May 4, 2011

Rashard Mendenhall & Osama Bin Laden, with Obligatory Tie-In To Candian Politics

We're about to start with one discussion, and leave it dangling on another, barely related one. This will be a problem for some. If this were one of my student's essays, I might write "lacks cohesion." We like a thesis. We like conclusions stemming from said thesis. However, the only real conclusions mentioned here will be death (Osama Bin Laden's) and 140 Character limits (Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall's). But a thesis? Okay.

I’m not upset that Osama Bin Laden is dead, or that Rashard Mendenhall tweeted about it.

On Monday, Rashard Mendenhall tweeted the following with respect to the Bin Laden death announcement:
"@R_Mendenhall What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...”
Obviously, some people were pissed. ESPN dusted off the "Should Athletes Tweet" discussion.

Hold up now, and let me finish.

Now, I didn’t follow the Pittsburgh Steelers running back on twitter (until now) because following NFL players on twitter can ruin their appeal for me. Last year, I followed one of my favourite players in the NFL, and maybe of all time, Atlanta’s WR Roddy White, only to find out he is a terrible speller with an addiction to comma splices. It hasn’t ruined my admiration for him as a football player (though maybe for the standards at his College), but it certainly threatened to. To be fair, seeing Billy Collins attempt to catch a Matt Ryan pass in the slot might affect how I read his poetry.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths" - From Marginalia by Billy Collins

But back to the @R_Mendenhall tweet:
“What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...”
The impractical philosopher side of my brain was with him until “We’ve only heard one side….” – I respectfully disagree that we did hear Bin Laden’s side, and the obvious literal side of me says it was pretty friggin' loud. It sounded like airplanes crashing and has echoed with war and global paranoia for the past ten years. Okay, so Mendenhall is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. We're all a little bit insane. If the Steelers can forgive Roethlisberger's raping, I think we can forgive Mendendall for a questionable belief.

The tweet as a whole shows some intellectual balls (brain balls), particularly as NFL players twitter accounts often centre on football training and inspirational quotes (@jeremyshockey) unwavering love for America (@drewbrees) or solipsism and product endorsement (@TerrellOwens). Now, despite my leading adjectives, there is nothing particularly wrong with any of these tweeting styles, and each are well within what one might want or need from an NFL tweeter—particularly during Fantasy Football season. Hey, we all can't be @JohnFugelsang.

Rashard Mendenhall works a job where it’s necessary to have a personality, but anathema to display the real one (it's a bit like what us teachers are "supposed" to be). But Mendenhall did both, and agree or disagree, here’s why that’s awesome:

1. He actively engages in politics through a thoughtful and difficult question. If you're an athlete (which he is) and 23 (which he is), it’s likely too easy to let Twitter be a string of empty bullshit, especially if your fan base has no interest in what you ACTUALLY have to say (which his did). For anyone who bounces around this blog, a few years ago, I suggested Sean Avery was an asshole for “having a personality.” My preoccupation at the time, his only engagement was in being a thoughtless asshole. Mendenhall might have been a bit of an asshole to some, but puts considered thought behind it. That difference is huge, and the reason why every verbal disagreement doesn't become a fist fight (or why every difference of policy need not become a war).

Athletes dipping into politics without thought is bad (e.g. John Rocker's "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners."). Yes, sometimes athletes, like everyone else, will piss people off with politics, and sometimes, yes, that starts a necessary conversation with the people who are most offended:

Mexico City, 1968 (from R to L: Uncomfortable white guy, Tommie Smith, John Carlos)

2. Mendenhall didn’t delete the tweet after receiving what must have been a shit storm of 140 character Patriotism and sports news roundtables condemning him. That takes wherewithal. Last week, I deleted a tweet, embarrassed because I spelled colour the American way “color.” Monday, a 13 year old girl tweeted me unsarcastically about a joke I had made regarding my "adolescent orange zits" and to be honest @skysfamousbaby, it took all my strength to let it go.

3. Mendenall clarifies his tweet with this follow-up letter (because sometimes, there is no shame in saying something using more than 140 characters). While I don’t share his religious justification for the tweet, he still had the stones to say the following:
Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I’ve said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought.
Mendenhall didn't express anything that was immoral (though pin that down). He expressed an opinion as a person, which is not the same thing as expressing an opinion as a football player. Yes, he gets paid to do the later, but it's refreshing to see the former, particularly in the follow up, which acknowledges without recanting, teaches without lecturing, discusses without concluding.

Now, as the title suggests, here's the leap:

Sometimes conversations don't need to end right fact, the ones that do, probably weren't even conversations. This sounds too simple. And it is. I likely could've expressed in half a tweet, and more people probably would've read it too. Fresh off a disappointing election and extremely negative week of "discussion" in Canada, which will no doubt continue until 2015, I sort of just want to leave it at that for now...if you made it this far, and now ask "So what was the point of these 6500 characters (approx. 46 tweets)?", great...step one.

"The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Discuss."

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