This one’s for you, my friend

So I told a less-than-glowing story about bullying earlier this week, and I hope it inspired someone to stand up for themselves. Likewise, I hope it caused a few bullies out there in the world to consider their past actions.

But today, let me share the story of one of my dearest friends – who, at one point, sometimes made me her target of ridicule. I wasn’t very nice to her, either. It took years and distance for us to see our differences and realize that we were both wrong, on some level or another.

When you read about the aftermath of bullying – some of it has been tragic, such as the suicide of Phoebe Prince or that of Jamey Rodemeyer (Yale University studies have found that victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims) – you have to wonder if there is closure. There is, for some.

I had known her since the first grade and we didn’t treat each other very well. In the fifth grade, I had enough of her crap, and the crap of the three girls who always stood behind her when she approached me. I told her so. She slowly began to create distance from me after that, and we both gave each other a certain amount of respect – something you don’t see often among pre-teenagers or teenagers.

Then, in the ninth grade, she and her family moved across the country. And I was sad to see her go. Someone who I knew for nine years but whom I did not know well enough to call a friend at the time. Still, I would miss seeing her in the halls every day. She was one of a small (and getting-smaller) group of us who began elementary school together, and with whom I expected to graduate from high school.

Nearly 20 years later, here’s that Facebook thing again – we had enough mutual friends that she came up in the “friends you may know” category. That pesky Facebook …

I don’t remember who reached out to whom, but at first, I was conflicted about it. Still, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and told her, “Things weren’t the same at our school after you left, and I always wondered what you were doing.”

A funny thing happened. She admitted to me years later that she moved away and that she had found out who she really was. And she apologized to me. And I apologized to her. I told her, “I forgive you.” Because I did.

Today, I call the person who used to antagonize me “my friend.” I look forward to every email, text message and funny card I receive from her. In fact, she sent me an email this morning and I read it over coffee, wishing she and I (and her baby son and husband) could have coffee together soon. I am honored to be able to learn about her and to be able to share my life with her. She  is an intelligent, caring, funny, inquisitive and loving mother, woman and friend.

***

From a TeenHelp.org forum, the honesty of a former bully:

I will not deny it – people have a right to know what I have done…how cruel I have been to someone who absolutely did not deserve this and how many times I have hurt him so deeply that he will possibly never fully get over it although I would now do anything for him he wants to make atonement – but I know even that will never be enough. I endlessly regret it now and I will for the rest of my life mourn it and feel absolutely sorry. I blame no-one who despises me because of what I have done or wishes that I will never again be happy in my life or that something really bad will happen to me. I cannot blame anyone because I actually despise and hate myself because of it.

There was NO reason, justification or excuse for bullying someone in the ways I did – there never is. All I can say is that I tried and am still trying so very hard to repair at least a part of the damage and suffering that I have caused.

A high-octane exit

Remember this?

And this?

This, too?

Erase most of those images and words from your memory. No, not that last one. It’ll serve as a painful reminder of Todd Graham’s short, um, legacy at Pitt.

Today, Graham notified his team – via text message – that he was leaving Pitt and heading to Arizona State to become its next head football coach. Yes, he’s leaving on a jet plane … 

And Pitt sent out the release on Graham’s departure this afternoon, stating that “his decision was based solely on personal family reasons” – and that his resignation came after Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson denied Graham permission Tuesday night “to speak to another institution.”

“This is the first job I’ve ever taken that’s benefited my wife,” Graham said during the Arizona State press conference.

Arizona State officials would not comment on the timeline or the process of their coaching search, citing privacy issues. Later in the press conference, broadcast via the web, Graham said this:

“You never want to leave a program, and I never thought I’d have to leave a program, under these circumstances. … It did not allow me to speak to the team, and I really regret that.”

***

Each time I watched a Pitt football game, I tried to figure out who was more of a fraud:

  • Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who struggled all season to quickly adapt to the “high octane offense”;
  • or his coach, Graham, the purveyor of said offense and Pitt’s second choice as this year’s head coach. (What did Chris Rock say in “Never Scared”? “‘Cause you ain’t her first choice!”)

This afternoon brought about the answer:

Yes, Blair Philbrick, Pitt’s assistant athletic director/football operations, forwarded Graham’s text-messaged/emailed statement to his players regarding Graham’s departure, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I reached out he only way I knew how,” Graham said during tonight’s press conference. “The only other alternative I had was to not communicate at all.”

Yet today proved that Pitt’s quarterback, to a certain degree, was simply a pawn. That Graham ultimately was in search of his fourth greener pasture in less than six years. While you can’t hold someone down from chasing their dreams, you have the right to question how they did it if it appears at all scurrilous.

Still, Graham’s departure – less than a month before the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., Pitt’s second appearance in the bowl in as many years (and second without a permanent head football coach) – reiterates a certain truth about college athletics: That while there are some exceptions, college coaches tend to be about as virtuous as a case of cheap beer. They won’t trust you, but you will put all your faith in them … until they leave you with nothing but an empty, painful feeling after you drank it all in.

Remember Roy Williams’ infamous declaration after the 2003 NCAA basketball championship game that, “I don’t give a @&*^ about Carolina right now …” ? Or Alabama Coach Nick Saban, then at Louisiana State, declaring ‎that “Anyone who doesn’t win their conference has no business playing in the national championship game.” (He’s not saying much about that now, is he?)

Insert sarcasm font here: There was so much virtue in those statements, wasn’t there?

No wonder some of us, as sports fans, struggle with some truths.

But Pitt fans, did you trust Todd Graham? Did you have any faith that the system – an offensive line that has allowed a Big East-high 56 sacks, an offense that is seventh (of eight teams) on third- and fourth-down conversions, and a team that leads the Big East in penalties – would pay dividends? Did you believe that with Graham, there would be better days ahead at Pitt?

There still might be. Just without Graham. As for Sunseri? He said this:

The bully found me … years later

The problem with Facebook? You run into some of the people you want to avoid.

Last night, the bully came back to me by sending me a friend request on Facebook.

Let’s talk frankly about the bully. What does the bully have to gain from putting other people down, other than those few moments of feeling better about themselves at the expense of someone else?

A few statistics about bullying, per the CDC:

  • In a 2009 nationwide survey, about 20% of high school students reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey;
  • During the 2007-2008 school year, 25% of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis. A higher percentage of middle schools reported daily or weekly occurrences of bullying compared to primary and high schools.

Among the root issues of bullying: low self-esteem, the need for personal validation, lack of respect in the home or lack of assertiveness in interpersonal situations.

But statistics aside, here’s a rhetorical question: what justifies bullying, if anything?

We’ve been reading all about anti-bullying initiatives and tolerance, and while these are great values to espouse, we need to teach kids something else: stand up for yourself. Something I didn’t do years ago … but something I had to do now.

The bully had gym class with me. She used to ask me very pointedly, in front of her friends and our classmates, if I showered at all, if I had any friends, about my sexuality, how much I weighed, why I even bothered to show up to school, why I wore certain clothes … basically trying (and sometimes succeeding) in driving a stake through my self-esteem.

via girlshealth.gov

We have 12 mutual friends, all from high school. She didn’t send a note, just a friend request.

There was nothing left to lose. Years later, I was ready to stand up for myself – something I couldn’t do 20 years ago, for whatever reason: fear of being socially ostracized, fear of detention, fear of – gasp! – causing a scene in the locker room.

But sometimes you need the closure. Point blank, I asked her:

What did you gain from making fun of me that year?

She wrote back:

I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry. It truly makes me feel terrible to think that I said or did anything mean to you in the eighth grade. Honestly, I was just a girl trying to fit in, and really didn’t have many friends back then. So, to answer your question, I’ve gained exactly nothing from my past behavior.

You found me. You gave me the answer I needed to hear. And you’re right. You gained nothing.

And because of our communication, I’ve forgiven her.

Why should grammar matter?

This query landed in my inbox the other day:

“What you doing?”

You mean, “what are you doing?”

There’s still some uncertainty as to whether or not this was just a simple mistake … but come on, create some grammatical cohesiveness. You’re better than an absent verb.

Now, I’m no ace when it comes to grammar and punctuation. A former coworker once called me “Comma Girl” because I used WAY too many commas in my stories, and one of the best editors I worked with even told me, “Take a few minutes to read through your story and check for mistakes.” (Editors still tell me that, and I need to listen to them a little more. In fact, I just had a careless cut-and-paste mishap this morning.)

But when I go through emails, press releases and even a lot of the content I read online, the grammar and spelling mistakes jump out at me. The misspellings. The improper punctuation. The dangling participles. Yes, the dangling participles. But that’s bordering on grammatical zealotry.

Some days, I have the urge to go on Facebook and post a correction in the comments section of every mistake I see. Whether it’s “your” versus “you’re,” “sewn” versus “sown,” “parity” versus “parody,” “principal” versus “principle,” “hook-and-ladder” versus “hook and lateral” … oh, the horror of malapropisms.

Or using words whose meaning have nothing to do with the message that’s being sent. The worst offenders in sports writing: “So-and-so potted a goal” and “So-and-so plated two runs.”

You pot plants. You score goals. You plate food. You score runs.

Clean grammar, spelling and punctuation are reasons why copy editors and proofreaders are worth their weight in gold.

It’s why spellcheck (Or is it spell-check? Or spell check?) is actually a good thing. So is proofreading.

Have you ever seen the Facebook group titled “I judge you when you use poor grammar“? Yes. It’s true. We judge you. Your poor grammar and careless spelling are, in a certain sense, a reflection of you.

(And if you see any overt grammatical or vocabulary shortcomings in this post, please, let me know ASAP.)

What is it about Tim Tebow?

Why is Tim Tebow so polarizing?

Because the magnitude of Tebow has overtaken most of what the rest of the Broncos have been able to accomplish on this run.

Because he’s different than the other quarterbacks we’ve superficially deified – the cult of personality. Tebow hasn’t been charged with a crime. He doesn’t have any children out of wedlock. He might have a speeding ticket, but that’s about it. He’s less TMZ and more Teen Nick.

Because he has been superficially deified. Maybe “venerated” is a better word.

Because he continues to push his religion onto the public – a display of piety in the otherwise secular arena called sports.

Because there are skeptics – and cynics – among us.

Because he is not a prophet.

Because Denver has a love-hate relationship with any quarterback not named Elway. (Are the skeptics – the agnostics, if you will – simply waiting for the fall?)

Because we are scared of someone who will challenge our beliefs.

Thank you for sharing, in 140 characters or less …

See, athletic directors have a sense of humor, too.

After an otherwise lackluster Saturday Night Live episode with Katy Perry (acting, not singing) and Robyn, the only bright spot was Stefon, Weekend Update’s correspondent and resident club kid.

Watch Stefon’s Christmas recommendations here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/200104/saturday-night-live-weekend-update-stefon

Jim Fiore, Stony Brook University’s athletic director, tweeted one of Stefon’s lines from last night’s episode, one of many Stefon references within the Twitterverse. But consider the messenger, not the message. How many times do you see a person of that stature post something out-of-character? And humorous, to boot? It’s kind of a shame we don’t see a sense of humor all the time from the higher-ups.

With changes in technology, Twitter is becoming a bit of a window into a user or public figure’s personality. And, sometimes, it can serve as a window for team personnel to cut out the proverbial middle man – to direct their own message.

In college athletics, it seems that coaches and athletic directors from the smaller schools who use Twitter are a little more plugged-in and a little more animated on their microblogging accounts. You get glimpses into their personalities.

Derek Schooley (@derekschooley), the hockey coach at Robert Morris University, has used Twitter to discuss Jersey Shore, to profess his love of the St. Louis Cardinals and to promote his hockey program.

When it was brought up during a Colonial Athletic Association teleconference in November, Towson football coach Rob Ambrose (@Coach_Ambrose) didn’t think anyone actually read his Twitter account, but added this:

Maine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron (@CoachBarronUMWB) and his staff are also on Twitter, but when I asked him about it earlier this year, he said he uses some discretion in posting. “I mean, I’m not going to tell the world ‘I just ate a cheeseburger,’ ” he said.

Of course, there are some tense moments in the world of Twitter, like Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke’s statement about some media members, in the aftermath of the James Reimer/goalie-switch incident.

(moral of the story – don’t trust anybody.)

Or Florida Panthers President and CEO Michael Yormark (@panthersyormark), who is an active user of Twitter, but who had this to say to NESN commentator Jack Edwards after Florida’s 2-0 win Dec. 8 at Boston.

(moral of the story – don’t count out the Cats)

So, whether the message is good, bad, humorous or conveying an agenda … there’s a medium for that.

Nordic imports

Earlier this week I got the chance to speak with Plymouth State goalie Jack Astedt for a story I wrote for USCHO.com, and I asked him something:

“Why are we seeing more players from Europe, particularly from Sweden, coming to the United States to play hockey?”

Such as …

Gustav Nyquist, who played at Maine and who now plays in the Detroit Red Wings’ farm system;

Jarkko Ruutu, who played for a year at Michigan Tech and played in the NHL from 1999 to 2011 before returning Finland this season;

Carl Hagelin, who played at Michigan and who is now in the New York Rangers’ farm system; The Wall Street Journal just ran a story on Hagelin, who’s having success already at the start of his pro career;

and Viktor Stalberg, who played for three seasons at Vermont and who is now with the Chicago Blackhawks. Stalberg’s younger brother, Sebastian, is a junior at Vermont.

Astedt, who is a junior at Plymouth State, a Division III school in New Hampshire, may not be able to speak for every Swede in college hockey, but offered his explanation: after a player finishes his time at the junior-hockey level in Sweden, there aren’t as many opportunities to continue playing hockey, unless you turn pro.

“In Sweden, you can’t play college sports or university sports in a high-skill level,” he said. “When you go to high school, the high school has no connection with their junior team. The biggest difference, after you play junior hockey back home, you either play pro or you have to slow down and maybe stop developing. But if you can’t go pro, you take the alternatives, where you can play.”

Astedt added that there’s a certain uniqueness in playing college hockey.

“It’s an honor to play for the students, the teachers and the teammate and (Plymouth State). It’s something that we can’t really offer at home. But we feel a lot of pride playing for the organization you play for (in Sweden).”

***

And in speaking with Astedt, I remembered something I like about Europe – there’s more of an emphasis on enjoying life, on forming bonds with people and taking the time to be social, instead of going through the motions in our own little bubble, unaware of whatever and whoever is around is.

I was also reminded of this when I went out west two weeks ago and talked to several people during various airport layovers. Ricky, a college student from Oklahoma, and I talked about our experiences overseas and he likened it to this: Europe is a socialist nation. And what’s the root of socialist? Social.

So, who do you trust?

Yes, you have the right to trust people. But you also have the obligation to be skeptical. Because chances are, they’re lying to you. Or not telling you the whole truth.

This Chris Pronger medical mystery and this Sidney Crosby funny business have further convinced me of it. So does the brouhaha surrounding Colt McCoy.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced today that Pronger, the Flyers’ captain, will be out indefinitely because of concussion-like symptoms. After Pronger missed time off because of a knee injury and a virus that included headaches and nausea.

From the blog of Flyers beat writer Anthony Sanfilippo, who covers the team for the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times, on Pronger:

We knew it when the word “virus” first came out of Paul Holmgren’s lips.

We knew it when we saw Chris Pronger doing an off-ice work out a few days later – because nobody with a nasty contagion would put his teammates at risk of catching the same illness by hanging around them in the Petri dish better known as a hockey locker room.

We knew it when Pronger first spoke to the media following the announcement of the virus and he debunked that diagnosis and said it wasn’t a virus.

We knew.

The Flyers just chose not to acknowledge it – until today.

Pronger, who was already on the shelf until Christmas recovering from a minor surgery to clean out some loose bodies in his left knee, is now out of the lineup indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.

Crosby, meanwhile, is sitting out two games after experiencing a “slight headache” during practice earlier this week.

Media outlets didn’t originally report or break this information. Instead, the Pittsburgh Penguins released the information on their website – state-run media, if you will.

An exchange on Twitter from Pittsburgh Post Gazette beat writer Dave Molinari, who covers the Penguins, on Crosby’s two-game absence this week:

Because more organizations are controlling the message. And, in some ways, they don’t want people to know the truth, as a way to protect their own interests. Meanwhile, reports are floating around that, again, Crosby’s absence could be longer.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy sustained a concussion in Thursday’s 14-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but returned to the field to play … and faced the postgame media in a carefully controlled environment. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Browns Coach Pat Shurmur said McCoy was well enough to return to the field, but his father said that McCoy, who suffered a concussion in high school and at least one with the Browns, was anything but fine.

“After the game, the [media relations staff] made sure Colt’s interview was brief and he couldn’t face the lights in his press conference,” Brad McCoy said. “The TV lights and the stadium lights were killing him. Why would you say he was fine? That makes it even worse.”

So, who do you believe? Or do you seek out and extricate the truth and the facts – and whom to trust – yourself?

No, actually, that guy does not suck.

“That guy sucks” is the oldest, lamest and biggest cop-out of an insult that you can use to characterize a person, place, team or thing’s supposed inferiority.

When you say Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or the Lakers suck or Duke sucks, you’ve lost the game. You’ve hit the bottom of the barrel. You’ve embraced the lowest common and least credible denominator of insults.

You have basically run out of creative ways to insult them. Because, clearly, they don’t suck.

Instead, you’re just telling the world that you are well beneath the point of trying to argue their supposed inferiority.