Category Archives: ESPN

This bird has flown: The KD heartbreak from an Oklahoman’s perspective

It finally hit me the other day, and I’ve finally formulated my words so they hopefully sound less insane.

He’s gone. Really gone.

KD

A meme I built when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012. I was so damned proud of that team.

I feel like I’ve known him so long, and now, he’s just… gone. Silly to think I knew him… silly to think of this as anything beyond a “basketball decision.” But though I had no say in the matter, and didn’t deserve any say in the matter, I still hate it.

Many of you know by now that I’m into birds. And music. And sports. The three things have bumped around my head lately, all on the topic of my (former) favorite NBA player of all time, Kevin Durant. It seems only natural to my little brain that I compare the departure of KD from the Thunder to that of a bird leaving its nest, looking for something else… And, like those left behind, we just watch him go. Because we can’t stop him. He’s not ours. He never was.

 “And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

On July 4, when the news broke, I was crushed. Now that I’m over the anger, I guess I get it. He’s NOT required to make us happy. He has his own life. He can do his own thing. We’re not his bosses. We’re just fans. We’re just awestruck Oklahomans looking for a distraction from our lives.

I guess I just thought that meant something more to him. As naive as that sounds. But you have to understand where that naivety comes from – more on that in a bit.

Now, I’m in the sports business. I’ve seen people come and go on teams, people who I didn’t have any “feelings” for. People like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, James Harden – heck, even DeMarco Murray… people who are huge stars, or huge in the hearts of people who cheer for the Sooners, haha… DeMarco left the Cowboys to join the Eagles (then was traded to the Titans, thanks Rod Walton for checking my memory!) and I hated it, but I didn’t take it out on HIM. It didn’t feel personal… I didn’t love LeBron’s approach to “The Decision,” but it didn’t affect me personally. Just kind of made me roll my eyes.

So why do I take Durant’s departure so seriously?

Before I tell you, I want to set up a scenario. I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma last week. I flew first class, because I can every now and then and not feel guilty about it. Often, on my trips out of Bristol, CT., I am joined by a colleague on the plane. This time, it was a very well-known college sports anchor who, knowing my favorite teams, asked me in a very frank manner if I was OK after Durant. It’s like they’re asking me about a death in the family. Hushed tones, head down, eye contact – “Are you OK?” All he needed to do was hold my hand and pat my head.

“He’s just not who we thought he was,” I said. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t agree with that,” he said… but nicely. He doesn’t understand our naivety.

I tried to explain, as I’ll do here…

kdsonicWe thought he was ONE OF US. Oklahomans believed that, for once, someone chose us first. Someone, who wanted to play in the state of Oklahoma FOR MONEY, BY CHOICE, not just for the good ol’ football team. Not to ride Bob Stoops’ coattails to an NFL job. Someone who chose to live their life WITH US. Someone who was just doing it for the fans, and falling in love with our state, which WE all know is great, but suffers from a lot of bad press. And bad politics, but we manage to overcome that. Someone who could help us grieve our many tragedies.

Many people question why we choose to live in Oklahoma. It’s poor, there are tornadoes, there’s “nothing to do,” it’s hot, it’s broke… you name it. But hey, guess what? Many of us were born there, and realize its beauty regardless of the bad press. It’s like a huge secret to Oklahomans – we don’t get why YOU don’t like it. That’s on you!

And yes, I got out – but I left for the best job a sports journalist could have, or I’d still be there. I’d be demanding a change politically, but still. (Living up here in Yankeeland, my vote FINALLY COUNTS!)

But I chose to make Oklahoma my home for 37 years. OK, choice isn’t the right word. I was born there. But I chose to stay after I graduated college. I worked long, hard hours for the newspapers in Oklahoma. I made lifetime friends. I ALWAYS had something to do. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart… you just gotta poke around.”

My people are buried there. It’s home, and it always will be. I miss it every day, though my life path has taken an interesting turn. But I resent the notion that there’s “nothing to do” in Oklahoma. I resent the idea that we’re all stupid and unable to do anything else, so we just stay. I resent the idea that we’re all racist welfare queens with little to no ambition. Oklahoma GAVE me ambition, education, and a deep love of people. A deep respect for nature, kindness, and love. A love of the land. I left after years of hard, gratifying work with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I left after doing everything I could in Oklahoma. I left because I needed another challenge.

KD left because he wants a ring. An easier road to a title. A trinket. An accolade. He doesn’t want to be in charge anymore, and he doesn’t care how he gets there. I thought he was … tougher?

THAT’s what I meant by “He’s not who we thought he was.”

kdmoore

Kevin Durant was so kind to the people of Moore after the tornado, donating $1 million from his own pocket. That’s one of the reasons we thought he’d stay.

KD presented like a man of the people, even though he’s a Longhorn, haha. We believed, perhaps foolishly, that he LOVED US! Just the way we are. He gave us many great years. He visited the Murrah Building and took new players to the Memorial. He picked up debris left from countless tornadoes. He spoke like us, heavy on the “y’all.” He was in Sonic commercials. HE PLAYED FLAG FOOTBALL WITH US. He hit so many late-game shots, we came to count on him.  Like he could somehow solve every problem we’ve ever had as a state. Undo the race riots. Undo the stupid abortion laws and Ten Commandments debacles. Fix the teacher salaries and wage gaps.

We all got mad when a rogue copy editor used the headline “Mr. Unreliable” after KD missed a big shot in the Playoffs. REALLY mad. We took to the radio waves to tell him how sorry we were about that, to try to let him know that no, we don’t all feel that way. Please stay, we almost begged. He seemed to accept our apology, on the court at least.

We felt his physical pain. We studied his foot from every angle when he missed most of last season. We knew all the foot ailments he could have, how he may have what Yao Ming had, how he may never recover… and then, when he returned, we cheered like he was our son.

I actually called him “my son KD.” I loved his mom like she was the governor. Hell, she could have been! She’s be an improvement even with no government experience.

I sound silly, and certainly not journalistically ethical. But I didn’t care about my bias (plus, I’ve been in the biz long enough to separate myself from real bias.) My first year at ESPN, I sat in a crowded newsroom with famous TV people and watched KD sink a 3 to beat the Mavs. I heard one of our most famous anchors shout “THAT’S WHAT WINNERS DO.” He wasn’t on air. He was just watching KD work. I felt so proud of him, like the world was seeing him through our eyes, FINALLY!

When I first read his anemic Players Tribune note that he was leaving, I felt nothing for a few days. It honestly felt like a breakup. I, fortunately, was off work, so I stayed away from SportsCenter and tried to stay away from the stories. After a few days, I began to read the Internet again. Many people were laughing at us Oklahomans, making fun of us for being so “butthurt” and behaving badly.

Many people thought it was just hilarious. Especially former Sonics fans. I get that, but 1) don’t sell your team to known land thieves (Sooners) and 2) be better fans. I know you find our pain hilarious, but keep in mind, we’ve attended EVERY GAME. Even the shit ones. Where were you?

To us, it’s not funny at all, of course. Because we don’t have a lot more options. The Thunder are our only pro team, and KD was our franchise face. He was our first, our last, our everything. KD was the choice of a new generation. KD was the great lanky hope. And now, he’s gone. Just like a bird.

I’d watched him since his freshman year at Texas, just barely 18. All 6-9(ish) of him, unable to lift the bar to benchpress. Lanky, but more Dirk Nowitzki that Dirk. He always looked kinda sad, or just determined. Like there was something going on behind his eyes.

“He was no more than a baby then. well he seemed broken-hearted, something within him…
But the moment that I first laid eyes on him, all alone on the edge of 17.
Just like a white-winged dove.”

But now, he’s a full-grown man with his own life and a new start. We had to free him from the nest. But I’m not happy about it. I know that may sound weird to people NOT from Oklahoma. But we’re very proud of those we call ours. We’ll claim just about anybody, too. Because WE know what makes Oklahoma great. WE know why we stay. We don’t understand why people leave unless they have a damn good reason. And we don’t get KD’s reasoning.

I love him like a son, though I don’t know him personally, as odd as that sounds. I want the best for him. I just had hoped the best was our home. It’s not. But I get it. It’s his life. I’m not mad, just disappointed.

And he can’t expect us to be happy about it. He can’t expect us not to be disillusioned. He seems angry that we’re angry. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? And I ask, KD, that you leave the villain routine alone. It’s not your strong suit. Just be a man and take the boos. Don’t be a dick. We raised you better than that.

We thought he was an Oklahoman-in-the-making. Instead, he’s a bird that’s flown to better, easier terrain. And Oklahoma is left to clean out his nest, hoping we can make it with what we’ve got. Because we’re very, very proud of what we have. And we intend to keep it in working order.

Russell Westbrook, if you’ve got hero mode in you,  and I suspect you do, now is the time to become one. The state is yours. Please respect it. And if you leave, do so after winning. And please don’t join the enemy. We can’t take it again.

But Kevin, I wish you sorta-kinda well. I hope you realize someday how much you were loved, and what you meant to us. What you could have become to us. Josh Heupel will never forget… you were above him in the hierarchy. But still, thank you for everything. Thank you for those late-game shots that made us so sure you loved us… but we get it. It’s not us, it’s you.

Vaya con dios.

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Filed under ESPN, Family, Haters, Kevin Durant, Moving, NBA, Oklahoma, Russell Westbook, Thunder

Mom’s song

mom farm

Mom, pregnant with me, in 1974 on my grandparents’ farm in Henryetta, Oklahoma.

There’s so much going on in the world today that is bigger than “my feelings.” So many social injustices, so many fights to fight, so many things I should be doing instead of moping.

But I’ve lost the strength, at least for today. It’s been a disappointing few weeks for me personally, with a lot of changes happening that make me nervous, and my dating life continually in the dumps… I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say, online dating sucks, and I suck at it. And as usual, I pick the absolute worst person possible. Plus, I’m continually saddened by the awful things that people say and do to each other. I want to run away and hide, or as Jenny said to Forrest, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far away from here.” I seriously considered becoming a Mennonite and living in corn country.

When I get in these moods, which thankfully are rare, I tend to drown myself in music, not the Mystic Heated Wine that Jim Morrison loved. I tend to find songs that perfectly quench a thirst I didn’t know I had. I cry. I dance. I cry some more. I write. A lot. Then I feel better.

This particular moodiness cycle is probably on its way out, but presented itself in me today in the form of a stomachache. I worked from home, and have gradually felt better as the day wore on. Being absent from the office when the DeflateGate decision came down was just dumb luck! But I’ve been in the dumps for two whole days now, which isn’t common for me at all.

As usual, a song came along to make me re-evaluate myself. And as usual, the lessons of my mom came through. And as usual, I cried. A lot.

The day I found out my mom had been burned in a fire, I knew she would die. She lived for several months after that, but I knew she’d never be the same, and that she’d die from this. I didn’t know when, but I knew. My grieving has this strange tendency to be early-onset. I don’t know if I’m psychic or what, (haha) but I know when bad shit is going to go down.

I got a call that mom had third-degree burns over about 40 percent of her body. I put the phone down, went to my bedroom, and collapsed. I cried for hours. I cried every bit of myself out on my bedroom floor. I cried more on that day than on the day she actually died.

I did not go to work the next day, of course (though I did go the day she died, but that’s another blog). I was getting ready to head to the hospital the next morning when this song came on – and it’s forever my song TO my mother. It’s forever the song that makes me lose my shit. I only play it when I really, really need it.

Yes, Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous,” which is kind of a love song to all women and all those who do great things, is my song to my mother. When I heard it that day, I sat down on the edge of my tub and cried some more. Again, I knew she would be gone. It was like God played this song for me that day to further cement that knowledge to me, that she would die. And I moved on from fear of her dying to appreciating everything she did for me in no time flat.

Maybe it’s the journalist in me – I process emotions very quickly. It’s how we deal with all the bad shit that’s happening around us so quickly. It’s how, when kindergarten kids are shot in Newtown, we can still go on the air. It’s how, when riots break out in Baltimore during a baseball game — and you worry about the violence, but still understand and empathize with why the riots are happening — you put aside your thoughts and work. It’s how, when a reporter and photog are shot on-air, we can still report about it. Iron-clad at the time, but soft as cotton off-deadline. It spills over into the real world, clearly. Because I was able, throughout the next few months when Mom was in the hospital, to appear strong. It was all an act, of course, but somehow, Natalie Merchant’s voice, her thank-yous, her la-la-las, saved me that day.

Of course, having an older sister who’s as dear to your AS your mom, who’s named Natalie, probably meant something to me too. Plus, my mom loved Natalie Merchant dearly. So it was just a perfect song for a terrible time. And now, 12 years later, it still has the power to straighten my ass right up.

I listened to it today – something I don’t do often, as I don’t want to be a miserable heap – and now, I think I’ll be OK.

So to you, Ms. Merchant – I want to thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – I want to thank you for your song. I want to thank you for your generosity.

But mostly, I want to thank my mom. I miss you, of course. Thank you for still influencing me beyond the grave. Thank you for still being a touchstone in my heart when I know I need to buck up and deal. Thank you for reminding me, through your pithy phrases I’ve memorized, when someone needs “a good ol’ fashioned lettin’ alone” or that I “can get glad in the same pants I got mad in.” Thank you mama. You are the reason I’m here, quite literally and figuratively. I love you.

“Kind and Generous”

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
And for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
And I never could have come this far without you
So for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you
For so many gifts
You gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you
For your generosity
The love and the honesty
That you gave me

I want to thank you
Show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you
I want to thank you

I want to…

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

 

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Filed under ESPN, Family, Mom, Music, Women

A Real American Hero: Why everyone should be cheering for Ronda Rousey

“Oh, I’m sorry — did you think YOU were going to win this?”

I did something in the ESPN newsroom last night that I don’t often find myself doing due to the unspoken rules of the newsroom – I clapped like an idiot over a sporting event.

Just like baseball, journalism has its own unwritten rules, especially sports departments. You don’t say “We,” as in “We (the Sooners) are going to be really good this year,” you don’t wear team colors, and you don’t show too much emotion over results of events.

There are exceptions – one of my favorites being watching Oklahoma State make it to the Final Four on the back of John Lucas III in the Tulsa World newsroom in 2003, two more coming during my ESPN years — Tim Tebow’s entire 2011 season and American Pharoah’s ride to the Triple Crown this year. In those instances, we all shook off those rules, watching and admiring from our impartial seats. It didn’t matter who you were a fan of – in those moments, you are just a sports fan, watching history being made. We crowded around TV sets and just went with it, tearing down that Fourth Wall for a few moments and living like the regular fans live.

It’s one of the most satisfying, sweetest things – and I don’t even know if there’s a word for that feeling. Joy, I guess – joy and pride, a heady combo that makes some people start fights after feeling it (looking at you, Vancouver.)

I felt it last night. And it felt like the entire world – minus a few negative ninnies – agreed with me.

Watching Ronda Rousey become the greatest at her sport — and let’s face it — the greatest draw the UFC has and the face of the brand, has been a strange and wonderful experience for me. Back in 2011 when I started at ESPN, I had no love for UFC, and certainly none for Ronda Rousey. She seemed like a bully to me then. She seemed like a one-trick, armbar-laden pony.

But after researching her and learning more about her, I realized hers is a skill and talent that is unique, precious, and deep down inside her. She channels a place that we all know – fear, resentment, aggression, extreme sadness, withdrawal from society, poverty and shame. She is the walking embodiment of turning yourself around.

I met Ronda this year at an ESPN Women event in which I sat in a room with her and about 20 other women. It was an open Q&A session moderated by Jemele Hill. All of us – Jemele included – sat in wonder as we listened to Ronda speak. It was like talking to a family member or a close friend. It was like she knew all of us and was honestly, openly talking about her life, her past, her future, her fears, her love life – she’s an open book, really. Now, despite the fact that she gracefully took a picture with me and my friend Elanna at work, she also told me she liked my necklace. She looked me in the eye. She put her arm around me and smiled for the camera. She was wearing a cool dress and house shoes.

She was possibly the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. I was in awe – and still kind of am. Her past is similar to many of ours – wild, full of things you probably wish you hadn’t done. But she realizes that you have to turn the page, move on, live your life and roll with the punches… in her case, those punches are deadly, but she can absorb them as well as dish them out. She’s been taking punches her whole life

Ronda was a bartender, drinking too much and partying too hard, and living in her car. Then she unlocked that place in her that wanted more. She has always listened to her mother’s advice, and she kept her father’s suicide in her heart, the grief slowly turning into motivation and strength. She’s tough and vulnerable at the same time.

I think that’s why I clapped like an idiot last night – I knew the 34-second beatdown of Bethe Correia was for her daddy, whose suicide Bethe – knowingly or not – made light of a few months before the fight. Bethe taunted and taunted in the buildup of the fight. Ronda stood firm, never lowering herself to such trash talk. She just gave Bethe that terrifying look that said, “You know what, keep talking. This’ll work itself out.” And it did. In 34 glorious seconds.

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-231228 ORIG FILE ID:  20150801_ads_db3_526.JPG

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena.  (Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports)

The look on Ronda’s face the second she knew she’d won was not evil. It’s pure joy. That same joy you and I feel when our team wins – the same joy you get when you do something you’ve always wanted to do professionally. That same glee you find in yourself when you know you’re really good at something. The intense pleasure of knowing people are proud of you.

Ronda Rousey is as much like you and me as you and your sister. She’s charming, funny, emotional, tough and brilliant. If you don’t believe me, read up on her reading (she’s an avid reader), read her interviews, watch her on YouTube – she carries herself in a well-spoken, introspective, genuine way. She loves animals. She has had bad boyfriends too. She’s the most “real” athlete we have right now. Every ounce of her perfect body is genuine. Every pore on her beautiful face has been filled with blood, sweat and tears. Even after movies, TV shows, countless interviews and junkets, Ronda is Ronda, and always will be.

It’s what makes her climb to the top so fabulous and fun to watch. She is creating fans. More importantly, she is creating a legion of female fans who are so glad to have another female role model who isn’t a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, a Kardashian or someone who’s thought of as beautiful first, athlete second. (Serena, Venus and the entire U.S.Women’s National Soccer Team were getting lonely.)

Between her and Serena, I don’t think I can pick. Both are dominant and both are the best in their fields. Today, I am more on the Ronda bandwagon because of her domination, pure strength and emotional vulnerability – something the sometimes-aloof Serena can seem to lack, though we know she really doesn’t – but that’ll change for me the next time Serena does something awesome. I’ll say this – they are 1 and 1A in terms of top female athletes. They may be 1 and 1a among ALL athletes. They have certainly had to dominate more, and for longer periods of time, to be thought of as such.

But that’s what women are used to doing – having to work just a little bit harder than male counterparts to prove they’re good at what they do. I am in a male-dominated field, so I speak from experience.

I read a tweet today that Ronda Rousey is “almost a household name.” I think she’s closer than that – like she already is, and once more and more people watch the (Illegal) Vine video of her beatdown of Correia, her status will just tenfold. Women and men alike are falling for her, not because she’s beautiful – that’s just a happy coincidence – but because she’s an Everyman with panda buns and boxing gloves. She’s a soldier intent on her goal, and she doesn’t need Hollywood or stardom to do it. She’s doing it IN SPITE of those things. She’s making hay(makers) while sun shines on her.

She’s a role model, pure and simple. And she made me lose my composure in the newsroom last night.

I don’t think anyone judged me too harshly. They were too busy clapping too.

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Filed under ESPN, Ronda Rousey, Sports, Women

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at “Hound Dog Nellie’s,” another inside joke.

My little brother is one of my best friends. I heard “No Rain” by Blind Melon first thing this morning, and I’m reminded of our wonderful friendship.

I’ve known he was one of my best friends since 1990, when he stopped annoying the shit out of me and started being a cool little dude who I could drag with me anywhere I went. He became my sidekick.

He’s 30 now, and to this day, we still get along great. He’s lived with me on and off many times through the years, and moved to Connecticut a year after I did. It’s been the biggest blessing I could have – someone who looks and sounds like me, and knows my history, knows my pain, knows what makes me laugh, right here in my new home,1,500 miles away from our real home.

We’ve been through terrible things together, including the death of our mother. We have so many stupid inside jokes — a lot of them came from driving back and forth to Wichita when Mom was in the hospital.  I would not have made it through that without him. I felt like I had to be there for him, and I know he felt the same.

He’s one of the first people I called when I got the job at ESPN, and he knows everything about me. And he still likes me! Now that he’s up here, he’s finding a new part of himself – the outdoorsman who appreciates life, beauty and conservation (and good Vermont beer!) He and I recreate Oklahoma in the kitchen, making biscuits and gravy, Mexican food and other things we like that people up here don’t get. How could I get too homesick when I’ve got one of my favorite parts of Oklahoma living with me?

He’s gone this weekend, and I miss him. He’s free to do whatever he wants in his life, but when he decides to leave my nest, it’s going to be hard for me to adjust.

He’s grown into this great man who can do anything, just like his dad and my mom. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have four wonderful sisters and one awesome brother, but I don’t take it for granted. Ever. (I hope.) He pushes me to do things. He saves me from myself. He believes that, yes, someday, I’ll get married, and that someone will like me enough to actually spend their life with me! 🙂 Of course I believe the same about him. But he’s much better at relationships than I am – he’s been in a steady relationship for two years now up here in New England, and the only thing I do is work. We have different priorities, but he makes me think about mine.

I remember the day Nick and I started being “friends” instead of “siblings.” He was 5, and I was “babysitting” him at our house in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I had just learned to drive and we were both sick and tired of sitting at home. He was a very picky eater then, which is hilarious now because he would eat anything you throw at him… but I dragged him to Hamlin’s East in Muskogee and forced him to try foods he wouldn’t normally. He loved it. And we laughed our heads off. I started picking him up from school. I loved that – I felt so grown-up when I would leave Muskogee High and stop by Creek Elementary to pick up the little dude. I’d force him to listen to tapes in the car, then he started actually liking the songs I played him. I made him mix tapes. I warped his precious little mind.

But I have this one moment in our childhoods that I cherish. I don’t really know why, but it’s one of my happiest memories of our time together, and my life.

We were in the gameroom of our house. He was maybe 8, and I had just completed my first year of college at Northeastern State in Tahlequah. I stayed with him over the summer, my last summer at home. We were, of course, watching MTV, and I think 120 Minutes or a show like that was on. I heard the beginnings of “No Rain” by Blind Melon, then saw the Bee Girl on stage. Now, I should mention that I deeply identify with the Bee Girl. I was a bit of a weirdo/unpopular girl, kind of a misfit, and I’d even had a bee costume I wore for Halloween as a kid. I had just started meeting my core group of friends, who were Bee People too. I’d just started feeling accepted, and just started realizing I wasn’t a complete freak. That video hit me square in the gut. It still makes me cry happy tears.

My mom never encouraged us to be like anyone else. And there was something about that song – at that time – me being 18 or so and “finding myself” and the friends and family I’d have for the rest of my life. Every day felt like a rose opening. Every day, it opened a bit more, and I felt something new and exciting, something awe-inspiring about growing up and just living. And my brother — little and cute and curly-headed – was always there with me, never judging me or trying to emulate me, but just being my brother and friend.

So on that day, in the gameroom, we watched the video. When it was over, I looked at Nick and said, “Hey, you wanna go get that CD?” Of course, these were the days before Internet radio, Spotify and the like – you actually had to haul off and buy the damn CD, with his two-foot long plastic case around it.

I was working at McDonald’s then and not making a lot of money. So in typical Sarah fashion, I blew what cash I had on music. I drove like a woman possessed to Hastings, with him in the car, and bought the first Blind Melon CD and drove home. At that time, Mom was working crazy hours as a nurse, and Nick’s dad, Pat, wasn’t home yet. So I’d started dinner when I got home. I brought my little jambox into the kitchen, put on the CD, and hit play. We danced in the kitchen to “No Rain” on repeat. It is, to this day, one of my very favorite songs.

I’m not sure why I love that memory. It felt like a moment of freedom, independence and just having fun with the people I love. Nick has never, and will never, judge me. Hopefully that works both ways. I was such a self-conscious kid, and Nick was the same way. We felt like we had to act a certain way, and couldn’t really goof off or anything, lest we get in trouble or make a “scene.” Not sure where that came from, but that day in the kitchen, we danced like idiots and sang and danced some more. We realized we had each other’s back – subconsciously of course, as I wasn’t as introspective then as I am now.

My brother is one of my best friends. I don’t want to ever think about living a day without him.

When Nick was little, our mom told me, “I wish I could be more like Nick.” She was right. He’s just a great little dude, and I’m lucky to have him. Thanks for being you, Buster Thurperson. And I miss you, Shannon Hoon. And Mom.

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An open letter to star athletes from a media member (with love)

You have no reason to know who I am – and that’s OK with me. I’m not the story here.

But I am a member of “the media.” I’m not sorry about that, either.

You see, just like a lot of words that have become victims of overuse, the words “The Media” now have a negative connotation – like the words liberal and conservative. These nebulous, undefined groups of people are placed in these categories, and it’s like signing your birth certificate – it can’t be changed. You ARE THE MEDIA. You’re with us or against us. You’re someone who fawns over us, or you’re a detractor.

The media itself has become a sort of whipping post for athletes. Not that the media isn’t used to it – over the years, it has taken the blame for various and sundry illnesses, conditions, social behaviors and accidents in athletic and news fields. Your kid is a hellion? Media. You don’t like the president, or what he’s saying? Media spin, liberal media, lamestream media. Tired of nearly-naked people gyrating on TV? Clearly all the media’s fault. Your kid saw something violent on the news and re-enacted it? Not the parents fault – it’s the media.

Or my personal favorite: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Did you ever have to do something that you knew you were going to get yelled at about? Did you ever think, “God, I wish I didn’t have to do this, but my job requires it of me.”

Well, Marshawn, and those he’s inspired with his faux-rebellious “revolution” against the media, guess what – we’re just doing our jobs so we don’t get fired. And we know you hate it, but we have to. Just like you have to lash out because you’re so very tough.

The media, you see, didn’t just decide to cover you one day. The media, your red football for anger lately, has been kicking with you since that first scout saw some potential. The media – or maybe, just one member of the media – saw you one day and said, “Wow, check this dude out. The scouts were right. I’m going to watch him, write about him, do a Sunday package about him.” That reporter, or editor, or columnist, became, in essence, a fan with a pen and forum. You were the new subject line, and we had to learn everything we could about you. FAST.

In fact, Marshawn, when you were in high school, you welcomed the media. You shouted into microphones about winning your high school state title. You beamed with sunshine and light as cameras captured your real feelings about the win:

You were joyous. Funny. A pleasure.

Then you went and got too big for your britches, as we’d say in my home state. And we, the media, had a hand in creating some of that too. But instead of saying, “You know what, I don’t really want to talk about this –can we just talk about the game? Or whatever” you decided to make it personal.

I’m not saying the media is perfect. Heavens to Betsy, no. But in Marshawn’s case, and in those under the cascade of ire that fell beneath him, it seems like you just want a kick dog, a cause, something to be angry at. SOMEONE TO BLAME. I want to remind you of this – we’re people too. And athletes used to say they didn’t care what people wrote, didn’t care what reporters said about them. Something changed, and I’m not sure what it was, other than maybe social media.  Do you like it when you’re blamed for losing a game? Of course not. We hate losing at our game too.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two of my favorite athletes ever, are buying into what Marshawn was selling, and so will countless others. Marshawn, trendsetter and junk-grabber that he is, created a wide-open path of hatred that can easily be trod, with him skipping down the center of the aisle, strewing vitriol left and right like an overgrown flower girl. Others saw how much attention the media gave his antics and thought, you know what, I’m sick of them too. Russ and KD are angry, which, as a fan, kind of excites me. They’re taking on an “us vs. them” mentality, which is sometimes good for the win-loss column. But, as a member of the vile “media,” I am kind of scared by this too.

Selfishly, I want my guys to be the good guys. I want them to be the guys in white hats, not a bunch of Bill Laimbeers (though I’d like to see more Laimbeer style on the court!) I like my media darling KD. I love being able to say, “He’s one of us Oklahomans.”

But they’re mad. And I kind of get it. I really do. Having to sit at a table surrounded by people clamoring to know more about you — that’s got to be hard. Now that I work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, I understand the push and pull from us vs. them. We swarm, like other members of the media. We are always there, watching you play, following you on Twitter and Instagram, tracking your every move. We say things about you in print that are hurtful sometimes. We write headlines that we didn’t mean (Mr. Unreliable, anyone?) We jump on you when you’re down, and we probably don’t do enough to tell you that you’re doing a good job. Because we’re the biggest dogs on the block, we absorb the most hits. But we’re ESPN, so we can take it. (But it does suck reading bad things about your business all the time on Twitter.)

I am a good empathizer. I can understand how it must feel to be under the microscope your entire career. I can understand how you just really want to be left alone, how you think we don’t know what we’re talking about (agreed, we sometimes don’t), and how you just want to get away from all of it and be by yourself and not deal with any of this.

Now I want you, dear athlete, to empathize a little. Do your part – it’s that simple. Show up, play the literal game, then the figurative one after the game – the media part.

Think about it – you’re a big enough deal that the entire country wants to see you on TV. You’re a big enough deal that people write about you on a daily basis, checking your stats, your trends, your ebbs and flows, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

You’re a big enough deal that kids, adults and grandparents wear your name on the back of a T-shirt or jersey TO CHURCH.

Now, if we, the media, ignored that, we’d be sucking at our jobs. Most of us are just as competitive or fiery as you (though not in as good a shape, we admit.) We want to be good at our jobs. We want to get a scoop. And some of us don’t do that in the best ways.

But we, really, aren’t a “we.” Behind all of it, we’re people, writing about people. Sometimes writing about people makes people mad. But you move on – and you should too, athletes. Move on – read something else. Pay no attention. Quit saying you ARE paying attention in the media scrum. Comments like “You don’t know anything” and “You’re just the media, I hate you” don’t do much for me, and make you look small in my mind. Plus, it creates a hostile workplace for us. More and more athletes will join this crusade against the media, when really, they should just weather the storm and keep moving. And fans are joining in now too. The same fans who will buy our papers by the dozen when they have your face emblazoned on the cover, hoisting some sort of trophy over your head. They’ll love us then. For the moment – the ever-fleeting moment.

Because guess what? Just like our non-athletic asses will someday be dragging the floor, yours might too. This “blame the media” thing won’t fly if you’re not performing. It just won’t. It will look weak. Marshawn’s antics came from a catbird seat – he’s at the peak of his game now. We just sit in awe as he slashes and burns his way to the end zone (and in my case, turn around in disgust when he grabs his business. I mean, come on, it’s gross) and can’t say much else to him, because, well, he’s a stud. Same can be said about many athletes today who are angry at the media.

 

But we have to report about them NOW. Someday, we won’t. Someday, their stars will fade. Someday, when their knees have been surgered too many times to count, they might see what we were trying to do – build around the excitement of THEM. Of that moment. Of that One Shining Moment. We were giving them a moment – THEIR moment, that they earned. Do you want future fans to look back at you and think, “Why was he such a jerk to the media?” Maybe you do. And that’s your bidness.

I don’t blame you for being annoyed sometimes. Super Bowl week, during the whole Marshawn situation, I tried to get to the bottom of who assigns these guys to talk, who enforces them to come to the podium, if it’s part of their contracts. Well, it’s not an easy answer. It’s a little of this, a little of that. Media participation is included in contracts, as well as mammoth TV deals that give teams and leagues huge amounts of cash to play with and millions of eyes watching. Deciding who has to talk to the media  involves the team, reporters, publicists, and the league itself, as well as the league’s union and Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league and team don’t come to the media’s defense during the Blame Game, even though they, too, have a hand in sending athletes to the podium. But they sure don’t mind letting the media be The Fall Guys. I can’t say I blame them. Pretty smart move, actually.

So just like you, the athlete, think you’ve got it all figured out, look around – is it really JUST us that’s doing all this to you? And in the grand scheme of things – considering that there are starving people, kids being killed, etc. – is it really THAT big of a deal?

I guarantee you, any – ANY – athlete struggling to come up would trade spots with you. Why not enjoy, endure and excel? Be the bigger person. Channel your inner David Robinson.

DeMarco Murray, or St. DeMarco as he is known in Norman, Okla., said it best during Super Bowl week. I can’t find the exact quote, but it went a little something like this: Yeah, it kind of sucks. But it’s an obligation. I’m lucky to be here. I can do this and I won’t be any worse for the wear (unless I say something stupid out of childishness.)

I guess what I’m saying is, lighten up, guys. You have won the Life Lottery. You make billions in your career to play a game. Just talk to the media, play your game and WIN. Then they won’t have much to say to you, except WOW GREAT JOB.

I am bothered by how many athletes are turning against the media. I want us to get along. I want us to be able to tell your stories, and I want you to be able to tell us how you feel, or how the team feels.

We are not evil lying manipulators  — well, not all of us. We are literally the narrators of the game – the ones who write what you just saw and try to give you some context surrounding it.

We just want to get along with you, share the arena with you and the fans. Most of us – not all – but for the most part, we just want to do our jobs.

We’re just here so we won’t get fired.

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s Song: “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen

Lemme tell ya’ll little story ‘bout a girl who is me… a poor journalist, she was broke to a T. But then one day, she was pissed off, to say the least, so she applied for jobs and she moved to the big east… Connecticut that is, ESPN… lots of insurance… She is: The Connecticut Hillbilly! (cue the banjoes.)

Yes, that’s how it felt to move to (cue “Immigrant’s Song”) the Land of the Ice and Snow, but before I got to that place, I had to realized my life need changing.

So back up. And cue the Bruce Springsteen.

When I was growing up, I HATED Bruce. I mean, I thought his style was the most corporate, jingoistic crap you could imagine. I thought he was all-pro Reagan, anti-progression, etc. – even at 10, I had this streak in me, I remember. But later, I realized Bruce was 100 percent Sympatico with my beliefs of the power of the working man, the beauty of compassion and the wonder and mystery of small-town life. He’s exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up – but I didn’t know it then.

I didn’t know that until a few years after my mom’s death, when I found myself surrounded by people who weren’t good to themselves, or who had gone on with their lives, settled down and started raising families. I was broke – I mean, BROKE, emotionally and financially — and was living in a house I should never have bought, with friends who had other ideas about life’s meaning. I didn’t know who I was anymore, really. I just knew that I’d worked too hard, and felt like I was entitled, to more. And that I couldn’t relate to people I’d related to before… partying wasn’t as fun anymore, I’d had my heart broken by death, love and everything else, and I was just tired of everything.

Getting over that entitlement was a good first step, but acknowledging that I needed MORE from life was a better one.

So it was maybe 2008 or 2009, and I had started to understand the whole Bruce Springsteen appeal, but I hadn’t had my “I LOVE THIS MAN” moment yet—but was about to. I was in my bathroom, getting ready to go out. I had the music player on Shuffle. “Dancing in the Dark” came on, ushering in memories of Courteney Cox dancing with The Boss on stage in the 80s video. I’d picked up along the way that “Born in the USA” was about the least-patriotic song ever, and that Bruce was about as far from corporate jingoism as I was. So I let it play, thinking, “wow, maybe I like this song more than I remember.” As I applied mascara, leaning over to look in the mirror, I really listened:

“Message keeps getting clearer

Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place

I check my look in the mirror

I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face

Man I ain’t getting nowhere

I’m just living in a dump like this

There’s something happening somewhere

baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire

you can’t start a fire without a spark

This gun’s for hire

even if we’re just dancing in the dark”

And it was like it was a whole new song. I was old enough, wizened enough, experienced and enlightened enough to GET Bruce. I also got really into Bob Dylan at that time, but that’s a blog for another time. Working, living, heartbreak, love, desire, loss – those are all anthems in both of those troubadors’ life’s works. And I’d finally lived enough to understand. And the message WAS getting clearer. By the second – and I always dance around my house, which I found a little coincidental. I wasn’t aging, really, but I didn’t know who I was anymore when I looked in the mirror, so CHECK. I wanted to change everything, but didn’t know how.

But then came the guitar solo, and with it, a call to action:

“You sit around getting older

there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me

I’ll shake this world off my shoulders

come on baby this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town

and they’ll be carving you up alright

They say you gotta stay hungry

hey baby I’m just about starving tonight

I’m dying for some action

I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book

I need a love reaction, come on now baby gimme just one look”

If I’d stayed on the streets of Tulsa, they would’ve carved me up alright. The last straw was when a woman I was working for (doing way too much for a part-time PR person, let me tell you) treated me like a dog, calling all my hard work into question. I let her make herself better by tearing me down. So I needed a love reaction — and that reaction was self-love and self-confidence. I’ll show you, I thought — and I meant it.

Then I went home that night and applied for every job I could. And now I live in Connecticut and work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

I didn’t leave right away, but the night I heard that song while getting ready to go out and probably drink too much, Bruce Springsteen broke through. And he was the spark that started the fire for me, the one that told me to get my shit together, to forgive those who hurt me and forget those who refuse to admit they’d hurt me, to shake the world off my shoulders.

My life changed that day, a little. Through the next few years, I lost friends, some forever. But for the first time in my life, I’d found ME – and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was willing to let go of the reins long enough to look around, and gave myself enough credit to believe a dream might come true.

Working at ESPN has been a dream – and a nightmare sometimes, but just a short one that’s worth it. I’m not sure I would’ve realized the dream if A) my mom hadn’t died and changed everything and B) I hadn’t lost so much in the way of love, money, friends, etc., C) I hadn’t embraced my faith and D) If I’d elected to hit skip when that song came on.

“Dancing in the Dark” was at least 30 years old when it changed my life. And I seriously doubt it’ll be the last time a Bruce lyric has that profound effect on me. I’ll never doubt him again.

 

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Why I Love Oklahoma (and a few things I don’t like about it)

I just got back from a week in Oklahoma, my native land, where my people are buried. And though I’m glad to be home, overjoyed to have the job I do and happy where I’m at, I still was a complete wreck on the plane, crying my eyes out watching Tulsa County slip away out of the tiny airplane window. I wore my sunglasses on the plane – I usually make fun of people who do that. But maybe they’re trying to hide their tears too.

It was cloudy, so my view was a bit obstructed. It cleared closer to Texas, and we began our descent into DFW in time for me to see the Red River snaking across the view. “We need rain,” I thought, my one-generation-removed-from-the-farm mind still kicking in.

In a few hours, I would be in New England again. I finally stopped crying once I left DFW on the second leg, but the tears came back on my road back to Bristol from Bradley. I was listening to Oklahoma music – I thought I’d better get all those emotions out now, before I go back to work. I certainly don’t want to cry in front of an NFL Hall of Famer or anything.

But I was thinking a lot on the drive home. About why I’m not in Oklahoma anymore. It’s not permanent, as I know I’ll be back there to retire whenever that is. Or whenever the Thunder want to make me head of communications… whichever comes first. But anyway, I thought of a co-worker of mine at ESPN who flat-out asked me once, “Why do people live in Oklahoma?” This was after a tornado, not just a general condemnation of the Sooner State. As I drove home, I thought of some of the reasons I love it, but also a few why I don’t. So without any further ado…

WHY I LOVE OKLAHOMA…

 It’s NOT:

  1. The heat. I was a few moments into a 90-degree Monday afternoon when I realized I just can’t hack the heat anymore. Fortunately, 99 percent of Oklahoma is cooled to the hilt with the best AC money can buy. But I’m quickly becoming an East Coaster who can’t tolerate anything over 80.
  2. The politics. Seriously, I’m sitting with my friends, many of whom have children, are teachers or just interested in education, and I’m realizing just how bad the schools and government are. Seriously, people, put politics aside – who cares who’s wrong and who’s right? You’re getting lapped by everyone else because you take tax breaks out on kids. This will have long-reaching effects. People won’t want to stay to raise their kids if the schools are the worst in the nation. And the job market isn’t as good as it should be. Oklahoma is an affordable state with natural resources out the ying-yang. If you wreck it now, it’s going to wreak havoc for years and years to come. What happened to the lottery saving education? Where is that money going? Quit trying to marry church and state again and let your kids get smart enough to make their own decisions.
  3. The roads. Yes, we pay high taxes in Connecticut. But our roads – even after 100-plus inches of ice and snow this winter – are in great shape. I got carsick on Oklahoma roads this time. Fix your infrastructure, or it’s all going to come crumbling down someday.

Now on to the good stuff.

 It IS:

  1. The people. Oh my God, it was great to be around people who genuinely seem to care about each other, even if they don’t know each other. I was in Reasor’s in Tahlequah on Saturday and saw so many people saying hi, thank you, excuse me, etc. – Hey, New England: It’s called human kindness. Try it. You’ll like it. Today, back in Bristol, I went to the grocery store and acted like an Oklahoman again. I will NEVER lose that part of myself, I hope. And besides – all my friends are there. I will never forget that. We had a full house in Tahlequah at Arrowhead, to celebrate the life of one of our great friends. I love them all, and realized that I couldn’t lose them if I tried. (And why would I do that? They like me in spite of me!)
  2. The weather (but not the heat). I had missed thunder and lightning so much – I got to hear and see it again. Also, thanks, weather gods, for the absolutely PERFECT Saturday afternoon on the Illinois River in Tahlequah! I also miss that winter lasts about 45 minutes, not six months like Connecticut.
  3. The food. Holy shit, ya’ll. Oklahoma food is just so much better than anything in Connecticut. Taco Bueno is so, so much better than anything they attempt to sell as “Mexican food” up here. It’s funny to see them try up here… but not funny to eat. Blargh. My first stop was Bueno, my last was Rib Crib. I somehow lost weight on vacation, but I think it’s because I was walking a lot.
  4. The accent. Because it makes everyone up here go, “Where  ARE you from?” It’s not Southern, really, and it’s not Texas. It’s Oklahoman, and it’s a thing of beauty.
  5. The music. Woody Guthrie started it. Let’s not let Crazy Wayne Coyne finish it…
  6. The heritage. A little bit of everything we are — mutts, half-Indian or 1/128th Choctaw, whatever you are. We look different than people do on the East Coast. And it’s beautiful. Oklahoma girls and boys are… well, HOT!
  7. The way it makes me feel. Oklahoma, for me, is a state of mind. When I first arrived last week, I walked off the plane and my Inner Oklahoman was fully engaged, like it had been on standby for three years, ready to spring back to life. It’s slower. It’s friendlier. It’s peaceful. And it’s home – always has been, always will be. The bones of my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many friends take up residence in Oklahoma dirt. I ran my 1969 Cutlass into the weird wall in the parking lot of the Braum’s on 32nd in Muskogee. I got on stage with Tripping Daisy at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa (and had many, many more great times there, both pre- and post-air conditioning.) I drank to excess for the first time in Park Hill, Oklahoma, in a trailer full of people who would go on to become some of my best friends. I have fallen in and out of love, made and unmade friends, lost family, gained even more family, and found that I had to leave to get where I wanted – all that happened in Oklahoma – 36 of my 39 years were in Green Country. It’s who I am.

I could go on and on like this. And I guess crying every time I leave is going to keep happening, so I had better save some of it for the next trip. I’m going to leave part of myself in Oklahoma every time I go, I guess. But really, I’m already all the way there, and taking part of me to Connecticut every time I leave the Red Dirt State. It’s where I know I’ll end up someday, even if I talk real big about how I’m going to live out my days in San Francisco.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to do anything I want with my life, and moving to New England will help make that possible, thanks to my career and the wonderful company I work for – but I know that, for me, all roads lead to Oklahoma. Despite all that stuff I said above about what I don’t like about Oklahoma, I know I’ll be back. And when I do get back, meet me under that Oklahoma Sky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKTUZ-ig57M&feature=kp

 

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