‘With malice toward none:’ Considering the NFL anthem protests

Photo by Eric Crawford

The crazy thing is, I don’t care what most National Football League players think about anything, except, of course, the game of football. Seriously. I care about as much about their political beliefs as I do about those of the majority of actors who get up and try to out-do each other with political barbs at the Academy Awards.

I don’t care who they vote for. I don’t care what they support. I don’t care about their images or their policy positions. (Increasingly, I don’t care about their games or their regular season or their playoffs, but that’s an entirely different story. Honestly.)

I don’t care whether the Golden State Warriors or North Carolina Tar Heels go to The White House.

I don’t care. But I am making myself listen. Because we need, at this point, to listen more than anything.

And here’s the other crazy thing – most of you don’t care that I don’t care. You don’t come here looking for political commentary, and even if it’s offered here and there, you certainly don’t come here looking to be told what to think. So I don’t tell you what to think.

But as the guy told coach Norman Dale in the film Hoosiers, “Look, mister, there’s two kinds of dumb – a guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and a guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don’t matter. The second one you’re kinda forced to deal with.”

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A quick Sept. 11 remembrance


I hate to let Sept. 11 fade away without stopping at some point to remember that day, those who lost their lives, and those whose lives were forever changed by the events of that day — which includes all of us in a way, but some of us in a big way, those who lost loved ones, those who responded on the various scenes, those who were injured or who still carry the scars.

I’ve heard people say this a lot, but it rings a little more true to me every year. I look at the unity this nation experienced in the days following those terror attacks, and wonder if it ever can happen in this nation again, as divided as we seem.

I believe that it can, though I’m afraid it will take great tragedy to do it.

If we continue to drift apart, however, we’ll have no trouble finding great tragedy. In fact, it will find us.

At any rate, what continually comes to mind for me these days is a short film you can see in the permanent 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The short film, “Running Toward Danger,” chronicles the work of a few journalists that day.

It’s worth your time to watch below. It’s difficult to watch. But we need to remember. Some of the journalists interviewed in this piece help us do that.

Thoughts on recent events

47c866e8-94fe-4734-a49a-450a871bd556What do you think? I’ve had a few people ask me the question in the past week, and not about sports. I’ve stepped outside the lines in this space in the past to write about politics, or current events, or history, from time to time. Events of the past week in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere have drawn a kind of line, it seems, around which everyone must talk. If you don’t believe me, look at social media.

What do I think?

Before I get to that, I have to tell you, in tense, polarizing times like these, I keep hearing the words of Gerald White. And for that, I have to take you back to the 1980s, and Miller Hall, on the campus at the University of Louisville, on the fourth floor, where someone was scrawling the signature racial epithet on the walls of the dormitory hallway. The residents were tense. I was resident assistant. My job was to keep the lines of communication open and tempers, as best I could, below the boiling point, among the guys who lived on that floor.

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This day in Louisville news: The past century

A couple of my friends from The Courier-Journal have been posting the front page of the past couple of days’ editions on social media. The C-J is devoting its front page entirely to the Forecastle music festival for a three-day stretch. Seeing those covers — and the design and photography are beautiful — gave me the idea for this blog post. July 15 is an ordinary day, and I thought I’d take a look at the front pages on this date every decade, going back 100 years. This is not critique of anything at the newspaper. It will, of course, show how our lives have changed, locally and nationally, and it can’t help but show how the paper itself and its role have changed. But the main thing is that it’s interesting and fun to do. And the middle of summer seems like a good time to do it.

As always when I delve into historical images like this, I need to recommend The Courier-Journal’s archives feature to you. At $7.95 a month, if you’re interested in history of the city, its as good a resource as you can find. Learn more here.

So here, goes. If you’re more interested in the pages, you may click on each for a larger, more readable, view.

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A departure

dscn3315.jpgThe offerings have been pretty sparse from these parts over the past week or so, and there’s a reason for that. Last Sunday night, Delbert Crawford, my grandfather, died at a little after 11 o’clock, at 102 years of age.

My earliest memories of him are of his hands. Holding some toy or other we were showing him, they turned it over, examining it slowly, deliberately. They were strong then, and rough, so rough that they would catch on a sweater if you were wearing one.

The morning of the day he died, I held his hand and it was as soft as a dream. A final memory.

In between there is much, too much to set down here.

But this is how it works. At a Senior PGA event the mind wandered to the accomplishments of old men. At Churchill Downs, it sprinted to him telling about riding his horse, Buck, to school, and of how the horse would take off when he had barely gotten onto him. He wanted to be a jockey for a time, but outgrew it. These are the tracks your thoughts gallop onto even when you need them to go elsewhere.

So tonight, a full stop to look back. I have written about him before in this space, particularly on his one-hundredth birthday, but also when I missed his one hundred second birthday party, and at other times.

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Remembering the Four Chaplains

I’ve always been partial to the little guy in sports, probably because I was one. So today, I want to tell you about a little guy.

Clark Poling only weighed 135 pounds, but he loved football, and insisted on going out for the team at Oakwood Prep in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. And he did pretty well. He didn’t do it without some doubt. He’d survived an auto accident as a child, and still had the lingering effects of a broken hip from that.

But as a freshman his team went undefeated and he was a starting defensive back. He made a little bit of a name for himself as a halfback until he suffered a broken wrist and his football days were over.

It’s what he did after football, though, that needs to be remembered today.  Clark, like his father, went into the ministry, though not without some doubts. The day he was ordained, they asked him if he believed in the virgin birth. He paused, then said, “I do not disbelieve, but I am not convinced.” Then he quoted a passage of Paul’s about being ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit.

He graduated from Rutgers, and Yale Divinity School. He became a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, married, and settled with his wife Betty and son Corky in Schenectady, N.Y.

He was 30 years old at the outbreak of World War II, and he decided to enlist.  In the same way he threw himself into football, he wanted to throw himself into the middle of the action. His father had been a military chaplain in World War I, but Clark told him he didn’t want to “hide behind the church.” He wanted to fight.

When his father told him that chaplains suffered the highest mortality rate of any servicemen in World War I, Clark Poling reconsidered. At Chaplain’s School at Harvard University, he completed his military training and met three other chaplains, with whom he became close friends.

There was George Fox, a 42-year-old Methodist minister whose 18-year-old son was in the marines. Fox had run away as a 17-year-old to serve as a medic in World War I, winning the Silver Cross and Purple Heart.

There was Alexander Goode, who had become a rabbi after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, and had earned a doctorate from John’s Hopkins.

And there was John P. Washington, a Catholic priest from New Jersey who signed up as soon as Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The four became inseparable, and could be found having animated discussions often at Chaplain’s school, and later on the ship USAT Dorchester, an Army transport.

One soldier described watching them as, “Just like a football huddle.”

On Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was sailing in the North Atlantic when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-223.

In the chaos that followed, the four chaplains helped to calm the men. They talked frantic and frightened soldiers onto lifeboats. They handed out life jackets.

And when the life preservers ran out, each of the four took off his own, and handed it to a soldier.

And they prayed. Each his own prayers, some Latin, some Hebrew, some English.

I don’t know what goes through a man’s mind when he makes the decision to remove that life vest, to literally remove his life like a piece of clothing and lay it over another man’s shoulders.

It certainly was a day that Clark Poling, one of the little guys who was born in Canton, Ohio, where now resides the Football Hall of Fame, earned an honor as high as any man can earn. (His daughter, Susan, was born three months after his death.)

Grady Clark, a survivor of that day, described the scene.

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Others described the Four Chaplains as praying arm in arm as the ship went down.

A postcard with the pictures of The Four Chaplains, issued in 1948. (Click picture to enlarge).

All four were posthumously honored with the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. The Four Chaplains Medal was was established by an act of Congress in 1960 and presented to their families in 1961.  They appeared on a postage stamp, and Feb. 3 was declared “Four Chaplains Day” in 1948.

A chapel in their honor was dedicated by President Harry Truman in Philadelphia in 1951.

You can read more about them at fourchaplains.org. Thanks to Don Roth of Louisville for his hard work in keeping their memory alive. He was faithful in contacting my dad every year about this time to remind him of the Four Chaplains, and got in touch with me this year.

The background information for this entry came from Dan Kurzman’s No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War IIBuy the book here.

Text messages from the future

“Are you writing today?”

The text message came from an editor recently, but there was a problem. The date on it was Jan. 22, 2016.

I’ve seen TV shows like this. A guy gets a newspaper with a headline from the future, and is faced with a dilemma. Does he use his knowledge for good? Of course, nobody today could believe a show like that. Everybody knows they’re not going to have newspapers in the future.

But text messages, I can believe. They’re going to be around forever, like the wheel, certain diet beverages and The Simpsons. So obviously, in the future, I will still be expected to write. But what? And for whom?

Then I took a closer look at my other texts. Since New Year’s Day, it appears that ALL of my texts have been from the future.

Apparently, I still am forgetting to buy toilet paper in the future. And the usage “LOL,” sadly, still has not run its vexatious course.

I started firing texts back at the future, like some SMS supplicant at the feet of Pythia, petitioning a 3-G Oracle, or one networking with Bluetooth’s ghost.

“Who is president?” I asked.

“Barack Obama,” came the answer.

Remarkable. No doubt, given his current struggles he would be relieved to know that he somehow won reelection, perhaps because many of his opponents died when insurance companies dropped them from the rolls. I was about to ask more about this, but decided to keep it brief.

“Who won the World Series?” I continued.

“The New York Yankees,” came back the reply. Not surprising. Buying pennants never goes out of style.

But before I could get to the really good stuff, CNN rolled in with this story explaining the phenomenon: Microsoft glitch sends texts from the ‘future.’

And it didn’t end there. Turns out, the same glitch affected software at some banks, pushing the date ahead to 2016 and rendering debit and credit cards with expiration dates before then useless.

I’m a little unclear. If that’s my money from the future, doesn’t somebody owe me some interest?

Now, I’ve heard of sending yourself an email in the future. In fact, the web site, www.futureme.org is devoted to just that. Fill in a message and the date you want it delivered, and you can send yourself an email 30 years down the road.

I forwarded myself this investment opportunity involving some funds trapped in Nigeria.  No offense, but I prefer to keep my talking to myself in the present.

I have to confess that I was a little disappointed to see the CNN report. Who doesn’t want to receive messages from the future?

Just to be safe, I hedged my bets in response. On the remote chance that I really did have a sports column for Jan. 22, 2016 due right then, I played it safe.

“Yes I’m writing,” I replied. “I’ll just do something on why Brett Favre should finally retire — but why he won’t.”

Exploring the handwritten word


Handwritten draft of a column about thoroughbred trainer Tom McCarthy. (Click image for larger version.)

Here came Ralph Waldo Emerson, on my first mandated day away from the Sports Page, expressing the very problem I was experiencing even as I read.

“To go into solitude,” he wrote, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.”

And to think, Emerson’s chamber didn’t even have wireless Internet.

The New Yorker was on the case, too. In a “Shouts and Murmurs” column, Andy Borowitz panned Disney CEO Robert Igor for the description of his “quiet time” he gave to The New York Times:

“I get up at 4:30 every morning. I like the quiet time. I can recharge my batteries a bit. I exercise and I clear my head and I catch up on the world. I read papers. I look at e-mail. I surf the Web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time. I call it my quiet time but I’m already multitasking. I love listening to music, so I’ll do that in the morning, too, when I’m exercising and watching the news.”

Quiet time isn’t what it used to be. Though, if Emerson is to be believed — and in my experience, he almost always is — it has always been a tough thing to find.

Even on furlough.

* * *

The problem is too many screens. If you sit down to write in front of one, a couple of keystrokes will take you to another screen, which often leads you to another. By the time you navigate back to your blank page, you’re like the guy who takes off jogging, runs too far from home, and winds up huffing his way back in a halting walk.

I know several writers who have hit the thrift stores looking for typewriters, or old word processors that have no other capacity. Others unplug the Internet from whatever computer they’re working on.

The notion of writing as a solitary enterprise is quickly abandoned by anyone who seeks to publish. The involvement of editors, proofreaders and even readers themselves takes care of that notion.

As Emerson was likely getting at, the writer alone at a desk is nonetheless dealing with voices that influence whatever he or she is writing at the time.

But a couple of weeks ago, the increasingly un-solitary nature of writing gained more meaning for me when the newspaper I write for installed a new computer system. With it, the stories reporters write are not only visible to everyone else at the newspaper through the system, but may be read at any stage of their development. If editors want to see how my column is coming along, they may simply click “read” and see where I stand.

This is nothing new in newspapers. Every once in a while, you write with someone peeking over your shoulder, and you get used to it.

The trouble comes when you sit down to write something that isn’t for the newspaper. More serious writing requires you to put aside the other screens, and the other eyes.

* * *

Earlier this year I was writing a piece while on a plane, and when the computer battery ran down I closed up the laptop, wishing I hadn’t had to stop working during a pretty productive little stretch.

Then I felt like an idiot. As it turns out, the antidote to tabbed browsing and power restrictions is pretty simple.

Pen and paper. This should not be a revelation. But for someone who has composed my newspaper work exclusively with keyboard and computer for 20 years, it marks a departure.

A fortunate departure. The initial obstacles to freeing myself of the distractions of the screen and the limitations of battery life — my handwriting and my impatience — were easy to overcome.

Any number of online refreshers for handwriting practice are available. A couple of half-hour stints of practicing letters was pleasantly calming. And I soon discovered that the more deliberate pace required by handwriting had, for me, more benefits than drawbacks. In fashioning the letters (not just writing the words), I found a more personal relationship with what I was writing, a more considered approach.

When I tried with a few newspaper columns, the columns were better. On a computer screen, words are cheap. They dribble off the fingers and disappear if they don’t strike the right note. Writing and revision are simultaneous. And set in professional fonts on a well-lit screen, it’s easy for a piece to look and seem finished when it truly isn’t.

I soon found with my return to handwriting that more thought went into the structure of the sentence itself. And that when the page is filled, it is a more tangible and, though I don’t like the term, living thing, than the page on the screen.

* * *

I didn’t tell them in the training sessions for the new computer system at work that, if they want to check up on the progress of some of my columns, they’re not only going to have to find me, but my legal pad. (At right is a sample of a column begun by hand. Click on it to enlarge it.)

I’m heartened that this quest for quiet and a decent method for getting the words out has been around for as long as writing has. Vladimir Nabokov used to write in his car, on index cards.

Handwriting is a dying practice, they say. Its instruction in many schools even has been replaced by “keyboarding” lessons. I know it may be a lost art. But in it, I found something.

POSTSCRIPT: In an example of the inescapability of work, not long after I decided to put together this blog entry, the big news in local sports broke, about a former player at Memphis was accused of cheating on the SAT, setting off a flurry of controversy here, where his old coach is now at the University of Kentucky. And what means did they use to decide he may have cheated on the test? Of course — his handwriting.

My son’s first poem


Henry Clay Crawford, age 4, woke me just before 8 this morning and informed me that he had made up a poem. It follows . . .

One, two, three, four
I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight
open up the war gate.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve,
Let’s ring the war bell.

Rather militaristic, but then, some great poems have been. His meter was good enough. His rhymes sufficient.

Good for Henry. Now if I can get him to write the Great American Novel at 5, I can retire.

My son's first poem


Henry Clay Crawford, age 4, woke me just before 8 this morning and informed me that he had made up a poem. It follows . . .

One, two, three, four
I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight
open up the war gate.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve,
Let’s ring the war bell.

Rather militaristic, but then, some great poems have been. His meter was good enough. His rhymes sufficient.

Good for Henry. Now if I can get him to write the Great American Novel at 5, I can retire.