Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I have been covering the Washington Wizards and the NBA overall for nine years, and during that time I've easily attended over 100 games, which means I have had to listen to our bless-ed National Anthem over 100 times. I never put my hand over the heart during the anthem, but I do find the flag on the Jumbotron screen and look at it. While the anthem played, I would think of my family who fought in the military, I would think of September 11th, I would think of unequal and unjust things in this country, and by the time my mind wandered through all of those topics, the anthem was over, and my mind went back to the business at hand--an NBA basketball game. I didn't devote one additional thought to the National Anthem and my actions during it, until the next time I had to stand up, and then I would repeat the aforementioned process.

While I was standing and thinking, there would be appromixmately 15,000 other people in the Verizon Center standing for that National Anthem too. The journalists (including me) stood up for the anthem but had their eyes glued on their computer screen as the typed last minute notes and read last minute inside information about the upcoming game. The Verizon Center support staff kept an eye on the fans to make sure no one got rowdy and out of control. The players, coaches and officials on the court either kept their heads bowed or their eyes fixated on the flags in the arena. The camera men and women, who represented various television networks, panned around the arena to get the facial expressions of the players and coaches during the anthem. And the fans? They had their own cameras out trying to zoom in on their favorite player, or they were whispering to the person sitting next to them about someone else in the arena, or they sat still just watching the flag or they just yelled "Go Wizards!" out randomly. So what's my point you may ask?

People are outraged that Colin Kaepernick is choosing to sit down during the National Anthem to protest the injustices in this country. But if these same people momentarily took their eyes off the flag during the anthem and watched what other folks were doing, there would be plenty of residual outrage to be had. In fact, people's attention spans are so short these days, I don't know how the hell anyone can be expected to stand while flag-staring for for 2-3 minutes (depending on whether a black woman is singing or not). People look at their phones, they look at the woman with the big ass, they try to make eye contact with their favorite NBA player, they cautiously look at other fans to make sure someone crazy isn't lurking. THAT is the reality. People have this false notion that when the National Anthem starts playing, everyone is in a catatonic state and overwhelmed by a surge of patriotism. It doesn't work like that and yet that very notion is 100-percent American.

Furthermore, why is the National Anthem played prior to American sporting events anyway? During the Olympics I absolutely get it. You're competing away from American soil against teams and individuals from all around the world, and if you win a Bronze, Silver or especially a Gold medal, you want that moment. At that moment it doesn't matter how jacked up some of the country is, all that matters is that YOU have won your event and your victory is representing the country at that moment. You can cry, stay stone faced, keep your hands at your side, or raise your black fist in black power, and it really doesn't matter, because that's your moment. But to play the anthem on a random Wednesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks are playing the Wizards at 7:30 pm, where is the need for the anthem? It isn't disrespectful to the country, it is just flat out not necessary. Play the anthem at the big events (the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, World Series, etc) but not ALL the time. Who needs that much damn patriotism?

And most importantly, when and if the outrage over Kaepernick not standing subsides, a more substantive discussion about the conditions which led to him not standing needs to commence. News headlines from 2016 are strewn with injustices against the police, black people, the poor, women, etc, and at some point, real live solutions and discussions should happen. That's way more productive than folks being emotional and in their feelings about standing and sitting. Kaepernick or someone he trusts, should take the next step and talk to some cops, some military folks, some black folks, some white folks and start working on closing the gap between what he wants and what is currently happening. Perhaps that'll encourage others to do the same, and it'll put the focus back on the issues, not the anthem, which is so stupid.

I'm stepping off of my soapbox now. I do encourage you to read this article by Bomani Jones and this one by Kareem. They both tackle these issues eloquently.

And De La Soul's new album came out last week and you should go buy it, and then watch this behind-the-scenes documentary:

Friday, August 12, 2016

My wife usually makes my son's lunch the night before daycare, and then the next morning she packs in it his backpack, while I get him dressed, get his teeth brushed, etc. I ran 5.6 miles in 80-degree-6-am-heat this morning, so I didn't have energy to wake my son up, get him dressed, or any of that. My wife, despite being tired her damn self, got him dressed and ready for school, and I decided to fight through my exhaustion to load his lunch in his lunchbox, then his backpack. Why did I do this? One, my wife was moving quite slow this morning, and I knew if she was tired and getting Nyles ready, surely I could push through the effects of my morning run and take care of business. Two, the wife and I are going out of town on vacation next week, and I'm trying to do everything I humanly can to make sure I get "taking care of". Sorry for the visual.

Anyway, while I was loading my son's lunch, I took time to look at his Washington Wizards lunchbox, and I instantly got nostalgic as I was trying to figure out how to neatly put all of his items in this tiny little box (Yes I'm aware of the ambiguity going on here). First I imagined what my son goes through when he first opens the lunchbox. Does he take out all of the items at once, or does he take one out at a time? Does he prop his lunchbox up like a little fort, or does he not appreciate the artistic quality of a lunchbox while he's stuffing his face? I probably should ask the daycare staff, but there's no way they are attentive to that level of detail with kids running wild.

Between age 6 and age 11 (I switched to brown paper bags at that age) I had two lunch boxes: He-Man and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. No one was impressed with my He-Man lunchbox and I remember being frequently made fun of as a result, which is why it didn't stick around too long. But I got much mileage out of that Star Wars lunchbox. It had Luke, Vader, Jabba the Hutt and others on the lunchbox and then the thermos had Ewoks on it. My mother would always put a little napkin in my lunch with a message like, "Have a great day and I love you", and as sweet as that was, I quickly whisked that napkin out of public view, because I was terrified that my "enemies" would clown me.

Once I started eating, I'd empty my lunchbox, stand it up so that the lid was laying flat on the table, and the remainder of the lunchbox formed a slight fort (read: barricade) which shielded me from my elementary/middle school colleagues. All I drank was apple juice back then, so my Ewok thermos stayed full. Sometimes I'd drink directly out of thermos so no one would ask me to share my juice, and other times I would be dainty and pour the juice into that little ass cup that came with the thermos. Sure it feels a little silly to write a detailed blog about this in hindsight, but at the time, I cherished my little lunchtime ritual.

One day, one of the older kids, who brought his lunch in a brown bag, came over to me and starting clowning me first about the smiley face my mother put on the napkin, and then about me still bringing a lunchbox to school at the old age of 11. I went home, but that lunchbox away and asked my mother if we could buy a lifetime supply of brown bags for lunch going forward--she obliged. The smiley-face napkins did not stop until high school though. I kind of miss those.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I am torn about this article and this picture:

On one hand, it makes me smile that the biggest athlete on the planet right now (at least until Usain Bolt runs this weekend), took the time to hit up a black Atlanta barbershop to get his pre-Olympic haircut. As any man will tell you (black or white) a pre-big event haircut is absolutely important. It boosts a dude's self-estem and makes him feel invincible, and that is half the battle when tackling an event or in Phelps's case, a world-record setting mission. Phelps veered away from his usual barber--as I have written about before, that is risky business--and stepped into the foreign world of black barbershops. Not only did he get a cut, then he decided to give them some major league shine by posting the name of the shop and a picture of the staff, on his Instagram page. I have no doubt that between his Olympic performances the past few days and the aforementioned ESPN article, that picture has gotten millions of views and perhaps that barbership has seen a favorable uptick in business.

Not to mention, in this era of weird racial relations, it is nice to see a white dude and lots of black dudes combine organically sans incident. To his credit, Phelps seems like a cool enough dude and I have no doubt that this isn't his initial foray into the world of black-ish culture. On the surface, what I've written so far should be all I have to say about this issue. But there's always a but..

I don't know whether I'm overly sensitive about race (of course I am) or if my occasional black man rage is out of control (entirely possible) but the picture and the article (ironically enough the ESPN article was written by folks from The Undefeated, which is primarily a group of black writers writing about black and black-ish issues) has a Bill Clinton feel to it. Allow me to explain.

When Bill Clinton was the President, black folks (not me) loved to toss around the narrative that Clinton was the first black president. Some folks said this because he loved watching basketball, was seemingly "cool" with black celebrities, and cheated on his wife with reckless abandon and seemingly no remorse. Others like Toni Morrison were a bit more eloquent about their reasoning:
After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.

Either way, the implication was that certain white folks were more down simply via their tangential brush with broad black culture, was always insulting to me. I have no problem with that on the surface as long as there is some substance and authenticity behind it. If you're into the barbershops and the music, please stay for the more substantive issues like brutality, inequality, etc. You can't cherry pick the great parts of black culture and extol them via in Instagram page, unless you are equally as passionate about the issues plaguing those same people. That's like me constantly talking about Michael Jackson's "Thriller", "Bad" and "Off The Wall" albums without properly acknowledging that "Dangerous" and "Invicible" were weak(er) sauce. I'm an MJ fan so I liked it all, but I embraced the strengths and his glaring vulnerability. Perhaps I shouldn't compare black culture to MJ, but it was the most accessible example in my mind at the time.

Again, I could be acting like a sensitive, hit dog, and if that's the case, I am quite sure someone will hit me up via email to put me in my pace. Maybe I should relax and be happy Phelps has no fear in shouting out black folks who helped him out. Or maybe my condition is so conditioned that I cannot get out of my own way. Either way, I'm glad I wrote about it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The PGA Tour (that's golf for those unaware) used to have this slogan a few years ago entitled, "These guys are good". It was basically a nice way of telling people who THINK they can golf, that as easy it may look on television from the comforts of your living room couch, this is NOT easy, and our guys are professionals. I cannot play golf so I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but I know folks who play, and they tell me all the time how difficult it is to master the sport.

There needs to be a similar disclaimer flashed on the screen before Olympic swimming.

The past three days I have been watching Olympic swimming, and I have been feeling quite inspired by the likes of Michael Phelps and Kate Ledecky. I'm not a competitive swimmer by any means--in fact I just learned to swim in 2009--but I'd like to think that with each passing day, my form, speed and endurance are approaching Olympic levels (they aren't). This morning was the first time I've been in the pool since the Olympic competitions started on Saturday, so I couldn't wait to get in there and prove my theory correct. Mind you, I had just played 3-on-3 basketball about 12 hours earlier so my arms and legs felt like I had anvils tied on them, still I just knew I could be a world beater in the pool.

I typically swim a mile in the morning, which doesn't lend itself to swimming like a sprinter. I swim at a nice measured pace, and then I try to pick it up the last 200 meters or so. But this morning I acted like a jackass, and immediately started swimming swiftly with my heavy ass arms and legs. After 150 meters, I felt like I wanted to stop, but I convinced myself I was not a quitter. After 400 meters I was exhausted, my pace had slowed significantly, and I had serious doubts about how long this swim was going to last. I tried to blame it on the basketball I had played 12 hours earlier, but that was a horseshit excuse, I just forgot that my name is Rashad, not Michael Phelps. Usually when I'm struggling in the pool, I created a false rivalry with someone else in the pool to push myself. But the only person in the pool was elderly woman who looked like she was rehabbing her legs or something. She was swimming slowly and she damn sure wasn't thinking about challenging me.

Eventually I got myself together, took a deep breath and finished my mile swim in my normal pace. I was completely drained (which is why I'm sippig coffee right now) and my arms and legs are still heavy and sore. Now that I'm four hours removed from that experience, I can honestly say I got a damn good workout. I also can say that those swimmers train for months and months, at the expense of their jobs, friends, family, girlfriends, sex, etc. I'm just a brother trying to work, be a dad/husband, have lots of sex, and keep my ass in shape by running and swimming--clearly not the same thing.

Those guys and girls are good.

Friday, August 05, 2016

A couple days ago Will Smith was on Steven Colbert's late night show, and as these shows tend to do three or four times a night, they went to commercial. Will and Colbert were having a regular off-camera conversation and the band broke into an instrumental version of Will's 1991 hit, "Summertime". Will talked to Colbert a little while longer, and then he mosied over to the band, picked up the mic like an MC is wont to do, and this happened:

Will is corny, he's an actor, he's a husband, he's a father, he's insanely rich, but we came to know and love (some hate him too) him as an MC, and I found myself smiling at the relative ease with which he slipped right back into that mode. Even more gratifying than Will's actions were the crowd's reaction to him spitting the first few verses. They clapped, the rapped along, they stood up, and they were basically in the palm of Will's hand---a good MC wouldn't have it any other way.

Whoopty damn doo for Will, but that's not why I'm writing about this.

For years there have been rumors that Rakim ghostwrote that song for Will and for years Jazzy Jeff has vehemently shot those rumors right down. Eric B(Rakim's longtime partner in rap) said that he originally made the beat for Rakim, but he ended up giving it to Will. Since Will knew the song was originally for Rakim, the story goes that he decided to write his rhymes and recite them with Rakim's speed and cadence. I'm not saying that Will didn't write the first and third verses of the song, but the second verse...that's Rakim all day long.

Look at some of the first and third verses and notice that words Will tends to rhyme are at the end of the sentence:

Here it is the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm

It's late in the day and I ain't been on the court yet
Hustle to the mall to get me a short set

Break to ya crib change your clothes once more
Cause you're invited to a barbeque that's starting at 4

Fresh from the barber shop or fly from the beauty salon
Every moment frontin and maxin
Chillin in the car they spent all day waxin
Leanin to the side but you can't spead through

I'm not knocking Will's flow and cadence because I've been a fan of his from the start. He's one of the few rappers who doesn't take himself too seriously while managing to mix in a message, some fun and a little lyrical dexterity to boot. But Rakim--who in my opinion is still the greatest of all time--is held in such high regard because of his complex rhyme schemes. He may rhyme a word at the end of the sentence, but he also rhymes within the sentence as well. Just look at the difference in the rhyme scheme for this second verse:

School is out and it's a sort of a buzz
A back then I didn't really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness
The weather is hot and girls are dressing less
And checking out the fellas to tell 'em who's best
Riding around in your jeep or your benzos
Or in your Nissan sitting on lorenzos
Back in Philly we'd be out in the park
A place called the plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out hunting and girls doing likewise
Honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes
She turns around to see what you beeping at
It's like the summers a natural aphrodisiac
And with a pen and pad I compose this rhyme
To hit you and get you equipped for the summer time

Either Will studied Rakim's style to a T and decided that imitation was the highest form of flattery, or he had Rakim write that verse for him hoping no one would know the difference. My vote is for the latter. Even the sentence, "The weather is hot and girls and dressing less" sounds like something Rakim would say..that's how he gets down. And yes, I have wasted an entire blog entry on this topic, because I feel that strongly that Rakim ghostwrote that. It doesn't detract from the greatness of the song, and if Rakim was paid to keep quiet about that, we'll never know. But I know...

And now he's a song by Will that I know he wrote all of, and I love it:

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

This morning after I dropped my son off at daycare, I was riding next to this older black couple who looked to be in their early 60s. The husband was leaning back a bit in the driver's seat and he had on a mesh, trucker hat with Hilton Head written across the top. He didn't bother to pull down the hat, it just kind of sat on the top of his head---similar to the way Denny Green used to wear it. If you're wondering why I'm going to this level of detail to describe this man's hat, it's because this is the prototypical older black man look. He's cool, he's driving a big body car, he's in no rush, and he's wearing a hat that has no chance of making it even 50% down his head.

In the passenger seat was his wife, and she seemed to be reading some sort of magazine, and every now and then she'd attempt to show her husband something in the magazine, but he looked about as disinterested as I am when my wife tries to talk to me about the Bachelorette. That didn't stop her from sharing though. And if you're wondering how I was able to observe this level of detail while I was driving, it is because a) I'm observant/nosy b)the traffic on this particular stretch of road was moving slower than a slow snail's pace and c)there are always cops out and about around Catholic University (which is near my son's daycare) so no one is exactly doing a Dale Earnhardt impression.

At one point we were all at the red light together, and these two older woman--who were power walking and chatting at the same time (there are no malls in DC, so they can't mall walk like the suburban old folks can)--recognized the older couple in the car, and all of a sudden everyone's face lit up in big smiles. The previously non-plussed older man with the ill-fitting hat, smiled and passionately waved to the two older black women (perhaps he wanted to holler), and his wife first smiled, then hugged and clasped hands with the two women. I didn't hear the brief conversation, but I feel fairly comfortable in saying that "I know that's right", and "Yeah girlfriend" were uttered at least once. Then the light turned green, everyone said their rushed goodbyes, and the older folks turned right and I kept straight. My creepy observation time was over.

But what made me smile was seeing the laid back, carefree attitude of these older folks. They weren't on their phones, they didn't look frenzied with frayed nerves, and they didn't even need to listen to the radio and find that perfect song to play during their drive. They just drove, talked, read magazines(something folks rarely do outside of barbershops and hair salons) and they cherished the company of their peers. All of my grandparents are dead, but seeing these folks interact reminded me of how my grandparents may have conducted their day-to-day business. I wasn't sad thinking of them, just happy that I had a posthumous look into their former lives.

My parents are getting old, but I know for sure they don't have interactions like that. My dad is even more anti-social than I am, and if he saw someone he knew walking down the street, he'd probably would turn the volume up on the Temptations song he was listening to, and roll the windows all the way up. My mom is chatty as hell and speaks to everyone, but her head stays buried in her phone and she lives more of the aformentioned frenzied lifestyle--I wish she'd slow down, but she does things her way.

Also, I need to stock up on ill-fitting hats, so I can transition nicely into old(er) age.

This is one of Anita Baker's early songs and she absolutely kills it, but if you close your eyes and listen, this easily could have been Toni Braxton's song as well. Also the bass plucks and the horns are pretty cool too (shoutout to jazzbrew).