By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Oftentimes our collective attention span is as though we did all of Rust Cohle’s drugs from last week’s episode of “True Detective.” A big news story breaks, there is celebration and/or shock and/or awe and/or outcry, the next big news story breaks, and we’ve moved on. I’m guilty of this from time to time. I’ll write an impassioned column, send it out into the ether and never broach the subject again unless I get a self-satisfactory “I told you so” opportunity.
Some stories I make a conscious effort to not let go of, though. Oddly enough, it can be those that readers demand I do forget about. I can’t begin to count how many times I received a response to the effect of, “OK, you’ve made your point about the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno/Penn State thing, but now I’m sick of hearing about it.” As though I couldn’t be sick of hearing about pedophilia and those who would enable it.
It’s the very stories that make us most uncomfortable that are the most important and should never be dropped, forgotten or let go of. Edward R. Murrow once said, “We currently have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.” For Murrow, “currently” was more than 55 years ago. Unfortunately, we still have that allergy.
The ignoring or the intentional apathy because we’d rather feel comfortable than ask questions and learn so as to prevent repeating history allows such stories to exist in the future, whether in a continued form or anew. So, no, I’ll never let the Penn State story go.
Nor will I try to ever forget what happened in the sports world last week. The previous seven days have been perhaps the most significant in my life as a consumer of sports. And I ask that you also make a conscious effort to never let them go, even if they made you very uncomfortable.
Last week began with the public admission by future NFL player Michael Sam that he is a homosexual. Despite what is a massive story on not just a sports level but more so a societal one, the biggest human rights story in major professional athletics since Jackie Robinson, there was the immediate attempts by the allergic to insulate themselves from the ragweed of consideration.
“Why is this a story?” “He’s gay. So what? Move on.” “I don’t know why I have to listen to people talk about this stuff on TV. Stick to sports.”
No, I refuse to move on. And only an ignorant person masking his or her own fears and prejudices with an attempt to minimize an event they wish wasn’t so big because it might actually make them confront those fears and prejudices would actively want to move on.
Ironically, one person who didn’t try to sweep the story under the rug was Richie Incognito, whose late Twitter account gave props and encouragement to Sam. My suspicions of Incognito’s motives were confirmed when we found out later in the week that it was very much an attempted cushion for the blow he probably knew he was about to absorb.
He’s a homophobe, amongst other detestable things, and he has been exposed as the poster child for locker room culture that somehow has been allowed to be stuck in amber while the rest of the world evolved. But there were still those demanding it be a non-story. “Why are we talking about this? Typical media hype machine.” “Just another example of the wussification of America.” “That’s just the way it is in locker rooms. This isn’t a big deal.”
It’s a very big deal. It’s bad people being exposed as bad people, and other bad people are either afraid the same light will be shone on them or those who aren’t self-aware will be made to take personal stock of their awfulness. The macho garbage of bullying and hazing and belittling supposed teammates for your own sad psychological kicks is finally being considered really wrong. But some would prefer not to consider at all, because considering means thinking, and thinking is hard and can make you come to conclusions that don’t make you feel good. It’s that very unpleasant feeling the Incognito story has given me that I won’t move on from, so that maybe in the future I can contribute to not allowing more Incognitos or Paternos that would create more unpleasant feelings in me and far worse things to happen to others.
And both the Sam and Incognito stories happened amid the Olympics, a time every two years when we’re supposed to forget our cultural differences and focus on taking pride in strangers whose names we’ll mostly forget being better at events that we don’t care about any other time. And peace and goodwill and that sort of thing.
Yet the celebration of the international camaraderie of sport emoted despite the games taking place in a terribly anti-Sam corner of the world run by a very Incognito-esque despot. Everyone was aware of Russia’s harsh bigoted laws and policies before the Olympics began, and intelligent people were rightly outraged. But even some of those otherwise bright people have allowed themselves to go dim for the sake of patriotic rooting. Many Olympics watchers celebrated Sam and chastised Incognito while also taking an attitude of, “Welp, I don’t like how Russia operates, but what are ya gonna do? Now gimme my bobsledding.”
Strange how we can be so willing to forget. As we very well may with the alleged despicableness of Darren Sharper and the larger issue of rape culture or the questionable reactions to Marcus Smart and the larger issue of our job as spectators, both were overshadowed but were important stories that add to a truly amazing and watershed week in sports.
I ask that you do not let last week go gentle into that good night of disposable thought. Please, make last week this week every week.