So, in revision, let me tell you about the ubiquitous horror of my life, a life that I pray lasts beyond 42 years and ends without dehumanizing malice.
And let me tell you about hope — the most loyal friend to persistence — and how it can fill you up and then, through the harshness of life, deflate like a tire with a slow leak.
I made a career out of writing about sports because athletics are built around the concept of hope. It is addictive and inspiring to be in the presence of people who are constantly striving. At their best, sports figures resist giving up, even when the scoreboard or their overall records show they already have lost. Though they fail often, in public for all to see, they get up, analyze their flaws and devise a strategy to be better next time.
These games are not the escape that selfish people demand them to be. They are a microcosm of society, and in many ways, they present the opportunity to peer into a world closer to ideal. With the games on pause right now, the things I miss most are those comebacks and the displays of interminable will to win.
That is especially true during this period of racial unrest. If I had written this five days ago, I would have told you I had no optimism. None. For the first time in my life, my tire was completely flat. It pains me to write from this perspective because it’s foreign and unnerving. I always have had that idyllic Martin Luther King Jr. dream, that hope. It’s harder to inflate my spirit in such a way now.
This is what African Americans mean when we say we are tired. Our hope is leaking. Our skepticism is taking over. We are waiting for our resiliency to replenish. And we are angry that the complicated problem of police brutality — a subset of the vast issue of racism — is still largely looked upon as our burden instead of an urgent human concern for the entire country.
Fortunately, hope is not a scarce resource, and our history is long and full of remarkable examples to serve as reminders that, while moods fluctuate and fatigue is inevitable, there is a proven benefit and honor to staying the course, even when you aren’t certain your path will lead to a societal idyll.
Close to the end of his life, King admitted his dream “has turned into a nightmare.” But two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, he also came to Washington and gave a speech in which he said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
So I’m looking to patch the hole in my tire. Or replace the tire. My hope starts to expand when I look beyond the chaos and view the unrest as a reckoning, when I see the peaceful protests and the images of police officers kneeling and people hugging despite perceived barriers, when I see the diversity and youth of the protesters and their determination to be heard even as President Trump threatens to weaponize the military against them.
Sports, the world of abundant hope, has done a solid job overall, too. The overwhelming reaction from players, coaches, franchises and businesses tied to sports has been encouraging. In totality, the mere accumulation has been inspiring, and it mirrors the responses from the rest of compassionate America. But it’s also the expectation of human decency. A Minneapolis police officer took his knee and choked the life out of Floyd while three other officers did nothing, and it was captured on video, and it illustrated a cry that many Americans have been too ambivalent or obtuse to hear.
Combine all of these statements, and they create something of a manifesto. In our need to react to a brutal murder, in our need to prove our capacity for empathy, in our need to attach our names to the condemnation of racism, we have made declarations of intention. Several of those statements — particularly ones from huge organizations, such as the NFL — come across as hollow and too carefully worded, even hypocritical. But they are something we can use for accountability. It feels as if the passion exists for people to maintain insistence that pretty words are lived up to and that big businesses put their money and influence into this cause.
It’s a stunning shift that this genre of social justice, which cost Colin Kaepernick his NFL career, is now good for business. Three years ago, as NFL players followed Kaepernick’s protest and some fans booed, such passion for social justice seemed so incendiary that owners capitulated to Trump to the point of including the pacifying language “respect for the flag and anthem” in the league’s new national anthem policy. Now the NFL attempts to appease another faction, which includes its players.
In an astounding about-face, perhaps in response to a video featuring players released Thursday evening, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the extraordinary step of admitting wrong and apologizing to players in a video Friday. It came after several prominent young stars released their own video a day earlier, which artfully made it clear the NFL needed to pick a side. And Goodell reacted appropriately, though he failed to reference Kaepernick. It was the strongest declaration of intention thus far, so strong that it empowers the players and public to take the demand for NFL action to a higher level. Skepticism is warranted, but in the NFL and throughout the world, it feels like we have come a long way in empathy and understanding in a short time.
Such a development seemed a long way away earlier this week when my boys were being boys one afternoon. My wife was working on her new garden bed, and they were playing with the water hose, spraying and flailing and giggling, spilling into the street, drenched in innocence.
I was inside, taking a call, looking out the window. It was close to our 5 p.m. curfew — the perks of chaos — and I started to panic while still on the phone. I didn’t know what would happen if the police or National Guard came through. We live in a residential neighborhood, but I just didn’t know. Perhaps it was irrational, but fear doesn’t answer to reason. Heck, reason doesn’t even answer to reason anymore.
I got off the phone and cried a few tears. How are we here? Why are we here? I went to yell for the family to come in, and when I opened the front door, the 8-year-old was on the porch, naked, ready to hit the bathtub. The 4-year-old was wearing only his soaked red shirt. And they giggled into safety, oblivious to the current American crisis.
What a joy to be young and unbroken. Lose hope? To this point in their lives, my boys couldn’t fathom such a thing.
It crushes me that my duty is to prepare them, subtly for now, for the possibility. But it drives me to do all I can, despite my misgivings, to help them avoid these demoralizing feelings for as long as heavenly possible.
Finite disappointment. Infinite hope. Relentless resistance of the norm. Those concepts are essential to American endurance. Sports, too. Keep striving.