A Letter to Parents of Athletic Recruits

A true story: He entered a major mid-west, nationally recognized college program. He was successful and placed 4th as a freshman, then he won back-to-back national championships. His senior year he did not place. It is told that he had to study in order to graduate, so he could not spend as much time practicing as he had his first three years. He graduated and last heard of he was a volunteer coach at a small D-1 school.

College coaches are paid well. A D-1 coach of a nationally ranked program easily has a base salary in six figures. Why? He is paid to win games, not to educate except in his sport. He will keep your son or daughter eligible but considering the recent UNC/NCAA episode concerning oversight of academics, there is a probable chance that your child’s courses will not be much. The old joke of a degree in underwater basket weaving seems all to real.

Two recent articles in The Observer highlight the careers of several local athletes. The paper also printed a fine editorial disagreeing with the NCAA for not having the ethics needed  to oversee academics and instead allowed UNC to police itself. All six of the athletes appear to have superior skills in several sports, but all seem to be planning to be recruited for football, a major money maker for many universities, the NCAA, and coaches. The draw of a major sports program with its separate dormitories, special food, training facilities, and fawning attention is glitter that proves difficult for high school athletes and parents to resist.

Parents are responsible for their child or should be. They need to ask deep and probing questions about academics of any coach who visits their living room. They must remember that the recruiting coach is there about their child’s athletic ability, not his or her academic skills. The coach sitting on the sofa is all about winning games,  not what courses an athlete takes. Staying eligible is the goal, and that may mean taking courses that do not demand rigor in the classroom like the rigor required on the field or in the gym. If parents and athletes ignore acquiring a meaningful education, one that gives skills, the athlete will graduate with little to offer an employer. He or she will have little to fall back on in real life when, just as on the field or floor, a difficulty arises. Parents and high school students must withstand the dream of being the “next” Williamson at Duke who leaves after one year for a huge signing bonus. The harsh reality is that there are few Williamsons or Woods or Iversons. And, injury is a constant worry because a serious one can end a career, so an education becomes even more important as something to utilize. The reality for parents and students is: If I lose my athletic marketability, whether by injury, being replaced, or whatever arises, what is my value to Podunk University?

Everything I read in The Observer about Will Shipley, Power Echols, Stephen Sings and Stephan Thompson impresses me. They are talented youngsters, but the NCAA and its universities/colleges want to use them as commodities. Their abilities to run, throw, and catch is a trove of talent to be exploited. Parents and athletes must protect their own interests and make certain that they, before signing, will be allowed and encouraged to obtain a degree of value.

The young man at the beginning of this  article found that he could not compete at the top level of his sport if he wanted to graduate. He made a good choice, but what price did he pay for his first three years of college?



In the greatest sermon ever shared, our Savior tells us how to pray. Sixty- five words  in my KJV of Matthew 6  compose what is traditionally called The Lord’s Prayer. Any pastor would admire it for its brevity and force.

Yesterday I shared with my friend Mike how I had gone to church this past Sunday full of anticipation of prayers being offered for Dayton and El Paso. I told Mike how no mention was made of either horrific event, and I later emailed our Pastor expressing my disappointment that no prayer had been offered up for either city. Our Pastor responded that he had been needed on Saturday to be with a family because of  a life-threatening accident so he was unaware of either mass shooting.  Mike listened, then asked, “Were there prayers offered up during the service?” Not grasping his meaning, I said of course, we always have prayers, at least four or five. He asked, “Did the prayers  lift up concerns to the Holy Spirit?” Of course, I responded. “Then” he said, “prayers were offered up for Dayton and El Paso. In fact, by lifting any worry to the Holy Spirit, all our needs are lifted. We don’t need a checklist, Roger, for our prayers. It’s too much that way, so we just need to lift up to the Holy Spirit.”

After Mike left, I  sat in my shop sanding a piece of pine tree root. A good physical act like sanding, with its repetition, is good for my thinking, and I had lots to ponder about my Sunday expectations, and how I had doubted my church and my Pastor. So many errors on one Sunday: I had assumed that everyone in church would know what I knew concerning El Paso and Dayton; I entered Service expecting everyone to act and feel as I; and, worse of all, I came away doubting my Pastor because his commitment following a fatal accident had kept him from being exposed to what I had read and heard in the news.

Luke tells us in Chapter 11 that as Jesus ceased praying, a disciple said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  His version has fifty-eight words. Directly to the heart of how to pray.

Continuous sanding on the tree root brought  its grain into focus. I considered Mike’s words and his point that we do not need a checklist of requests to include in our prayers. Turning the root over to sand the side to be unseen, I realized that a felt prayer, such as the one in Matthew 6 or Luke 11, was like the root in my hand: the back, which would be unseen, still was important because it held the side that would be seen. Although it would not be exposed to the viewer’s eye, it was still a part of the whole. That is why I sand and apply a finish to every back, as I do for each front of a pine tree root. In Hebrews we are told that, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There it was: the back is Faith. Praying with Faith negates the need for a list of prayer requests. We pray for guidance, showing our obedience and need. When we do, as Mike would say, all things are taken care of.

Joan Chittister writes “Prayer that is regular confounds both self-importance and the wiles of the world.” My self-importance last Sunday short-changed my Church and Pastor, allowing the wiles of the  world to control, instead of just being a part of the  whole.










Wordy Dirds

Wordy Dirds

The year 1946 is special for me as is 1949. In 1946 George Orwell published his essay Politics and the English Language in which he demonstrates how the poor written language of his era influenced its politics. In 1949, Pastor Howard Thurman published Jesus and the Disinherited to show how his culture treated the poor and outcast. Oh, the other event of 1946 is my birth, but that happening almost 73 years ago is important to others and me, so enough of it except to say that the essay, book, and me are contemporaries of sorts.

Jesus, in my reading of the Gospels, never uses crude or vile language. Yes, He does call the Pharisees “a nest of vipers”, but just as he is with the Samaritan woman at the well, the rich young man, Legion, and so many others, his language is direct, firm, but reassuring.  In Matthew 5:22 Jesus does not use the word raca but says it to make His point concerning prejudice.

Orwell warns us that our language will have a strong and direct influence on our thinking, which leads to our beliefs and actions. If we use common words, trite words, and gross words, we will soon think those ways. So, if a coach or teacher or both uses crude language, then she or she will eventually think and act crudely. Worst of all, the athletes and students will imitate, reducing the  entire team or class to a crude level. Now, no one wants a crude team or class. In fact, all teachers and coaches want a “well-oiled machine.” Crude language is sand in the gears.

In 1949 when  Pastor Thurman wrote his book, segregation was the norm. Of segregation he writes, “Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal—if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions.” Thus, what is viewed as normal is actually wrong, as we clearly see now. But what of our times and our “accepted social behavior patterns”? What of the team that has a tradition of hazing younger members or the class that is taught in the same manner as last year and the year before and so on? Like our language, our social behavior rules our beliefs—whether we are Christian, Muslim, agnostic, or none. If we do it, it is  normal, thus right.

I identify with both Orwell’s essay and Thurman’s book because I grew up in a segregated, Southern society. It was my norm, just as the Baptist church, Plant 1 cotton mill, and

mill hill, little money, lots of love, and few possessions were. Like all lives, it was what I knew, so it was my normal. But as I grew and my horizons expanded by college and travel, I saw the tears in the fabric of my earlier life. It all came in stages: I saw race differently, I began to argue for social justice, and eventually I returned to religion.

When I was an educator, I was known for being strict because I was. I did not abuse my students or athletes, but they all worked because I believe in work as the way to improve if you are reading Homer or learning a single-leg takedown in wrestling. I told wrestlers that losing the right way was better than losing the wrong way. Students who did not read the  assigned lines from The Odyssey, copied them that night. Tough, without what I called “wordy dirds”, or crude ones. Not from me or my charges.

It’s all a privilege, sharing knowledge with young people whether on a mat, field, or in a classroom. As the teachers, we should do our best to elevate our charges. Good language and team traditions will do that. Just try it, this year.



Finally Separated


Is there any media outlet that would print or speak the n-word?  No, and for good reason because it is offensive to any enlightened person. It may still be heard in some conversations, but its use has decreased even in certain places and time. Like any word or phrase, its utterance reveals the thinking of the user.

However, as I read newspaper reports concerning President Trump’s twice breaking of one of the Ten Commandments during his speech at East Carolina University, I was saddened to see that the word which violates that Commandment in print. The same media outlets that will not print the n-word, printed the Lord’s name in vain in quoting the President of the United States.

We pride ourselves, it seems, on being a Christian nation. While the word God is not written in the Constitution, we like to applaud the Founding Fathers for their religious faith. We have our money carrying the words, “In God We Trust.” The Supreme Court of the United States just ruled that a cross honoring soldiers of WW II could remain on public land in Maryland. But a recent move in North Carolina by a local group, had the word Lord removed from a stone plaque. The debate of church and state continues today, as it did in 1776, but if asked, most citizens would say that we are a Christian nation.

If so then, why was the only uproar concerning Trump’s ECU speech about the chant “Send her back”? As far as I know, only one person wrote a letter rebuffing the President for his breaking of a Commandment. In fact, most people I asked were unaware that he had taken the Lord’s name in vain. Most responded that had he, the fake news media would have been all over him for it. Others responded that they did not believe  he had used such language.

In only reporting about the chant, which I find racist, I see that the breaking of a Commandment is not worthy of news coverage. The chant is more important to the news people and citizens of this Christian nation. In fact, the newspapers that did report Trump’s language saw no reason not to use the word, but, as I wrote, would never print the n-word or other derogatory ones.

So, here we have the President of the United States taking the Lord’s name in vain, twice, in a public university and little is said or commented about it. I guess, sadly, this shows that we have, indeed, separated church from state.

Nike and Females

Charlotte is abuzz with news of the city’s bid to acquire a major league soccer team. The owner of the football team is fully behind the acquisition of a soccer team, and funding for the franchise has been made. This past weekend Charlotte hosted an International Champions cup soccer game at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers, the home football team. As if that were enough, Megan Rapione made an appearance at the House of Soccer Festival held in Bank of America Stadium. She was a fan favorite and added much to the event. As she demonstrated soccer moves and talked with the young and older fans, she shone as she did in the World Cup. Her white tee shirt with its rolled sleeves carried the Nike swoosh, a corporate symbol known over the world for its sports products. Rapinoe not only spoke of soccer and the second World Championship she was part of, but she expressed her views about President Trump and his recent rally at East Carolina University. She used her platform, as many famous people do, to criticize the chant of “Send her back.” As she did after the parade in New York City, she called for justice and peace. All the while wearing the tee shirt with the Nike logo.

Since the 1990s Nike spent many resources to clear its connection with sweatshops in Southeast Asia. It formed the Nike Community Impact Fund and began girl empowerment programs to combat the anger of consumers by its sweatshops. However, according to an article by Maia Hengeveld in Plough  “The irony of the Nike Foundations “empowerment’ philanthropy is that true empowerment is exactly what Nike refuses to get behind in its own operations. Its foundation’s work is not a generous investment in women’s rights, but a smart business investment to restore the company’s image.”

A simple Internet search showed that there are many opinions concerning Nike and its commitment to paying its workers “a living wage” and creating safe and clean workplaces. It is a problem faced by many American companies searching for cheap labor.

However, I cannot forget Rapinoe’s words for justice and peace. Is she not aware that Nike still has a long way to go before it can honestly boast of its girl empowerment programs? I see her as yet one more charlatan in American public life who makes money and spouts what, as Nike is doing, a smart business decision. She, like many corporations and people, is riding a wave of popularity. But it will crash eventually, as all waves do.



The July 20th edition of the Charlotte Observer printed a story by Mark Price discussing  President Trump’s speech at East Carolina University. Price writes how West Virginia State Senator Paul Hardesty sent a letter to Trump rebuking his taking of the Lord’s name in vain—twice. The article used the word twice in writing of Trump’s language and that one commentator on FreeRepublic.com criticized Trumps swearing. All other media it seems wrote about the chant, “Send her back,’ that was shouted out many times during the rally and how awful that was.

The chant is a racist one, and Trump, no matter his  Oval Office denial, urges followers to reveal that ugly streak of our Nation. Racism is alive and well in America, regardless of Obama being elected twice. We know that Trump is a liar and racist and more. Yet, what I don’t understand is where is the outcry against Trump taking the Lord’s name in vain? Is not our money stamped with, “In God We Trust”; do we not argue in courts that the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be carved above an entrance to any courthouse; did the Supreme Court not just rule that a cross is allowed to remain on public property in Maryland?

But, the President of the United States uses the word “goddamn” twice in a speech and few in our Christian nation object. Perhaps we are not as Christian as we think. After all, next Sunday take a count of the number of folks in any local shopping mall and compare that number with the attendance in a local church. Also, consider that the Charlotte Observer prints goddamn more than once in its article. If  the Observer is willing to print the word goddamn, is it willing to print the word nigger? I think the printing of the word used by Trump shows how fallen we are, and I wish the paper had chosen to treat it as it does the other offensive one.

In his 1942 novel, Mud on the Stars, William Bradford Huie, writes in explaining the unjust execution of a black man, “Complacency is a cancerous disease. Neither a man nor a nation can stand by silently and watch a great injustice done without having his own faith and self-respect impaired….I don’t believe that dogs and apes can destroy the great dream of liberty and justice and dignity. But they can devour the dead carcasses of men and nations whose strength has been sapped by complacency and concession.”

Huie uses his words in a novel, but he knew the hearts of folk, and if we do not shout to the rooftops for Trump to cease his use of racist and vulgar language, then we condone his words which reveal his thinking and character. We then accept his  ways.

I have heard Christians say in defending Trump, “The Lord has used bad men before to make changes.” Or, “We are all sinners, we live in a fallen world.” True. You are free to believe what you want, but if you accept this type of rhetoric then brace for what is to follow.


This Day



Everything of this day is as yesterday and tomorrow. It is scorching, dry, and brittle. Birds eat at the feeders and the lake rests between its shores just like yesterday and tomorrow.

But it is different in that it is a day that has anticipated for months. A day that has been known by the marks on the calendar. Since its planned choosing, this day has been thought of a few times, but mostly it has been tucked away to be avoided. Now, however, like several other days of distinction in life, it must be experienced in a self-chosen manner of respect, sadness, grief, remorse, or  any other of a multitude of emotion. And, its sudden appearance alarms one because the clock is now stopped, not some distant time. The day demands a response.

Yet, while I will go about my actions, I am still emotionally untied. Some part of me is pleased that Mother’s death will be finalized by our placing her ashes in a hole held by her beloved Sandhills. She will be placed next to her mother and father, her wish. But, is any death ever final?

Our family will place the small box holding her ashes. Mary Ann and I will then drive to Woodward Mill to walk in her childhood steps. We will look at the dark water of the pond, the old grist mill, and collapsed house. But Woodward Mill is just that—place with buildings that now belongs to another family. Yet, I will walk about searching for a lost nail or small piece of wood or some other reminder that, no, her death does not finalize her life. It’s just another step in her journey.