Tag: football

What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


Fourth and Goal

Yes, we’re all getting ready for the Super Bowl this weekend (even though my team was eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs, which sucks).

kickoff-1a

So I’m not going to dwell on this study that points out how far Latinos have to go to achieve political power that is commiserate with our growing population.

But basically, if Hispanics had representation in Congress that matched our actual presence in the nation, there would be 90 Latino representatives or senators. Instead, there are 37. Just nine of those are Latinas.

Like I said, it’s too depressing to rant about at length. So you may now return to your preparations for the big game.

I’m betting on a Seattle upset.

 


Why the Bombshell?

OK, this is going to come out as self-righteous, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I’m a straight guy who was raised Catholic. I grew up doing things like Boy Scouts and high school football. When I was a kid, depictions of gay people were rare, and overwhelmingly negative. But despite my relentlessly religious, hetro background, even as a teenager I couldn’t understand why anybody had a problem with gay people.

So I’m mystified why, after decades of social pressure, grown adults are only now saying, “I guess it’s not cool to hate on gays.” Of course, even more amazing is the fact that millions of Americans are still saying, “Yes, it is, because God told me to.”

President Obama’s decision this week to come out in support of gay marriage is breathtaking not only for its boldness, but for the fact that there is any controversy at all. I’m sorry, but try as I might to respect everyone’s religious beliefs, I can’t get past the idea that the supposedly principled stance against homosexuality is nothing more than fear, ignorance, and prejudice.

Now, those are subjects that Latinos know a thing or two about. Perhaps because we’ve felt what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those emotions, support for gay marriage is higher among Hispanics than among the general population. Yes, as I’ve written before, Latinos are no longer as socially conservative as they once were, and Republicans who insist that Obama will lose the Hispanic vote because of his announcement are deluding themselves.

In essence, twenty or so years from now, when gay marriage is legal in every state, you will have a hard time finding anyone who will admit that they once voted to deny fellow Americans their civil rights. It will be just like the old Southerners who insist they never called a black person a derogatory name in the 1970s.

Who knows, maybe even Arizona, by that point, will stop frisking Hispanic kids. We can dream.

 


Fourth and Long

Two recent polls caught my attention.

The first was taken at the height of Tebow-mania, when many otherwise rational adults believed that a mediocre quarterback could actually win the Super Bowl.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


el futbol americano

Football season began this weekend, and like millions of other people, I will spend far too much time over the next few months getting emotionally attached to meaningless events beyond my control. My mood on certain Sundays will depend on whether or not an enormous, steroid-enhanced millionaire in a bulky uniform can catch a weirdly shaped spinning object.

There are, of course, few Hispanics who play professional football. Genetically, we tend not to be that big, which is a serious disadvantage in a game based on brute force. Once you get past Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs and a few diminutive place-kickers scattered around the league, the NFL isn’t exactly awash in Latinos. Still, we will soon have at least one honorary Hispanic take the field.

Chad Johnson, a receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, has legally changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco. For those of you who passed freshman Spanish, you know that “ocho cinco” means “eight five.” It’s a reference to Johnson’s jersey number (eighty-five), although strictly speaking, he should have changed his name to Ochenta y Cinco.

He first slapped “ocho cinco” on the back of his jersey in 2006, when the NFL celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month (which, by the way, is in September). He wore it for pregame warm-ups, but had to remove the moniker for the game because the NFL pointed out that it wasn’t his real name. Well, it is now, and his jersey will indicate as much while we hear the pleasing baritone of sportscasters intone, “and the pass is complete to Ocho Cinco.”

As someone who also changed his last name to reflect Hispanic heritage, I can understand Johnson’s… I mean Ocho Cinco’s decision. Why not choose a name that better reflects your personality, and that has the added benefit of paying tribute to an oft-marginalized culture? And really, how attached could the guy be to the name “Johnson” anyway?

There are a couple of differences between me and Mr. Ocho Cinco, however. First, I’m truly Hispanic, and he’s not. Actually, I don’t have to enumerate any other points besides that one. But I will add that I chose my mother’s maiden name as my new surname, bypassing the megalomania inherent in picking a random number that celebrates just me and my greatness.

In any case, Ocho Cinco joins the very short list of celebrities who have changed their names to something Hispanic or, at the very least, expressed a desire to be Latino. It’s further proof that our hipness level is slowly, incrementally rising.

I am not a Bengals fan, but I hope Ocho Cinco does well this year. After all, if he sucks, we’ll hear, “He was pretty good, until he decided to get all Hispanic on us.”


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