Niner Logo

 

 

Today’s local Charlotte paper carries a front-page article of its sports section announcing,  “rebranding goes deeper than new logo.” Above the fold are nine photographs showing the new logos for the University of  North Carolina at Charlotte, the 49ers. One of the illustrations is of the new logo on a basketball court, one shows a Niners logo, three show men’s basketball tops, the other four are football related. The article points out that the most visible athletic programs, football and men’s basketball, “had resurgent seasons” in 2019. Athletic director Mike Hill says, “The whole concept, the whole design is to evoke an image of strength and boldness. That we’re embracing momentum.” The momentum Hill refers to is the first ever bowl appearance of the 2019 football team and the men’s basketball record of 16-13, the program’s first winning season since 2013-14.

UNCC plays eighteen sports in D-1’s Conference USA Sports: Basketball, Soccer, Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Track & Field, Cross Country, Softball, Volleyball, and Football. While only two of those sports warranted being discussed in the article,  women’s basketball coach Cara Consuegra garners a brief quotation. But no female uniforms were illustrated.

This entire announcement seeps with elitism, but like many elitists it is suspect. For instance, it is true that the football team played in its first bowl game, but it was the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl game that was played in a 15,000-seat soccer stadium in Nassau, Bahamas. Charlotte played Buffalo, both with 7-5 records. And the other program that, according to Hill, had a “resurgent season, was 16-13. How does an honest winning season carry13 loss?

In the midst of this pandemic, UNCC, a state funded college, unrolls this offensive announcement. And it is an awful one that glorifies two sports and ignores the others because they are not “resurgent.” Hill says the new logo will resonate with student-athletes and all future students “so that our university and athletics program is seen as an exciting choice for them.”  Maybe? As long as they are only interested in supporting two sports.

 

 

Dream City Dreams

 

At the peak of Dream City Church’s roof sits a gleaming cross, that symbol of Christianity. The mission statement of Dream City Church is: “At Dream City Church, our mission is to lead people into a fully-devoted relationship with Jesus Christ by loving people, cultivating community, and inspiring hope.” On June 12, 2020 the church released this statement:  “Dream City Church confirms it will be renting its facilities to Turning Point Action for their Phoenix event. Turning Point Action contacted Dream City regarding use of its facilities for a student event. Dream City prayerfully considered and then agreed. Turning Point Action subsequently informed Dream City that the President planned to speak at the event. Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters. Each facility rental is a means to generate funds so that Dream City may continue to carry out its outreach vision – to reach the hurting and needy in the community for Jesus Christ.”

Both the Dream City Church’s mission statement and cross on its roof are symbols unless supported by action. The cross is an empty symbol when left on a roof or steeple or when worn around a neck. Until it is brought to the midst of humanity and used for good, it remains an empty symbol. The same applies to the quoted mission statement professing love, cultivation, and inspiration. All three of those words are useless when used as nouns and in order to do the work of Jesus, they must become verbs. Action is required.

In its statement explaining the rental to Turning Point Action, the church states that it “prayerfully considered” before agreeing to rent its space to TPA. Only after agreeing was the church told President Trump would be speaking at the event. But the church only rents its space to generate funds to carry out its outreach vision.

All of this may cause Christians to believe that Dream City Church will “prayerfully consider” any request to rent its space because the generated funds will help it in its mission of loving, cultivating, and inspiring. And we are assured that “Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters” which is good because the TPA crowd and its main speaker roiled the sanctuary with racist chants.

I have gone online to the church’s website but have yet, on the afternoon following the event, to see a  posted apology for what occurred in its sanctuary.  Until I do, I will believe that Dream City Church is pleased with its thirty pieces of silver and the rants full of hate. And the dream that that hate engenders.

 

 

 

“What’s In a Name?”

 

 

Often whenever the topic of memorials to the Confederacy is being discussed, “heritage”  will be used as the reason not to move a statue or to rename a building or institution. Also, the defenders will charge that some people are trying to “re-write history.”

Heritage is anyone’s choice. If a person chooses to identify with a person who studied at West Point and then used those skills to try and defeat the very county that had educated him in the art of war, that is his or her choice. The same freedom applies to identifying with an ancestor who owned people and used them as laborers to build family empires.

Defenders of the Confederacy also say that the men who fought against America are part of our history and that cannot be re-written. That is correct, but “history” was re-written long ago when the statues and other memorial were erected. In order to get them erected, the very history of the “deserving warrior” had to be re-written because the truth would have prevented them from being honored. For example, let’s look at Fort Bragg in southeastern North Carolina.

In 1918 during WWI, General William J. Snow sought an area suitable for field artillery training. The vast area he found had good terrain, water, rail, and climate for what he, the Chief of Field Artillery, needed. Thus, on September 4, 1918 Camp Bragg was named for Braxton Bragg, native of Warrenton, North Carolina and hero for his actions during the Mexican-American War.

Bragg, number five of fifty cadets in his West Point class, joined the command of General Zachary Taylor in Texas. When war with Mexico erupted one year later, Bragg served with distinction at the Battles of Fort Brown, Monterey, and Buena Vista. During the latter battle, in 1847, Santa Anna launched a ferocious charge on a wing of Taylor’s army. He positioned Bragg’s artillery battery to defend the U.S. Army and told his to hold the position at all costs. The Mexican charge was furious, but Bragg’s unit held, and the battle won. Bragg became an American hero, resigned his commission, married a wealthy widow who owned a large sugar cane plantation in Louisiana where he lived until Fort Sumter changed his life. He joined the CSA and, unlike his previous war experience, became a despised and pitiful leader of the western theatre during the Civil War.

But in 1918, when General Snow and the U.S. Army were trying to build support for the “war to end all wars”, naming the new artillery camp after an artillery officer born in the same state seemed okay. But General Snow and the Army forgot to view all of Bragg’s history and to grasp his utter failures in the revolt against the United States. Whether by ignorance or willingness, Bragg’s history as a slave owner and poor military leader during the War of Treason was ignored. It has been suggested that the naming of Camp Bragg was seen as a way of mending feelings between the South and the North. If so, it did not work.

I have visited many Civil War battlefields and appreciate the  preservation of history they conduct. More than once I  have stood below the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg and tried to imagine preparing to run across the mile of open country, sprinting to get to The Angle amidst the smoke, dust, and cries of pain from friends. This spot and so many others of battles should be walked and reverently studied because they are a part of our history, but a history that needs to be accurately told. Standing under the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg will help you understand the folly of Lee’s order. In my view, battlefields are the place for monuments and their honest teaching.

Slavery marks us and the mean ignorance that leads to racism continues. It is a battle that we will always face, but we must confront it. However, we do not need to have statues and other memorials on common public spaces to those who fought against us to perpetuate “the pecular institution.”

 

 

 

Do It This Way

 

 

Pastor Clarence Jordan showed us how.

In November 1942 he and Martin England, a Baptist missionary to Burma, placed a $2,500 down payment on a run-down farm eight miles southwest of Americus, Georgia. They named the scarred and eroded acres Koinonia Farm and began living the Sermon on the Mount as they worked to turn their purchase into a place guided by Jesus’ message in Matthew 5-7.

As a doctoral student in Greek at Louisville Seminary, Jordan did not just read the words of Jesus, but he began to use them as his guide for living each day. It was his firm  belief in those words that guided him to begin Koinonia Farm as a place for justice and equality during the days of a world war, the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Joe McCarthy, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, civil rights struggles, and more. His world, like ours, was divided. However, he remained loyal to the best sermon ever spoken and withstood attacks by the KKK and harassment by the FBI and local churches. In fact, because he brought a black man to a Christmas Eve service at his own Baptist church, the church told him not to return.

Pastor Jordan lived the words of Matthew 5:44 that tell us to love our enemies and at Koinonia Farm he showed us that it is not only possible, but better for us, to follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Koinonia Farm still operates today, and many scrumptious food items may be ordered from its website. I recommend Clarence Jordan, Essential Writings, edited by Joyce Hollyday, (Orbis publication) as a good primer on this man who showed us how to live during difficult times.

 

My School Bubble

 

The civic and medical unrest of the past months has caused me to recall my growth years in a small, North Carolina cotton mill town owned by J.W. Cannon. 1964. A.L. Brown High School; Kelley green and white; the Wonders.

The original school was built in the 1920 expansive years of Cannon Mills when Mr. Cannon donated land in East Kannapolis for it. First named for the area, Centerview, it was named in 1951 for a popular mill executive, Alfred Luther Brown.

I don’t know how or by whom the colors and mascot were chosen, but as I look back to my years there, I am thankful for a few decisions that were made then and have, in my mind, proven wiser with time. That world was not perfect (it was a segregated one, for instance), but it was not riled by so many issues high school students face today. For instance: The school was named to honor a local person who helped the local community. The colors represent growth and purity and no other school is or was ever a Wonder.

Ours was a city school, but it was the time of school consolidation. I remember large schools being built and given such names as South Rowan because it served the southern part of that county. I suppose its town location, China Grove, was not chosen for its name so as not to show favoritism and so the Raiders were born wrapped in their red and black.

The name of a school should identify it, so if named for a person it should be a person in close association with the school. To name a school after a long-lost historical figure seems false and empty, but when named after a vibrant, local person the school gains heft. The same is true if the school is named for the specific locale it serves, such as Myers Park in Charlotte, which gives the school an instant identity.

The Kelley green of my school matters, like all school colors, because Kelley green represents Ireland, growth, and lushness. The white is purity. All colors symbolize something, so they are important, but the mascot of a school really matters.

Now, ours is unique. Wonders? How do you draw that? Animal names and historical figures are convenient names to use as mascots, and easily drawn, but the latter present some potential problems like we encounter currently, such as Redskins.

These choices are important and may have repercussions, but the high school world I lived in was not attacked because it had not the name of a person whose life had become myth filled, the colors were ordinary, and its mascot was never before heard of, but a Wonder of its own.

The wonder of it all is that we have created and continue to create such a mess over our school names. We can and must do better. Our children deserve it.

 

 

The Modern Arena

 

In Black Boy, Richard Wright’s story of growing up poor and black in the Jim Crow South, he shares many of his experiences. Of the many frightening experiences he writes of, I will always remember his fight with another black boy, Harrison. Wright and Harrison are offered five dollars each to fight each other in front of their bosses. The boys secretly meet to plan a “fake fight”, but when they begin, they realize that they do not know how. The fight turns into a vicious and bloody battle between two boys who had been friends. But, the lure of $5 turned out to be too much, and they inadvertently turned on one another for the enjoyment of their white bosses.

When I see footage  of a big-time college football or basketball game, I think of Wright and Harrison fighting in front of a white crowd for $5. Examine a contemporary college crowd and the coaches and you will see that both are predominantly white. Sure, some spectators will be of color as will some members of a coaching staff, but both will be, by far, white. Now, look on the field or court and you will see mostly black athletes performing in front of white crowds who pay to watch.

I think it not a stretch to  compare Wright and Harrison’s fight with the culture we have built around some college sports. It could be argued that college athletes are not paid, but they are given the opportunity to earn a degree, but of what value is the earned degree? Is it one that will enable any star basketball player who does not use a few years to show  his  skill before turning pro to earn a good living and  have a life of  quality? What degree will the undrafted football player use to enter a life of good wage earning?

I suggest that too many colleges are enabling their “student athletes” by only paying them a chance to earn a degree of lower academic worth. A school can boast of and print its graduation rates for its athletes; but how many schools post the number of its undrafted athletes who enter graduate school to earn an advanced degree?

Not all degrees, even those from premier schools, are equal. Like Wright and Harrison, too many of our, mostly black,  youngsters are being used. Black youths used and paid poorly.

Preparing for a Marathon and Citizenship

 

The long present COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest resulting from racial injustices have caused me to recall my days of racing marathons, those races of 26.2 miles.  Both the pandemic and racist acts are grinding us as if we were in the final miles of  a marathon , and we need to remind ourselves that the way to finish strong is to maintain our form, which is gained from proper training for the race or knowledge acquired through study to make us better citizens.  Let me explain.

When I raced a marathon I trained to run a steady pace,  and when my energy began to ebb, as it would,  I concentrated on my form:  Maintaining a relaxed arm rhythm with my head erect as I aligned my shoulders, hips, and knees over my feet. I also kept a good foot strike by gently landing on the outside of each heel and then rolling to the big toe before pushing off. By keeping a relaxed, upright posture I held fatigue at bay . Concentrating on form, not food or some other such subject, worked best for me, and I recommend it still for any road racer or athlete in any sport. Thinking about my task helped me continue racing as I passed runners whose form had melted into the roadway causing their last miles to be grueling. In any race, even the 100-meter dash, or other athletic event, form is important, and a racer’s form is a result of his or her training. Or knowledge when we think of citizenship.

Like the marathoner, citizens can perfect a form made from knowledge to follow in these times of racial injustice.  The form that I write of is our individual and collective knowledge of our history, literature, religion, and more. For instance: Knowing the name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of his accomplishments is a good beginning. However, we should go a step more and read and study, for example,  his essay Letter from the Birmingham Jail, but do not stop there. Read the April 12, 1963 appeal to “local blacks of Birmingham” that was signed by eight religious leaders and printed in many area newspapers. Read their condemnation of Dr. King as “an outside agitator” and then read his essay in answer to their words. By doing this, you will earn more about the struggle for racial justice and develop an appreciation for some people’s impatience 50 years after Dr. King penned his magnificent words. Reading like this is training for citizenship and like the training to race a marathon, it is difficult and requires diligence. It is not easily required but when done it will lead to a better result.

The COVID-19 plague continues to wear on us. Some of us ignore safety protocol in a belief that “rights” are being infringed upon by any governmental restriction that aims for public safety. We are tense. We are tired. We are troubled. Yet, if we read John Barry’s fine study of a horrific flu epidemic one hundred years ago,  The Great Influenza, we will be better equipped to place our struggle in an important historical context and act from that perspective; not one of selfish disregard for others. Again, an understanding of what has come before us helps us to better battle our foes today. Just as the trained marathoner is less likely to fall apart in the latter miles of the race, the enlightened citizen will be stronger when events cause crises. Form from training and study holds.

Just like a well-trained marathoner or athlete who benefits from good  base-training, a modern sufferer will benefit from knowledge and have solace because he or she will rely on that base. Out of that solace will come patience which is necessary for productive action. And we need action today, but action based on facts, not emotions. The patience that grows out of knowledge will help us see the complexities we face and to understand how we came to where we are and to find solutions. The marathoner, to race a good race, must prepare by training for a goal, and as citizens we must prepare for the goal of citizenship. The two examples cited above are historical and literary, and while they and more resources are valuable for training or preparation to have a productive and quality filled life, I also recommend another base to help when weariness sets in; and just as in a marathon, every-day life will cause fatigue for every person. The marathoner knows that fatigue will come, and he or she trains to be prepared for that pain. Citizens will also face fatigue and through knowledge they will be better prepared to act in a civil manner that leads to positive results, not a rattling of sabers.

We all will benefit from a higher power. As a Christ follower, I read and study my Bible, but the Sermon on the Mount is what I draw from most—especially when I am weary as I am now. During the 1960’s I marched and protested against the war in Vietnam and for equality in America. I know the sting of gas agents and the useless destruction that can come from an angry mob, which Mark Twain described as an army without a leader. I see that same anger now, but offer that if we, Christ followers or not, follow the words in Matthew 5-7, we would be better for it. Speaking to a large crowd on a mountain, Jesus gives instruction for living.  Self-respect. Respect for others. Decency. Forgiveness. Dignity.  Instruction for a productive life and a life of quality.

Dr. Clarence Jordan founded and lived on Koinonia Farm in Southwest Georgia during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 60’s. His life proved that if we follow the teaching of The Sermon on the Mount, we will have the training that is necessary when the fatigue of running our marathon sets in. And that training will enable us to maintain form, to finish not only the race, but to finish it well.

Pressure on June 8

Pressure on June 8

Before I get into specifics regarding the matter at hand (whether it is appropriate for high schools to commence football practice in early June), let me set the context associated with making that decision. In doing so, you won’t read the word, ‘football,’ until much later in this article.

The past months have taken their toll on everybody. Illness, death, lost jobs, food shortages, and much more have put pressure on households and families in ways that we haven’t seen since The Great Depression. Circumstances have forced people and families to function in novel ways.

And while the pandemic has affected all families, it has put extra pressure on families with school-age children. Children have lost their schooldays which is critical because schools provide essential functions. Yes, academics is one, but schools contribute in many other ways, including offering children social and non-academic activities and development opportunities.

Not having those functions means students suffer a sense of loss. Think of athletes who lost their spring season or the winter athletes who had championship quests cut short. And what about artistic students? They no longer have access to school supplies, stages, mentors, and exhibits. All the while, children have had to adapt to this new order by doing without their peers and favorite teachers.

There’s even more to this complex picture.

Consider the pressure on families of middle and high school students who are still out of school and–as of this writing–are still unsure what the fall will bring.

With the virus still present, parents have had to structure days for their children. Instead of going to work and entrusting their child to a school, parents have had to become ‘the school.

What’s more, families have been isolated–and will continue to experience gradations of isolation—until a virus vaccine is widely available.

I thought about all these circumstances as I read an Observer article announcing that two local independent schools will begin “a modified version of a summer program” for football, starting June 8. To make this news even harder to digest is that it comes at a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations experienced a two-week spike.

I shook my head even harder when I read a quotation from one of the head coaches: “I’m a big believer in parents doing what is best for their kid. If you want to send them, come on, and we’ll do it as safety [sic] as we can and get the most out of them.”

In the article, I read that schools say they will take safety procedures, such as continually cleaning equipment. No locker rooms will be used, which means players will have to prepare for practices and take showers at home. A limited number of players will be allowed on a field at a time. Players will be required to wear gloves.

But for me, those answers raise more questions. For instance, how will personal hygiene be safeguarded when a player rides home with sweaty gear?

But what concerns me most is what I’ll write about now: there’s a blatant disregard for family welfare and the pressure it puts on families with children who have football aspirations. How?

First, the opening of the practice season wasn’t extended with an invitation. It was more like an ultimatum. Any student who wants a spot on the team knows that presence and performance matter. Getting a shot at playing requires showing up and demonstrating skills.

Second, children are “stomping at the bit” to return to some degree of what they knew before.

Third, football is an extremely high-profile, public activity that carries rewards, including community-wide adulation.

With all that stacked against parents, what any parent believes or prefers probably won’t matter–especially if a son pleads to play.

What happened here? Two schools made self-serving decisions by dangling something of great value before prospective players. But just like anything that dangles, strings are attached. These strings carry risk.

Joy of the Ordinary

 

The review of One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle was more of a notice than a review,  but it was enough for me. I immediately ordered it, and since I have read and re-read and pondered Doyle’s joy. Until this encounter I had never heard of Doyle, a prolific writer who shares the wonder and beauty in what he experiences. Doyle, who died of brain cancer way too soon, shares life’s joys found in a Memorial Day parade, a youth soccer game, birds, pants, Jones Beach, a song for nurses, his first kiss, a bullet, and more experiences that we all know and have experienced. That is the beauty of his book: He takes us inside ourselves through the common experiences we all share and peels back the worry and anxiety to show the joy.

One Long River of Song is a needed read today. Published one year before the COVID-19 pandemic, Doyle tells us how to manage this unknown time we face. In A Song for Nurses he writes: “And let us pray not only for the extraordinary smiling armies of nurses among us; let us pray to be like them, sinewy and tender, gracious and honest, avatars of love.” Are there any better words telling us how to be in May 2020? I don’t know any.

In the essay “Memorial Day” he remembers a Memorial Day parade from his youth and how his father, a veteran of WW II, always “declines politely every year when he is asked [to walk in the parade wearing his uniform]. Doyle goes on to write that his father says that “uniforms can easily confer false authority and encourage hollow bravado….” Like General Lee, Doyle’s father knew the horror of war and knew to put the uniform away after it had been worn “because the job had to be done.”

Any parent who has stood on the sidelines of a youth soccer game, watching the herd of five-year-old children move along like gazing gazelles with the slowly moving ball, will identify with The Praying Mantis Moment. Doyle shares how during a game in which his six-year-old twins were playing on a golden October afternoon, all the three-foot-tall players on the field formed a circle on the field. The ball rolled away, the teenage referee and some parents hurried to the circle for fear of an injury. But, the crowd of players began walking with a girl who, while holding a praying mantis in her hands escorted the insect to a safer place. Doyle writes of this October moment as one of the most genuine he had ever experienced in watching sports.

In Illuminos Doyle writes “It seems to me that angels and bodhisattvas are everywhere available for consultation if only we can them  clear; they are unadorned, and joyous, and patient, and radiant, and luminous, and not disguised or hidden or filtered in any way whatsoever, so that if you see them clearly, which happens occasionally even to the most blinkered and frightened of us, you realize immediately who they are, beings of great and humble illumination dressed in the skins of new and dewy beings, and you realize, with a catch in your throat, that they are your teachers and they are agents of an unimaginable love, and they are your cousins and companions in awe, …”

The long quotation above from Illuminos is not as much as I want to quote, but it is  important, especially in our climate today, to read Brian Doyle and live the joy he shares in so much of the ordinary we live each day. When we refuse to look and hear the glory of God’s world, we become one of the “blinkered and frightened” that Doyle writes about. Read the words of one man, who knew sorrow personally, but chose not to be blinkered or frightened by what he had to cross. Read this book and “be blessed beyond the reach of language.”

Student Athletes

 

Sport fans who value honesty view the phrase “student athlete” with, at best, humor. Perhaps scorn is a better adjective because a fan who follows college, and even some high school sports, knows that the influence of money, not scholarship or enjoyment, rule. Two recent news articles support my opinion.

According to the Associated Press, the Power Five conferences spent a combined $350,000 to lobby Congress during the first three months of 2020. The biggest spender, the SEC, spent $140,000 with three lobbying firms. Every Power Five school hired the same two firms that state as their objective a “national solution to preserve the unique model of American college athletics” while allowing players to earn money through their names, images, and such [NIL]. According to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, It’s “important for the  SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue” concerning compensation for its student athletes. If the reader worries, ACC Commissioner John Swofford offered this rationale for the combined effort: “In this particular case, the [Power Five] conferences are working together on this so that there’s less confusion, not more, in terms of the messaging to congressional leaders that helps explain NIL and what the concerns are, and how it might work.” One of the core principles of the Power Five for athlete compensation include a requirement for “one term of academic progress” before he or she can sign any endorsement deal and “a ban on athlete deals with ‘advertising categories inconsistent with higher education.’” These words support the colleges “investment”, not the student-athletes interest. Just one “core” of the Power Five demonstrates the shame of this entire mess: “one term of academic progress” is as hollow as a rotten log.

Zion Williamson entered Duke in the fall of 2019. He was named the student athlete for the year by the ACC Conference and was the number one pick in the 2020 NBA draft and now plays for New Orleans. He is now again in the news because he signed a contract in April 2019 with a sports agent, but his attorney has asked a federal judge to void that contract. At the center of this muddle sits about $100 million.

Now, forget all the accusations from both sides concerning trips, gifts to parents and coaches, and all the other important  details. Instead, ponder this possibility: A 19-year-old goes to college to play basketball for a year, tuning up for the NBA; For the first semester at his or her college he or she attends enough classes to garner enough academic credits (9-12?) to be eligible for the second semester; He or she plays well on a nationally recognized team and in the spring of the second semester is offered a contract by an agent. Another example of a young person being used by a system way over his or her head, and the head of his or her parents. Yes, big money is involved, but look at the price paid.

Just the fact that the Power Five conferences now lobby Congress shows the hypocrisy of the phrase “student athlete.” Let’s cut to the cold, hard truth: Some college sport programs are now big business and its employees must be fairly compensated. Perhaps the Power Five will leave the NCAA and form a corporation where they will be free to make all the money they can while getting out of the “student” part of secondary education.