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Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Collectively Malfunctioning Gaydar of Arizona

The Collectively Malfunctioning Gaydar of Arizona

Jim Crow has arrived in Arizona, as the government there has seen it fit to let businesses discriminate against gay people, not serve gay people, and basically introduce gay segregation. It’s worth noting that bass-ackward-in-everything Kansas recently voted against a bill that would have let Kansas businesses do this very same thing.

This poses a small problem for me. No, let me rephrase that; it made a problem I plan to have very soon a little bit easier to solve. I’ve made no secret of my intention to leave Buffalo again, and as it happens, the Tucson area of Arizona holds quite a bit of appeal. Legendary world-class bicycling, an active population, and a lack of rain make Arizona’s primary college city stand out. Now, with gay segregation coming into vogue across the state, I’m out on my ass, and I’m not even gay.

I’m straight. Unfortunately, this stupid country still holds onto some cherished dark age beliefs regarding homosexuals, one of which is the idea of a working gaydar – that supposed inner instinct which allegedly allows people to tell if other people are gay strictly by looking at them. The whole idea is totally fiction, of course. I found that out early when I started meeting real homosexuals and all those flaming and butch stereotypes I had held before meeting them were all shot to hell. There is no ubiquitous cross-sexual look that all gay people hold, and no way to tell whether or not a person is gay by looks alone. I’ve been invited into the lives of many wonderful gay people – probably a fifth of my friends, at least – and none of them have any particular method of conforming to their homosexuality through anything other than their sexual preferences.

Yet, we get to be like those idiots who believe they can tell if someone ever committed a crime just by looking at them. Again, fiction, unless you happen to be looking at a picture of them on a Police report. It’s the same with gay people. There’s no way to tell if someone you’re looking at is gay through looks alone, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Arizona’s new Jim Crow law does the old Crow laws one better because of this habit. Do you “look” gay? If you do, be prepared to take hikes from a lot of bigot businesses in Arizona. It’s going to be like the stop and frisk law that was recently shot down in New York City: They can stop and frisk anyone they want if they suspect some random passerby on the street is carrying something or did something. I never did get to se a cop blotter for the stop and frisk law, but I’m guessing civil rights action complaints weren’t filed by a whole lot of Wall Street suits. I expect the business bigots of Arizona are going to play by a lot of those same rules. If you talk with a lisp, wear certain clothes, say certain words, and have certain hairstyles, don’t expect to be shown to your table in Arizona when you go to a restaurant, whether or not you’re really gay.

I guess in one sense, I should be happy about these stereotypes because they may ensure that more Bible-thumping homophobes than gay people get booted onto their asses.

On the other hand, there’s me, and I’m apparently a magnet for malfunctioning gaydars from both sides of the field. I really don’t know what it is about me that makes me scream “homosexual” at the first sight to more people than I could possibly count, but I do know that I have no interest in romantic intimacy with my own gender. I also know that large cross-section of people have mistaken me for a gay person, and that’s not even counting all the junior high bullies who threw the word “faggot” at me. These were full-fledged adults who are supposed to have fully-functioning brains in their heads. I’ve had far more men than women sexually proposition me, which I will admit is pretty flattering, but makes for awkward verbal exchanges.

So, say I go to Arizona now. I wonder how I could dress myself up to avoid “looking gay.” I’m not an Abercrombie and Fitch kind of person, I wouldn’t be caught dead in biker gear, but even dressing up in the ubiquitous Upstate New York look of a t-shirt and jeans has gotten me attention from my own gender. I like to present myself in a fairly well-groomed manner, and when I’m not an emotional wreck swearing up a storm, I actually speak with large words normally found in books and the occasional clever colloquialism. Also, I try to keep myself healthy because I don’t want to turn into a guy too large to tie his own shoes. So what would I do in Arizona to avoid raising a malfunctioning gaydar?

What this will raise is a de facto excuse for Arizona to discriminate against minorities. It’s a ready-made excuse: Someone in your insurance company the wrong color? Then they look gay, so get rid of them.

I guess avoiding the place completely isn’t out of the question. I hear Seattle is nice.

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My Offbeat Love for Alternative Hip Hop

My Offbeat Love for Alternative Hip Hop

I like rap music a lot, and I don’t see the term “rap music” as an oxymoron. It was one of my signatures back in the 90’s, when I started following it, even though the late 90’s were a materialist dark age for the genre. A lot of my memories regarding music back then come from lyrics bragging about money, women, and stuff; and the industry – not the music itself, but the industry – turning into a soap opera which, were it going on today, would make a fine reality TV show. Snoop Dogg’s label switch from Death Row to No Limit was a bigger story than any CD he released, and it didn’t even get him the better producers he desperately needed. There was a popular skit character on Bad Boy records called The Mad Rapper (“We’re here today with The Mad Rapper, and, well, he’s pretty mad.”) whose real identity was a secret for years, until there was a drama about an insider threatening to reveal it. Rappers came together often to form rap supergroups, which never seemed to last (Westside Connection, The Firm). I don’t even want to write about the East/West feud, given the consequences that thing came to.

Of course, most of the rappers I listened to were the mainstream rappers. That was both a blessing and a curse. Some of the great landmark albums of rap music were among the most popular: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic; Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle; The Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die; and Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – all giant hits, all critical successes. Like everyone who listened to mainstream rap, though, I also made my share of mistakes. Master P has to be one of the most overrated rappers alive, and going crazy for Ghetto D – his supposed magnum opus – back then makes a strong case for my being a lot dumber than I think I am. Tupac was in his Death Row phase when he finally entered my consciousness, which meant my first exposure to him was All Eyez on Me, a double album populated with the sparse personal song or social comment but swimming in so much violence and decadence that it was almost cartoonish.

What a knock it was when I finally came to the realization that mainstream rap artists – good or bad – were writing those anthems to glorified, stylized violence and hedonism strictly for teenagers like me to shock their parents. Although most listeners in my situation would have been disillusioned and gone strictly back to their white suburban classic rock roots after learning that, I continued my journey into the world of rap music. I can’t take all the credit for my good taste; back when I hit the no-turning-back phase of rap fandom, I began to look a little deeper into the music world. Being an aficionado for local indie artists was a real advantage, because I knew where to find rarer records and information. When the beat trail finally led me past the rap mainstream, what I started to hear floored me: There was A Tribe Called Quest, pioneering the alternative rap movement; De La Soul giving us the concept of psychedelic hip hop; and The Roots, with the Philadelphia sound. The fact that I developed a taste for alternative hip hop made me weird even among rap fans, when guys like Talib Kweli found recognition in the last decade, I knew I had been on to something back them. It was shocking to hear The Roots become Jimmy Fallon’s backups because I still consider Illadelph Halflife the greatest rap record ever made.

Let’s be clear about that: Illadelph Halflife is a record the rich, scared suburbs still haven’t even heard of, unless someone happened to mention it in passing on Fallon once. I don’t care how weird my taste makes me look, either; Illadelph is going in the desert island chest long before anything Kanye West ever recorded. I’ll be taking along my Tribe Called Quest collection, too.

The amazing thing about alternative hip hop, to me, is the fact that the artists who create it aren’t vying to be MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice, guys who hit it big by making rap more palatable to the parents of the kids who begged for the records. None of the alternative rappers I like will pull punches when the necessity of dropping swear words comes up. But they don’t use curses as substitutes for the messages they’re trying to get across, either, and they recognize that hip hop has a meaning beyond just scaring white suburban parents to death. One of the things I noticed early on about alternative hip hop is that the artists place an enormous amount of emphasis on the artistry of rap itself, and tend to take roles as both creators and observers. A lot of the songs I heard from the first alternative rap groups I listened to regularly actually seemed to be bemoaning the mainstream and accusing it of losing sight of the real message of hip hop.

There’s no blaming the artists who believed that. Hip hop in the late 90’s seemed to have lost everything that made it such a force in the 80’s. Public Enemy sort of disappeared after their sterling, socially conscious works, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet. Gangsta Rap – or as I’ve come to referring to it, shock rap – took the things Public Enemy spoke about to an extreme, and suddenly rap was about who could create the most outrageous character. While the cartoonish extremes of violence and materialism seem to have been kicked back a little bit, rappers today have also transcended the music world to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine them being the raw, young talents they broke musical ground as. They’re entrepreneurs now, and while entrepreneurship in itself doesn’t bother me, many of them have also become the stalwart pillars of the very system they previously ranted against. Jay-Z can be held up as the most egregious example: He’s known more as the businessman who married Beyonce and owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets now than as the flying lyricist responsible for Reasonable Doubt, the influential, intense debut album that put him on the map as a rap force comparable to Rakim.

If a rapper releases a strong debut that also happens to sell well, there’s pressure on him to live up to the former sales figure. Not necessarily the music, but the sales, so it’s understandable that he might try to outdo himself on a follow-up by taking everything people loved about the debut, ramping it up to Mark McGwire steroid levels, and bloating it so he doesn’t miss anything. Since alternative rappers frequently aren’t superstars, they tend to be a bit looser and revel in creative freedom because, why not? They’re not the ones trying to appeal to the middle class, so they can afford to experiment, show musical growth as opposed to bloating, and write gradually maturing lyrics.

It’s in alternative hip hop where the real appeal of the genre lies, at least for me. Every expert on the planet says hip hop is not about graphic violence, swearing, and how many nice things the rapper can buy or the women he can get. Unfortunately, with the mainstream having placed a massive emphasis on all those things during the 90’s, that’s the image hip hop is still trying to shake. Alternative hip hop displays rap at its most creative and versatile, and it therefore best makes the argument that rap is an art form, here to stay, and totally worth preserving.

Another Reason to Hate the NFL

Another Reason to Hate the NFL

I know I’m not the only person on Earth whose mind immediately jumped to Jason Collins when NFL draft prospect Michael Sam made his big announcement. Jason Collins was the NBA player who came out of the closet last year, becoming the first professional sports player to do so. Like anyone with a forward-thinking brain, I was initially thrilled because Collins was played up by the sports media as a perfect candidate: Former first round draft pick, played on two teams that made the Finals, was well-liked and respected in his locker room, and about to become a free agent. What could possibly go wrong? Well, like any other NBA enthusiast would, I then punched Collins’s name into a search engine and out jumped the number 3.6 like a common calculus function. That was Collins’s career points per game average over his 12 years in the league. His career high was 6.4 in 2005.

Needless to say, my enthusiasm was dampened after learning that. That free agency was going to prove to be a nasty issue with Collins trying to find his next team, I figured, because any homophobes in the NBA now had that pathetic points average to hide behind. I was right, and Collins was never signed to a new contract, and it’s hard to blame anyone for letting him go loose. A 3.6 career PPG average is so bad, it almost makes him a liability. If there had been a big coming out party for a transcendent superstar like Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose and they weren’t picked up, we would have known something fishy was going on.

Michael Sam is a first-round draft prospect for the NFL who recently came out of the closet. He’s going to try dipping his toe into the macho man’s land of the world’s most neanderthal sports league by walking into the NFL as its first openly gay player. The players’ reactions have been very welcoming. Steve Gleason called him a high-character guy. Jonathan Martin said what he did takes guts. Ross Tucker said he’s tired of hearing about hypotheticals regarding how players and fans would react and said it’s time to find out, and even Richie Incognito sent his well-wishes. So if Sam is going to become the gay Jackie Robinson, he’ll at least be setting foot into a warm welcome for an ironically hyper-masculine sport in which straight people regularly act like they’re doing things like groping, grabbing, and ass-patting, which would put one’s sexuality under scrutiny in a common nightclub. (No one blinks an eye at these things when the people doing it are wearing plastic pads and helmets, for some reason. I just thought that might be worth pointing out.)

Although the league is outwardly saying they want to embrace the Jackie Robinson story this time, Sam is still going to have a certain obstacle to get over: As of now, there’s a disappointing lack of a Branch Rickey on every team to sign him; a guy who has enough guts to say that one day, they’re going to stand before God and answer for their sins, and if God asks why they never let that gay man play football and they say ’cause he’s gay, they fear that might not be a good enough answer. 12 different general managers, coaches, and scouts have decided to hide behind anonymity to give weak explanations of why they’re never going to bring Sam onto their teams. The quotes I’ve read so far are trying to excuse their own homophobia by hiding behind everyone else’s. You know the ones: They’re the people who are claiming that they fear for Sam’s safety against everyone else in the league, saying he would be a distraction and claiming they would have drafted him ten years from now, when it would be more ideal. Other things I’ve read come off as emergency excuses from general managers and scouts who were raving about him at first, only to suddenly decide he wasn’t fast enough or big enough to make an impact in the league.

This from a sports league that drafted Rae Carruth; forgave Michael Vick; overlooked the Minnesota Vikings sex boat; and kept letting teams sign Lawrence Phillips. GMs regularly sign people with character issues and arrest records, so the excuse trotted out by numerous folks – including, notably, Herman Edwards – that Michael Sam would be a distraction aren’t going to fly. The New England Patriots had two giant distractions in the buildup to the 2013 season: Their star tight end was arrested for murder, and then they signed Tim Tebow. They still managed to win 12 games on their way to the AFC Championship game. One of their former players pointed out that if the Patriots can handle all that, a gay player wouldn’t be a problem, and that any team whining about a distraction is a terrible team anyway.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Michael Sam. He has no character issues, no arrest record, and his classmates with Missouri apparently knew he was gay. And if a sexual orientation is a character problem, then I’m Casanova. Missouri certainly didn’t seem to be having very many problems with Sam. They were the fifth-ranked team in the country, and Sam registered 11.5 sacks for them in the last season. He really is a perfect person to make the NFL put up or shut up. When you get at the opposing quarterback 11.5 times in a season on the way to a Cotton Bowl victory, people notice. He also made 123 tackles – 36 for loss – six forced fumbles, and six interceptions for his college career. Although Sam was never projected to be a first round draft pick, every draft board and mock draft had him being taken in the early rounds.

Last season, the San Diego Chargers drafted Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame player who played his heart out for a dying girlfriend that turned out to be a hoax. Te’o’s first season with the Bolts went by without controversy – you know, distraction – as he quietly made a solid 61 tackles in 13 starts. The weirdest hoax in the history of sports seems to be a thing of the past. So without the usual homophobic excuses to use against drafting Michael Sam, if he gets left on the board come draft day, I can’t wait to see every team executive on the planet trip over their tongues trying to explain why they decided not to take him.

Farewell Jay, I Suppose

Farewell Jay, I Suppose

Jay Leno gave his final goodbye to The Tonight Show recently, and as is the natural order of the universe, he was given his proper media sendoff: His audience saying goodbye while the papers and blogosphere viciously thrash him while sucking off David Letterman. The great late night narrative between these two is that Leno did way too much to appeal to middle America while Letterman reigns supreme on the edge of late night comedy.

I’m certain that viewpoint has something to do with the fact that Letterman composes a top ten list at random every night, which is nice and neat and organized to the people who regularly watch his show. Because here’s the thing: I’m not entirely sure just what the difference between the two of them is. I like late night television and am a tremendous fan of stand-up comedy, so I’ve seen plenty of both of them, and I just don’t see enough of a difference between their late night acts to cling to one and trash the other. Yet, Leno vs. Letterman commands the kind of cult war which became so prominent in the 90’s, right along with Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola and Super NES vs. Genesis.

I follow stand-up enough to know well that Leno, before The Tonight Show, was a well-known and very edgy comic, and he never did quite leave his stand-up heart. He continued performing stand-up shows while hosting The Tonight Show between polishes of his classic car collection, and I always appreciate the apparent soft spot he has for Western New York. However, like every other late night talk show host, Leno wasn’t capable of writing up new stuff for every single night, so he employed a team of writers to help him tackle the job. The way I always saw it, his writers always came off as interchangeable with Letterman’s.

Leno and Letterman were both irrepressible cornballs who could easily pass for one-line comedians, and they really would have been a lot funnier if they had actually put off the lame opening monologue routines and gone in that direction. Letterman in particular has been doing this routine for so long that he’s not even trying to be the funnyman anymore. Instead, he’s aping ESPN or Fox News commentators by throwing out random groups of jokes and hoping something sticks.

It’s an injustice of entertainment that these two managed to hog so much of the attention. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that they’ve both got the earliest slots in the late night wars on network television, because the better shows are all on cable. Conan O’Brien’s first late night show was a royal bore every time I watched it, but since quitting and moving to the 11 slot of TBS, he’s been consistently providing the funniest, most random, and most unexpected sketches and routines in the official talk show business. But’s he’s only the funniest guy on the official late night talk circuit. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert run rings around everyone who airs during those hours. Jimmy Fallon – judging strictly on the little of him I’ve seen – has also been extremely creative.

Meanwhile, Leno and Letterman stood on their sets night after night, making the same dated pop culture jokes. It’s traditional to believe that they had both been placed into a version of Hell where they had to go onstage in front of millions of people every night and tell those jokes, which would have bombed in comedy clubs in Des Moines. Then again, if either of them ever thought that was Hell, maybe they should have tried watching it.

Farewell, Jay Leno, you certainly served your purpose, there’s no arguing that. You’ll be missed. By someone, somewhere, I guess. I look forward to testing Jimmy Fallon.

Catching Fire

Catching Fire

I usually write reviews to honor recently deceased entertainment people I liked. This is for Philip Seymour Hoffman, although I don’t mention him.

They couldn’t make it last, could they?

After deftly avoiding the big love triangle sub-plot that could have fogged up the first Hunger Games, in the sequel, Catching Fire, they just hit the throttle and dived right into it. It’s one of those tropes that always sadly inevitable: Two men have to fall in love with the same girl. They can’t leave well enough alone.

Let me explain: Catching Fire is the sequel to The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games introduced us to uber-archer Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of a particularly poor sector of a country called Panem which was apparently formed from the ruins of what used to be the United States. Every year, Panem throws a contest called The Hunger Games, which requires every sector to put up a young man or woman for sacrifice in what is literally a fight to the death. Some of the better-off sectors see the Games as the all-time sporting tradition the Capitol media says they are, but the people – especially in the poorer parts of Panem – aren’t fooled, and they see the Games for what they really are: A form of population control. Katniss became a heroic figure to her sector when she offered herself up to take the place of her sister when the sister was chosen to represent her district in the 74th Games.

Katniss unexpectedly won those Games, but there was a little snafu the Capitol wasn’t expecting: She and her male counterpart from her district, Peeta, put on a big true love romance show during the Games that won over the hearts and minds of the entire country. Only one person is allowed to walk out of the Games, so the romance show included an almost-suicide when Katniss and Peeta decided they were going to off themselves together, at the same time. The Capitol, knowing they were screwed if the lovebirds went through with it, quickly declared them co-winners. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and the Romeo and Juliet gesture became symbolic of defiance in the face of the Capitol.

This is where Catching Fire picks up. Katniss and Peeta are now the evermore district winners, and they’re making the rounds. Katniss’s hunting buddy, Gale, saw the show she put on with Peeta, and his apparently secret love for Katniss is now not much of a secret anymore. Unfortunately, Gale’s jealousy is almost – ALMOST – enough to ruin the first half of Catching Fire because it serves as nothing but a distraction to the main plot, which is also a whole hell of a lot more interesting than the goofy teenagers. Gale’s feelings really came out of nowhere, and everything Peeta said and did in The Hunger Games is completely trivialized thanks to the inability of some idiot to keep a story about lovesick teenagers out of the plot. Betcha this sudden bullshit storm adds a meaningless plot contrivance which destroys the upcoming Mockingjay when it comes out later this year. Betcha.

Gale wasn’t even important to the story, in either The Hunger Games or Catching Fire. He was buddy-buddy with Katniss in the first Hunger Games, at least for the scenes he was in. Now he’s in Catching Fire purely as a whiner who doesn’t accept Katniss and Peeta’s romance strategy, which means he’s now there to add an unfortunate schoolgirl dimension to Katniss. In The Hunger Games, it’s set up that Katniss isn’t in a good living situation, and she was forced to act mature beyond her years. While it’s nice that we finally have something of a definitive angle on Peeta, the cost of getting him there was a bit too high, and Katniss, through half the movie, is reduced to being a high school girl who’s worried too much about what her crush is going to think of her, no matter how her very-potentially-deadly situation dictates her actions.

So anyway, Katniss and Peeta start out making the rounds in Panem. Katniss is called into the President’s office because the Prez knows where her and Peeta’s little act of defiance means for his dictatorship, and he tells her to be a good little girl and keep to the script…. Or else. It doesn’t make much difference, though, because his guys are always there to beat the living shit out of the crowd anyway. She’s still a symbol, though, and so with the 75th anniversary of The Hunger Games coming up this year, he gets an idea: Pit past winners of The Hunger Games against each other, see if he can erase Katniss the Symbol that way. The rules stated that Hunger Games victors would never have to compete again, so most of the past victors are none too pleased with this. In the pregame ceremonies, in fact, most of them put up some form of protest. Peeta and Katniss decide on the tagalong married couple routine, and Peeta, ever the reliable image strategist, even tells everyone there’s a kid on the way in an effort to get the Games called. The move clealy puts a few doubts in the heads of the Capitol onlookers, but the show must go on.

Catching Fire, like The Hunger Games, is basically split into two acts: The buildup and the Games themselves. The buildup in Catching Fire is a lot more nuanced than it was in The Hunger Games, and played out like Katniss knows exactly what she means to the people now. The impression is actually set up pretty early, while her and Peeta are on tour, and the thugs in The Capitol aren’t smelling the fear in the districts like in years past. There’s a very clear whiff of defiance in the air now, and instead of hunkering down, the people are raising their arms in salute to the two champions. This of course doesn’t meet with the Capitol guards’ approval, and they take it as a cue to walk in and beat them down, but then again, they were probably planning to do that anyway.

The new tributes don’t seem up to the idea of doing the Capitol any favors either. They seem almost soft on each other, and more pissed off at the Captiol than dedicated to the job of eradicating each other. By many accounts, they all get along just fine, and that makes it all the more disturbing when they know they’re going to be thrown into a large arena for a no-holds-barred fight to the finish.

It’s the second half of Catching Fire which provides the real payoff. In the arena, Catching Fire puts all of its background right back into the background, and the rest of the movie is a straight up thriller. The dangers feel more in-your-face and closer, like poison mist and baboons. While the world the Games are taking place in feels a little bit weird, it’s still perfectly in line with The Hunger Games, which also felt a little offbeat due to the arena’s odd rules. Even the slow moments occur with an adrenaline-fueled intensity because Katniss finds herself teamed up with other competitors she didn’t expect, and there seems to be mutual and very real like between them.

The payoff of Catching Fire is more explosive and satisfying than in The Hunger Games, and it sets the stage perfectly for Mockingjay, when it’s released. In the meantime, movies which end with cliffhangers are still going to be on my list of things I want to go extinct.

Our Odd Sportsmanship Quandary

Our Odd Sportsmanship Quandary

Yesterday morning, I watched Stoke City FC play against Manchester United in the Premier League. Like a million other people in the first world, I learned long ago to hate Manchester United with a searing passion. So I reveled as I watched the heavy underdog Potters – a strictly mid-level club I don’t have any particular strong feelings about here or there – beat the defending champions Man United despite a last-leg onslaught which, thanks to a mighty rash of injuries, included a whopping seven minutes of stoppage time. When the 99 minutes of the match were finally whistled, I was happy Manchester United had lost. Naturally, I’ve been loving the past season of Premier League soccer because Alex Ferguson, the fearless leader of the Red Devils for the better part of the last 30 years – and the man who managed them to the 13 or 14 most recent of their 20 or so titles – retired after last year, and so the rest of the league has been reveling in the customary revenge beatings.

It doesn’t even matter quite so much that my team, Liverpool, is still in the mix and has a legitimate shot of winning the League Title. I’m just Manchester United’d the hell out, and the bottom line here is that I want them to lose. Sure, I can be the nice guy out in public, shake the hand of the average Man United supporter, and congratulate him for his team playing a nice game, but I don’t care to. If Liverpool just beat them for the first time in umpteen games, I’m going to be that guy wagging his finger in the other guy’s face, shouting the more explicit versions of the word “booya!” When Manchester United is involved, my sportsmanship goes right out the window.

That’s the big thing about sportsmanship. We’re hypocritical about it. After two weeks of hearing the word hurled everywhere as nothing but a veiled synonym for “quiet,” it’s time to address the idea for what it really is: A kids’ concept and a way to replace real parenting. It’s antiquated in the age of information, with everyone now thinking they have some kind of stake in the personal lives of the rich and famous. You would think we learned our lessons in the worst-case scenario of OJ Simpson, the public gentleman who was revealed in a murder trial, but for some reason we’re clinging to the image of the milk-drinking, Jesus-praising, white male athletes more than ever and offering weak cries of “sportsmanship!” whenever someone breaks the mold.

Richard Sherman broke the mold right after the NFC Championship game. After apparently being spurned for a handshake by San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, he forgot to hit the phantom adrenaline off switch which most people are under the apparent delusion exists. The result was that he exploded right at the camera when Erin Andrews stopped by after Sherman made the game-saving play. Now, Andrews was visibly petrified, but never in any danger – Sherman made no threatening comments, and nothing he said was directed at her. And yet, for a breach of some nonexistent social contract – and even though Sherman is a straight-A Stanford grad who runs one of the best charities in the country, is a student of the game, and is extremely well spoken and a good guy by all accounts – we decided to start labeling him and judging his character based on 30 seconds of an interview cutoff.

I’m well aware of the fact that professional sports feel different from other forms of entertainment; I mean, really, I don’t see very many people putting their whole emotional well-being into how their favorite actor or band is performing. If there’s a city somewhere that threw a riot to celebrate a Best Picture Oscar win, I haven’t heard anything about it. Regardless of how much sense it actually makes, though, we manage to keep placing our favorite professional athletes into a really, really specific mold: Quiet? Check. Christian? Is there any other kind of religion? Glory for the team above all else, never insults the hometown? Nice to have. We think different about sports because athletes aren’t associated with movie resumes; they run around in clothes which we believe symbolizes everything our hometowns hold dear to their cultures. There’s a whole argument to be made under that faulty logic since no one ever seems to care about a team’s image when the team is good, but I’ll save it. Most of these athletes don’t adopt the city they’re contracted to play in, anyway.

The aw-shucks, milk-drinking athlete who plays his heart out and then goes home to the high school sweetheart was crowded out of the building when Muhammad Ali told the Army where they could put their draft notices. Ali was the first to truly recognize and capitalize on the sports industry for what is really is, and also the first to recognize the fact that he was a private citizen with every right to share his opinions with whoever he saw fit to share them with. Professional athletes have always been doing things against the image of what clean-cut America desperately wants them to be, since King Kelly womanized and drank himself to death in the late 1800’s. Ali, though, was the first one to show that they didn’t necessarily have to hide it. He stepped up and became as much a showman and a symbol as an athlete, and 50 years after the fact – and with the likes of Chris Kluwe standing up for the rights of people who are widely still not treated like actual people – we’re still clinging to the gee-willickers image of Mickey Mantle, despite the fact that Mantle was another rabid womanizer who also drank himself to death.

At the professional level, in an information age with clockwork coverage and athlete salaries more than the gross domestic economic products of entire countries, showmanship is the real account of worth for athletes. These people make their entire living playing in front of enormous crowds, and the more they get noticed, the more opportunities they get for extra income (read: attention) which people are more than happy to give them. Right there lies the ultimate double standard: We’re happy to watch the games and pick out the players we like the best, who are more often than not the ones who are the best on the field. Then we shower them with extra attention and money for being that good and, when the inevitable ego inflation occurs, we suddenly get shocked and forget a lot of these players had millions of bucks suddenly land on their heads. It’s a wonder more professional athletes don’t end up like Randy Moss. Now, with Facebook and Twitter and all those other social networks giving us all-access passes into private lives, we should be getting nullified to the transgressions of the rich and athletic.

No matter how hot the spotlight gets, professional athletes are still people, and they have every right to live their personal lives without having to apologize or be vilified by a vindictive public which expects them to excel all the time, play injured, turn their adrenaline on and off at will, and accept public deification while keeping their heads down and gracefully accepting their free rides. Screw sportsmanship. If I want my team to win, I’ll take passion and fire over sportsmanship any day. Don’t expect me to contain myself when they really do win, either.