Archive | January, 2014

Madison Holleran & Dr. V: I Can Relate But So Should We

21 Jan

This past weekend, two big (and ultimately tragic) stories came to my attention.  Both of them hit way too close to home to me in entirely different ways.

First is the tragic story of UPenn student Madison Holleran who committed suicide apparently over the stress of her workload as a student-athlete.  This story has been getting a lot of attention in my newsfeed and timelines because of its locality (I’m from the Philly suburbs and I live in the Philadelphia media market even in Kutztown) and also the fact that Holleran was a track athlete like so many of my friends are.  The story is tragic, sad and worthy of reflection.

The second story is the tale of Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilit, the alleged physicist and person who claimed to have invented the putter to revolutionize the golf industry.  A piece on Vanderbilt in Grantland (a subsection of ESPN.com) dominated the social media world this weekend as the author started to unravel the life of Vanderbilt and found out she wasn’t a physicist, didn’t have a degree from MIT, was never in the military, was trans and already had a suicide attempt previously.  The story went from initial praise to deep disgust and even though Vanderbilt was a con; was there a need for the author to salaciously tell all of her colleagues that she was born male?  The piece ends with the revelation that Vanderbilt committed suicide after the author’s investigation.

Both stories have the same end but in different ways, I could connect to both of them.  Madison Holleran could’ve very well been someone I knew in a literal or figurative sense.  We hail from the same state, did the same track events and there’s been times UPenn has been at meets we were at.  But also; as a college student who participated in collegiate athletics, I could’ve known someone like her.  I remember clearly a few times in which I was worried about the health of teammates and fellow students.

I remember even worrying about myself a few times my sophomore year; not because of suicidal thoughts necessarily but simply because I was struggling all over (athletically and academically) that it was affecting my social life as well as my emotions.  Every college student has gone through this at various times but when things are so stressful that you feel that you are reaching a breaking point; all it takes is another tip of the iceberg it seems.

I have to say I have been frustrated with people saying things such as “life is too short” or giving Holleran posthumous advice on how to deal with things.  I despise when people first immediately point out the selfishness of suicide instead of looking at themselves.  Or ourselves.  Mental health in this world is still seen as a “made-up” disease in some people’s eyes.  Part of the reason why I assume people have breakdowns is because there’s such a stigma of depression, bipolar disorder and/or other mental diseases that the minute you find out you are diagnosed with one of them you are defined only by that.  People with depression can be the happiest people on Earth, the life of the party and not necessarily that moody kid in the corner.  On the flipside that quiet kid may perfectly well be fine and happy with their life, as well as being naturally introverted.

I always hear the phrase “this should start a debate” when something happens.  Something this tragic isn’t worthy of debate.  Its a time for mourning and also personal reflection.  Maybe we are part of the problem.  I can relate so much to Madison Holleran that I almost feel like I knew her someway.  You did too.  There’s no “debate” here.  We know that mental illness is a real thing that deserves close examination.  We should also be aware that mental illnesses, like physical ones, can be treated.

When someone overcomes a physical illness, they are celebrated and for damn good reason.  When someone checks in for depression, horrific hearsay and conjecture is brought up.  They are immediately treated with kid gloves or cast aside as someone who couldn’t handle pressure or some other ridiculous stereotype.

Which brings me to Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt’s story which should be required reading for all of you.  The story is a well-written narrative over a fascinating individual who clearly was troubled.  The story itself isn’t the problem necessarily but the fact that the person was transgendered seem to become the main part of the story.  As a journalist, I guess you are required to report whatever is prudent and the fact that Dr. V was so conniving and misleading had to deal with the story.  However, Dr. V clearly did not want to be outed.  She kept that part of her life a secret from everyone else and the fact was, it didn’t change her schtick.  Her thing was the fact that she was a physicist launching a product that was supposed to be scientifically sound.  Her gender and sexual identity had nothing to do with her gimmick.  So what did the author get by telling everyone that came into professional contact with her that she was born male?

What purpose did that benefit?

Again we have to look at ourselves here.  The LGBT community has made large strides over the past decade and continue to do so.  But people seem to neglect the “T” way too easily and “trans” still seems to equally either comedy or taboo.  Also our society has way too much of an obsession with outing in general.  A person’s coming out should be intrinsic and they have the right to forfeit that personal journey to being known to the public.

Why is it our business to look at mental health and outing in the same light?  We should, as a society, offer our support; not our laughs or judgments.  We may learn more about Madison Holleran but we will never know it all.  We will never know what was going on through her head and for us to assume otherwise is ridiculous.  She is a person that is gone way too soon.  She is someone who will be missed.

Dr. V is a bit more complex but her suicide still resonates with me regardless of her scam.  We should look at how we view the trans community, with open arms not with tut-tutting or “ew”.

Maybe we will get to a better place one day.

RIP Madison Holleran.  RIP Dr. V.

Hall of Fames Are Bullshit

7 Jan

I love sports and I love music.  Two things that are different yet similar in many ways.  Okay, scratch that they are similar in one way and that’s the whole “Hall of Fame” argument.

I swear nothing is worse than the Baseball Hall of Fame and I pride myself as a baseball enthusiast who loves the history of the sport and equating the present to the past.  I love sabermetric stats even though my highest grade in Math was a C- which I had to work my ass off to get to.  It all intrigues me oh-so-much to know that Ryan Howard can’t hit a lefty slider and here’s a stat to prove it.  Its probably the same way people feel when a new Crossfit DVD comes out.

But there is nothing more haughty, sanctimonious, patronizing and eye-rolling as anyone who prides themselves as a Hall of Fame voter in any discipline.  Especially if that writer is a baseball one.

Jayson Stark of ESPN seems to be a pretty cool dude.  He’s a local guy (PHILLY :hocks loogie on effigy of J.D. Drew dressed as a Department Store Santa: :SportsCenter devotes 50 minute special on it:) and he’s probably one of the more famous Philly-born sportswriters around nowadays which will piss off any baby-boomer who swears that every small-town newspaper journalist exclusively wrote Pulitzer-Prize winning vignettes.  Honestly, I have no problem with Stark at all.

But check out his latest piece on voting for the Hall of Fame.

As I stared at my Hall of Fame ballot last week, just before I sealed the envelope and headed for the post office, I was struck — and saddened — by this thought:

The Hall of Fame is broken.

Broken.

This is where it begins.  The Hall of Fame isn’t “broken”.  Its a glorified South of the Border-esque tourist trap in rural New York that sportswriters turn into Mecca.  Grown men who have actually accomplished decent journalistic things all turn into imaginary apostles that believe they are determining the difference between heaven, hell or a lifetime in purgatory.  Only heaven is a shrine in a museum, hell is not being in it and purgatory is 1,000-word op-eds on why they should go to heaven or hell for the next fifteen years and beyond.

But beyond Maddux, there’s no reason to feel confident about the fate of any of those men. Just take one look at the list of luminaries who weren’t elected last year. That will tell you all you need to know about how confused voters seem to be these days about what a Hall of Famer is supposed to look like.

Its a tremendous honor when you are chosen as one of the best ever to play the game; I get that.  Its an awesome occasion and really a testament to someone’s talent, work ethic and good fortune.  But “confused voters”, stop with all that steroid innuendo.  Say the damn word “steroids” or “performance-enhancing” and make the decision if it really helped them.  Its not that tough.  If you are not sure that someone used or not; then how about you assume everyone else did and pick the ones who were the best.  Its a MUSEUM.  You can revoke things, place asterisks, do whatever you want.  Its a shrine to a bunch of dudes who played a game while womanizing, gambling, drinking excessively, cheating and yes; “playing the game”.

I’ve been a Hall of Fame voter for 25 years now. For most of those years, I looked at that as a privilege, as an exhilarating and enlightening experience, as an opportunity to plunge into an energizing debate about where the greatest players of modern times fit into the fabric of baseball history.

Anybody out there still remember that debate? Yeah, I thought so. Good times.

Yes, once, Hall of Fame time really did involve an actual baseball conversation. Then it became a PED conversation. And now, it’s just a flat-out train wreck.

Oh great, baby-boomer recollections of the time that was.  Oh yeah, BACK IN MY DAY; we talked about real things.  Now, its all this mamby-pamby steroid nonsense that tarnished a great game.  Yeah like baseball NEVER had any scandals before and that baseball was the virginal choir boy who suddenly discovered LSD and Phish.  “How do I feel about this?”.

I’m not going to further quote Stark’s piece (which continues to his ballot) because its inane.  These men think they hold the most powerful positions in the country.  The Hall of Fame is a fun exercise and its fun to debate the greatness of anything and anyone.

But it goes to my point that Hall of Fames are bullshit.  Especially given the girth of awards people have nowadays.  Every single sports team has some “Wall of Fame” or “Hall of Fame”, every sport does, I think every state has one, every college does, every high school does; really a Hall of Fame is just some tribute to the past.  That’s all it is.

Steroids are bad.  Just like cocaine, womanizing, racism, domestic abuse, murders, amphetamines, bootlegging or whatever character clause you want to point out.  I get it too, steroids COULD improve your performance and those other crimes are just crimes.  But we are stuck with what we have, steroids existed and continue to do so (and began long before the 90s so odds are some of your favorite old-timey players used them) so all we have to do is pick who was the best of that inflated era.

Who profits off the Hall of Fame?  Not the players, but its the journalists who get to write 5,000-word pieces on how late they stayed up like picking 10 guys every year is equivalent to enlisting in the military or taking the SATs.  Its not.  Something is either great or it’s not.  Deep Purple isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, neither is Yes, but other bands are.  What’s “great”?

Except for the voters and the individuals themselves, there’s no benefit to a Hall of Fame.  Buy little Jimmy a book and a Louisville Slugger instead of taking him out to a museum in which his ADD-inflicted mind cares way more about Fun Dip than a plaque of Bill Mazeroski.  Don’t hike the family up to Cooperstown, instead buy DVDs of great moments and have at it.

Your memories don’t need to be justified by a panel of writers.  Chase Utley probably won’t make the Hall of Fame but dammit, he’s my favorite athlete to watch.  Roy Halladay will probably be enshrined as a Blue Jay, but I’ll always remember the no-hitter and the perfect game.  I don’t need Jayson Stark agonizing over a ballot to tell me it was great or not.

Don’t fall for it.