From the vault: Steve Martin at the Hollywood Bowl

Enough people boarded at 7th and Metro that myself, my girlfriend and her friend Sara had to stand but only for one stop when many of them exited at MacArthur Park. We cold shouldered a beggar and I stared at my phone while they bragged about getting vouchers from airlines.

Sara had recently added to her half-sleeve tattoo and drew wandering eyes from many passengers. She had spent an hour on the train coming from Long Beach so she stood while the two of us sat until the Hollywood and Highland exit on the red line.

We met up with Sara’s boyfriend before walking to the Hollywood Bowl to see Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers for a bluegrass, Fourth of July fiasco. We bought our tickets that day so we were in the second to highest section available. After riding two escalators we had arrived at section"T.“ The female usher, probably still a college student, held us from finding our seats until the music paused.

As we settled and unpacked the three bottles of wine we brought, I noticed the Hollywood sign perfectly positioned between the nook of one hill and cranny of another. For my first visit to the venue, I certainly felt like I was in Hollywood.

The show was structured such that between songs Steve Martin interviewed members of his band or shared self-centered but hilarious stories from being on the road. I was surprised to learn that Steve Martin has been playing the banjo for 50 years and, when he had a solo with no accompaniment about halfway through, he showcased his finger plucking skills. He also educated the audience on what a "murder ballad” is and so eloquently described story songs.

Being from Ohio, I grew up just across the border from the Bluegrass state and spent a decent amount of time there. Bluegrass was never my favorite style of music but I’ve always marveled at it so when my girlfriend found out that Sara was going, we both wanted to go.

I’m glad I did because the atmosphere was great and I got to hear the coolest violinist I’ve ever heard. Nicky Sanders was featured in the last song before the fireworks. His dexterity and style prompted my girlfriend to utter eight words that neither she nor I ever expected to hear her say, “He played the hell out of that fiddle.”

All I can say is listen to this video to get a taste of your own. You won’t regret it.

As if the music wasn’t value enough, there was a fireworks display at the end that featured “moving pyrotechnics” - as my girlfriend called the spinning, illuminated stars - as well as a surprise appearance by the Statue of Liberty.

After that, the band played a final, patriotic song called “Me and Paul Revere.” It was a creatively written song from the perspective of Paul Revere’s horse.

All in all, Steve Martin and co. put on a great show. I filed out of the Hollywood Bowl and back to the subway station where I started writing. All the while some new and randomly awesome lyrics were running through my head.

“Me and Paul Revere. Me and Paul Revere. I’m the horse he chose, of course, me and Paul Revere.”

Making Music with Racism

Making Music with Racism

I saw a video last week at Woodland Hills High School outside Pittsburgh, PA that I need to talk about. The video begins with a 15-year-old boy sitting in what appears to be the principal’s office in a chair with his hands on a folder in his lap. Officer Steve Shaulis walks into the lobby of the apparent principal’s office, grabs the boy by the arm bringing him to his feet. Shaulis then locks the underside of his elbow under the boy’s chin in a headlock. They tussle down the hallway of the office before Shaulis lifts the boy off his feet and slams him to the ground. The commotion alarms another school employee who comes into the hallway. That employee holds the boy’s head to the ground while Shaulis cuffs him. The boy was charged with resisting arrest. 

So many questions. What would ever make it okay for a grown man to choke out and slam a 15 year old? Why did the other guy jump in and pin the boy’s head down? What had the boy done in the first place to deserve punishment and does that even matter? What prompted Shaulis to enter the room and immediately escalate the level of force?

It’s irresponsible to dissect and analyze this story by asking the aforementioned and forgetting to also include the following: what were the races of the parties involved?

Now, some will claim that race has nothing to do with it and that introducing race as a potential factor is itself the act of irresponsibility. That by implying that race played a role at all, it clouds the conversation and distracts from the facts. You may remember Christopher Darden making this argument for the District Attorneys office in the OJ Simpson trial regarding the use of the n-word. 

However, excluding race from the conversation is like composing music without the vowel notes (A,E). You could still make good music, but not as good of music as you could with all of the notes. And it would be a challenge, a challenge to be proud of upon completion even. But too often, that pride clouds the fact that the song would have been better if you used all the notes on the keyboard. We can make a song and call it “Justice” and people with less-tuned ears will think it’s a great song, but the people who know the vowels are missing see that the song is incomplete. But most people like the song as is, creating a heightened risk in doing a remix, so they don’t. And the people with knowledge of the incompleteness are expected to lower their musical standards and expectations.

But I still haven’t addressed my initial questions. What would ever make it okay for a grown man to choke and body slam a 15 year old? Think of your answer to that question. 

What would ever make it okay for a White man to choke and body slam a Black 15 year old? Think of your answer. 

What would ever make it okay for a Black man to choke and body slam a White 15 year old? Think of your answer. 

If race doesn’t matter, then the answer should be the same for all three scenarios. Ask yourself, were they?  

This incident perfectly highlights the dichotomy why and how Blacks and Whites perceive police presence differently. Officer Shaulis entered the room and lifted the boy from a seated position, seemingly to arrest him. We don’t know what the boy did prior, maybe he deserved to be arrested. That doesn’t matter, though. Shaulis immediately put him in a headlock, rather than, what would seemingly be police protocol, to cuff him while he’s turned around. 

Now, to everyone reading this. If a person is behind you with your head in a choke hold, what would you do? Honestly. At a certain time, fight or flight kicks in; physiologically, as humans. Adrenaline is a real thing. Don’t believe me, find a random person and walk up behind them, apply a solid choke hold and observe what happens. My point exactly. And please, no one actually try that. 

So to perceive the boy as somehow resisting arrest while ignoring the physiological factors that he is being choked by a man much stronger than him is irresponsible. To take it a step further, also imagine that the person choking you has “Protect and Serve” stitched in his shirt and that there’s no one that can usurp his authority in that moment to save you. So, now, psychologically, this 15 year-old boy, and his still developing adolescent brain, is not only experiencing a traumatic event but when he looks back, that will be apart of the foundation of his interaction with police. 

Now, the other side of this coin is the other school employee, the guy that held down the boys head while Shaulis cuffed him. Let’s see things from his perspective for a second. By the way, he also happened to be White. He hears a commotion outside his office and goes to check on it. He sees an officer and a boy grappling and then the boy gets body-slammed. Possibly unaware of any of the lead up, he assumes that the officer must be in the right and that the student is being insubordinate. There’s no audio so it’s unclear if the employee was instructed to pin the boy’s head down or if he did it on his own. 

Either way, imagine the teacher was Black. Does the Black teacher pin the kid’s head to the floor on command? Would the Black teacher think to do it him/herself? Does the Black teacher get involved at all? Race matters…

Still don’t agree? Why wasn’t the same protocol applied to the arrest of murderer of nine Dylan Roof afforded to this young man at Woodland Hills High School? Those police officers went out and bought him Burger King

Regardless of the actual motives, regardless of how present those motives were in their consciousness, just observe the optics. How are these two arrests conducted under the same justice system? 

It’s uncomfortable. It’s ugly. It’s emotional. But race is a real thing and it influences people everyday and to attempt to dismiss it from the conversation only reinforces it’s borders. 

I’m not here to speculate on Shaulis’ history of violence at the school or what nuances can’t be perceived from the video or the boy’s background. I’m only here to point out that this video serves as an opportunity to see the spectrum of how Whites and Blacks interact with the police and if you’re one of those people always asking “why does it have to be racial”? You’re probably also one of the people in love with the incomplete song. Give yourself a chance to hear the full song.

The Time I Met Obama and Why It Changed Me

The Time I Met Obama and Why It Changed Me

It was January 8, 2008 and therefore cold and white, in Hanover. It was the first full week of classes after the winter break at Dartmouth and it also happened to be the day of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Pretty much every winter prior, I has been playing basketball but this was the first that I would dedicate to football.

My workouts wouldn’t start immediately, however. I was in a car accident just five days before, during which I broke my back in two places although, it went misdiagnosed for another 14 months. 

The football team had early workouts and with the polls opening for the proverbial “kickoff primary” every election cycle , Senator Barack Obama was scheduled to speak at Dartmouth early that morning. 

A few teammates expressed plans to skip their class and hear him speak but I couldn’t afford to miss. 

I had a modified workout designed to keep stress off my spine followed by taping at least two ice bags to my lower back that I wore around campus but seldom made it past breakfast. In the New England windy winter, having two bags of additional cold and wet strapped to my body wasn’t exactly my favorite.

My workout was on the bike indoors so I finished before my teammates so I showered and headed to the Davis Varsity House for ice. There was a lot more people than usual for 730AM. As I approached the walkway leading up to the Davis House, a man in an all black suit, unnecessary sunglasses given the overcast and an ear piece extended his arm like a mom slamming on her breaks to keep me from going further. 

“I’m just going to get ice for my back,” and I gestured to the Davis House. He got clearance from someone else wearing unnecessary glasses and then let me through. 

I also happened to be wearing a shirt with Obama’s face on it. I was apart of his campus campaign team and since I couldn’t attend his speech I figured the least I could do is wear his shirt. 

I swung open the old and heavy doors to the Davis House and was immediately blinded by a camera’s flash. The photographer was pointing in my direction and I couldn’t have been more in the background of this picture if I tried. 

I’m standing in the short corridor to the lobby of the Davis House trying to decide whether the discomfort in my back outweighed the sheer awkwardness of the situation when I realized that it was about to get worse and better at the same time.

I scan the lobby looking for a familiar face to wave me into the training room for ice. Michelle Obama. Joe Biden. Jill Biden.

The looks on their faces must have been a give away because the whole group of people that were posing for the picture only a few paces in front of me, turned around in unison and it was then that I realized that Barack Obama was one of those people.

“I totally just photo bombed Obama,” I thought to myself.

He recognized his face blown up all over my chest and walked over to me. 

“Hi, how ya’ doin?” He asked.

“Kyle Battle, from Cincinnati” I extended my hand, very professional, firm and ready for a solid squeeze - but not too much. “I’m doing well. Tough loss for my Buckeyes last night though.”

“I saw the highlights on SportsCenter, “he responded and then we shook hands. I promise I’ve never overthought a handshake so much in my life but I was fully prepared for the professional, by-the-book handshake with a nice jolt at the bottom - not soft enough to transition into the slow and continuous handshake that no one ever knows when to end but also not hard enough to pop a shoulder. Instead, as soon as my hand made contact with his, just before the jolt, he pivoted his hand up around the joint of his thumb, grabbed my thumb and pulled me in for a hug like I was one of the homies.

The whole concept of the White House and the executive branch of government had previously seemed so distant and foreign to me. With 43 white, male presidents to start us off, I had never really felt a connection to any of them; none of them seemed to represent me. That handshake, to me, a poor Black boy from suburban Cincinnati that didn’t even think he deserved to be an Ivy League student at the time, flipped my whole notion of the presidency, and even my own identity, on its head. In a word, that handshake represented hope. 

Hope that a person who shook hands like me, or that had to brush their hair like me, or that had to steal some lotion from his lady’s purse in the car to pinch in the webbings of their fingers before leaving the house so as to avoid the “Ashy Obama” headlines - hope that I could look at the White House and see some reflection of myself other than the skin color of those who built it. 

With Obama leaving the presidency today, I’m fortunate to have grown from a boy into a man under his administration. My drive and determination to be great is directly correlated to Barack Obama being president. I thought I had big goals before, and then Obama was elected and it was exposed that what I thought was a ceiling was just one of those underwater levels of Fear Factor where you have to find the hole in the glass in order to move up from one level to the next. 

I know many will read this and write it off as another Black person praising Obama, which isn’t entirely false. But I write this as an Ivy League graduate, published author, activist and entrepreneur and I can definitively say that I would not have achieved those titles by the age of 28 if Obama hadn’t been sworn in when I was 20. From one American pursuing the American dream to another, thank you for your service to this country Uncle Barry.

Expressions of an OG

Omar Little, one of the main characters in the HBO series The Wire, was inspired by five real Baltimore-area criminals from the 1980s and 90s: Donnie Andrews, Shorty Boyd, Ferdinand Harvin, Billy Outlaw and Anthony Hollie. Hollie went into witness protection in the mid 1980s after cooperating with the police, he was believed to be dead.

He relocated first to Missouri and then to Ohio where he was ultimately kicked out of the witness protection program for breaching protocol trying to support his heroin addiction. Following 90 days in rehab, he got active with community organizations helping to, of all things, remove youth from the streets. He began what became a nationally-renowned slam poetry group of young inner-city youth performing positive messages that he wrote. Here is an original copy of one of those poems - lyrics transcribed below:

There are many things about the homeless that people don't understand,

The myth is that they're lazy and are looking for a helping hand.

Ninety percent has an employment history and hey that's a fact,

A minimum wage job is not enough to get a family back on track.

Sixty-four percent don't have relatives that could lend a helping hand,

They're trying to raise a family and are doing the best they can.

As you work with homeless studnets beware of observed effects,

Poor attention span and frustration, aggressive behavior and hopelessness.

The stress can be overwhelming, it can tear at everyone's heart,

And little by little rip the family and you apart.

Your task is to lift them up and restore that hope and pride,

Reassure them that God is on their side.

There are people who you work with who are negative and insensitive,

Don't feed into it, there is too much positive you can give.

Compassion is a must in what you do and say,

Because you can be one of the homeless if someone takes a few paychecks away.

Everyone cannot do your job you're a chosen few,

The pay is not the best, so you know that didn't attract you,

You do it because you care about people and the feeling that you get when you help someone,

Money cannot replace it.

Why I Gotta Choose?

This piece was written and performed for Jump Club SF through When to Jump in October 2016.

Life 2.0 with Gail Becker

Life 2.0 with Gail Becker

Originally published on the When to Jump channel of the Huffington Post.

At 7 a.m., she caught a plane from New York to Los Angeles. Coming directly from LAX, Gail Becker arrived at the Bullpen with two handbags and a Starbucks cup holder.

Flying in from the East coast was certainly familiar to Gail. In her previous life as an executive with the world-renowned public relations firm Edelman, she traveled often. This cross-country flight, however, was one of her first as an entrepreneur.

I was there for When to Jump, along with a camera crew, to find out what motivates someone to walk away from what many would consider a dream job. We all shook hands and introduced ourselves in the lobby of the Bullpen, the marketing firm Gail hired to brand what she referred to as her “Life 2.0” projects.

While the guys set up the cameras and lighting equipment, Gail and I talked about everything from gun violence to entrepreneurship to Big 10 football. We talked for 15 or so minutes before the cameras were ready and we moved into the conference room. She offered up that she had another coat that she could wear if it looked better. Being four guys with no fashion expertise, it felt like a courtesy but we decided that her red jacket would pop better against the chain-like backdrop. She changed her coat (and shoes), clipped on her microphone, asked for a hair check and we got started.

“How did you know it was time to jump?” I asked.

“I guess it was shortly after my father died, about a year ago,” she began.

Gail attributes her success to her work ethic and fearlessness, traits passed down by her father. An Auschwitz survivor, he made his way to America with literally nothing and eventually built a successful business and family. Gail never lost sight of the sacrifices her father made and even produced a documentary about his return to Auschwitz called A Journey with Purpose.

The death of her father called into question the purpose in her own life. What was she put on this earth for and was she doing it? While helping other women navigate and ascend the corporate ladder was certainly a passion, and Edelman was number one in the world, was Gail Becker even doing what she was called to be doing? And if her calling was elsewhere, was she destined for even greater things in the future or was she a fool for being emotionally greedy?

Gail had the job that most people would sacrifice limbs for. As General Manager of Edelman’s Los Angeles office, Gail was the face of the largest PR firm in the world in the entertainment industry’s most active market. Three awards shows, two movie premiers, a blockbuster album release: just another July on Gail’s calendar.

She had also built a voice as an empowering advocate for women in the workplace through her blog “Yes, I Can Walk in These“ and, behind the scenes, worked to increase the presence of women in executive positions by 33 percent.

After 16 years, Gail walked away from that to do something more satisfying that she hadn’t even fully identified yet. One of her largest concerns was how the many women that looked up to her, whom she had mentored and coached for years, would view her. She didn’t want to be seen as a hypocrite or traitor but she also couldn’t silence the growing voice in her head intimating that there was more — that this stop on her journey with purpose was just a layover and it was time for the next leg.

Gail felt relief when she announced her resignation and, instead of spite, received over 2,000 emails from people all over the world encouraging her and congratulating her bravery.

I asked her how it’s been since then: “I want to wake up and work. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked. But because you’re working on something that you’re passionate about, it’s just a totally different part of your brain. It’s your heart and your brain working together. That is a powerful combination.”

Gail is now writing a book and starting a company that “has nothing to do with PR.” She still splits time between LA and New York but feels much more satisfied doing so after jumping — “Give yourself permission to chase your dreams.” And, stealing a nugget from her final blog post, it’s better to say “oops” than “what if.”

White Privilege Isn't an Indictment, Unless You Deny It

White Privilege Isn't an Indictment, Unless You Deny It

I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time the last few days joining Facebook conversations and retweeting poignant comments about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I realized that regardless of whether or not I agree that social media is the place for that conversation in an ideal world, the fact of the matter is that’s where the conversations are happening. One thing that’s been confirmed is that there’s a lot of ignorance participating in these conversations without an open-mind. Ignorance along with close-mindedness leads to nothing.

Now, before I continue, it’s necessary for me to clarify the word “ignorant.” I don’t mean it as a derogatory term, simply as a synonym for “not knowing.” They say ignorance is bliss but the bliss of many people’s worlds is being challenged yet the ignorance along with it is being ignored. That’s just irresponsible.

I see members of the white community unable to accept that their blissful worlds are not universal. That said, I’ve encountered many in the white community who, when forced to face the facade of their blissful world, do have a moment of reckoning where it becomes clear that their white privilege does exist and that seems to often be followed with a desire to engage coupled with very little certainty on how. Nonetheless, that’s progress.

However, for those still unable to understand the other side, let me try to clarify:

Having white privilege is not an indictment on white people. Identifying white privilege is not synonymous with chastising white people; it’s merely the acknowledgment of a dynamic in this country. However, the resistance to accept the existence of white privilege is, in fact, an insult to all Black people, who see the manifestation and experience that dynamic of white privilege everyday.

It also pains me to see the amount of tension between people supporting #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The thought that the two are mutually exclusive can only be a symptom of close-mindedness. Those are the same people wondering why there’s no NAACP-equivalent for white people.

How many people reading this also saw “Remember the Titans”? Remember that scene when a group of players, black and white, went out together and the white guys insisted on going to this one restaurant and the black players didn’t want to but they clearly realized that the white players didn’t understand why the black players didn’t want to go, so they went in anyway and it was super racist and the Black guys were pissed and they split up the rest of the night?

That’s white privilege. The white players didn’t necessarily intend for bad things to happen but their inability to see the whole picture and understand the black perspective ended up causing for a confrontation that made the blacks players uncomfortable.

Those of you claiming that white privilege doesn’t exist are purely those still naive enough not to realize that you’re the guy insisting on bringing the black guys into the racist bar.

One Way to Roll with the Punches (posted on the Huffington Post)

My junior year in college, I organized a charity event called Carnival for a Cause which benefit the National Down Syndrome Society. My older brother has Downs so the cause was easy to choose. I got help from a close friend whose younger brother also has Downs. She helped to promote the event within her sorority and they became title sponsors. #ShoutOut Alpha Phi Sorority.

Just after the second year of the event was when I found myself just a few weeks from graduation without a job. My friend and I were talking one day when I expressed my concern.

I really just wanted to work in sports. The NFL was my goal but I was willing to do anything from being a beat writer for a local paper to working with minor league affiliate teams. I even entertained a couple of high school coaching opportunities. Nothing.

“Well, my dad said he’d hire you.” My friend said.

“What?”

“I figured you wouldn’t be interested,” she went on to tell me about how her father made a comment in passing about how he’d hire me after seeing me organize Carnival for a Cause in 2010. Knowing that I was set on a career in sports, she never mentioned the comment until all leads dried up.

Was this the right move? A bird in the hand, right? While I had always only seen myself in sports, this job would take me in a completely different direction. Did that mean I would get trapped in this career and never get a chance to work in sports? Should I just wait for this NFL lockout to be over?

Within a week, I had accepted a job to be apart of a sales and sales training program and I’d be living in Orlando, FL for at least the next year. The idea was that the program would teach sales skills as well as how to administer Salesforce with the goal of working remotely for the company after a year.

Just 20 days after graduation, I flew to Tampa, FL to begin my career with four grueling days of Salesforce admin training before settling in Altamonte Springs, a northern suburb of Orlando.

Training sucked. I had no idea what I was studying. I didn’t know where it started, I couldn’t see an end in sight, it was all just terrible. It would be another six months before I would actually understand the contents of my meticulous notes from that training in Tampa. However, there was a point when the lightbulb switched and I not only was able to manipulate the program but I was beginning to envision things; possibilities within the system and complex “what if” questions.

I owe most of it to my co-worker at the time, Alex. He was the only one in the office that understood the program in enough detail to break it down enough for newb creative writing majors like me to understand it. He would let me listen to client phone calls and brainstorm solutions on his whiteboard. It was just the helping hand and vote of confidence that I needed. It wasn’t a relationship that I was seeking, necessarily, but once I got it, I realized how fulfilling it was.

Once I grew comfortable with the technology and had proven my abilities to creatively manipulate it, I set my sights on Los Angeles.

As the year waned, it became increasingly apparent that I wouldn’t be moving out west, not working with this company anyway. About nine months in, I presented my boss with a proposal on what my relocation would look like and what types of accounts I could attract. It was then that I realized that I couldn’t depend on anyone else to have as much faith in me as myself. When the timeline doubled and I was looking at minimum another year in Orlando, I was lost and alone.

I considered scrapping it all, at one point. Orlando had just gotten an arena football team, I contemplated pursuing them for whatever entry level job I could find. At least I’d be back in sports, working towards what I actually wanted to be doing. But I couldn’t supplant the idea of being in Los Angeles, the center of it all.

I decided to ignore the new, significantly longer timeline and dedicate myself to going to California anyway. I had already convinced myself that I could do it in a year so to wait an extra 18 months would have felt like a failure.

I wasn’t being challenged mentally at work so I took on a writing project with my oldest brother which I spent most nights and weekends working on. The idea was to write a book but eventually film or tv show. By June we had self-published a fictional novel called “Why Tell the Truth?” and I needed to be on the west coast for the remaining steps.

I applied to dozens of jobs in California but it was like chasing a jet in snow shoes: between the relocation and my lack of relevant experience, I could never catch up. I had to consider that I was stuck at this job. Then I finally got an interview. Then another. Unfortunately my initial concerns were confirmed, most companies didn’t see a point in taking the risk on me. I just needed a chance to show what I could do.

And then I finally got one. The interview process included a quiz, of sorts, allowing me to show my skills and creativity. I completed it and waited.

I had finally landed a date on Match.com and was waiting outside the bar for this girl when I got the offer. It was the best I had felt in a year. Having no more hurdles between me and chasing my dream, I couldn’t fully conceptualize that I not only could shop my story in Hollywood but I also had the security of a decent-paying job in case it didn’t work out. Within 10 days I had packed up my Hyundai Accent with all that would fit, donated the rest, and drove blindly into the next chapter of my life.

How an NFL Rejection Started my Next Jump (posted on Huffington Post)

When to Jump is a curated community featuring the ideas and stories of people who have made the decision to leave something comfortable and chase a passion.

It was a Monday my junior year in college. I woke up and checked my email to find a message from someone I didn’t know that worked in our college athletic department. Due to injury, I was no longer actively playing football but still held a big role off the field so it wasn’t completely strange to receive something from athletics but it stood out enough to open up first that morning.

Someone with the Detroit Lions had reached out to the school requesting permission to approach me. I replied immediately granting permission but largely wrote it off as a mistake. What NFL team would want me?

A few hours later I got a call from a hidden number. It was a man named James Harris, the head of personnel for the Detroit Lions. It was a short call but he said that he was considering hiring me as an entry level member of his scouting team. He was to call me back later.

I did as much research as I could think to do. James “Shack” Harris turned out to be the first African-American quarterback to regularly start for an NFL team, an esteemed name in football circles.

He called back and we talked for twenty minutes. The job was to scout small colleges in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Being that I had been recruited by many of them as a high schooler in Cincinnati, everything seemed to fit. If all went well, we would meet up in Boston that Thursday to sign the paperwork.

The next morning, Tuesday, his assistant sent me the terms of a contract.

I remember sharing the contract with my grandparents. They didn’t know what to say. It was a five-year contract with a base salary the first year of $117,000. Between the signing bonus, relocation bonus, clothing stipend and everything else, I would make $34,000 immediately just for signing the dotted line. That was more money than my grandfather made annually in his career and here I would be making it day one.

“That’s a lot of money, Kyle,” my grandfather told me.

To take the job, I would have to drop out of college. It wasn’t even a decision for me. My grandfather and I had theorized many times before about the advantages of leaving school, or skipping college completely, for the right reasons. This fit the criteria.

The contract included health insurance for my immediate family which would have been the first time my whole household had health insurance, ever. If I was smart I could realistically have half a million saved by the time I was 26. I couldn’t comprehend how different my life would be.

Mentally, I checked out of school. I had an assignment due that Friday in my African-American literature class that I tried to start but I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that Friday I would likely be explaining my withdrawal from school to the Admissions office and therefore wouldn’t care at all about a lit paper.

I had just picked up my suit from the dry cleaners that Wednesday evening, when the phone rang. Blocked caller.

“Hey, how you doin’ Mr. Harris?” I began.

He cut right to the chase, “So I talked to some more people about you. They say you’re a different kind of guy. What do you have to say about that?”

I was taken aback and somewhat offended by his premise but I answered the question nonetheless, “Well, yeah. To get to where I am from where I came from, you have to do things a little differently but it’s gotten me this far and I’m proud of that.”

He paused uncomfortably long, “How old are you, Kyle?”

“I’ll be 21 in December.”

Click..........................................dial tone.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

Mr. Harris?”

I called the number I had for him but his passcode had been changed. I called back five times before I emailed his assistant. It was over. Confirmation came the next morning when I received a reply email from his assistant saying simply, “Oh, it’s not gonna happen.”

It was Thursday morning, I wasn’t headed to Boston, my life was shamefully the same and I had a paper due the next day. Mr. Harris had assumed or been informed that I was a graduate student helping out with the football team as opposed to an undergrad. I couldn’t figure out how it took him three days to discover my age but it didn’t matter. The chance was gone.

The opportunity of a lifetime doppler-ed right by me and all because of something I couldn’t control: my age. I vowed then to never again let myself become so emotionally invested in something that was so dependent on things outside of my own control.

I promised myself that I would do a better job of positioning my jump to be more of a bet on myself than a roll of the dice.

And, most importantly, I actually convinced myself that the mistake was in him hanging up, not in him considering me in the first place. I was worth the value of that contract. Realizing my perceived value, in this or other scenarios, has been a catalyst for many things in my life but it all stems back to me believing in myself.

Why Tell the Truth?: The Chess Games - Preface

Why Tell the Truth?: The Chess Games - Preface

Phil had hardly slept the past two days.  He tried to sleep on the plane but spent a lot of that time reading the assignment and figuring out how he was going to get it done.  He had never been asked to do anything like it before and nearly everything he lived for was riding on it.

Phil had never been to Vienna before and did not want to seem like a tourist so as soon as he landed, he took a taxi to a hostel near the subway station.  He laid all of his things on the bed.  The room couldn’t have been bigger than two prison cells put together.  There were no decorations or vibrant colors other than the hints of burgundy in the comforter.  The assignment began at the subway station so he memorized the route on the map and walked the journey twice for practice.

By the time he was comfortable with the streets of Vienna, he still had a little time to spare before meeting with the Brown Recluse.  He lay down in the hardened straw bed at the hostel and almost fell asleep before he could set the alarm.  It seemed like he closed his eyes, took two deep breaths and the alarm was going off already.  He really needed a full night’s rest but the 45-minute nap gave him just what he needed to make it through this mission.

When he got to the subway station, a train had just arrived and passengers were streaming out of the narrow doors flooding onto the concrete platform.  Through the masses of people, all just heads and eyes, bags and suitcases, Phil saw her.  She was taller than the average woman, but much of that could be attributed to her high-heeled shoes.  Her chocolate-colored coat reached to just above her knees; below that her black skirt reached to just under her knee before her freshly shaved legs could be seen.  She walked in a circle, switching up directions every second or third rotation.  He didn’t want to startle her but did want to make himself known.

 “A wise man once said, ‘It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely,” Phil said to her.

“And a wise man Albert Einstein was,” the woman responded as she turned to face him.

Her face was ageless and vaguely familiar.  She didn’t wear much makeup - light eyeliner, some blush, and a dull pink lipstick.  Were it not for the emerging crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes, she could easily have passed for thirty years old.

“Albert Einstein is the man who said that,” she reinforced.

Phil stuttered, “Y-Y-Yes.  I’m sorry, yes.  Albert Einstein.”

“Are you okay?” she looked concerned.

“Yes, I’m fine.  Are you the Brown Recluse?” he asked.

      She confirmed that she was and he gave her the first half of the merchandise and informed her that they had to walk to another location to get the other half.  When they arrived at Donaupark, the Brown Recluse went into a nearby restaurant to use their restroom.  He waited on a nearby park bench for her return.  Numerous thoughts ran through Phil’s mind as he waited.  Instead, the next time he saw her, she was crouched in the restaurant window pointing a gun at him.  Phil became alert like never before as adrenaline pumped through his veins.  His heart was beating rapidly and there were moments when he lost his breath.  He thought, for sure, he would have a heart attack.

“What have I gotten myself into?” Phil whispered to himself.

 Phil knew that he was in a life or death situation.  Given the circumstances, and being in a foreign country, he never imagined he would be in this situation.  His life flashed before him as he rolled off the bench onto the ground, and then scurried behind a nearby tree.  As he rolled off the bench he heard glass shatter, and some of the glass hit him.  Bullets flew past him. 

He pulled a gun out of his pocket and a smoke grenade from the other.  The shooting paused for a few seconds but Phil could tell that she was still hiding in the restaurant.

With his right hand, he pulled the pin on the smoke grenade and tossed it perfectly into the window of the restaurant where the Brown Recluse was kneeling.  He couldn’t see her through the clouds of smoke but had a good view of the front door and she hadn’t wandered that way.  There were no other exits on that side of the building.  Then he saw something.  He wasn’t sure what it was - it could have been the Brown Recluse, it could have been a napkin, it could have been one of the overturned restaurant chairs falling to the ground - but he saw it and he started shooting.  He opened his first round in that direction and heard a grunt.  He had hit her.  He knew his shots were close so he aimed a few feet higher, a few feet lower and fired off three more rounds.

Everything was still.  There were no more gunshots and the smoke was starting to clear.  Phil snuck up to that restaurant window from the side with his gun still drawn.  As he peeked in, he saw her body lying still on the floor.  She had two bullet wounds in her - one in her chest and one in her shoulder.  He wiped off the gun, took off his trench coat, and threw them all in a trashcan before taking a picture of her dead body on his phone and disappearing into an alley.

 

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What Started as a Physics Project

I was in Bloomington, Indiana at the Adidas May Classic basketball tournament held, as usual, at the University of Indiana. I was a junior in high school, so it would have been May 2006. I was playing for the Cincinnati Royals and we were playing well coming out of pool play heading into the tournament.

Some of my teammates had just begun driving so some of them left the facility between games but most of us stuck around to watch other teams play. I was slouched in the bleachers at the first court on the other side of a long net dividing the place in two. In school, I was taking Physics at the time and my end-of-the-year project was coming due. I decided to use my weekly basketball tournaments to my advantage and was approved to study the physics of dunking a basketball.

I sat in the bleachers with a camcorder that I borrowed from my best friend’s parents. I found out quickly how hard it is to record a game and enjoy it at the same time. What made it even harder was that the point guard for this team out of Chicago was ridiculously quick. I watched him change direction and zoom up the court and figured he would be good to use for my physics project.

After about three minutes of trying to record, I missed two dunks and decided that I would just observe. The point guard on my team, Julian, joined me shortly after tipoff. Julian was a shifty, quick six-foot white boy with dangerous handles and a clutch jumper. He was also active with recruiting and knew a lot of the players that we went up against.

“Do you know who that is?” He asked.

“No, who?” I replied.

“That’s Derrick Rose.”

The Chicago Meanstreaks were known as a good program in the Midwest for as long as I had been playing competitive AAU basketball, since 2001. I knew they had solid guard play but never went up against them. This was my first time seeing them in person.

I was actually more impressed with the small forward on the Meanstreaks. Whoever he was, he was on the receiving end of several Derrick Rose highlight plays. The most stunning of them all was one I’ll never forget.

Derrick received the ball at the opponent’s coaches’ box on an outlet pass after a rebound. The other team was pressing at the time so, like any good point guard does against a press, he looked to the middle. Rather than passing, he took the ball himself and in the snap of a finger was at half-court standing on the logo.

Already with a full head of steam he did a subtle, shifty in and out move with the ball in his right hand. There was a defender between he and the basket and I was anxious to see how it played out.

I had seen people get dunked on from there but never by a point guard. I sat up in my chair and wished that I hadn’t given up hope as a cameraman.

He approached the rim and gathered to take off with both feet, a move often indicative of a poster-worthy attempt at the ultimate basketball disrespect, the I’ll-just-go-through-you dunk. As he left the ground, and this part evaded my physics report since I couldn’t scientifically explain what I saw but, he slowed down and changed direction at the same time and as the defender also leapt to meet him in the air, he spun. He pulled a three-sixty in the air, barely avoiding the defender and rather than dunking it or spinning it with perfect English off the glass, he just extended the ball out with his left arm and left it dangling there like a piñata.

Out of nowhere came that six-seven small forward that I mentioned and he too gathered to take off with two feet, snatched the ball out of the air and slammed it through the rim.  Eyes stunned, mind blown and awestricken, I, along with everyone else who saw it, erupted in astonished applause.

 In my Physics presentation that week, I referenced the Adidas May Classic but I left out the most athletic assist I’d ever witnessed. Not only was it hard to explain, but expecting anyone in my Physics class to share my fascination of the event was a long shot at best. Retroactively speaking, I’m sure I could have sparked some fascination informing my peers that this player would eventually be the first pick in the NBA Draft, NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP but my DeLorean was out of gas that day.

One Bengals Fan's Journey Home

One Bengals Fan's Journey Home

I sat in the backseat next to my girlfriend while her father drove and her uncle rode shotgun. With each passing exit, old memories of my childhood rushed back into my head.

As we merged from I-275 to I-71, we passed my old high school where I was once student body president and a star athlete. Just a little further down the road we passed Pfeiffer Rd. and I could see the Crowne Plaza Hotel where my girlfriend and I first met as sophomores in high school at a business conference.

The memories flooded back to me but what I ultimately realized was that regardless of the commemorative tattoo on my arm, or the residence of my family, I didn’t really have a huge connection with Cincinnati, the physical space, anymore. These recollections forced me to accept that despite being born at the University of Cincinnati and living there until I left for Hanover in 2007, I had moved on. I suddenly felt older, more mature, and slightly guilty at myself for getting so complacent in my current situation that I forgot where I came from and it left me feeling like a foreigner in the city I’ve always called home.

As we turned onto Mehring Way, the Who Dey nation made a grand appearance. Nestled into driveways and parking lots with hand-written, cardboard $20 price tags were endless groups of fans donning orange and black stripes. I was encouraged by the motto of a particular food truck along the way. It read, “Bacon built this city”, lending to Cincinnati’s alias as Porkopolis.

As we parked and set up shop, I could still smell some of that bacon from the Urban Grill Food Truck. Unfortunately, between our parking spot and the food truck were about 20 trash cans full of aluminum with probably a swallow of backwash remaining, roughly ten smoking grills, and three sets of Port-O-Potties so, for obvious reasons, its aroma couldn’t be fully appreciated.

It was 2:15 p.m. on a Sunday in October and the unpredictable Cincinnati weather couldn’t have been better. Having grown accustomed to the climate where we live, in Los Angeles, my girlfriend and I brought several layers of clothes home with us to protect our spoiled bodies from sub-50 degree temperatures. My heaviest layer was an old Bengals coaching jacket from the ’90s that my girlfriend’s parents lent to me for the game. Beneath that I had a t-shirt, two long-sleeved shirts and the white Andy Dalton jersey I received for doing a Nike football photo shoot when I first got to LA.

My girlfriend was layered up as well. She owns a Bengals jersey but it is number 85 and when she bought it, it said “Ochocinco”. She has since removed the nameplate from the back of the jersey but still can’t bring herself to wear it. I tried to convince her that it’s now Tyler Eifert’s jersey but it’s not the same. She still knows whose jersey it is.

We got into a discussion about wearing jerseys of old players. Some jersey numbers (Boomer Esiason, 7; Anthony Muñoz, 78; Ickey Woods, 30) will always make appearances at Bengals games. I don’t remember much from Bengals of the early 1990s, mostly because I was a young boy for most of it, but I recall my grandmother gathering us all up at her house to sit around the television and “watch Boomer play.” I would have worn a different jersey if I had my druthers not because I disliked Boomer, I didn’t, but because of so much more.

In many predominantly black communities, the barbershop is the place where men gather to fellowship and discuss news. As a young, black boy, it was a privilege to go to the barbershop because it meant that I had endured and survived the attempts of seemingly every family member to prove their natural grooming skills. In fact, none of my family was blessed with natural hair-cutting abilities but that didn’t stop them from trying.

Eventually I was old enough to justify paying for my hair to get cut and on my first trip to the barber shop, my grandfather took me to Goodwin’s. Already seated, and waiting his turn, was Bengals safety David Fulcher. Over the course of that season, I went to Goodwin’s Barbershop every two weeks and each time, David Fulcher was there. When I made the connection that the big guy that entertained me at the barbershop was the same guy that wore #33 in stripes, I joined the Who Dey nation. When I reached middle school, and got to choose a number, there was no doubt that I’d wear 33 because it was the first number I ever idolized and my older cousin (also an idol of mine) wore it too. I wore that number until my senior year in high school.

“I won’t buy a jersey anymore,” my girlfriend’s dad, a season-ticket holder of 47 years, said. The only one he has anymore is a signed Tory James AFC Pro Bowl jersey from 2004. “I would need to get one with 24 on it and my name to wear it.” Nearby us was another family that had a collection of personalized jerseys. Just over their vehicle, I had a clear view of the Jumbo-tron that faces the city and it said that the temperature was a balmy 55 degrees. We all enjoyed a few adult beverages before joining the orange stampede 20 minutes before kickoff.

In route to the stadium, I saw an old player’s jersey that was modified as tastefully as possible in order to maintain its relevance. It was #84 for ex-Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Rather than tearing off the nameplate or burning the jersey (as many did when Carson Palmer so distastefully left) this fan simply taped over the middle of his name with electrical tape leaving “Hou” and “deh” as the only letters exposed. Brilliant.

We finally climbed the stairs leading to the entrance gates and after losing track of each other in the pre-game frenzy, we all reunited at our seats.

Our view of the stadium was great. We were even with the back of the north end zone, on the Bengals sideline seated in the highest seats in the first section; handicapped seats, in fact. About twenty paces away was the nearest restroom and the concession stands were so close that I could hear popcorn popping during the national anthem when the singer took a breath. We were positioned such that even if the row of fans in front of us was standing, it didn’t obstruct our view at all. The seats were padded and we had plenty of room to stand up and cheer. When the wind blew from the right I could faintly smell the easily identifiable aroma of Skyline Chili and it had been so long since I’d smelled it that it temporarily paralyzed me and, embarrassingly, I felt like the talking dog in Disney and Pixar’s “Up” who freezes when he sees squirrels.

Just as we got settled, a large wave of boos burst from the seats of Paul Brown Stadium. The NY Jets, our unfortunate opponent, were taking the field. Many of the players exited the tunnel with their arms stretched to their side like children do when imitating the motion of an airplane. My girlfriend thought it was a cool showing of solidarity and uniformity but I thought they looked silly.

 

After the pyrotechnics and fireworks surrounding the Bengals starting lineups, we were ready for kickoff. We got the ball first and drove 80 yards down the field and scored. Bengals 7-0. Meanwhile, in Oakland, quarterback Terrell Pryor opened the game with a 93-yard touchdown run, the longest in NFL history by a QB. When the touchdown was replayed on the scoreboard, the crowd erupted in support of the former Ohio State Buckeye quarterback.

“Wouldn’t it be crazy if the Bengals had a big win like the Buckeyes did yesterday?” My girlfriend’s uncle prompted.

The answer was overwhelmingly yes considering the Bucks were coming off of a 63-14 thrashing of Penn State but could the Bengals find a way to do that after winning the last two weeks on last-second field goals?

Next thing you know, the Jets are punting and seven plays and 68 yards later, the Bengals were up 14-0.

At the end of the first quarter the Cincinnati defense had dominated, holding the Jets to just 3 rushing yards, and -2 passing yards resulting in one total yard of offense. Nice math skills.

The reality of a Cincinnati blowout was growing more and more attainable and the energy in the stadium was contagious. With every big play, even though I only came with three other people, I found myself giving at least seven high-fives. Not multiple times to the people that I knew, but to anyone in orange and black with a lonely palm. Someone new was constantly turning around to face us with his or her hands high. I never hesitated to return the gesture.

However, looming from the doldrums, as there usually is in Cincinnati surrounding the Bengals, there was an air of skepticism and doubt that the Bengals would somehow find a way to lose the lead. It’s not cynicism but it’s more of a defense mechanism developed over time by a battered fan base. It first appeared when Cincinnati unsuccessfully went for it on fourth-and-one from the two-yard line and continued when Dalton threw an interception three plays into the next drive. By halftime the score was 28-6 and spirits were high but confidence, that’s hard to come by as a Bengals fan.

That all changed on the first play of the second half when Chris Crocker took Geno Smith’s first interception of the game 32 yards for a score. This was a different team. They didn’t waste anytime getting back on the field making plays and that continued for the duration of the game. Even towards the end of the game, in what some call “garbage time”, the Bengals defense still very visibly took pride in keeping the Jets out of the end zone.

With seemingly each play the Bengals, as a team, chiseled away at my skepticism and replaced it with shame for ever doubting the men in stripes. The final score was 49-9 (Highlights). It was like the players on the field could perceive my emotions and continued to put up points until I was without question that the Bengals are legit.

“It was a good weekend for my B’s. Buckeyes and Bengals,” my girlfriend’s dad said.

It turned out that former Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor wasn’t the only one to break a record that day. Bengals receiver Marvin Jones caught four TDs to set the franchise single-game record for receiving scores. It was like watching pitch and catch. Dalton put the ball where it needed to be and threw a total of five touchdowns.

One advantage of watching a game live versus seeing it on TV is that you get a much better appreciation for the subtleties of the game. This time I even had the added bonus of binoculars. After watching him live, I’ve decided that Andy Dalton’s deep ball is just fine he just needs his receivers to make those plays for him. A.J. Green, and Mohamed Sanu both dropped deep balls from Dalton yet his numbers were still impressive.

One completed pass in particular stood out to me. It was a line drive up the seam to Marvin Jones in between three Jets defenders. The television replay doesn’t do justice to the precision of the throw but Dalton remained patient in the pocket before ripping a bullet past the head of one defender into the waiting arms of Marvin Jones while the other two converging defensive backs bounced off of him and fell to the ground.

Jones was only open for a split second and when that time came, the ball was waiting for him. As a former receiver, I greatly appreciate a well-placed spiral and after seeing Dalton live, he has the tools to succeed.

I watched Dalton come off the field through my binoculars after a touchdown throw to Jones and as he approached offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, his eyes widened and it was clear that even he was surprised at the openings in the Jets’ defense. That can be partially credited to the Bengals’ scout team defense since that is whom they practice and prepare against every day. Defense was effective on game day as well accounting for 14 of the Bengals 49 points (Adam Jones also had a 60 yard interception return to go along with Crocker’s).

Add Six for Dartmouth

Add Six for Dartmouth

An excerpt from honor's thesis "The Next Level"

It was the Brown game my senior year. We weren’t favored to win but had made the game surprisingly competitive just before the half. Our defense forced Brown into a punting situation, great for any team in a close game -especially for Dartmouth. We weren’t known for blocking punts but we had a punt returner who had already returned two for touchdowns that year.

The punt was low and to the right which meant the kicking team didn’t have as much time to get down the field and defend. Shawn Abuhoff, a junior cornerback and return specialist, caught the ball in stride and there wasn’t a defender within ten yards of him. He waited for one of his teammates to block the first defender and cut all the way back to the left side of the field where his blockers were setting up a wall for him, avoiding so much as a hand. The defenders took what they thought were good angles to catch Shawn along the sidelines. The kicker seemed to have him cornered and was sure to force Shawn out of bounds.

Just then, the backup tight end, known to his teammates as Marv, was standing right inside the sidelines with his head moving from side to side as if he were watching the ball at a tennis match. His job was to block the first person that showed on the edge of the play and create an alley up the sideline for the returner. He saw the kicker gaining ground on Shawn and locked in on his target like a hawk spying an unsuspecting salmon. Shawn noticed that Marv had spotted his only remaining defender. Shawn took two quick steps toward the inside to freeze the kicker. Typically, the kicker is the least athletic player on the team and can’t really be trusted to make an open field tackle. 

Marv sprinted the five steps that were between him and the kicker. When Shawn planted his right foot into the ground and cut back towards the sidelines, Marv was one step away from the kicker moving at full speed toward him. Marv lowered his shoulder and planted it right in the middle of the kicker’s body. The kicker’s arms and legs flailed like a crash test dummy on impact before falling abruptly to the turf. Marv kept driving his legs until the kicker was on the ground. By then, Shawn had made it to the sideline and from there it was a footrace between him and three Brown defenders. He beat them all and scored his third punt return for a touchdown for the year and kept Dartmouth in the game yet again. 

I was no longer a member of the team. I hadn’t played in two seasons but maintained my affiliation by leading recruiting and alumni tours and organizing some community activities. I was on the sidelines near the end zone where Shawn scored. As I watched the play progress, I was crouched down in a sumo wrestler’s pose clapping my hands violently. I knew what was going to happen. “Sauce is gonna bring it back,” I said to myself. From where I was standing I could see Marv’s block before it happened. It was destined to be ugly. But then Shawn set the block up by going inside and then cutting out right before Marv was about to make the hit.

When Shawn made it to the sideline he was running directly at me. We briefly caught eyes when he was at about the 25-yard line, before he looked over his shoulder checking for defenders.

He was greeted by a group of Dartmouth players in the end zone with a bevy of butt slaps, helmet taps and chest bumps. When he got to the sideline, I was waiting for him. No words were spoken. He flashed that smile that I had seen so many times before. The smile that says, “they should know better than to kick to me by now.”

The Pain of Realizing Love: My Relationship with Football

My football career first ended on November 11, 2006. We were clobbered 28-0 by the only team to beat us that year, this time by 17 more than the first loss. Unlike the first meeting, which was decided largely by a blocked punt return for touchdown, they were clearly the better team. As a captain, I led the team over to shake hands. 

I remember rushing. While I was the third guy in line, I remember trying to hurry up to get off the field. After shaking everyone’s hand, I began a trot that, the closer I got to our locker room at Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, became faster and faster with each step and my eyes began to burn. I was the first one in the locker room and I took my usual seat up front on the offensive side, buried my head in my hands and wept like a baby. 

One by one, my teammates filed into the locker room and together, as a senior class, most of us cried together because we knew we would never be blessed with the opportunity to strap up a helmet again. 

A few of my teammates, all three other captains in fact, joined but weren’t nearly as emotional; they all had scholarships to play the next year: My quarterback to Wofford, safety/running back and defensive tackle both to Cincinnati. I was entertaining basketball offers and was waiting until the hoop season to choose a college. Nonetheless, my heart ached because I realized I loved football and lost it all at the same time.  

I had been playing since the 4th grade. I joined the Sycamore Comets as a nine year old but by that point, most of the team had been playing together for two or three years already. I played running back and cornerback for two years, during which we only lost one game. The next year I changed colors and played for the Sycamore Aviators, the program on the “other side of town”, the one my older cousin had played for. The metaphorical “little brother” program to the Comets at the time. We joined forces in seventh grade to play for Sycamore Junior High School where we went 14-0 in two years. 

High school would provide another challenge, having to compete with the allure of the local catholic schools: Moeller and St. Xavier high schools – one, if not both, of which always went to the playoffs and was often ranked nationally. With a slightly depleted team but still a strong core, we lost our first game as freshmen before winning out the rest of that season. As sophomores and juniors, we were called upon to carry the varsity team and finished 7-13 in two seasons. 

After a much needed coaching change, we finished the regular season 9-1 as seniors, won the first ever playoff game in school history and entered the rematch with Colerain excited but not ready to win a football game at that level. 

So there we all were, young men crying together collectively increasing our understanding of how big of a part of our lives football was. After the lamenting, we packed our bags and left Nippert Stadium as the best football team to ever wear Sycamore green and gold. 

A few months later I committed to play Ivy League basketball at Dartmouth College. I had passed on opportunities to play football at better sports schools but Dartmouth provided the best combination of sports and academics in order for me to do what I wanted to do with my life at the time. Just weeks after arriving in Hanover, I discovered the less glamorous side of college recruiting when I found out that I was actually a walk-on instead of a “rostered” player, as I was led to believe. It turned out that the assistant coach that had recruited me took a job at Tennessee Tech and I lost all footing with the program.

Determined to begin my college career with some optimism, I read the situation as a sign that football was my true calling. I’m pretty sure the basketball coaches spoke to one of the football coaches because the next day I was BCC’d on a “blitz” to walk on the football team.

I went out there, ran crisp routes, caught every ball, and that night I was asked to join the football squad. Since I had already gone through the eligibility requirements with the NCAA, I suited up that week and played in the JV game that Sunday against Milford Academy.

Having already experienced the feeling of having something beloved stripped from me, I vowed to give everything I had to the game of football. Obviously – I mean, I played football at Dartmouth. I certainly wasn’t playing for the girls or the spotlight.

I became the best receiver on scout team and, that fall, was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football - maybe second to our overtime win vs. Lakota West on Homecoming in 2006. Nonetheless, I had been blessed with the chance to play football again. I skated through that season playing receiver on scout team and started on the punt block team against Princeton the last game of the year.

Going into my sophomore year, I was confident that I could compete for a starting spot as a sophomore. It was the first time in my life that I had a whole year to dedicate to one sport and I was determined to be the best I could be.  I went home for winter break just after the end of the season to be with my family for the holidays, most notably my grandfather who was scheduled to undergo a knee replacement on January 2.

Early on the morning of January 3, I was leaving my best friends house and hit a patch of black ice on a hilly Snider Rd. I skidded into a ditch and then slammed into a tree at about 20 mph. I had relatively minor injuries but my back was aching a bit. The next morning I had to notify my grandfather, recovering in his hospital bed, that I had totaled his Ford F-150. He was surprisingly understanding and the next morning I was on a plane back to Hanover.

I opted out of medical care in Cincinnati since I knew I could get it for free at school through the team and my family didn’t have insurance. The injuries appeared mild and I worked with the strength program to build an off-season regimen that would rehab but also strengthen me up.  For a few weeks I was careful with my body but ultimately decided that, as a college football player, my back pain was protocol and complaining about it further would make me look weak.

So I played through it. 

Going into spring ball, I was the third receiver and had formed a friendly personal rivalry with our top DB from off-season workouts. We pushed each other. I had some highlights from spring ball but none bigger than a 4th quarter post route for touchdown that I caught in the spring game – he wasn’t guarding me that play but I would have still caught it if he was (Pass credits to Will Deevy). 

I returned to Hanover that summer for two-a-days. I remember tweaking my knee during the first couple of weeks, during an afternoon practice, but again, I pushed through it.

The knee pain increased each day. I had grown accustomed to it on the football field but off the field I wasn’t nearly as tactful, often seen walking slowly or with ice bags. I was able to put the pain away for most of the season. I settled into the third receiver role, as expected, and saw a solid 15-20 plays per game. 

I took great satisfaction in the mental aspect of suppressing pain. While I knew my body wanted to give out I had pushed my body to places before that I didn’t previously know I could so I convinced myself that I was amidst another one of those experiences. I remember lining up for plays and having to put all of my weight on one foot. Typically, I put the foot closest to the ball in front but, after a certain point, I always put my right foot forward because I didn’t trust my left to hold me up and keep me from false starting.

As I walked to the line I would tell myself, “Six seconds. Six seconds.” I just had to forget my pain for six seconds, the length of the average football play. I would find my spot and key into the ball and that’s when the switch went off. After that point, for six seconds, anyway, my knee pain was nonexistent and I played as hard as I could because I was partially afraid that my body’s limitations would overcome my mental strength and my knees would just give out.

It was against Harvard when it all ended. I had to run a kitty route, a comeback by the outside receiver but with a reverse pivot so that the quarterback could target my numbers more easily. I got to about 10 yards and prepared to stomp my feet in the ground but the pain wouldn’t let me. By the time I came out of my break, the ball was already rolling out of bounds.

Coach Jackson pulled me out, “You’re not coming out of your breaks like you should. I appreciate you being tough but you gotta get that knee looked at.”

In the locker room after the game, Coach Jackson told me that they were going to hold me out for the next week with hopes that my knee would improve. I knew then that my season was over. I knew that if anyone took a solid look at my knees they wouldn’t let me play.

I had experienced trouble just standing up from a seated position but I never told that to any of my coaches or trainers. Couldn’t look weak.

The next day I let the trainers look at my knee and they informed me that I had patellar and quadriceps tendonitis which, in simple terms, meant that the tendons holding my kneecap in place were thinning. The one on top, the quadriceps tendon, was so thin that it almost snapped.

I began an aggressive rehab routine and, heading into spring ball later that school year, I was in the best shape of my life. Fifteen solid pounds of muscle heavier than high school and less than 6% body fat, my knees were strong and I was ready to lead the Ivy League in receiving.

Being cautious and proactive about my health, I went to the trainers for a routine check up on my back injury that, by this time, was over a year old. I had been experiencing some pain when squatting and wanted to get it checked. The back specialist was an old Indian man with overbearing facial hair.

Dr. Abdu told me that what he had originally identified as shadows from gas in my stomach, when viewed from a few different angles and by different doctors, turned out to actually be two fractures in my lowest vertebrae before my pelvis. Dr. Abdu left the examination room and I sat there alone.

Almost as quickly as I had realized my love for football back in 2006, I had to digest that my back was broken and I had to decide whether or not that was a large enough deterrent to playing college football.

I remember sitting on the examination table and wishing that someone was there with me. I thought about my Sycamore ’06 teammates on whom I leaned during a similar situation not even three years prior.  I wished that one of my family members were there with me. On that table I also understood that I was becoming an adult. I had only myself to depend on and I had a big decision to make.

By the time I left that examination room at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, my football career was actually over. However, instead of feeling just sorrow, this time I had no regrets. I knew that everything I had I gave to the game of football.