Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Take A Knee

Take a Knee
by: Ryan Wahl

I can count on one hand, maybe less, friends and family who have ever heard me speak on something political.  I’ve seen friendships destroyed because neither person will give an inch to the other when debating a topic.  People are so dug in on their beliefs that they immediately go on the defensive instead of listening to what someone else has to say.  So I made a conscious decision years ago to avoid discussing or posting about anything in this realm…until now.

The Denver Broncos silently protest on Sunday
See, the majority of the things I’ve written about have been deeply personal or sports.  It’s where I thrive and also find to least amount of discourse.  Yes, there will be debate on my sports opinions, but there hasn’t been a time that caused much strife.  Sports are easy to debate, but sports and politics hit a major intersection this past weekend.  Players and teams from all around the NFL took a knee or put a fist in the air as a peaceful protest towards the President of the United States.  After referring to the players who have taken a knee as “sons of bitches”, the league and its players felt the need to retaliate.  After the president tweeted that anyone who knelt should be fired, there was a major groundswell amongst players and franchises to show that they would not be pushed around and demeaned in this way.  Players knelt.  Fists were raised.  Hands were placed on shoulders.  It was a beautiful display of solidarity and protest…but nothing is that simple.

Twitter and other online sources exploded in accusations of desecrating the flag, disparaging the sacrifices of solders all over the world and crossing the line between sports and politics that shouldn’t have been crossed.  What pisses me off is that none of that is what was going on.  That was an individual’s perception based on their opinion without actually listening to what the players were trying to say.

Puerto Rico being hit hard by a hurricane
Sunday was not a protest against police.  It was not a protest against the military and the veterans who have sacrificed for our freedoms.  It was standing up to a bully who threatened their way of life.  It was a unified stance against an unqualified, misogynistic, xenophobic, bigot that wastes more time attacking the NFL and professional athletes than doing his job.  He spent more time talking about himself and firing athletes than working on helping Puerto Rico, dealing with North Korea, creating jobs…you know, presidential duties.  Instead, he spent the weekend dividing the country, yet again, but this time using sports.  Sports, the unifier amongst many.

See, we can disagree on sports related topics, but have a laugh while doing it.  I have an ongoing argument about LeBron James that has permeated for a decade with a friend of mine.  Did that separate us?  Well, I officiated his wedding a few months ago.  I think we’re okay.  Sports is a topic that keeps us together.  It’s fun, light-hearted and entertainment.  For the president to insert politics into it was another example of him pulling us apart.

I know what your retort will be, “Players started this by kneeling so they inserted politics into it”.  Players used the platform that they have been afforded, to call attention to social inequalities that they feel are going on.  This is their right, under the first amendment of the Constitution; free speech and the right to assemble.  Why were they afforded this opportunity?  It’s not what you think.  Standing out for the National Anthem wasn’t always a requirement.  Most teams would stay in the locker room while the festivities were going on.  It wasn’t until 2009 when the Department of Defense paid professional sports leagues to do this, more or less, be an advertisement for patriotism.  The government gave them the opportunity to use their powerful voices to express them.  If they knelt during a Bud Light commercial, who cares?  If they kneel during the National Anthem?  They’re the worst people on the planet.  How dare they ruin the commercial for patriotism the government paid for?!  They likely didn’t realize it at the time, but they enabled this generation to speak and act in a way that makes some uncomfortable.  You have to make people uncomfortable and talk to get any change.  You don’t know something is wrong until someone shows you something is wrong.  Don’t you think it’s time to listen to their grievances and figure out how we can adapt and overcome them?

During this time, though, so many comments kept popping up that were so bothersome to me.  I have to address some of them individually.

The obvious starting point was that everyone needed to be standing and salute the flag.  When the players were on a knee, some with fists raised in the air, what were you doing?  Were you standing in your living room?  Did you have your hat removed, with a hand on your heart, paying respect to the flag?  Be honest.  You were sitting on your couch, probably playing with your phone to adjust your precious fantasy team or tweeting about how disrespectful these players are.  Take a look in the mirror and look at your hypocrisy.  You are no better.  Yours is more disrespectful to what the flag stands for, but it’s your right to sit there and not acknowledge the National Anthem.  That’s the thing, you can’t call out others when you’re doing something similar.  At least the players on the field were kneeling for a cause.  You’re on the couch with your phone not fighting for a cause, but bitching online about those who do.

One of my favorite things that I saw read, “Do it on your own time and not while you’re at work!”  So taking a knee at home, in the most silent form of individual protest possible, is going to accomplish what?  Public protest is what sparks change, not keeping silent where no one can see.  Athletes have a worldwide platform that can be used to accomplish great things.  Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, Jackie Robinson were all great men who stood up something.  They didn’t hide in their homes and hope for change.  They were catalysts for change.  They questioned the status quo and made it known that inequality in any form was wrong.  They were tired of it.  They spoke out.  They were vilified and attacked, yet became heroes.  We speak of them with great reverence.  In my lifetime I haven’t seen anything like this.  I wasn’t around for Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.  I wasn’t around for Muhammed Ali standing up for racial equality.  Colin Kaepernick is this generation’s voice for equality.  I questioned his motives at the time; I truly thought he was just trying to use it as a way to not get cut or traded (big rumors at the time).  Turns out, he opened up the doors that has sparked this movement for change.  It’s obvious that not all protests and protestors are of the peaceful variety.  Players taking a knee on Sunday before a game is powerful, peaceful and needs to resonate with those that can begin the wheels of change.  Hopefully, it won’t take decades before we appreciate the movement he started.

On a related/unrelated note, so many people seem to throw around that they are “overpaid” and should just be grateful to be in their position.  More or less, just shut up and be happy you get to play a game for a living.  I ask, though, grateful for what?  For sacrificing time with their families?  For destroying their bodies and brains for YOUR entertainment?  For being constantly scrutinized and attacked for doing their job?  Does that sound like anything to be grateful for?  You think they’re overpaid, so I ask you, where should that money go?  This money that is generated on the backs of their hard work, shouldn’t be given to them?  You say they don’t deserve it.  You’re right.  They don’t deserve it.  They fucking earn it!  Let’s take it a step further.  You want them to work hard and not make any part of the funds they generated for their teams and owners.  You don’t want them to pick where they play.  You don’t want them to get the fair amount of funds that they have generated.  Let’s just say it; you’re asking for slavery.  I guess that explains the jersey and memorabilia burning I’ve seen.  Instead of burning crosses, in 2017, they’re burning merchandise.

Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman
I’ve read people say, “Stick to football,” which is one of the most ridiculous comments out there.  What makes it okay for you to tell them that their opinions don’t matter?  Why are you allowed to voice your opinion, but want theirs silenced?  One of the more outspoken players in the NFL is Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman.  He’s not a guy that I’m particularly a fan of on the field, but I appreciate what he does off of it.  Whether it’s his charity to help low income families provide clothes and school supplies or his master’s degree from Stanford, he’s an all-around good guy.  His opinions, while I may not always agree, are always thought out and researched.  That’s more than I can say for a good number of commenters from this past weekend.  He takes the time to educate himself on the situation before speaking about it.  We all should do the same.  The great thing about this country is that we can all have the same information, but perceive it differently.  As long as you have an open mind and are open to constructive dialogue, progress can be made.  Unfortunately, too many go in with a set frame of mind and refuse to acknowledge the other side.  That’s why progress and change doesn’t happen.  Too many uninformed people yelling and not listening, or just putting people in a box.  “He’s just an athlete” is no different than other stereotypes placed onto people.  No one in this world is defined by one part of their personality.  It’s those differences and that uniqueness that makes this country great…as long as you’re not closed to them.

Another thing that made me shake my head was a lot of people giving NASCAR credit for demanding their drivers and teams stand during the National Anthem.  Why do they get any credit?  Is anyone from the demographic that is protesting and asking to be heard involved in that so-called “sport”?  NASCAR is over 90% white.  Their “stance” is a joke but a clear example of how many people are out of touch with the inequalities in this country.  NASCAR, golf, hockey are filled with the majority being white.  They’re not seeing inequalities as frequently, nor are they open to them.  They’re not looking to help, not because they’re bad people, but because it would affect their bottom line.  Why get into a controversial subject, and possibly lose sponsors, if you’re not forced to?

I’m proud of those who are taking a knee in peaceful protest.  The unfortunate thing is that the outraged people aren’t asking the right questions about it.  The question isn’t, “How could they?”  The real questions are, “What are they trying to say?” and, “How can we fix this?”  Unfortunately we lack the presidential leadership to address this intelligently.  He’ll keep dividing the country, as he has done since the day he started to run for office.  The American people who voted for him made a major mistake.  That’s okay.  Mistakes get made every day.  Let’s just hope that in a few years, when the next election takes place, this mistake is learned from and not repeated.  It’s not too late to save this country from a power hungry tyrant with zero experience in his job.  He has proven that rhetoric and bluster are not enough to carry this great nation.  He destroyed the USFL back in the 80’s, what made people think he could run the entire country?  Ironic that 30 years later, his name is tarnishing another professional football league.

Some will read this and attack my patriotism.  To that I say, fuck off.  I love living in the United States and appreciate the freedoms I have that aren’t afforded to other nations.  I stand for the anthem when I attend an event.  I teach my son to do the same.  I have friends who have served this country, and have a level of bravery I simply don’t have.  I have friends who are active police officers that I have the utmost respect for.  I thank all of them for protecting my family, myself and my community.  They have the single toughest job in the country and I can’t imagine dealing with what they do daily.  I thank the soldiers and military who keep us safe and protect our freedoms.  It’s because of these groups that we feel safe and enjoy the freedoms our forefathers wanted for us.

At the same time, they are protecting the freedoms of all, whether everyone is in agreement or not with what a protestor stands or kneels for.  It’s time to stop yelling and engage in constructive discussion.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening until there is a change in leadership.  Strike that, until we actually get a leader back in office of President of the United States.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Air Guitar & the Birth of Harvey Wahlbanger

“Wait…what?  That’s a real thing?”

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that over the last few months, I’d be rich.  Yes, air guitar is a real thing…and it is glorious!  I performed in my first two competitions over the last couple of weeks and it was one of the greatest, if not also one of the most unique, things that I have ever done.  I am excited to do it again and again.  Before we get into that, though, I thought a little history of my story would be good.

The Genesis

Just a few years ago, I was just like you.  I had never heard of a real air guitar competition.  Obviously we’ve all done it, whether in the car or in front of the mirror, but never in front of an audience…and never being judged in competition!  This wasn’t even a real thing…or is it?

I first heard about the competition a couple of years ago at, of all places, my son Marshall’s day care.  He had taken a liking, and somewhat protective role, to a new girl in his class.  Lily had just moved from Chicago and was struggling with the adjustment to a new day care.  Marshall decided that she needed the one thing that makes him comfortable every morning; fruit snacks.  Every morning, without fail, Marshall would bring a bag of fruit snacks for her and try to make sure she was okay.  After a couple of weeks, I ran into Lily’s mom, Tina.  We introduced ourselves and explained the story behind the fruit snacks she kept receiving.

Flying Finn - My Mentor
This was all very sweet, but how does this bring us to air guitar?  Well once I met Lily’s dad, it all started to come together.  Andrew, better known in the air guitar community as Flying Finn, and I met and started talking.  As always, it starts with very basic conversation, but then transitioned to air guitar once I saw his shirt.  I was intrigued, yet was completely befuddled at what he was describing.  As soon as I got in front of a computer, I started to look him up on YouTube.  I also started pouring through the US Air Guitar website.  It started to blow my mind and I couldn’t look away.  I started considering it, but had yet to fully commit to it all.  During the summer of 2013, Andrew mentioned that he will be hosting a qualifying round in Des Moines and encouraged me to attend.  Unfortunately I had softball that night and was unable to attend, but was starting to consider it more and more.

All it took to push me over the edge to compete was beer, Cards Against Humanity and professional wrestling.  We went over to hang out with their family and, while the kids played downstairs, we started playing cards and drinking.  Eventually the conversation turned to air guitar and Andrew was in full recruitment mode.  I think he saw my rising interest and continued encouraging my participation.  He said one thing that sealed the deal, “It’s a lot like pro wrestling…”  I didn’t hear the rest of the comment.  As a 30 year wrestling fan, that was all it took for me to buy in.  That moment I committed and was ready to roll.

Choosing A Song and Finding My Character

As soon as we left that night, my mind immediately started searching for the perfect song (round one is a one minute song of your choosing, round two could be anything).  Every time I got in the car or played on my iPod, I was listening for anything to jump out.  Then, while watching WWE, it hit me.  Cult of Personality, CM Punk’s entrance theme, hit and I immediately knew this was it.  It was a song I knew, loved and could really get into.  It was comfortable enough for me to feel confident when I hit the stage for the first time.  Andrew was able to cut it down to a minute for me and I was on my way.

The next part was finding the character.  You see, everyone in air guitar has a character.  Whether it is Nordic Thunder, Bjorn Turoque, Lieutenant Facemelter or the many others…there’s always a character.  Ryan Wahl isn’t stepping on stage; someone I create and portray will be.  I began by thinking of words that associated with my last name.  Rock Wahl.  Brick Wahl.  Great Wahl.  They all were fun but too basic for my taste.  Then, my excessive drinking history from college came into play.  It hit me like a ton of bricks…Harvey Wahlbanger.  The name just resonated with me.  It was fun.  It was crazy.  It was easy to chant.  Boom!  We have a name.

Harvey Wahlbanger's
first appearance
In all honesty, creating an image was the most difficult aspect of the creation phase.  Finding a song and creating a name is easy.  You just have to think a little bit and let something hit you.  Creating the image that you’re known for is complex and difficult to figure out.  The one thing I knew is that my attire would likely be inspired by pro wrestling.  So I went to a local craft store and just started walking around, looking for inspiration.  Then it all started coming together:

Shorts with my name down the leg.
- Sleeveless jacket with a bunch of sequins, a combination of the Macho Man and Chris Jericho.
- Feather boa inspired by Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
- Sunglasses
- Bandanna
Custom Guitar Picks…yep, that happened.

The only issue was finding my color.  Flying Finn had yellow.  Iron Dragon had purple.  It just went on and on.  Looking into it I realized that no one had orange, which is my wife Rachel’s favorite color.  So as homage to her, that became my color.  After hours of work, my costume was complete.  Harvey Wahlbanger was complete and ready to unleash into the air guitar world, but how would he get introduced?

Introducing Harvey Wahlbanger

Yet again, Andrew came to my rescue.  He’s really been my mentor and guide through this process.  I feel somewhat guilty relying on him so much, but you use your resources, right?  I received the following e-mail:

Old school wrestling-style interview video of you calling out current Des Moines champ.

I got giddy!  This was right up my alley.  I immediately sat down and wrote out three promos, all themed to call out the current champ.  I donned the full costume for the first time and jumped in front of the camera.  Rachel recorded them, each in one take, and I prepared to release them to the world.  I e-mailed the champ, CorpAIRation, and told him what I was doing.  I was introducing myself to a new community and didn’t want to rub anyone the wrong way.  He was all for it and we were off and running.  I started off with one titled: Ignore the Call.

During that time, the champ injured himself but still qualified in a different city qualifier.  So, instead of using the pre-written videos, I started filming new ones.  I put the costume on, sit the camera in front of me and just went.  The response I got from these was awesome.  Posts and e-mails from air guitarists around the country started to come in.  I even received two videos coming back at me!  The fun had started and I had yet to step on stage.

Debut Performance

I was set to make my debut performance on Friday, June 6th in Des Moines.  If I finished in the top 3, I would move forward to Chicago and perform in the Regional Semi-Final.  As a rookie, this was my goal.  I wanted to make, not just one, but two steps in the competition.  On a selfish level, I wanted to perform CM Punk’s entrance theme in his hometown.  As a lifelong wrestling nerd, it was just something cool I wanted to do.  I met my competition when I arrived, and even did some fun stare-down poses with the two (Iron Dragon and Stackhammer) that sent response videos to me.

As time drew near, I was overwhelmed by the support of friends that came out to see me.  My friends Jason, Ryan and Marc all created custom t-shirts to support me.  It was awesome to see and very humbling.  It really made me appreciate the people I have around me.  I threw down a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers to take the edge off, knowing that I would likely “be in my head” if I went out for the first time sober.  When my…excuse me, Harvey’s name was called for the first time, I burst on to the stage to a roar from my “fans”.  What a rush.  The venue was small, but it still felt amazing.  Here is what happened…

The performance went well.  I was pretty happy at the end and soaked in the chants of “Wahlbanger” that I might have encouraged my friends to chant.

Between rounds one and two, I made a rookie mistake.  Given that the second round song (at least the particular cut of it) was one I wasn’t familiar with, I made the mistake of mingling with friends rather than focus on the performance.  It definitely showed.  Due to that I finished in fourth place by 0.4 points.  My dream of Chicago was finished, but the fun and lessons I learned would stay for future performances.  We ended the show with the traditional group getting on stage and jamming out to Freebird.  During that, the crowd can join the performers on stage and just have a great time with us.  It was really cool watching everyone jam out and have fun together.  It really made me appreciate how something as “outside of the box” as air guitar is, really bring people together.

The rest of the night was filled with stories, advice, laughs and quite a bit of beer.  I woke up the next morning on the Finn’s couch excited to air next season.

The Resurrection

Nordic Thunder
I was finishing up packing for a trip to LA on Sunday night, when I got an e-mail from Andrew.  He simply asked if I had checked my e-mail lately, which I had.  Within 30 minutes I received an e-mail offering me a Wild Card position for the Chicago performance!  I was elated!  I ran upstairs to make sure Rachel was cool with it (she was) and I responded quickly to lock in my spot.  The next hour was a whirlwind of filming a ten second intro, a video telling Chicago I was coming and securing my ticket.  I was going to carpool with the Finn’s up to Chicago so week was locked in.  Fly to LA on Monday morning.  Fly to Des Moines Thursday night.  Drive to Iowa City Friday morning and meet up with the Finn’s.  Jump into the car and drive to Chicago.  Perform.  Drive back to Iowa City on Saturday afternoon.  Grab the car and drive home Saturday night.  Quite the insane week, but I was all about it!

The Chicago performance was awesome.  Performing at The Metro, just down the street from Wrigley Field, was an amazing experience.  I performed on the same stage as The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and The Ramones; to name a few.  As we dropped off our stuff, we ran into legends of the air guitar community.  Nordic Thunder, Hot Lixx Hulahan, Mean Melin and Bjorn Turoque were all right in front of me and could not have been more welcoming.  It was a really cool moment for me.  After watching these guys on YouTube and the brilliant documentary Air Guitar Nation, this was a big moment for me.
The Chicago Semi-Finals

As a wild card, I was one of the first participants of the night.  I ended up going third overall and was pleased with my performance.  The scores weren’t what I had hoped for, but going third overall may have played a factor in that.  My favorite on stage moment is right after the first judge gave his score and the Chicago crowd, most of which had never seen me before, started to boo.  They had enjoyed my performance and that alone gave me a moral victory.

Regardless, it was almost more rewarding to be able to sit back and watch performers who have been on stage for years, absolutely impress everyone in the crowd.  I got to watch world champions perform.  I got to watch national finalists perform.  I realized that there was a whole new level of performance I have yet to achieve or even consider.  These performers were amazing and watching them was an honor.

The End of the Beginning

It’s been a whirlwind and surreal experience for me.  I met such an amazing array of people over the last few weeks.  I’m not going to name them, since I’ll likely forget to type someone, but what a spectacularly supportive group of people.  While we are all competing for the same goal, everyone was ready with a compliment and words of encouragement.  It really is a family feel and one I am ecstatic to be part of.

I’ve got one last gig this season, a joint performance with Flying Finn at the Apple Tree Day Care, and then I’m done.  I’m excited to perform in front of the kids and then spend the offseason working on everything.  Season two will hopefully feature new songs and an improved costume for Harvey Wahlbanger.

As crazy as all this is, it’s great to be part of something so unique and special.  Yes, this is a niche thing but it’s a niche that can grow and grow.  I mean who doesn’t love music and fun?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The LA Clippers Debacle

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
It’s a monumental day in sports, namely the NBA.  Recently installed commissioner Adam Silver responded with a heavy hammer against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, after the owner made blatantly ignorant and racist statements in a recording made by his girlfriend.  Silver reacted by banning Sterling from the NBA for life and a $2.5 million dollar fine (the maximum allowed).  Additionally, Silver will do everything in his power to force Sterling to sell the franchise.

The punishment was quite severe, and rightfully so, but I have mixed feelings on the subject.  I’m not sure anything below will be concise in reflecting my thought process, but in a confusing situation, confusion takes hold and makes points difficult to make.  We’ll give it a try, though.

I am not a fan of censorship.  Whether we agree with someone or not, they have the right to their opinion.  I’m disgusted and deeply offended by Sterling’s racist comments.  I was offended by ESPN reporter Chris Broussard regarding comments he made in 2013 against homosexuality.  Heck, I’m offended whenever anyone uses terms like “white trash” and other ignorant and foolish statements regarding sexuality or race.  The simple fact is, as long as we live in a free society, people are allowed to express their opinions.  I’m doing it right now.  Every time you look at Twitter or Facebook, someone is stating an opinion.  The great thing about social media is that everyone has a voice. The worst thing about social media is that everyone has a voice.  As a society, we can’t pick and choose when it is okay to state an opinion (ignorant or not) and when it is not.
I wish everyone thought like Kenneth Faried does

I can’t help but wonder if the backlash would have been so severe if his comments weren’t racist, but homophobic instead.  Leagues are trying to cut down on the negative words thrown around the fields or courts our sports are played on, but they’ve never done anything as extreme as what we witnessed today.  They’ve previously fined players who used an offensive word, but nothing near the level we saw today.  Hate speech is hate speech, regardless of it being racially or sexually motivated.

One question that keeps coming up in my mind is why did it take so long for the NBA to address the issues and clear racist background of Donald Sterling?  Rumblings and federal legal cases have been around for years with this guy and not once has the league stepped in to do anything about it.  Take some time to review this timeline from Bleacher Report and you’ll see that this isn’t a new issue.  It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, but if you continue to allow an owner to act like this, things will get worse and worse.  It’s no different than allowing a child to act a certain way and then, out of the blue, deciding that they can’t do what they’ve always done.  The rumors all have legitimate facts behind them.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  It should have been addressed when it was a small trash fire and not a raging inferno.

Carmelo Anthony confronts Kevin Garnett after
Garnett makes comments about his wife
I’d like to know if the NBA will follow suit with the NFL and work to ban certain words from being said on their playing field and not just off.  There is a lot of trash talk in sports, most of it is good natured, but there are some who cross the line.  Kevin Garnett is notorious for making crude and offensive remarks to opponents, yet no one has ever stepped in and stopped him.  The problem is they shouldn’t just ban one word.  There needs to be a code of conduct for the court and field that addresses the type of language used.  Racist (no matter what race) and homophobic slurs have no place and should be treated as such.  Fines, flags and technical fouls could all be used to curtail the use of this foolish behavior and language.

In regards to the forced sale; I’m not sure how the league can do that.  How can an outside source force me to sell something I own, whether they like me and my stances or not?  Quite frankly, I would like to see one thing happen with this sale.  No, I don’t want Magic Johnson and his buying group to purchase and take over the team.  I’d much rather see Chris Hansen, the hedge fund manager, purchase the team and relocate them to Seattle.  Let’s completely wash the stench of Sterling off this franchise and return basketball to the Pacific Northwest.  Seattle would completely embrace this.  Yes, Los Angeles loses a franchise but I think they’ll survive as they already have one in place…and one that they love far more than the Clippers.  Let’s admit it, the Clippers don’t exactly have a history rich in tradition.  They’ve been a joke and laughingstock for the majority of their existence.  Let’s wipe the slate clean.

Take the Clippers to Seattle
The one thing that really bothers me about this “punishment” is that all Sterling will do is profit off of it.  In 1981, Sterling acquired the franchise for a price tag of $12.5 million.  If he sells it for their current market value, he’ll be selling them for $575 million.  Someone tell me how making a profit of $562.5 million is a punishment.  So he can’t go to games anymore?  That just doesn’t seem right, but it’s not like the league or anyone can tell him to donate those funds to charity.  He’ll just go his way, with his heart and head filled with ignorance while his bank account gets larger by the day.

There are just so many layers and questions from this, and most of which aren’t related to sports.  It’s all hard to comprehend.  The players, owners and employees of the NBA will applaud Silver and the direction he took.  They should be proud that he stood up for what he and most level headed individuals believe in.  However, does this open Pandora’s Box?  What is going to happen if if an opinion that isn’t the norm is put out there?  It can be a very tricky situation.

Is the step taken today by the NBA the right one?  I think so.  It shows that they are like any other employer/organization in country and have set a standard their owners and employees must live up to.  At the end of the day, though, he’ll profit from it.  The NBA is probably looking at years of litigation with Sterling.  We’re just seeing step one of a very long walk.  For the NBA, it’s the right step.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Media What If...

The irony of this post is that I’m kind of going after social media.  Yet here I am, on my blog that will be posted on my Twitter (@wahly22) and Facebook page.

In the wake of the Richard Sherman situation, not the interview, but the horrible things directed at him on Twitter; I couldn’t help but wonder what if the social media existed in other eras.  Can you imagine what would have been said to these people if the access to them was then, what it is now?  Let’s sit back and play a little sports game.

What if Twitter, Facebook and the 24 hour news cycle existed when:

…Magic Johnson announced he had the HIV virus.

…OJ Simpson’s ex-wife was found murdered and he was in the Ford Bronco.

…Isiah Thomas made racial remarks regarding Larry Bird.

…Allen Iverson’s “practice” rant occurred.

…Kobe Bryant was alleged to have been involved in a rape in Eagle, Colorado.

…Michael Jordan was at the peak of his game, yet was womanizing and gambling excessively.

John Carlos
…Wilt Chamberlain was scoring more off the court than on it.

…Steve Bartman innocently attempted to catch a foul ball.

…Chris Webber called a timeout they didn’t have.

…Scott Norwood missed the game winning field goal in the Super Bowl.

…John Carlos raised his fist at the 1968 Olympics.

…Muhammad Ali was in his prime and speaking with an aura of confidence frowned upon nowadays.

Can you imagine the hatred, anger and vitriol that would have been aimed at the people above?  Twitter almost exploded at an athlete for being speaking excitedly ON THE FIELD!  It’s crazy what people will send to another person with total disregard for their feelings.  Instead of finding the back story as to what happened surrounding the events, they make an immediate reaction in 140 characters without thinking.

Next time you tweet or post something about an individual, whether you know them personally or not, relax.  Take a minute to think and realize that just because you have anonymity online, it doesn’t mean you have to abuse it.  Treat others how you want to be treated…you know, the Golden Rule.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The 2013-14 NFL Playoffs - Some Musings...

The Super Bowl has been set!  My beloved Denver Broncos are back in the dance against old AFC Rival, the Seattle Seahawks.  I haven’t written during the season, but figured it might be fun to put out some random thoughts from the playoffs.

- The most overlooked aspect of the Broncos this season has been the outstanding play of the offensive line.  Despite a new center and losing (arguably) the best left tackle in the game, Ryan Clady, they gave up the fewest sacks in the league.  Given that Peyton Manning attempted a league leading 659 pass attempts, the line only gave up 18 sacks.  To give you a little perspective, Matt Ryan attempted the second highest number of passes with 651 and was sacked 44 times.  Astounding.

- In the lead up to the Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship game, I was surprised that there wasn’t much made of Josh McDaniels returning to Denver for the first time.  While his tenure in Denver was rocky, at best, he was the individual that drafted three key pieces to the offense; Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.  Those three players accounted for 288 yards, which is over half of the offense generated by the Broncos on Sunday.

- There’s a lot of chatter about Wes Welker hitting Aqib Talib early in the game.  Bill Belichick even went so far to call the play dirty, saying that it “was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib”.  Funny that he’s not mentioning that his offense just did the exact same thing to Broncos corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  It was a natural pick play, one run by both teams during the game, and not malicious.  Belichick just has sour grapes.

- Andrew Luck is an exceptional quarterback, but will need to work on his decisions.  The Colts tend to fall behind frequently due to this.  While it gives us exciting comebacks, including a tremendous AFC Wild Card comeback against the crumbling Chiefs, it’s not a recipe for long term success against quality teams.

- Every year there are a couple of teams that end the season with a great record, but once the playoffs hit, reality steps in.  The Panthers and Chiefs were the Illegitimate Champs this year.  For the Panthers, 9 of their wins were against non-playoff teams.  Their 3 wins against playoff teams were by a total of 9 points, including a controversial win against New England that should not have happened.  They simply got the benefit of football luck.  The Chiefs beat 1 playoff team, and that was the Eagles who had yet to switch to Foles at quarterback.  Then again, most of their wins were against back-up quarterbacks so this was par for the course.

- Is there a more dislikable coach in the NFL than Jim Harbaugh?  I am all for passion but how can the head coach, a leader of men, continue to throw temper tantrums and stay respected?  It’s clear from the players he’s coached and is coaching, that this sort of behavior is influencing them.  Don’t believe me?  Check the next bullet point.

- The world has completely lost their minds over Seattle Seahawks (and former Harbaugh player at Stanford) cornerback Richard Sherman.  In case you missed it, listen to his interview and come back.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.  Entertaining, right?  Was he a bit out of control?  Sure, but he didn’t cross a line.  He just made a play that clinched a Super Bowl berth for his team.  He gave an impassioned speech just moments after making the biggest play of his career, against a team that is their biggest rival.  Emotions run high in these games.  He had time to calm down and was on the podium for Fox after and didn’t say anything crazy.  We’re focused on 30 seconds after the biggest moment of his professional career.

I constantly read that professional players don’t care enough.  Here’s a guy who clearly showed he cares and is getting racked over the coals.  You have to have a level of arrogance to play professional sports.  If you don’t believe you’re the best at what you do, then what are you doing there?

Look, we know maybe 5% of the story between him and Michael Crabtree.  These two have gone back and forth in the offseason, during games, and after games.  They clearly don’t like each other.  What we heard from Sherman is likely the PG version of what goes on between players during play in every game.  Don’t like it?  Change the channel.  Pretty sure, though, you’ll be tuning in to the Super Bowl whether you’re cheering for or against him.

I can’t help but wonder, why did Erin Andrews hunt him down for the interview?  Oh wait, I know why…because he’s a great sound bite!  In a world of boring sports clichés, he gave us some reality and true emotion.  We get bored hearing the same stuff over and over, but get angry when someone speaks his honest opinion.  Can’t have it both ways, kids.

- I said it months ago, and was surprised to see Mel Kiper agree, but the Houston Texans have to draft Johnny Manziel.  Is he the “best player on the board”?  Probably not, but sometimes intangibles need to come into play.  The guy is pure magic.  If this team based in Texas, drafts this kid from Texas, you’re looking at an increase in ticket and merchandise revenue.  Plus ESPN and NBC will come knocking and want to feature the Texans during primetime.  Manziel equals money, and above everything else, the NFL is a business.

- I really wish the media would stop harping on “legacies” while players are still active.  I hate to break it to them, but one game during their careers does not make or break the fans’ view of them.  If Peyton Manning would have lost to the Patriots, does that mean he didn’t have the greatest statistical season every?  Rings don’t define greatness.  If you don’t believe Peyton Manning or Barry Sanders or Dan Marino are some of the greatest to ever play the game, I will never understand you.

Is it February 2nd yet?  I’m ready for the Super Bowl and hopefully another Lombardi trophy in Denver.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

20 Years of the UFC

Let’s cut to the chase.  I am a huge fight fan.  I honestly can’t get enough.  I watch an insane amount of mixed martial arts fights, regardless of if they are in the UFC or one of the many smaller promotions that pop up.  There just isn’t a better individual competition.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the UFC and the anniversary show is stacked with great fights.  As I was thinking about it this week I started to reminisce about some of the great fights, but better than that, the great experiences I’ve had because of the UFC.  I was a sophomore in high school when the first UFC took place merely an hour from my house.  This competition, which was completely different than what it is now, had a buzz that peaked my interest.  Through the years, and in some very dark periods beautifully chronicled in a documentary recently shown on Fox Sports 1, my interest never waned.

In 2005, as the popularity began to rise, I started getting together with some great friends that were starting to get into the sport.  Over the past 9 years, those friendships grew stronger and we always look forward to those fight nights where we can all just get together.  Normal adult life tends to get in the way of frequent get-togethers from our youth, so these nights I hold very dearly; regardless of it is a relaxed time or one of those rare nights I get taunted all night.  I’m a passionate fan, as we all know, and the guys love getting me all riled up…which is fun for me too.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending a few fights live over the years and some of the memories I have are priceless.  The funny thing is the memories of those are rarely about the fights!  That’s not saying I haven’t been to memorable fights.  I’ve been honored to have watched live some of the greatest fights in the history of the UFC.  There were just so many other things that made these events special to me and I want to share those with you.

UFC 57 – February 4, 2006
Main Event: Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell vs. Randy Couture

Best Memory – “It wouldn’t have been the same without you here.”

During one of our fight nights, a group of us decided that we needed to go to Las Vegas to attend our first live event.  When the UFC announced the main event for Super Bowl weekend, we knew this was the show to go to.  I was a fan of Liddell from the first time I saw him fight Noé Hernandez at UFC 17 so there was no better fighter for me to see live.  The only problem was I didn’t have the money at that time to make it happen.  The guys that were planning it did and we were friends, but I wasn’t comfortable asking for help.  Kraig, who was orchestrating the trip, took me aside and offered to help me out and spot me (which I quickly paid back).  It was a really cool move and one I never forgot.  He helped make a dream come true for me!

We flew into Las Vegas the morning of the fights and you could feel the energy the second we walked in the Mandalay Bay Events Center.  The place was filled with fight fans, but more memorable than that, was to see the fighters walking around and so easily accessible.  If you go to an NFL or NBA game, you’re not likely to run into one of the athletes and have them take a second for a picture or autograph.  We had the pleasure of meeting Stephan Bonnar, who was only a few months removed from the fight that pushed the UFC into national consciousness.  It was just a cool environment to be a part of.

I remember standing in the arena at our seats and just soaking in the scene.  The crowd was buzzing and you just knew something special was about to happen.  I can still feel the disappointment of the fans when former heavyweight champion Frank Mir returned from a horrible motorcycle accident, only to be stopped by a much lesser opponent.  I’ll never forget Kraig leaning over to me and saying, “That was the Frank Mir you were talking about?”  I had been hyping Mir for months and it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to see.  I’ll never forget the primal roar from the crowd when Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell walked out.  I can’t hear “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC or “Intro” by DMX without being whisked away in my mind to that moment.

My favorite memory, though, happened while standing at the merchandise stand.  Kraig and I were waiting in line and talking about the fights we’ve seen so far.  I just expressed my appreciation once again to him for helping me come along on the trip.  I don’t think I had, and maybe still to this day, expressed just how much it meant to me to come.  Some things you just can’t put into words.  I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying, “It wouldn’t have been the same without you here.”  It’s such a small statement, but one that meant so much to me.  Watching fights had been an individual event for me for so long.  There weren’t a lot of people watching, so when I finally had a group that soaked it up and enjoyed the get-togethers as much as I did, it meant something to me.  For him to help me get there and to make such a small but powerful comment to me, is something I still hold very close.

UFC 79 – December 29, 2007
Main Event: Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva; Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes

Best Memory – “Ryan.  It’s Dana.”

My wife Rachel and I had been married in July of that year and had our honeymoon in Las Vegas.  A few months later, I was sitting at work when word broke that the UFC had booked Chuck Liddell against Wanderlei Silva for the end of the year event.  It’s a fight the entire MMA community had been begging to see for about 7 years.  I had to be there.  I e-mailed Rachel at work to propose the idea of going back to Vegas for the fight.  She surprisingly did not object and I booked the trip within minutes.

I’m not sure if a trip could have been more perfect than this one.  While sitting in the airport, Rachel broke the news to me that she no longer wanted to wait 5 years to try for a baby, but was ready whenever I wanted to (We had Marshall 17 months later).  When we arrived to the Hotel at Mandalay Bay, the desk clerk decided to upgrade us to the suite level for no extra charge.  As we walked to the elevators, the three founds of Tapout came walking out.  They owned the room, especially the lead founder Mask, who just had a presence about him.  Once we dropped our luggage off, we quickly ran down to the arena to watch the weigh-ins.  The next few hours were a blur of cheers and encounters with fighters, who were more than gracious to take a minute to take a picture.  Most memorable was Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who was walking alone and unbothered.  I walked over with my hand outstretched to request a picture.  I’ll never forget him looking at my hand, smiling and replying “Brothers don’t shake hands.  Brothers have to hug!”  He gave me a hug, took a picture and went his way.

That night, Rachel and I had tickets to go see Joe Rogan perform standup comedy at the House of Blues.  It was printed very clearly on the tickets that cameras would be confiscated if brought to the venue.  Simply following the rules, we left the camera in the room and headed downstairs.  As we walked out of the elevator and into the hotel lobby, I glanced to the right and walking towards me was none other than “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell!  I was flabbergasted and walked over to talk for a minute.  He could not have been more cordial and polite to take a moment out of his day to talk to me.  I was disappointed, though, because the camera was upstairs and I couldn’t document that memory.  I’m not an autograph guy.  They are impersonal and something so many fans get to sell.  I prefer a picture to save that moment forever.  So not getting a picture with Chuck was kind of a black eye on the event for me.

The fights the next night were spectacular, as Liddell and Silva battled in one of the greatest fights the UFC had ever seen and the epic trilogy of GSP and Hughes came to a close.  What happened earlier in the day, though, is what I remember the most.

Rachel and I had woken up and were just hanging out in the hotel room prior to starting the day of festivities.  She decided to go down the hall and grab some ice while I sat around watching some TV, preparing for the evening.  I was a little surprised a few moments later as I heard Rachel, who is relatively shy, talking in the hallway.  My wife is ultra-sweet but it struck me as odd to hear her carrying on a conversation with a stranger…that is until she called for me by saying, “Ryan.  It’s Dana.”  There’s only one Dana of relevance while we’re in Las Vegas and that is UFC President Dana White.  I jumped out of the chair and sprinted to the door.  Low and behold, Dana White was standing outside of our hotel room.  I asked him to wait there for a moment while I grabbed a shirt, to which he responded by saying he is locked out of his room and had to wait any way.  The pure luck of a free upgrade put us right across the hall from the UFC president!  This completely made up for the lack of picture with Chuck Liddell, as I was able to get a picture with Dana and talk to him for seemingly 10 minutes.  He asked about us coming in from Iowa for the fights and then we just bantered about how excited we were for Liddell and Silva that night.  Talking to him for that brief moment seemed no different than talking to my group of friends about fights.  We shared our excitement and love of the sport.  I could see why the UFC continued to gain in popularity.  When you have a guy as passionate as he is about the sport, it is destined to succeed.  I was a fan before that, but this solidified everything I always felt about the sport and the people of the UFC.  They cared about the fights, just like the rest of us.

UFC 86 – July 5, 2008
Main Event: Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Best Memory – Rachel’s tears

Rachel and I were preparing for our one year wedding anniversary, which she informed me that the traditional gift for this benchmark is paper.  Wait, what?  Paper?  I could not think of anything that would be significant to give her.  We were discussing it in the car one day when she mentioned that she knew what she wanted to get me, but would need my help.  She surprised me by saying she wanted to go back to Las Vegas for UFC 87.  I excitedly offered to book the trip and away we went!

Let me just interject here that Rachel is not a big fight fan.  She would occasionally watch with me and even latched on to a couple of favorite fighters, Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin.  While that interest has waned over the years (it’s clear she was watching early in our dating to appease me, but now we’re married so she doesn’t have to any more), she really enjoyed our first trip and was excited to go again.  Plus, she would get to see Griffin fight in person, which added to the fun of the event for her.

It was a shared gift, but I still felt I needed to do something for her.  I found out that Rich Franklin was doing a personal appearance at the hotel the day of the fight, so I knew getting her to meet him was a nice bonus.  She blushed, smiled and got her picture with Rich prior to the fights and was on cloud nine.  What happened while we were at the fights couldn’t have been expected.

The main event was intense.  Griffin and Jackson battled for the full 25 minutes and we awaited the decision.  The Vegas crowd was on pins and needles when Bruce Buffer announced, “and…NEW UFC light heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin!”  The entire arena erupted in cheers and applause.  It was quite the scene.  During the crowd’s reaction I looked over to Rachel to see how excited she was.  I was not expecting it, but Rachel had tears streaming down her face.  She was so happy and excited, possibly overwhelmed but the emotion in the building, that I was just blown away.  It spoke to how emotionally invested people can get into these guys.

Plus, I won $400 by betting on the heavy underdog Griffin, so I was happy too.

UFC 87 – August 9, 2008
Main Event: Georges St-Pierre vs. Jon Fitch

Best Memory – Everything before and after the event

As I look back, this event was fantastic.  We realized how good it was at the time, but looking back, the level of talent we watched was unreal.  We saw an epic five round domination by GSP.  The beast Brock Lesnar was fighting in the state of Minnesota, where he is a local legend from his collegiate wrestling days.  Plus, the UFC debut of future champion and all-time great Jon “Bones” Jones took place.  He was an unknown and raw fighter, but you could see something unique in him.  It was just a stacked event.

The joy of the experience was the trip itself, though.  Mike, Rick, Kraig and I had it all planned out.  I bought the tickets and we prepared to car pool up there.  Unfortunately, Kraig was unaware that his wife had booked a family vacation and had to pull out.  We needed to find someone to fill in, and I immediately thought of my friend Jason.  He was in a tough spot, though, as he didn’t have the funds to make it happen.  Remembering what Kraig had done for me just a couple of years earlier, I wanted to pay it forward to Jason.  He didn’t know when he could pay me back and I told him I didn’t care.  We’re going and we’re going to have a blast.

When we got up to Minneapolis, we decided to grab a drink and hang out since we were early.  We hit up a hotel bar down the street from the Target Center.  Little did we know, this was the fighter hotel!  While we hung out, we noticed a couple of referees sitting around discussing the event.  We had struck the jackpot!  We enjoyed seeing fighters come downstairs and did our best not be too eager to run over and snap a picture.  Wanderlei Silva, who is one of the most terrifying men in the cage, was one of the most polite athletes I’ve ever met.  He took time to take pictures with us and talk a little.  The language barrier was definitely present, but he tried and that’s all you can ask.  He was much more cordial than BJ Penn, who simply threw his hood on and pretended to make a phone call.

We had a great time at the event, talking to those next to us, running into my tattoo artist and enjoying the fights.  There was nothing quite like seeing Brock Lesnar throw a straight right hand into Heath Herring’s face, sending him flying backwards.  The roar of the partial crowd was awesome!  When we hit the road after the event, Mike and Rick jumped in the back to sleep on the way home.  I had a few adult beverages in me so it was up to Jason to drive us home.  We listened to some of the post-fight press conference on the radio and then spent the next 3 hours repeatedly changing music, singing, dancing and essentially driving the guys in the back crazy.  We took a pit stop at a gas station, which resulted in me staggering around the store and buying a plastic Viking helmet.  I’ll never forget the roar of laughter from the car as I came back.  Absolutely awesome.

A little over two years after this event, we suffered the loss of our friend Jason.  Whenever I watch GSP fight, I am taken back to this event and I smile.  The pictures we have and memories can never be replaced.  I’ve grown closer to the guys I watch fights with and I always cherish the memories that we have, whether it was a trip to see an event live or just a get-together at someone’s house for a big fight.

The UFC, for me, is not just about the fights but also about the friendships and experiences I’ve been blessed to have in my life because of them.  It’s only been 20 years of fights and I can’t wait for 20 more.