Thursday Required Reading

1. Owners and Election Day: A Chance to do the Right Thing. Two sociologists call for Congress to declare the first Tuesday in November, Election Day, a national holiday. Along the way, they destroy the “athletes should just shut up and dribble” argument.

“About a dozen states have declared Election Day a state holiday, including, in the last few months, both Virginia and Illinois, and many states give their workers time off to vote. A majority of Democrats (71%) and Republicans (59%) support having Election Day become a national holiday, but many Republicans clearly want fewer, not more, people to vote.”

2. Topless Beach Drone Scandal! Do the Golden Valley Police Department and the Minneapolis Park Police get any points for good intentions? Prob not.

“The Golden Valley Police Department’s well-intended but very wrong assumption about drone as deescalation tool is a familiar one among regular drone users. Because its people were comfortable with drones, they grossly overestimated how comfortable the average person actually is with the prospect of being looked at by a flying camera drone, much less one that’s zeroing in on their private bits.”

[Editor’s note—Major props to Ron for leading with the sociologists and not the second, click-bait reading. Role model.]

3. How Police Unions Fight Reform.

I believe The New Yorker pays its writers by the word. You would never know that by how fast Finnegan starts. Paragraphs 3-5.

“In many cities, including New York, the unions are a political force, their endorsements and campaign donations coveted by both Republicans and Democrats. The legislation they support tends to get passed, their candidates elected. They insist on public displays of respect and may humiliate mayors who displease them. They defy reformers, including police chiefs, who struggle to fire even the worst-performing officers. In an era when other labor unions are steadily declining in membership and influence, police unions have kept their numbers up, their coffers full. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor, Scott Walker, led a successful campaign to eliminate union rights for most of the state’s public employees. The exceptions were firefighters and police.

Police unions enjoy a political paradox. Conservatives traditionally abhor labor unions but support the police. The left is critical of aggressive policing, yet has often muted its criticism of police unions—which are, after all, public-sector unions, an endangered and mostly progressive species.

In their interstitial safe zone, police unions can offer their members extraordinary protections. Officers accused of misconduct may be given legal representation paid for by the city, and ample time to review evidence before speaking to investigators. In many cases, suspended officers have their pay guaranteed, and disciplinary recommendations of oversight boards are ignored. Complaints submitted too late are disqualified. Records of misconduct may be kept secret, and permanently destroyed after as little as sixty days.”

4. Discovery in Mexican Cave May Drastically Change the Known Timeline of Humans’ Arrival to the Americas. Archeologists can’t agree on when humans arrived in the Americas. It may have been twice as long ago.

5. How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions.

“It’s helpful to remember that in times of chaos, the dogged search for certainty can itself lead to distress. . . . the goal is not to guarantee that your child will never be exposed to a virus particle. That is impossible. The goal is to make a realistic plan that will holistically keep teachers, families and children as safe as possible.”

One excellent insight after another.

“When your mind starts moving into the slippery slope of unproductive worries, try naming them: ‘There goes my mind again.’ This highlights the difference between ‘having a thought’ and ‘burying a thought.’ When unproductive worries strike, you don’t have to go down that rabbit hole of trying to disprove them or reassure yourself, you can just let them be. It’s not bad feelings or thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them that causes more suffering.”

The author, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D.  is working on a book about the tyranny of self-care. I predict that is going to be a very good read.

Groundhog Day: Surprised Again By A Star Athlete’s Flaws

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, was released yesterday. Payton played professional football for da’ Bears from 1975-1987. The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. Prior to 1999, it was called simply the NFL Man of the Year Award. Shortly after Payton died from cancer in 1999 the award was renamed to honor his legacy as both a great player and a humanitarian.

A humanitarian who, according to Pearlman, was in a long-standing close relationship with another woman besides his wife (who insisted not only on attending his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but sitting in the front row), was addicted to pain pills, and seriously contemplated suicide. Apparently Pearlman spends twenty to thirty of the four hundred pages on the unseemly underside of Payton’s private life.

Payton’s coach, Mike Ditka, is leading a backlash against Pearlman’s book. “I’d spit on him,” he said recently. “I have no respect for him.”

In which case I have no respect for Ditka who needs a primer on the first amendment.

Dan Patrick, my favorite sports media person, recently discussed the controversy engendered by the book. His question was, “Do you the fan want to know the truth about the athletes you follow?” Patrick said he did. Others on his show said they did not. Patrick went on to say the fans don’t realize athletes are human beings. Ordinary human beings, a mix of good and bad, like all of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were more like us. If we limit the discussion to professional basketball and football players (versus professional marathoners, swimmers, or amateur athletes for instance) from the last decade or two, there’s ample legal evidence that their behavior, on average, is far worse than the ordinary human beings that pay to watch them play.

Why? Some possibilities:

1) If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the same is probably true for money. I suspect, especially in cases where someone grows up without any, mad money blows those teetering on the fence of adhering to society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side.

2) Public adulation is another wind blowing those teetering on the fence of society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side. The star professional athlete’s classic line when pulled over, “Don’t you know who I am?”

3) In the case of football at least, the more violent the player is on the field, the more successful. Maybe it’s hard, when the stadium and television lights are turned off, to throw the non-violent switch.

4A) Some athletes blow through their money while playing short careers, don’t have enough of an education to fall back on after retiring, and turn to the “informal” economy to get by. See Lenny Dykstra. 4B) Some suffer from public adulation withdrawal. The Dennis Rodman effect. They’re committed to staying in the public’s conscience even if they have to repeatedly get arrested to do so.

5) Sociology. You are the company you keep. Middle school students aren’t the only ones susceptible to negative peer pressure. Locker rooms no doubt have tipping points.

Of all people, Ditka should know that every athlete is a one-person public relations firm. There are lots of faithful, law-abiding professional athletes making worthwhile contributions to society off the field. Just not as large a percentage of the readers of this blog.

We’re All Lance Armstrong

We’re greatly influenced by—sometimes positively, sometimes negatively—those we associate closest with in our work lives and our private lives.

I found Tyler Hamilton’s 60 Minutes interview fascinating from more of a social science perspective than a moral one. Hamilton’s and Armstrong’s performance enhancing drug use is an interesting social-psych case study. At some point, probably decades ago, performance enhancing drug use reached a tipping point where a majority of cyclists said, “Screw it, I’m in.”

From that point forward, anyone with Hamilton’s and Armstrong’s physical tools and off the charts competitive drive probably had very little problem rationalizing it with the same mindset that regularly trips up thousands of young people every year, “Everyone’s doing it.”

It’s the same phenomenon we sometimes see on the freeway when it’s turned into a parking lot as a result of a bad accident. One person eventually decides the risk-reward is worth it, so they pull out from the far right lane onto the shoulder and take off into the horizon. Then, a second person. Then, a third. I can either sit and reflect on my moral superiority or get home at the same time as them, but not both.

Given the work culture of his chosen profession, I almost find Armstrong a sympathetic figure. To have “just said no” he would have either had to have found something else to do with his life or settle in as a second-tier domestique stuffing water bottles down his back.

Almost a sympathetic figure because through his repeated, robotic denials, he wants everyone to believe he’s special. He’s the only one who stayed in his lane, but somehow still arrived home before everyone else. That’s how good he was.

It’s as this point, Armstrong turns into a fascinating psychological case study. In one respect, we’re all Lance Armstrong in the sense that everyone one of us maintains public personas, revealing less than the truth about ourselves to the larger world. Of course the difference with Lance is the degree of duplicity.

He must wake up at night worried about what the federal grand jury’s findings might do to his athletic legacy, his future marketing potential and income, and donations to his foundation.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t ever expect him to come clean, just doesn’t seem he’s nearly introspective enough. And that’s too bad, because I’d gain some respect for him if he did. Of course, my acceptance and approval are meaningless compared to the rewards of self acceptance.