Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Open Letter to the NFL

Dear NFL,

In the recent weeks, there has been an ongoing discussion regarding player safety and the often vicious hits which affect the preservation of that ideal.

Though you and I and the rest of the fans of the various NFL teams are no stranger to the hitting and brutality of football, it would seem that lately, the hits have been particularly disruptive to the "chi" of the game - at least from a fan's standpoint of the league's attitude on the matter.

After a particularly nasty weekend of hits, which included a jarring hit on Cleveland wideout Mohammad Massaquoi and a similarly-describable hit on DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia, things really kicked into high gear, resulting in the question "should severe hits be punished?"

This is a very touchy line to walk down. On the one hand, you don't want to seem insensitive to the potential impact these hits could have on the future of these players by ignoring them altogether. Therefore, some kind of action or response is almost necessary.

However, on the other hand, if you make the response too severe, you run the risk of setting a precedent, the return from which would be very difficult to negotiate. Because that is the danger with something so subjective as determining the severity of a hit in a game based on doing just that: Working for the greater good and damaging the founding principles at the same time.

So, you did the best you could to implement a "rule" on the fly by announcing that hefty fines and even suspensions would be handed down for what were considered to be blatantly vicious and potentially harmful hits on defenseless players (players without the ball, players who are away from the action of a play, etc). While many of us were (or still are) reluctant to agree with the decision, we moved on, determining that it wouldn't likely be much of an issue.

Fast forward to last weekend (week 12). In a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Linebacker James Harrison was flagged with a roughing the passer penalty after tackling Ryan Fitzpatrick just as he threw the ball. The following day, it was announced that Harrison - who has been fined four times already this season, for a total of $100,000 ($25k apiece) - would be fined AGAIN for the hit he put on Fitzpatrick, bringing the total to $125,000 (which is more than I would make as an individual in 5 years).

Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to refresh your memory of what that hit looked like. You can see it HERE.

I'll give you a moment.

Now, I would like you to explain to me how Harrison - a former defensive player of the year - is expected to stop from tackling Ryan Fitzpatrick in what would likely amount to the less-than-one-second span of time between when he released the ball and Harrison actually makes contact? That would be like me walking out in front of an Amtrak train and 10 yards before it hits me, expecting it to stop.

Not only that, but Harrison planted his facemask in the chest of Fitzpatrick as he tackled him, discounting the idea that he lead with the crown of his helmet.

My problem with this is not the fact that Harrison is losing more money, because I'm sure the multi-million dollar contract he has isn't going to dry up from a few fines. My problem is the fact that more and more players are being flagged by what appear to be legal hits.

Here's a newsflash for you, NFL: Quarterbacks have pads too! I understand the idea is to protect them, but for goodness' sake, you're undermining every single defensive player by fining them whenever they hit someone hard. You're telling them that they don't know how to play the positions at which they have been cultivating their careers. In short, you are slapping every defensive player in the face when you fine one of them for an obviously legal hit.

Interestingly enough, however, it would seem that players aren't afraid of you fining them. In fact, one player - Ryan Clark, who is a teammate of Harrison's - said over his Twitter account that he and his teammates are going to hit even harder, since they're going to get fined either way.

New break: Steeler D will protest this Sunday in the wake of #92 latest fine by hitting harder and more vicious. Since they fine either way!

- Ryan Clark

Good. Perhaps this backfire will encourage you and your officials to take a step back and analyze what you and they can do to actually help the situation with illegal and flagrant hits. Because it has become obvious that the you are ill-prepared to actually address the issue, unless addressing it involves subjectively fining the hell out of players based on undefined rules (yes, I know there are rules for hits, but as far as doling out fines, no specifications have been expressly released as to how a fine will be determined). If these kinds of fines are the future of the NFL, I'd just assume it not come back after this season.

There may come a time where you will have to decide whether you want to invest in an actual solution for dirty hits or if you want to put a bandaid over a gaping wound and pretend that will fix it. So far, it doesn't look like the bandaid is working, and it's make you look bad, the players look stupid and the fans look pretty upset.


An NFL Fan

Friday, October 8, 2010

Integrity With Exceptions - An Unfornate Event for Journalists

I read a lot of comments on this story when it was posted on Yahoo! that were basically condemning this woman for what they believe is "telling people not to buy local." More than one individual called her an idiot for her effort to assist cost-conscious individuals and some even mentioned that she obviously doesn't know what she's doing by "calling out her advertisers," in the manner she did.

I would like to say to those who would damn this woman, Autumn Drussell, to take a second, hold their thought and then let it go.

Drussell was correct in her assertion that with the crunch on newspapers continuing to increase, there will be more attention paid to the desires of advertisers. After all, for many small newspapers (weeklies, bi-weeklies, monthlies, whatever), advertising dollars are vital to not only the continued presence of that newspaper in the community it serves, but also to the amount of content that goes out each week.

However, the precedent being noted here is that of providing a way for advertisers who are displeased with editorial content to simply voice their displeasure and threaten to pull their money from the paper unless something is done about the content that somehow offended them. As mentioned in the article, this is a scary thought for journalists who believe in the purity of their work.

It used to be, when an editor/reporter put forth an opinion piece, it was because he/she was required to write one as part of the duties assigned to the respective positions. During my time with the Mahomet Citizen, I was asked to write a weekly column as well as a monthly editorial - both of which were asked of me by the News-Gazette Community Newspapers management.

In these columns/editorials, I often covered topics that may have seemed on edge for some readers or store owners or even local officials. But that's the point. It's not the job of a news organization to sit by and hold the community's hands while sugarcoating the reality of certain situations in life. It's the job of the newspaper - regardless of advertisers - to constructively and actively point out issues that are affecting the community. This may include things going on in the schools, things going on with local organizations, things going on with the city administration or even things going on within the business community.

Do I think she did something wrong with the topic of her column? Absolutely not. We don't live in a happy-go-lucky world where no one has to worry about money, and as such, the editor crafted a column (which, by the way, was based on a local chamber of commerce meeting's pointers) addressing ways of saving money by shopping at stores like Wal-Mart and Target.

I'm sure some of you are making that sound usually reserved for when you see someone wipe out during a sporting event. However, considering how low prices are at many of these big box stores, it isn't uncommon for locals to shop these stores anyway.

According to the article, "Drussell wrote in a July column she was shopping more at low-cost big box stores because of the economy. She suggested that local businesses needed to improve customer service, stop badmouthing their areas and appeal to frugal customers..."

Now, an initial reaction to such things would be "how dare you," but if these things weren't an issue to begin with - the customer service, the badmouthing and the high prices - would there have even been a need to highlight them? Many times, we are upset when people lie, but let it go when we know it isn't true. But when someone parades our dirty laundry and the stains are real, we get visibly mad because someone might see us for the things we've done.

Having been the editor of a weekly newspaper, I personally know many small business owners who have had a hard time dealing with the economy over the last few years. In discussions with them, they have brought up the fact that they are having to change the way things are approached in order to encourage local residents to continue coming to their shops.

Some people get it - others don't - that the newspaper is a tool for businesses to get their names and services out there by way of advertising. Once that advertising is out there, the onus then falls back on the business to make sure they deliver on their promises and provide customers a reason to return and to tell their friends/family members about the experience they had.

Then we have the editorial side of things, which can include many different titles, such as news and opinion. If an editor/reporter produces an opinion piece, usually it is stated somewhere on the page that the opinion is that of the individual, not the organization (and if it wasn't, it should have been). Additionally - and more importantly - the opinion that is offered is usually (not always) the result of discussions the editor/reporter has had with people in the community and/or is a direct result of experiences he/she was a part of.

Believe me when I say, if there was something happening that seemed to be making negative waves, I would make sure to put it in one of my columns or editorials. While I never outright named businesses, there were times when the business community was the subject of my column/editorial.

Should she get her job back? I don't know that she should sue for it back, but perhaps sue for her remaining salary. The fact that her organization - a news organization - is not standing behind her for a column she wrote for their paper is pathetic. In all likelihood, she was asked to write an opinion piece, so saying "no one wants to hear your opinion" is one of the stupidest responses you could possibly muster. Her employer wanted her to share her opinion. They then fired her because of it and in the process, undermined their own journalistic integrity to save face with advertisers who weren't even specifically named.

That is a sad situation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Affirming My Convictions

With elegance, power, fear, quickness and pure beauty, the magnificent lights of the heavens reach down to brush the landscapes that surround me.

I cannot help but watch the lightning, as it dances across the blackened night sky, and feel like it represents so much of what I am feeling at this very moment.

Traveling down a country road akin to what I would picture a man's final walk in life to be - solitary, focused and having only one direction and purpose - I sing along to my favorite songs blaring through the radio, trying to match the emotion set forth by the singers themselves. In this moment, as I let the music draw out and deliver my own emotions, coupled with the awe-inspiring world around me, I feel alive. I feel right.

I also feel strong. The kind of strength I haven't felt in a long time.

I think many of us search for the kind of strength that currently courses through my soul, usurping uncertainty for the sake of a more appropriate driving force. Many - if not most - of us work tirelessly, endlessly and hopelessly for but a glimpse... perhaps even just a taste... of the end result that will make our efforts seem not in vain.

Strikes chase the clouds with direction from wind and God himself, painting the bleakness with pure light. My music drowns me out only in its sound, holding not a flame to the nearly-overwhelming sense of excitement that leaps about in my mind.

In the span of just a few short weeks, my life seems to have changed completely. How much is still to be determined. Nevertheless, these changes have come and now I find myself in the role of the navigator. The course set in front of me and the tasks all but known, I have the responsibility and the honor of leading the way to my own success. And I feel strong in my ability.

I also feel the creeping fear that accompanies most feelings of confidence. But, not unlike these luminescent fires of the heavens, my confidence and desire can only be stifled by the will of God, and even then I will know that my confidence is not undue, but merely in need of guidance from a hand that knows where my feet will fall before I even take a step.

As the rain begins to glisten with an iridescence becoming of the most flawless of diamonds, I look to the sky once more as the lightning seems to challenge the very will of mother nature.

This is not unlike my own sentiment towards the Shakespearean "slings and arrows" that will befall my path. Despite their impending presence, I only look forward with anticipation. For I know that the pitfalls ahead of will be deep, but they are not chasms that will ensnare my sense of self; they are only obstacles that will hinder me slightly, and empower me eternally.

Therefore, just as the brazen storm in which I am caught neither yields or submits to an obstacle within its path, I shall keep on my own path and I shall do so with a new found confidence in my own strength and my own convictions, slowed only by the truths that will reveal themselves in time. And with these truths, I will affirm the very strength that I - and that we - have always had and merely needed to rediscover.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Easy Is Hard To Do

It wasn’t long after Staples began showing their “Easy Button” commercials that I - and I’m sure the rest of us with imaginations - began pondering just what we would use a button like that for.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think how great it would be to have a button that would take the tasks and situations I was dealing with and simply fix them according to what would be reasonable to me.

There were moments when I wished so very much that things in my life would just come easy. After all, I deserved it didn’t I? I thought so, at least.

However, it’s easy to believe such a thing when the best solution seems to be the one that doesn’t involve putting forth any time or effort to achieve. Instead of working towards solutions or working for a good end result, it would have simply been more convenient to have it done for me.

If only it were indeed that easy.

Instead, many of us have to work hard for what we have, often sacrificing along the way to achieve a life that we might be able to call easier.

If I could call it anything, it would be a game that we continuously play, but never really win. We spend long hours refining our skills at our jobs in hopes of attaining a better position with shorter hours and better pay for an easier life.

There are obviously challenges along the way, adding weight to the mantra that “nothing in life is easy.” Perhaps with a new position comes new responsibilities or more responsibilities on top of those we already have.

Therefore, even as we ascend to easier stages of life, by our standards, maintaining such a level still takes a great deal of work.

So now comes the question that I have asked myself on more than one occasion: Is easy ever easy to attain? Will there ever be a moment when the things in life that challenge us magically seem to fall into place?

I believe so. But I don’t think it will come at a time that is convenient for us.

Instead, I think the moments where we are able to step back and say “wow, that was easy,” will continue to surprise us as they always have. They will stand as reminders that sometimes things just fall into place like a well-placed puzzle piece.

In the mean time, we will continue to work towards what we think will make life easier, ever improving our positions on the board for the game of life.

There will be failures along the way, but we will learn from those failures and use them to make our successes that much more significant.

We will show that while an easy button would be a wonderful tool to possess, it would also be an easy tool to abuse, providing an excuse to be lazy and giving us false senses of accomplishment and entitlement.

Because after all, sometimes the things that we appreciate most and are the proudest of, are the things for which we have worked the hardest.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Simple Respect

Respect is an interesting thing, especially in a society where so many people expect it without earning it.

When you think of respect, what comes to mind? On a societal level, things like money, power, accomplishments, certain jobs/professions and even the kinds of shoes someone wears can determine how much respect they receive.

In particular, I think one of the biggest areas that we give and expect respect for the wrong reasons is the job market. We give respect to people for certain jobs that they do instead of for the kind of people they are and we disrespect people for jobs they work that might not be up to societal standards.

One of the best examples that I can think of right now is my current work situation. Right now, I work at a grocery store stocking shelves and doing other tasks as needed. I don't make a lot of money and I'm not doing any advanced work.

There are people who would look at me as I stock the yogurt section and see my wedding ring and think "this guy must be lazy or something to think he can support a family at a grocery store." I know there are people that think this because I've spoken to people who think this way, and to be completely honest, I find it appalling.

I guarantee you, if you were to take me and put me in a $500 suit, they would look at me - without even talking to me - and think how successful I must be. By ignoring me and looking directly at my situation, they are obviously assigning their respect level to what I do/how I look instead of who I am/what I have to say. And so goes the perpetuation of our value system in this country.

As far as working at a store goes, I have no problem with this in the least and don't see why working at a store should be disrespected compared to higher income jobs.

Just because we work in a grocery store doesn't mean we don't have responsibilities or work hard or have to master certain skill sets. Nor does it mean that we have no other talents that we couldn't apply to other professions.

If you were to line me up with several of the other stockers that I work with and go down the line, the amount of talent you would find would be outrageous. But you would have to engage and find out instead of jumping to the easier, safer conclusion that stocking shelves is the only thing we're capable of.

One might look at one of my coworkers and see a stocker where I see a student looking to get a business degree or a student preparing to complete his college career with a degree in sports management. Some people might come into the back of our store and see us loading carts and see just another kid where I see an accomplished guitar player.

Someone might even see me and see someone not worthy of their time instead of an award-winning journalist with a great deal of experience on a professional level.

One of my professors once told me that "you are not your job and your job is not you," meaning that more often than not, a job is simply a means to an end or a career is a profession that you are good at but do not use as a means of conveyance about the kind of person you are.

However, most of us have trouble understanding this, which leads to misconceptions about the people who do the jobs that most of us would find below us. Instead of seeing a person, they see someone below them and act as such towards that person if they feel the need.

In the first month that I have been working for the grocery store, I've experienced customers who have talked to me in a condescending manner simply because they didn't believe I was on their level. I've greeted people who have first looked at me and then given only a forced smile and walked away. I don't get mad at them for this, though. I feel bad for them that they would be so narrow-minded and shallow.

The truth of the matter is, we should be respecting the people we interact with while they are working until they give us a reason not to. If you want the best experience you can get from whatever business you're utilizing, you need to respect what the people who run the business are doing - from the managers to the guy who cleans the floor so you don't have to walk through aisles that are covered with dirt and grime.

I can say with confidence that I respect the individuals who keep up a store just as much as I respect the CEO who runs a company, just as much as I respect the man who works for minimum wage doing what he must to make a living.

Our society is full of individuals who work hard for their money and do so with simple goals and not-so-simple dreams in mind for themselves and their families. As people, we are all the same to this degree. However, if we ignore that truth of our own humanity and place ourselves above anything but what we consider "appropriate work," we are not only skewing how we perceive respect, we are destroying any reason for others to respect us.

The next time you're out shopping or at a restaurant or even getting an oil change, take a second to thank the person who is taking the time to make your experience better. Believe it or not, we DO care that you have come to our establishments and if you show us respect, we will show you respect.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We, as a society, cannot read signs.

Just as the title suggests, I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of us cannot read signs most of the time.

And this doesn't just mean street signs and store signs, but also some of the less obvious signs conveyed to us by our friends, family members and even strangers on the street.

Now, I know some of you are sitting there thinking "I don't understand what he's talking about - signs are pretty obvious and you'd have to be an idiot to miss most of them."

Well, my friends, we are indeed a society of idiots. For example, just today I saw a woman back out of her parking spot and proceed to exit the parking lot through the entrance, which was marked by a large sign in red lettering that read "NOT AN EXIT."

As soon as I exited the parking lot the correct way, I witnessed someone run a stoplight, followed by a college student riding her bike in front of me while I turned because she didn't read the bright orange "don't walk" sign on the street light.

I really think drivers/pedestrians are the biggest violators of what you could call "sign law." I've seen more people ignore signs while driving than anything else.

However, what bothers me the most is that when these people disregard what the signs indicate the people who have the right of way are still the ones who end up suffering.

Case in point: A couple of years ago, a student on the University of Illinois campus was killed when she walked right out into a crosswalk and WALKED INTO A BUS. Yup. Walked right into the side of a bus and was killed.

First of all, how do you miss a bus? I mean, really? It's big, makes noise and is pretty visible unless you're Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder.

The bus driver not only couldn't continue her job and was forced to leave, but she has had psychological problems ever since. Yes, it's sad that someone lost her life, but given how stupid you have to be to walk into and be run over by a bus, she wasn't exactly trying hard too hard at self-preservation.

Now, what if that girl had lived? I guarantee she and her family would have sued the University and the Mass Transit District and won, even though she's the one who used the crosswalk improperly (note to all you pedestrians, just because motorists have to yield at crosswalks doesn't mean if a car is about to cross through it, you have the right to run out in front of them. If you do this to me, I will hit you and proceed to ask you what the hell you were thinking while you writhe in pain as I dial 9-1-1).

Just think, all this could have been prevented by paying attention to signs. The sign of bus conveyed by the sounds it makes and its large presence. The "don't walk" sign that was likely blinking. Be smart, people - put your phone down for a second and realize where you are.

Similarly, my very own brother fell victim to someone who couldn't read a stop sign on his recumbent bicycle (those bikes where you sit back like a chair and pedal). My brother was preparing to turn right onto another street when out of the corner of his eye, he saw this cyclist run the stop sign and run right into the side of his truck.

The oblivious cyclist proceeded to berate my brother for being in HIS way even though my brother had the right of way. Luckily for my brother, a police officer witnessed the entire thing. He stopped and approached the cyclist and informed him he would be ticketed for running a stop sign and, if he didn't stop, thrown into the squad car for verbally assaulting my brother (note to cyclists, if you don't know already, you have to follow the exact same rules of the road as automobile drivers, so if you pull out in front of me on your bicycle and I don't see you and I hit you, it's your fault - not mine. Please, pay attention).

However, I digress; the point is, I really wish people would consider for a moment that there are other people around them and signs directing them where to go/what to do when they think "I'm going to run that red light," or "I'm going to cross the street without looking." All it takes is paying attention to ones surroundings and being aware of things like flashing lights and florescent signs.

Anyway, switching gears a little bit, sometimes the signs we miss aren't as subtle as a blinking light or a brightly-painted surface. In fact, sometimes the signs we miss are in the way things are said or displayed in the body language of our friends/family/those around us.

What's more, many times these signs are often indicative of wants or wishes could help a situation one might be experiencing.

My marriage, for example, is full of those times when what is being or has been said isn't always exactly what's being said.

Some easy ones are when I'm on my computer or on the Xbox and she says to me "you should put that away," is usually another way of saying "lets watch some TV together on the couch."

However, there also some not-so-easy to understand signs I've received, whether they have come in the form of a tone of voice suggesting frustration (with me, or otherwise) or a specific body language that hints of anxiousness.

To be honest, discerning these not-so-simple signs has been a growing experience for me. As I come upon my second year of marriage, I've been lucky enough to learn from the instances in which I was unable to read the signs, if only to be able to read them clearly the next time.

Each time I have to endure the failures in my recognition of these signs, I am offered a way to see it more clearly the next time it shows its face, even if it is slightly different than the last time.

The caveat to this is, I have to be willing to see these signs when there is a next time, for the purpose of there being a next time. Because if I ignore the signs after I've seen the consequences of doing so, there will come a time when I will pay with more than just an upset wife.

On a similar level, our friends and family and even the strangers we interact with on a daily basis, have subtle ways of exhibiting outward signs.

Take a day to yourself and spend some time people watching at the mall or in a very public place and just try and determine what the body language or facial features of the people passing by may indicate.

You may see some people who are having the best days of their lives by all accounts. In the same regard, you may see some people who are struggling to put on the faces they are showing.

What you do with those signs is up to you. Perhaps you know someone who is showing signs that are a cry for help, and all you need to do is offer yourself as a shoulder or an ear. Maybe a frustrating situation for a friend while offer a sign to you that you can lend a hand to solve the problem.

Whatever the case, the more we notice the signs around us, the better equipped we will be to address them.

I'm not saying we're always going to see the signs we are meant to see - whether they are obvious or not. We are, after all, only human and flawed ones at that.

However, if we make an effort to be more attentive in our daily routines and thorough in our personal lives as we work on our relationships, the signs we notice will increase over time.

And, hopefully, our lives will be better for it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Skewed Perspective and Clear Choice

Call me sentimental, call me soft or call me a liar (you may all be correct), but I find that more now than ever in my life, I really enjoy seeing the individuals who were written off "early in the race," so to speak, doing well in life and showing how flawed socioeconomic stereotypes are in our country.

For example, while I was growing up and even as I worked at the newspaper, the trailer park in Mahomet - Candlewood Estates - was considered to be the "bad side of town," and where "all the bad kids" came from.

Many of the families who lived there when I grew up in Mahomet and during the time I worked there (which is in the very recent past) were and are considered to be low-income families. In the same regard, their children are considered to be "high-risk" based on the environments in which they live.

I won't lie; I know Candlewood has certain aspects about it that would make some people reading this go "see - that's exactly why it's a bad place." It DOES have drugs; it DOES have abuse; it DOES have crime.

But that's not the point, because unfortunately for us (and those who are short-sighted enough to believe only "bad parts of town" have bad things happen in them) we live in a society surrounded by these things. These are not isolated incidents.

The point is, we can't see the forest for the trees. Because of the stigma we have allowed ourselves to associate with certain areas such as low-income qualified housing complexes, trailer parks and even slums, we are also allowing ourselves to be blind to potential, and this often robs those who need our caring and understanding the most of the experience and guidance we have to offer: The children.

As cliche as that may sound (lord knows I've mocked the 'will someone PLEASE think of the children' phrase), it has never been more true for our country. As much as we would like to write children from "troubled" areas off, as members of the society they live in and that we have created for the, it is our duty to do what we can IF we can.

The question then becomes, where do we start? Well, in my opinion, the best place to start such is with ourselves. How do our views affect how we see people? How do they affect how we treat people? Do we even notice?

These are questions I often ask myself when I encounter certain situations - many times in public places like stores or restaurants - in which one person obviously considers him or herself better than another (i.e. a wealthy diner acting rudely towards a waitress or a shopper showing an attitude towards the clerk at the counter or shoppers he/she feels to be of a lesser background).

Far too many of us seem to have the notion that based on our levels of education, our backgrounds, our current situations (often financial) or otherwise, we are better than others around us. Others such as the families who live in Candlewood.

We see trailers and think "they must not be smart enough to own a real house." Then we see their children and automatically assume "they're probably trouble makers," or "that kid is going nowhere fast."

We say these things not because we know, but because it's the easy thing to say based on how society has told us we should treat people: The wealthy get our respect and those who are not wealthy do not deserve it. In the same regard, the better off the family, the better off their children will be.

Well, here is a newsflash to those of you who believe this: You. Are. Naive.

I've said this before and I will say it again because I believe it so fervently: Rich does not mean smart and destined to be successful, nor does poor/middle class mean stupid and going nowhere. This is something that irritates me to no end.

I cannot tell you how many conversations I've heard or been part of in which someone says "well, those kids in the trailer park, they're just bad news." What an ignorant, self-righteous statement.

Yet people make them every day about children who can no more help their situations than we can help the growth of our own toenails. They make them with the expectations of being right and without the intention of stopping for a second and considering what they could do to help things turn out different.

In reality, all it takes for us to impact the lives of these children is to believe in them and act as the role models they may need or the ear they seek that will listen or the wisdom they seek when trying to make a decision. You could be that person. You could be the person who shows a child written off as a "never kid" - who will "never" do this or "never" do that - that he or she can do great things. You would be surprised how far that will go.

I'd like to list myself as an example. As a child, I was the son of a mechanic and a secretary in a town full of parents who were doctors, lawyers and business owners. I didn't wear a pair of Nike shoes until I was in sixth grade and even then, I shared them with my brother. I had mediocre grades due to ADHD and some of the worst acne a kid can have at that age. Needless to say, I was a target for the "socially superior" to tear me down.

I experienced first-hand what it's like to be tormented and teased because of what I didn't have and what people didn't think I was capable of. There came a point when I was in junior high that my parents received a note from the administrators stating I was "in danger of being a high school dropout."

However, I was fortunate enough, through all of this, to have wonderful people around me who believed in what I was capable of, even if they didn't know what it was yet. They lent me their ears when I had questions, offered me their wisdom when they saw I needed it and encouraged me when I didn't feel I had no potential.

Those are the kind of people we need to be, for the sake of not only their future, but our own. There is a reason our society progresses (if you ask me, anyway): Because we allow our perspectives and expectations to progress and our understanding to grow.

It's so easy to look at someone who is rich and affluent and think "they must really have it together." And that would be an appropriate thought if this were a perfect world. But it's not a perfect world and in this imperfect world, even the affluent have problems.

For example, Mahomet is considered to be a very wealthy area, full of professionals who have their act together and lead normal lives. For many people in Mahomet, Candlewood is the sore spot on an otherwise perfect apple.

However, despite this belief, members of the "affluent" part of the Mahomet community (i.e. everything that isn't the trailer park or the Lake of the Woods apartments) experience the same things as the people they judge without knowing.

Here are things that happen outside of Candlewood Estates that I know of for a FACT: Drug sales and use; infidelity; abuse; theft; cheating; alcoholism; underage drinking; vandalism; pornography; - the list could go on.

I'll admit it, for a long time, I believed I was better than the people of Candlewood because I didn't live there and they did. That's it. I believed this because it seemed to me - at the time anyway - as the way things were meant to go. My friends treated the kids who lived there poorly and because I didn't know any better (and never bothered to ask my parents), I followed suit. I try to regret very few things in life, but I do regret how I treated some of my fellow classmates.

Fortunately, I had the excuse of being young and dumb. As an adult, I know better. Others my age - and older - do not, and that saddens me.

It doesn't matter WHERE you live - in a million-dollar home or in a trailer - life happens and so do the bad things that come with it. Even the things we would rather deny than accept. And worst of all? The ones who suffer the most are the ones who have the most potential to change the outlook and build a stronger community.

So, the question still remains: Where do we start? Simple: You start with yourself. One person may not be able to change the entire world, but one person does have the potential to change the world for a child with the simple gift of encouragement.

I will always recall this from a conversation I had with a friend of mine, because it is so fitting for discussions like this, but we always remember two kinds of people from our past: Those who encouraged us and those who looked down on us.

Which one do you want to be remembered as? And are you willing to do what is necessary to be the right one?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Agelessness and Open Minds

Let me start out by saying that I've never really blogged just to blog, so if you're going to critique this and hound me for a lack of hyperlinks, save your breath.

To be honest, I really wish more people would exercise the scribes within themselves, venting their minds of the thoughts that often get in the way of progress. This is how I became interested in journalism in the first place - it was a way for me to express myself beyond what my voice alone could do.

When I write, it gives me the time to search for the words that fit my mood just right; like a painter searching his pallet for the perfect hue, I can't help but smile when a a sentence comes together so smoothly that God himself would agree with my statement.

In the same regard, I thoroughly enjoy taking the time to express what I am feeling through my writing. However, there have been times when the effort I have put forth to share these feelings and opinions have been met with close-mindedness in the face of youth.

For example, now more than ever, I believe the idea that age dictates understanding and insight is a complete farce.

My former boss once sat down in front of me and explained to me that my newspaper column at the time was unlikely to be taken seriously based on my age and the topics I was discussing.

Topics such as poverty, being estranged from family members, appreciating not only ourselves, but those around us, seeing the value in certain things; these topics, he said, were likely to be received as preachy and arrogant, whereas if he had written them, they were more likely to be received with open arms. Why? Because he is older than I am, and therefore more insightful.

So, for a while, I tried to dumb things down for appeasement's sake, only to find that I was not as proud of my work as I had been. It now felt contrived and "canned," if you will - as though the words I formed were being pushed through the mold he preferred.

While I eventually switched gears again and wrote according to issues and topics I felt should be addressed, the experience really got me thinking: How many writers out there don't express themselves for fear of being told their age disqualifies their opinion?

I can tell you for certain that someone 20 years older than myself (I am 24) may have more years of life, but does not necessarily have the same worldview or values or insights, which is why age - if anything - should be the exact reason to encourage someone to share their views.

As a country and a people, we pride ourselves on our intellect and our rounded views; we also pride ourselves on how accepting we are of others, but we neglect to admit how often we dismiss others because of their age.

Now, obviously there are going to be some factors that affect this, such as maturity. You can't just walk up to someone who is 14 and expect him or her to be able to engage in a thoughtful discussion without first considering the person's maturity for the subject matter through basic conversation.

However, the point is, you shouldn't simply dismiss a 14-year-old because of his or her age. Or a 20-year-old. Nor should you always give someone who is 55 the benefit of the doubt.

That being said, I would like to encourage you to try two things: First, despite what everyone has ever told you about writing and how only certain people can do it will, take some time for yourself and put some words to paper.

I will admit, not everyone is a professional-caliber writer, but that does not make their words any less heartfelt and real.

Second, instead of seeing someone as the number of years they have been alive and borrowing their credibility from that, speak to them and determine your opinion of them from the words they have to share with you. You may surprise yourself.

That being said, let me know when you want to chat and we'll grab a beer.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Final Mahomet Citizen Column - The Best Is Yet To Come

I've been pondering how I would write this column for the last couple of days, and have found that there are far more things to say about my experience in Mahomet than would fit into this, my final column for the Citizen.

However, I've never been one to let word limits get in the way of what I hope is a shared feeling and message.

For nearly a year and a half I've tried to share with you the parts of me I think reside in everyone. I think there are basic components to everyone that allow us to be so caring, understanding, resourceful and resilient and I think part of me hoped that by sharing these things about myself, those of you reading my columns would try to find what brought these things out in you.

I do know that as a community, Mahomet is all of those things and more. I've had the enormous honor to learn about this community from the inside out over the last year and a half and I can safely say, I learned more about Mahomet in that time than I learned in the 15 years that I lived here. For that, I cannot express enough gratitude.

There are people in this community on all levels that I would like to thank, but to be honest, it would take more space than is in this entire newspaper.

For those of you who I have interacted with, for every story I've written and every interview I've done, I've been able to see the very thing I became a journalist to see - the human condition and the struggles, triumphs and excitement contained within a single community.

I'll be honest, it was hard for me to not see Mahomet as a bedroom community when I first started, because that was what I knew about Mahomet coming into things.

Even now, there are residents who believe Mahomet is nothing more than a bedroom community, which may be true, but only half true, if anything.

The other side of that truth is, there is a community growing in so many directions it doesn't know which one is best. While that may seem like a slight, I encourage you to see it as the enormous potential that your community not only has, but the potential that you as a resident have to have your hand in that growth.

I've never been somewhere that a community was so engaged in its own future and even now, you've only begun to scratch the surface of where you can go. Being part of that and being able to see that is just awesome.

I would also like to thank the various public officials for the chance to cover and - in many cases - have a say in the direction things should go. The things I have learned from those experiences alone have been worth so much.

Finally, I would like to thank the readers - the ones who liked what I had to say, didn't like what I had to say and were kind of enough to speak up when they believed there was something to be said - for showing me what community journalism means.

It's one thing to write a story, which I enjoyed, but to be able to invest in the community emotionally and to see the feelings of those stories and be involved with conveying them on the pages is something special for me.

I can safely say that I will always believe one of the things that makes a great story is believing in the people you are writing about and believing in what they have to say.

While I am currently unsure of what my future holds, I would like to compare my situation to that of the village itself (if only loosely): We know the future holds something great for us - even if we aren't sure what it is yet - and we can't wait to get there.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of such a wonderful process, Mahomet. And remember, whether you can see what the future holds or not, always enjoy the view.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Living a Dream Still Requires a lot of Work - 1-20-10 Editor's Column

This week we celebrated the birthday of one of the most influential individuals in our nation’s history.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been revered by many since his passing and also remembered, specifically for the dream he shared with so many who were willing to listen as he stood at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

As the years have gone by, we have struggled to realize that dream, though we continually make strides towards what many might call a Utopian society.

Often times, I am awestruck by how far we have come in our acceptance and understanding of one another, whether we are black, white, or otherwise.

Other times, I stand baffled by the selfishness and hate that we try to ignore but can’t quite get away from.

However, as I find myself standing in this in-between place with a view of the good and the bad, I can’t help but feel like we have accomplished - at least in part - what Dr. King was persecuted and murdered for so many years ago.

Our schools accept individuals of all colors and teach the value of equality and the harm of intolerance.

Our businesses treat customers like family, no matter what their backgrounds or lineages might be.

While we still battle with those who would try to disrupt our progress, more often than not they are made examples of and allow others trying to follow in their footsteps to see the folly of their ways.

We are in the middle of Dr. King’s dream.

But we still have a lot of work to do.

Racism does not simply go away with a few words and a sweep of a broom under the rug. Nor does intolerance.

In order to progress we must not let ourselves be caught up in fear, but be led by the need for understanding.

A need to understand our own history and why change was implemented and needed in the first place.

A need to understand the emotions of those around us and ask why they exist instead of chiding their existence.

But most importantly, a need for continued patience as we make baby steps in the right direction.

Dr. King had a dream that he hoped one day would come true. Dreams have a tendency of becoming reality when enough people strive to see them realized.

That said, as you do your own part in realizing Dr. King’s dream, no matter how small or big, be sure to step back, look at your progress and enjoy the view.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Advance Release: 1-13-10 Editor's Column: Parents and Video games: A Better Combination Than We Know

Like many people throughout the country and the world, I enjoy spending some time playing video games on my Xbox 360 while chatting with my friends and decimating enemy teams.

However, as I find myself still relatively new to the online gaming arena, I've discovered an increasingly bothersome fact about gaming: There are too many underage players.

Currently, I'm playing the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (MW2), which is a first-person shooter that utilizes tactical gameplay and teamwork during the multiplayer matches and requires a great deal of concentration for the more difficult settings of the single-player campaign.

The game itself is rated M for Mature, meaning individuals who are under the age of 17 may not purchase this video game. In the same regard, the rating is in place as a recommendation to parents that they should not purchase it for their children if they are not at or at least close to the stated age requirement.

Yet, time and time again I find myself playing an online match with other players my age and then chimes in a voice of someone no older than 10, using words I would never in my life picture a 10-year-old using and making an obvious attempt to instigate confrontations with other players.

On the Xbox Live web forum for MW2 I read a topic requesting input on what players felt the appropriate age range for this game is, stating his position as a parent who allows his eight-year-old - yes, you read that right, eight (8)-year-old child - to play this game.

Eight. Playing a game in which the primary objective is to eliminate the enemy using weapons such as shotguns, machine guns, tactical knives, grenades and even a nuclear weapon if you can attain it.

To say that I was a little disgusted is an understatement. In fact, provided the original poster with my own perspective on the matter, especially since this argument has implications that reach farther than just to a few individual television sets.

I learned from my parents that it was their job (and will be my job when my wife and I have a child) to provide a solid base of core values and understanding of sensitive subjects. This way, as we grow older, we have the opportunity to form our own opinions from a solid frame of reference.

In the case of allowing small children to play war-based games, parents are allowing their children to learn from something that cannot point out differences, explain historical situations, cite actions and consequences and dispel the misconception that you can do what you see in video games.

Contrary to what I've read and heard some parents say about their children, they are not mature enough to handle the concept of war and all it entails at the age of eight. No matter how mature you think your child is, you have to remember and consider the fact that he or she is exactly that: A child.

I remember a few years back, video games were put under a microscope because of children who were allowed to play violent video games and then practiced what they saw in the game on friends.

In those instances, the parents blamed the video games they had purchased for their children instead of placing the blame where it rightfully should have been placed: On themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't believe everyone matures automatically at the age of 17, nor do I believe everyone below the age of 17 is absolutely immature. There are always going to be people who are old enough but not mature enough and vice versa. The point is, taking the time to recognize it as a parent while it is still up to the parents should be important.

I know my parents didn't allow me to play any mature-rated video games until I was around 15 years old. Though I wasn't 17, I had reached a point where my parents could trust my opinions on things like war and violence enough to allow me to play such games.

While this is likely nothing more than wishful thinking, I believe it would be more beneficial for not only the people who are old enough to enjoy these games as well as the children who have been prematurely allowed to play them, to reevaluate whether or not certain games really are acceptable for our children.

With a rating on the box stating no one under the age of 17 should purchase this game (I still get carded for games), perhaps we should stick closer to this rather than seeing the popularity of a game and buying it blindly.

Our kids will thank us for it in the long run. Take my word for it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Year of Opportunities Awaits Mahomet - January Mahomet Citizen Editorial

Every new year, the same old song and dance includes naming off a list of changes most people will give one or two attempts to achieve before giving up.

The tradition of ending resolutions early is nearly as well-known as the tradition of making them in the first place, often times giving little meaning to the oft-uttered new diet/workout plan people rave about in the first week and curse the next.

However, given the amount of resolve within the community of Mahomet, there should be no reason why resolutions shouldn’t only succeed, but encompass the core values of the community at the same time.

Everywhere one turns, there are individuals within Mahomet’s borders with ideas that could very easily energize the community in new ways.

One such idea from 2009 that found its way into fruition is the community tennis organization. Though it is geared towards children, the fact of the matter is it was started after a few individuals determined Mahomet lacked tennis, so they got together and made a plan on who to bring it to the area.

So why can’t other residents try something similar? For a community said to be growing, there should be no shortage of ideas coming from the residents who live here about ways to (within reason) improve or enhance the atmosphere and appeal of Mahomet.

Obviously certain things will require more time and consideration than others, and some things will simply be unattainable... at first.

However, with the right lines of communication with village and township governments, organizational leaders, community business leaders and other community leaders, the only thing standing in the way of development and growth should be money and red tape.

Once that point is reached, if the idea is solvent enough to be taken further, the money issue can be examined in kind and once that is resolved, the red tape can be addressed.

Dan Waldinger of the Mahomet parks and recreation department said it best in an article last month, that Mahomet isn’t huge, but it’s not small anymore either.

The question now becomes, with the new year upon them, how will village residents and leaders move Mahomet forward?