“… and I heard him murmur…
( expletive term with either ending not worthy of typing here)
Forgive me for interrupting here. I have an opinion about this. It’s historical. It’s not a simple topic; but in the end, necessary to address. And not just for me; this is for all of us! It’s the “N” word. Lots of chatter. Thousands of tweets. It’s about our future. I want to suggest a new one. After all, our experiences never come in a vacuum; they are the result of the collective moments which have already occurred. And if each day is new and our world is being transformed instant after instant, I don’t think it’s too late to help the NFL tackle this!
Here’s a bit of history. My father. Howard … to most he was “Bud”. He had no father to speak of and grew up in the ‘projects’ of Youngstown, Ohio’s north side. He had a group of best friends. Stan was an Irish buddy. Carmine aka “Chow” was obviously Italian. Bob had the last name of Skibo, but most remembered his grandfather scratched off the ‘inowtiz’ when he passed through Ellis Island decades before. The other friend was Charles. He was black. These guys played Jr. High and HS basketball together. They hung out. They laughed and smiled! I’ve got pictures to prove it!
Bud and Charles grew up in the same housing project and neither had a dad to look up to. Charles told me that it was their HS basketball coach who saved their lives and became a ‘father figure’ to them both. That was from about 1944-48. Charles went off to play college basketball and became a Methodist minister. Bud went off to San Antonio to the USAF landing back in Youngstown for the remainder of his short but productive life. Charles served the church in NE Ohio. My dad raised his family in the Lutheran Church and the two remained life-long friends. My dad died in 1987. Charles died in 2012. I had the good fortune of introducing my son to Charles over a breakfast together in Cleveland, OH in 2003. It was a holy time, as my son was born three years after my father’s death. It was the next best thing I could offer… to know his grandfather’s good friend… we all learned much that day; and now you are getting a picture of what happened and why this is important.
You see, my father exhibited a certain kind of color-blindness and an acceptance of those who looked, spoke or acted different from himself… a posture carried over now from a humble childhood into the neighborhood I grew up in. That would be 15 years later and you could smell the nationalities at dinner time all up and down the block. The names were from all over… England, Germany, Ireland, Ukraine, Greece, Scotland and Poland, etc. … short, long, in between names and many hard to pronounce. And yes, we didn’t always get along and yet, even as children we learned to work through our differences one way or another and no one died over it! My father didn’t know a stranger and somehow that has rubbed off on me. After his playing days were over, we attended many more high school basketball games. Some of my earliest childhood memories were at the South HS Field House watching triple-headers on Friday nights! I watched his alma mater; the Rayen Tigers win the 1966 Youngstown City Series basketball championship. And just for fun, sometimes, and for some crazy reason, in an instant, I can still recite the names of the starting 5 players on that team. Their names? Dennis Gomez, Bill Nadel, Homer Warren, Danny Piluga and Donald Graham. That would be one white guy, one Latino and 3 black players. That was 1966. I was in grade school! Ok, you’re getting a clearer picture still.
Maybe I’m more fortunate than others to have grown up in a literal “melting pot” community. Sensing we are different really makes us all the same. And I find it all being a gift and asset now living in an international community in Texas 40 years later. Just ask my family. Ask my friends. Have you ever heard me use the “N” word? Try hard. Have I? Ask any of my melting pot fraternity brothers from college. We were from all over Texas and all over the country… and even around the world! The Brotherhood of Omega Tau included Germans, Swedes, Danes, Poles, a Korean, Iranians, Mexican-Americans, Texians, Browns and Blacks. Seriously, and that was just in my four years (1972-76) attending Texas Lutheran University then College… and somehow that rubbed off on my son 35 years later, during his years at TLU, having roommates who are Latino, Black and Anglo. Check out his Facebook page. And maybe, for some, this is just a bit too much to consider for three generations of Gigees, but it is true. No “N” word. Why? Simple.
The “N” word is learned. Sure, all words have a history, but the original N word has been corrupted. A result of fear and ignorance. Thus, racism is taught and perpetuated. Prejudice is modeled verbally and with actions that reach many levels. So, in my world, the “N” word is always derogatory. It does not build up. It seeks to separate. It is hostile and an outright violation of old Martin Luther’s understanding of God’s commandment to ‘not bear false witness against a neighbor.’ Now, there, I’ve brought God into the whole thing. I did say this was historical. Have we forgotten the ‘ancients’ knew you could bury a hatchet but words have a greater power and once spoken they don’t ever go away? Have we forgotten? The power of word? So, I think Luther got it right when he pointed out our respect for God is what fuels our respect for those around us and we do that by building up names and reputations rather than tearing people down. Staying in touch with God, then, is key! It is the way we honor the lives of those around us… who also have been created in the image of God! Thus, to rely on name-calling only demonstrates our failure to love God, self and others. [ side note: I guess that would be a good rule of thumb for our politicians, too. Huh?]
So, I’ve tried to listen to the voices of the NFL… I’m glad they are doing something… whether a penalty flag should be thrown or not… or whether a verbal warning should be handed out… or whether there should be a distinction between the N word ending in ‘ger’ or ‘gga’. That last part may be a stretch but, at least they are trying to do something about this! I’ve tried to listen, but somehow, more us will need to and more of us will need to speak out. There are no winners here and in football or basketball or politics … or wherever and be it the N word or the B word or the F word… when spoken… when the name-calling persists… we all lose! All of us!
So, let’s ask ourselves, what good comes of using derogatory and labeling language when it comes to establishing and maintaining friendships? Strengthening community? The N word… or any other term… Any good? Any? Even in jest! The old adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is … well… just not true. Words do hurt. Sticks and stones do for sure… but sticks are kindling for a warming fire and stones can be used to build a home… after the bruises go away… But, again, let us listen to the ancients… that once a word is spoken… it stays out there… and as the good words which build up linger… alongside them the cutting words do, too! The pain bounces off one after another… bringing wound upon wound regardless of one’s color, age, sex, education or economic status. And trust me; I can make a long list of nasty names if I want. Just give me moment as the melting pot world has tried to coach me on being racist and derogatory. I just choose not to. My choice. My moment of self-regulation. So, is that the clue? Just not using the N word? Keeping one’s mouth shut? Refraining from engaging in the wounding of others? Tending to one’s own heart and mind and making a choice that benefits others, honoring their hearts and minds rather than choosing to tear them down? Perhaps. Perhaps, it’s a start. What do you think?
So, I’d like to add this to the conversation… and here’s what’s real… whether one is the CEO of the company or the one who empties the CEO’s trash can. Whether one has the status of a Trump, a Gates or a Buffet (Jimmy or Warren—take your pick!) or is the one who rides the back of the garbage truck hauling off their trash… when a person gets cut… the color is red… blood red… for all of us and it hurts… and when the CEO’s 10 year old daughter is diagnosed with cancer, the pain is just as profound as the custodian’s news of his son being arrested. Or, when a Trump or a Gates or Buffet buries his mother, the loss is equal to the death of the mother whose son picked up the trash. Pain is pain and in life it comes on its own terms. So, we need not go around inflicting it on each other as that’s what we really have in common… the pain of life… a pain deeper than any N word or other hurtful term can produce… a pain that life dishes out with no respect to any of us, diminishing our togetherness in ways, at times, we have no words for at all. And just as racist remarks and derogatory comments seek to separate and divide … and we experience the human groans and trauma of our souls, maybe the NFL should hand out penalty flags for all of that… for all the moments we have failed to address the deeper pains of humanity, and for our daily neglect to love God with everything we got and to love our neighbors as ourselves… to let the penalty flags fly for our individual, corporate and global lack of respect toward others refusing to believe we have all been created in God’s image! Thanks, NFL… really! This isn’t a simple thing! And thanks to all seek out the best in others and lifting up the good results that come as we respect the God-image within our own selves and the God-image within others… so more will see the larger, more important moment at hand…
And that brings me to the new ‘N’ Word. Or words… Never. No. Nope. Nah. Nein. Nada. Nyet. Nary. Not worth repeating. No word at all! Take your pick and know our silence and refusal to repeat it won’t be the only way. But, it’s a start and now is the time. It is a new season for the NFL and hopefully for us. It’s the future I want to be part of. “Teach your children well” is not just a song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young! It’s a message we all need to sing! I’m proud to be my father’s son and I’m proud of my father’s grandson. We all have a choice. They’ve made theirs. I’ve made mine. Let’s tell the world… now…