Oh, soccer…I will learn to love you

AddySoccer

I have had a real love-hate relationship with soccer going all the way back to my youth.

I never really played the sport. Not that I can remember at least. In our old neighborhood, we grew up with a baseball glove and ball, a basketball and a bike. If there was a soccer ball around, we didn’t do much with it.

Sometime in junior high, The Kansas City Comets appeared on my radar. I don’t remember the first game I went to at Kemper Arena, but I remember I had to go back. Maybe it was the light show before the game. Or the pure energy of a few thousand people (never any more than that as I recall) shrieking as the players were announced and ran onto the indoor soccer field.

They made entrances as if they were the most popular and famous athletes on the planet. And, at the time, they were to us. They had names like Jan Goossens, Alan Mayer, Ed Gettemeier and Gino Schiraldi.

The days of the Comets faded and I turned to the world of sports writing. Some time in 1996, I covered my first high school soccer game. Not long after, I covered my first high school girls’ soccer game, an epic 0-0 tie that went four overtimes and had no end in sight.

I think that’s when I started mildly mocking the sport. Although I did, and still do, openly acknowledge that the soccer players are often some of the best athletes in the schools.

So, I knew the day was coming when Addy would want to hit the soccer field. She started asking for a soccer ball last fall and, once the purple wonder was purchased and brought home, she started asking to take it outside and “play” a game against me.

When it came time for a soccer “team” then, Addy was ready. Well, sort of.

First, she requested she play on an “all girls” team.

“Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen, girlie,” I told her. Of course, I am not all that disappointed that Addy wants to steer clear of the boys right now. But, at her age, the boys and girls play on the same team, I explained.

That earned me an eye roll. I’m used to it now.

Addy’s mom and I decided the Itty Bitty Soccer program through the Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation would be the best way to go to start our kiddo off on the right foot.

Of course, I had to wrap my head around my kiddo playing soccer. Yes, I realize millions of kids play it. Yes, I get that she’s not going to be mired in some four-hour-long tie game (God I hope).

At this age, soccer is more about the fundamentals of the game – passing, dribbling, teamwork and learning that the game isn’t 45 minutes of constant shooting the ball into the goal. Sometimes you have to, you know, be the goalie. Addy had a hard time with that.

The great part of Itty Bitty Soccer is that the parents are right there the whole time. And I mean right there. On the field.

Each parent is out there dribbling, passing, shooting and instructing with a slew of kiddos knocking a much smaller version of a soccer ball around.

And that’s where I renewed my appreciation for the sport. Right there, on the field with Addy. Observing the very beginnings of her learning to kick and interact and play the game.

I still haven’t been a Sporting Kansas City game, though. So, if you want to throw some tickets my way to convince me, please do.

Otherwise, I will be out at Miller J. Field on Saturday mornings watching and “coaching” my daughter and the other kids. For that brief moment in time, they are the stars of the show.

Rolling Stone adds to our heartache

I’ve been a Rolling Stone reader, off and on, for decades.

Mainly, it was for the music, profiles and features on the musicians. Whether or not I cared for the political banter, I never gave it much attention. It wasn’t what Rolling Stone was about, for me at least.

Nearly every issue, too, they would have a hard-hitting, investigative piece. Those were always intriguing, especially to a life-long journalist.

I would find myself in the midst of a criminal piece, surrounded by a murder-mystery or uncovering an injustice in a way that was actually going to matter and affect change, and I would be insanely jealous that the reporter was given the time and latitude to work on such an enterprise piece.

Reading newspapers and magazines used to come with all the confidence of the highest order of the Fourth Estate. It wasn’t Meet the Press. It wasn’t The McLaughlin Group. Print journalism was pure and good and right.

And, in a lot of ways, it still is. But man, this Rolling Stone debacle sure hurts. In fact, the retraction and scathing Columbia University report on litany of missteps made by numerous staffers of the magazine not only does damage to an already struggling industry, it will surely hurt in the realm of reporting sexual assaults.

And it could have all been avoided.

Reading through the highlights of the Columbia School of Journalism’s report on Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” account of an alleged attack at the University of Virginia last November, it’s shocking to me that the most basic tenants of writing, reporting, editing and, most importantly, verifying, were completely and utterly disregarded.

And that it was happening at such an institute of journalism is supremely disappointing.

When I first heard Rolling Stone was completely walking away from its reporting of “Jackie” and her story of a gang rape at a fraternity party in 2012, I immediately went where others – current and former – go when we bemoan this type of bad press about the press. I went to the current state of our industry, where somehow “doing more with less” (even though, as a former publisher I can tell you those are the most idiotic words ever uttered) and we think we are still going to deliver quality journalism as we continue to slash and burn through our newsrooms.

We aren’t. But that’s not where Rolling Stone failed.

They simply didn’t follow the rules. It’s maddening now to read this report and realize it wasn’t budget cuts or staffing that led to this shoddy storytelling. It was lazy work from the top to the bottom – the editors, writers and fact-checkers. Hell, that Rolling Stone still has fact checkers is a testament to its commitment to journalistic excellence. Except in this case.

Recently I spoke on a panel with two other journalists about our experiences in covering the racial tensions, riots and after-effects of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. With a room full of journalists and student-journalists, I decided to take the opportunity to opine a bit on what I believe students should be learning and what they may or may not be getting in the classroom as they head into the real world.

This report from Columbia on the failing of a respected magazine should move to the top of the list in every journalism classroom.

The next generation of journalists are going to be held just as responsible as every writer that has come before them. And they will have to perform those tasks under a larger microscope than we could have ever imagined. Social media is just one of the many weights on their shoulders.

Young journalists must demand that accuracy is still the single biggest burden in their lives. They have to feel it every moment of their existence and demand that those that work above them hold it so sacred that we can never, ever, let “A Rape on Campus” go to press with such storytelling holes looming over the piece and with so many unanswered questions and doubts haunting the writer.

I’ve had enough of being disappointed when these travesties hit journalism. I’m done making excuses for writers that don’t respect the industry or continually use it for personal gain and not the greater good.

My saving grace is knowing there are still plenty of good journalists doing plenty of good journalism. But it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be. And the instant we let our guard down, we will lose our way, our credibility and our proud profession.

The show must (and did) go on

Taking a 4-year-old to a high school play, or any activity over an hour, takes a little bit of planning.

On top of knowing where the closest restrooms are located, you have to be ready for just about anything from a sudden illness to random tears.

On this particular day, though, Addy was feeling great and on some of her best behavior. Of course, it was Valentine’s Day.

After a scrumptious dinner at Summit Grill, the girl and I headed to Lee’s Summit West High School to catch the musical “Cinderella.” It wasn’t Addy’s first time at a theater performance, having seen her old man in a cameo role at “Godspell” last fall.

We arrived to a packed house in the West theater and found a few seats near the back where Addy had a good line of sight to the stage. The house lights when down, the curtain separated away and Addy giggled with excitement as the production began.

As the carriage whisked away Cinderella (played by West senior Jasmin Robinson, her first lead role, where she was simply amazing), Addy and I made a mad dash to beat the intermission-crowd to the restroom.

Turns out, we shouldn’t have been in a hurry.

Little did we know that, at some point, some of the high school orchestra got stuck in the elevator. After a few minutes turned into 20 or more, Addy started to get impatient.

We had restroom trip checked off. Bottled water handy. Snacks close by. But I hadn’t planned for “orchestra in the elevator” delays with her.

As we chatted about what she enjoyed about the first act, I explained that “Cinderella” had a real name and it was “Jasmin.” I shouldn’t have even walked down that road, because the kiddo was really confused about that. Thankfully, the booming voice from the sky saved me with an announcement that there was a minor technical difficulty (although I am sure he had a different phrase for it) and that the production would be resuming shortly. A few minutes later, we learned Act II would be resuming sans a few members of the orchestra.

I almost lost Addy during the delay. A few members of the audience had already shuffled out and it was getting late. Thankfully, the house lights went down and we got rolling again. And I am thrilled we stayed.

The players at West didn’t let the adversity shake them a bit. If it did, they didn’t show it one bit.

When they came out to take a bow, Addy was clapping and cheering like she had just seen the biggest production of her life.

And you know, she probably just had.

Bravo to theater director Brad Rackers and the West Side Stage players. The show had to go on and they made sure everyone had a special Valentine’s evening.

How do we make a difference?

Many people want the complete community experience where they live.

Safety. Recreation. Education. Art. Eating. Entertainment. Opportunity.

Author Richard Florida contends in his book, “Who’s Your City?” that where we choose to live is as important a decision as who we choose to spend our life with and what we choose to do for a living.

While I have friends all across our fruited plain, for this example I will focus on Lee’s Summit.

Why do we live here? Are we happy here? If not, what are we doing to improve our community?

Some join a social club. Others give back through service. Our greatest gifts are likely as simple as our gift of time. We know that talk is cheap. Actions show our resolve to help, assist and give back. If it’s at a thrift store, an elementary school or a nonprofit organization, we make a difference simply by showing up.

In Lee’s Summit, it really is just that easy.

A small, and sometimes vocal, minority like to bat around terms like “insiders” and similar phrases to describe those that are involved around town. Like any community, Lee’s Summit isn’t immune to the “most of the work falls on just a few” routine. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It is easy to be involved in Lee’s Summit. Making a difference is as effortless as picking up trash, reading to a kid or volunteering on a committee. Some of the strongest leaders in Lee’s Summit do it very quietly.

I will use the example of a young man named Mike Ekey who, after a little persistence, was appointed to the Lee’s Summit Arts Council and later the Planning Commission. Mike has been in town just a few years.

From our parks to our downtown, HOA’s to private schools, it takes an abundance of volunteerism and that gift of time to keep things moving. I know there are countless parents out there putting in that time when they barely have it.

Others, though, don’t bring anything to the table other than blustering and complaining. And social media has helped feed that ability to gripe unfettered and offer no real solutions.

When you listen to this loud minority, you would think Lee’s Summit is on the verge of falling to pieces. But we need to remind them that they chose Lee’s Summit. And if things aren’t great, what are they doing to make it better?

Florida sums it up nicely here:

“Finding the right place is as important as—if not more important than— finding the right job or partner because it not only influences those choices but also determines how easy or hard it will be to correct mistakes made along the way. Still, few of us actually look at a place that way. Perhaps it’s because so few of us have the understanding or mental framework necessary to make informed choices about our location.”

So, that’s the challenge. Finding your place means you’ve taken everything into consideration. Happiness isn’t about where you live, but you do live somewhere that should make you happy. If it doesn’t, change it.

Another great nugget from Florida:

“The place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children and families. People are not equally happy everywhere, and some places do a better job of providing a high quality of life than others. Some places offer us more vibrant labor markets, better career prospects, higher real estate appreciation, and stronger investment and earnings opportunities. Some places offer more promising mating markets. Others are better environments for raising children.”

Can you read that paragraph and not think of Lee’s Summit? I can’t.

Now, go make a difference. We’re a better city and a stronger community when you do.

The poetry of music lyrics

My recent fascination with Hozier’s haunting “Take Me to Church” got me thinking about the power of music lyrics.

When Hozier laments that he will “tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife,” among other obvious religion-themed verses, the song takes on a new meaning to some.

To others, it’s just a song.

Of course, the messaging of music is nothing new in pop culture. For as long as music has been around, there are those that feel compelled to break down and understand the true meanings behind our favorite songs.

The theologians had a heyday with R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” probably due to as much of the visual images of that video as the lyrics itself. My theology-minded brother, Dr. Thomas More, even weighed in on that topic during a VH1 special.

And like R.E.M., Hozier encourages the religious discussion and our natural tendency to break down the music. With lines like “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,” how can we not wonder aloud?

It does diminish the music or dampen the integrity of the art to discuss lyrics. Still, we sometimes go a little overboard.

Bell Biv Devoe didn’t literally mean that girl was “Poison,” did they?

Women, love and heartache-filled-angst has made the best music over the years. And some of that we can take quite literally.

Jefferson Starship told us all about “Sarah.” KISS introduced us to “Beth.” The Police filled us in on “Roxanne.” Toto’s famous ode to Rosanna Arquette was popular in the 80s. And Prince told us way more than we may have needed to know about a good friend named “Nikki.”

Hozier offers an explanation of “Take Me to Church” on a YouTube video. My initial take was you can’t riddle you song with faith-related phrases and then tell us the song isn’t about that at all. I’ve changed my tune a bit now, though, as I think back to many great songs.

The Band had us believing they “pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead…” Really? Either way, can’t argue with the song. That tune is still killer after all these years.

Songs that dare to dip into religion will always draw the ire of some. Others, like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (no, he’s not singing “hold me close my Tony Danza…”) will live in interpretive infamy forever. Deliberate or implied symbolism makes for great discussion points, especially when we look at some of the great songs of Pink Floyd or The Doors.

As one of my friends put it recently on a Facebook discussion, in his mind, the song is just the song. It’s good music. Maybe that’s all we need say.

That a topic, a woman, a loss or a love can inspire deep and meaningful music is still what drives me to listen.

If music moves you, allow it to happen.

The dream should include love

Tony

In the midst of a racially charged time in our society, we pause today to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and his vision of peace, love, justice and fellowship.

Dr. King’s dream was celebrated tonight in Lee’s Summit, in Kansas City and throughout the United States via these types of events, speeches, vigils and remembrances.

I got a glimpse of King’s dream while traveling to Memphis last summer. During my annual guys’ trip, I finally detoured off Beale Street and found the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. While touring, reading, listening and visualizing all that King had preached regarding civil rights and civil disobedience, I was struck by one thing in particular – his age. King was just 39 when he was gunned down by coward James Earl Ray. At 40, I was walking through and seeing this tremendous affect he had on our country and culture in such a short amount of time.

And while race relations are never seemingly at an even keel, since that trip to Memphis, it has gotten exponentially worse.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old New York man, died July 17, 2014 after officer Daniel Pantaleo performed what some consider an illegal choke hold. Why Pantaleo took such drastic measures against Garner is beyond me. Still, it happened. And a flurry of race-related riots followed after Pantaleo wasn’t charged in his death.

On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri – an event that prompted me to head to the St. Louis suburb and find some sort of humanity among a racially-fueled and angry community.

Since that Grand Jury released its findings, we know now what transpired between officer Darren Wilson and Brown on that fateful day. That situation and the fate of Eric Garner are starkly different. We know that now.

But the results are the same. Race is in the headlines, used in the news as a flash point of controversy and talking points and, months later when we celebrate the work of Dr. King, relived again as we discuss where we have been and where we are heading as a country still dealing with racial issues.

On this day, though, I thought more about my brother-in-law, Tony, who passed away a year ago this month.

Tony was a proud black man. A preacher. A helper. A wonderful husband to my sister, a friend, brother and mentor to many.

Tony and I rarely had the “big” racial discussion. We didn’t break down Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” or “I Have a Dream” speeches.

Mostly, Tony talked about love. Loving your neighbor. Love for your family. Loving God. Showing love, sharing love, offering love. Over the years, I tried to better embrace and understand that message. I know that Tony and my sister Ann practiced that message of love. And saw it given back a thousand times over during Tony’s service.

King’s messages during his life resonate well after his death. He was willing to say the hard things about race that we sometimes don’t want to talk about.

I believe we have many hard conversations still ahead.

But if we have them with a dose of patience, reverence and, of course, love, I think we could actually get somewhere.

The meaningful gifts

It’s mid-January, which means my daughter has pretty much moved on from any gifts she got at Christmas.

The new coloring books are half used. The slippers are somewhere in her room. God only knows where her purple pony is.

And the damn flying fairy is broken. Irrevocably busted.

The only saving grace is the Light Brite that hasn’t left the box yet. Yes, I guess the Light Brite has made a reappearance in the toy world.

My kiddo doesn’t seem to take notice when some of her toys disappear into the night. I’ve gotten her in the habit of trying to think of still-new toys she can give away to kids that maybe don’t have as much. She’s been largely supportive, and has even brought up that a particular new toy could go to another girl some time.

I did face a little of the 4-year-old wrath when I gave away her Lalaloopsy doll. She’s still bringing that up to me from time to time.

As kids, I know toys are king. When we rip into the wrapping paper on our birthdays or Christmas and find socks or a sweater awaiting, those are pretty quickly tossed aside, hoping the next box or bag will hold the promise of something we had seen on TV recently.

As an adult, a new softball glove or old Nintendo game might be nice, but the gifts that really resonate are the ones where, the second you open them, you say, “this person really gets me.”

A shirt you know you are going to love isn’t discarded at all as an adult. A pair of copper mugs to make your favorite drink in is met with a smile every time they are used. Or simply a box of pencils made from recycled newspaper. A gesture that not gives a nod to my newspaper past, but shows an understanding of what I might truly appreciate.

Of course, I don’t expect these things out of my daughter just yet. Gift giving to her will, I hope, for years to come be about something that she will open, scream with joy about, and play with. Even if for only 17 minutes or so. (The fairy didn’t last long).

And, perhaps, the really meaningful gifts come at a time when no gift is anticipated at all. I’ve noticed on Facebook some people committing to doing something for five friends throughout the course of the year. Each year I see a few more of my friends doing this. I’ve never asked if they follow through. I want to believe they will.

In a world that is quite mad and violent, I can believe in little gestures of kindness and compassion, whether that is in the form of gifts, words, a gentle touch, shoulder to cry on or in simply being there for our loved ones.

I hope to provide all of that to my friends, family and loved ones.

And if it happens to come with a little something wrapped up with a bow on top, I hope that I, too, can always find that most meaningful gift to them.