Bush's fame, fortune and, in most cases, education are. Such actions are and should be viewed as reprehensible in our society regardless of your relationship to sports.

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award in college football and one of the most esteemed awards in all of sports. Candidates and winners of the Heisman Trophy are held to the highest standards of excellence on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. However, "the pursuit of excellence with integrity" isn't a standard that only Heisman hopefuls should be held to, but a standard that the institutions that we entrust our young minds and bodies to should unflinchingly abide by as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Objectivist Philosophy on Sexual Desire

Invariably, whenever I go out and meet friends that I haven't seen in a while or just curious new found acquaintances, shortly after the obligatory questions like "where do you live?" and "what do you do?", there is always at least one person that wants to know if I have a girlfriend and, if I don't, why. It's hard to frame my philosophy on sexual relations and dating in the 140 characters or less world of Twitteresque conversations that my generation and scores of other people now engage in. In lieu of trying to condense the set of morals that guide my relations with the opposite sex into a more palatable form, I think that it would be more helpful to directly cite the words that influenced what was admittedly a change of heart from my many previous interactions with the opposite sex. It should come as no surprise to those who know me that the text is Atlas Shrugged and the author is the brilliant Ayn Rand.

At this point in the novel Henry Rearden, the millionaire steel magnate has just finished being put on trial by a government entity for not obeying their legislation limiting the amount of Rearden Metal he can produce and whom he may sell his alloy to. After making a rousing testimony in defense of free market economics and individual rights, Rearden is "let off' with a $5,000 fine and a suspended sentence. Upon returning to his suite at the local 5 star hotel, Rearden has the sudden urge to visit Francisco D'Anconia, the billionaire mining playboy who is the only other man in the world that Rearden truly admires and respects and who happens to have a suite in the same hotel several floors above Rearden. Rearden enters D'Anconia's suite and, after some talk regarding Rearden's trial, the following conversation(the conversation that changed my mind and my life) ensues:

(Talking to Rearden, D'Anconia asks)

"Do you remember what I said about money and about men who seek to reverse the law of cause and effect? The men who try to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind? Well, the man who despises himself tries to gain self-esteem from sexual adventures--which can't be done, because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man's sense of his own value."

"Did it ever occur to you that it's the same issue? The men who think wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the same men who think--for the same reason--that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one's mind, choice or code of values. They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you--just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition. Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man's sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. No matter what corruption he's taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which he cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyment--just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity!--an act which is not possible in self-abasement, only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desires and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces him to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and to accept his real ego as his. Standard of value. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience--or to fake--a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer--because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut."

"He does not seek to gain his value, he seeks to express it. There is no conflict between the standards of his mind and the desires of his body. But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises--because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from the moral code that damns him. Observe the ugly mess which most men make of their sex lives--and observe the mess of contradictions which they hold as their moral philosophy. One proceeds from the other. Love is our response to our highest values--and can be nothing else. Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest love is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values, but in response to flaws--and he will have cut himself in two. His body will not obey him, it will not respond, it will make him impotent toward the woman he professes to love and draw him to the lowest type of whore he can find. His body will always follow the ultimate logic of his deepest convictions; if he believes that flaws are values, he has damned existence as evil and only the evil will attract him. He has damned himself and he will feel that depravity is all he is worthy of enjoying. He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure. Then he will scream that his body has vicious desires of its own which his mind con-not conquer, that sex is sin, that true love is a pure emotion of the spirit. And then he will wonder why love brings him nothing but boredom, and sex--nothing but shame."

So we see from this excerpt that Rand's philosophy on sexual desires and our choice of sexual partners in drawn from the same place as her philosophy on individual rights, the proper role of governments, and monetary policy--the law of cause and effect. More specifically, it is drawn from either a man's recognition of this universal law as immutable or his attempts to abdicate the law entirely, which leads to either a recognition that the thoughts of one's mind and the actions of one's body are inextricably connected or to a futile attempt to fake reality with contradictions that only serve to sustain the ego while having no effect whatsoever on the facts of objective reality.

Walking into a room with a beautiful woman on your arm is a status symbol in our society. We are all familiar with or have heard the overture that women are attracted to men who have been vetted by other women and that a man who attracts attention from the opposite sex is given Alpha male status amongst his cohorts. However, a man devoid of true respect and admiration for himself is by default incapable of true respect and admiration for his partner. The beautiful woman on his arm then takes on the character and function of a shoulder bag, umbrella, or tote--an accessory on display for a specific function for a finite period of time. As Rands explains in the aforementioned text, the man who chases women for sport is the farthest thing in reality from an Alpha male because his need for constant female attention displays a deep seeded inferiority complex that betrays his outward bravado.

The truly confident man--the truly selfish man--the man who loves himself above all and who holds his own life and happiness as the only absolute in this world is the true Alpha male because he realizes that the thoughts of his mind, the actions of his body, and the emotion that fusion of the two causes are all one. Not just any woman will suffice when it comes to meeting his needs because he is not attempting to meet his needs, but rather to express his joy. A man of true confidence looks for the expression of his inner self in his opposite and, when he finds it, the combination of the two has the same effect as the collision of atoms.

It took me a long time to realize these truths. For so long, my greatest desire was not to find the smartest, most confident and talented woman out there but rather the drunkest slut with such a disregard and hatred for herself that she would be willing to sleep with me to fulfill her subconscious societal role as a submissive woman and I could stave off the feeling of being inadequate as a male for another night. There was never any emotion involved--we would go through the prescribed motions, receive a momentary burst of pleasure, and find ourselves right back where we started--with an insatiable hatred for ourselves and each other.

Now, I realize that I've been faking reality in lieu of really, truly being alive. I realize that the pleasure of conquering one person that is your equal is far more gratifying than sex with a slew of women whose names you barely remember and whose faces you wouldn't be able to pick from a line-up. The other side of my bed is a lot lonelier and colder at night. I lay side by side with my ego.

My sense of pride comes not from how many women I've managed to wrangle in a given week, but in actually having pride for once in my life.

The past is history and the future is a mystery but I can say with conviction that the next woman will truly be a reflection of my new found inner joy and the celebration of that shared joy will have been the first time that I've truly made love ;-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting for Superman? SHE's HERE!

We're a little under 2-months away from the midterm elections and Republicans and Democrats alike are busy putting themselves in the best position to paint their opponents on the other side of the aisle as the most incompetent, listless, and apathetic party of the bunch on issues of great importance to the American electorate such as unemployment, lagging job growth and innovation, taxes (should they be raised on the wealthiest 2% or the vast masses of struggling middle class Americans), healthcare (the Republicans are screaming bloody socialism!), the continued war effort in Afghanistan, and the "not a war anymore but still kind of our responsibility" curmudgeon going on in Iraq.

While many of our elected officials are searching the Internet and cable news programs for quotes, sound bytes, and gaffs to soak their brushes in for this fall's proverbial painting of the political kettle black, many Americans are turning to sports, theaters, reality television, and, for those who don't want to risk seeing a pols face or a political ad in between marathon episodes of The Real Housewives of Washington D.C., media-free vacations and staycations. I am not fond of many of our "public servants" and I'm usually not one to encourage anyone that I care about to watch more tv. In this case, I have to change my stripes a bit on both levels. Let me reiterate, I don't like many of our nation's elected officials but the love that I have for this great nation far outweighs any angst I may have for the stewards of our Republic. If there is a candidate for political office this fall that actually has it in their heart to do the right thing, not for fame, notoriety, or future political contributions, but simply and unequivocally for the sustenance of country, I would encourage them and their constituents to look up every article and video they can find on Natalie Randolph.

Natalie Randolph is just like any other 5'5", 130 lb science teacher you may have encountered, that is minus her brown dreadlocked hair and almost imperceptable speaking voice. As cute as Ms. Randolph's voice and coiffure are, they aren't the reason she has the sports pages and nightly news abuzz and they certainly aren't characteristic of the burning passion and fiery desire that she possesses. The 30 year old graduate of the University of Virginia was hired in March as the new head football coach at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. Not the seamstress. Not the trainer. Not the waterboy. Not the assistant head coach. Natalie is the main guy in charge. Or should I say gal?

Many people in the D.C. community were concerned about the ability of a woman, a diminutive one at that, to coach in the competitive world of men's high school football. This included Calvin Coolidge principal Thelma Jarrett. When Randolph's name first surfaced for the vacant position, by her own accounts Jarrett was shocked. That was until she got beyond the name at the top of Randolph's resume. Natalie was a standout sprinter and hurdler at the University of Virginia and, later, wide receiver and special teams standout for the D.C. Divas women's pro football team. She also has experience coaching boys, having been an assistant football coach for Washington's H.D. Woodson High School in 2006 and 2007.

That's not all that impressed Jarrett. Randolph brought a 7-point comprehensive proposal for academic achievement to the table that included requiring all players to bring in frequent progress reports, sign personal conduct contracts, and face severe consequences for noncompliance. "Other coaching candidates only gave me assurances that these things would take place. Natalie put a plan into my hands," Coolidge principal Thelma Jarrett said. Randolph inherited a program that frequently allowed star athletes to play even if they had average to failing grades. Now, players are required to attend four study halls per week where they receive tutoring, SAT prep, and a clear idea of what their coach's priorities are.

"We needed to find the best leader, role model, coordinator and instructor for our young men," Jarrett said. "Natalie passed our first test -- she's proven herself as a great organizer, a leader who is knowledgeable about the sport as a player and a coach."

Natalie Randolph knows that, for most of the young men on her team, attending school is a daily struggle and the chance of attaining a college education is not the light at the end of the tunnel, it is survivial. Randolph grew up in inner city Washington, D.C., but not the same inner city Washington that many of her pupils traverse. She attended the prestigious Sidwell Friends private school, which boasts such distinguished alumni as former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and current first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama. Randolph understands the tremendous opportunity that she was given and now she wants to partner with the young men under her tutelage to help them realize their fullest potential in the world. "My role as head coach is to do all that I can to help these young men, these students, reach their goals. I want to make their families, the school, the city proud of us as a team, not me." Daniel West, a standout lineman for Coolidge, had reservations about playing for a woman. He didn't know whether the combination of playing for Randolph and playing on a team devoid of star players would affect his recruitment. Now West, a National Merit Scholar, is receiving invaluable help from Coach Randolph as she contacts Ivy league schools on his behalf. West will apply to Yale and Columbia this fall where he hopes to continue his football career.

Fast forward to August 28th, 2010 as Randolph led her Colts into battle for the first time against the Lions of Carroll in front of an estimated crowd of 3,500 at Coolidge's stadium. This crowd included Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and three members of the city council, plus Randolph's former teammates on the D.C. Divas, the city's women's semipro football team. Before the game, Randolph reminded everyone of the perspective that has made her a successful teacher and which she hopes will translate into victories on the field. "It's only a football game, it's only a football game. The only reason everybody is so excited about it is because I have different parts than everybody." Meanwhile, Mayor Fenty sang the praises of Washington, D.C.'s newest pioneer. "You always want to be a trendsetter, you always want to push the envelope. But, like I've said, the reason she's the coach here is because she knows football, and knows it extremely well. She deserves this opportunity, and I can't think of anything more encouraging than to see someone get an opportunity that he or she has earned."

Randolph and the Colts lost their first game 28-0. Afterwards, Principal Jarrett and coach Randolph were able to put the night's events and the events of the last 5 months into perspective. "I've seen Coolidge lose before, but they lost with pride tonight. I'm proud of them, either way you look at it. That's what I thought would happen when we hired her, that she would make us proud and this team would make us proud.'' Randolph went on to say, "It's always been about football and not all the other stuff. This is a football team, and it's like I told the kids, we're playing a football game, and we have to go try and win it."

So, it's back to the drawing board for Randolph and her staff as they prepare for their first road game of the season at Parkersburg South. Not only is Randolph charged with preparing her team with the x's and o's needed for victory but she must also prepare her team and herself for a sure to be less than amiable crowd and an environment devoid of the cameras, celebrities, and overall festive atmosphere of her first game. Whether the Colts win another game on their 12-game schedule or not, the impact that Randolph has made is historic and far reaching.

Karen Durkin, CEO of the New York-based Women's Sports Foundation, recently congratulated Natalie Randolph on her accomplishments. "Girls and women -- along with their fathers, sons and brothers -- now have clear evidence that the gridiron ceiling can be broken. Natalie's hiring will serve as a much-needed catalyst for women in leadership positions across all sports." While Randolph's hiring and any subsequent success she enjoys will without a doubt be tallied as a victory for Title IX and women's rights, the philosophy that she is implementing deserves greater admiration because it has the potential to change the way we quantify success on the gridiron and in the classroom. In an era of failing schools and failing teachers failing our students while, ssimultaneously, athletes and celebrities appear to dodge accountability for the most egregious actions, Randolph is the smartest person in the room because she realizes that the two plights are inextricably intertwined.

"While I am proud to be part of what this all means, being female has nothing to do with it. I love football, I love football. I love teaching. I love these kids."

If this one woman's love for football, teaching, and the children she holds herself responsible for and to can yield positive results in such a short amount of time, what do our elected officials need to love more to get our country back on track?

Or is the love that our elected officials have strong enough, but just not for the right things?