Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book Update

Just a quick update...

I went to Austin for a week and met with our publisher/editor and had a very beneficial/worthwhile meeting. It's an honor and pleasure to have such a great person/publisher behind us (Texas Press).

I also spoke with some very interesting and successful individuals including Lynn Tyson, vp of investor relations for Dell, and Leonard Pitts, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald. These two have the very characteristics, experiences, and track records that indicate they are real role models.

Now, Louis and I are back on the grind and working to complete the manuscript and put together a one-of-a-kind book that profiles people all Americans, not just African-Americans,
would be proud to consider as role models for their children.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

Does an athlete need to be a role model?

Globe and Mail Update

That NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally got around to suspending Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell on Wednesday came as little surprise. That development was more a matter of when, not if.

The only real questions revolved around the timing of the suspension (now as opposed to earlier in the summer) and the terms (15 games, to be served as soon as Bell is cleared to play again, after completing his stay in Stage 2 of the NHL-NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.

Bettman waited until now to hand down his ruling to let the process take its course — from the judicial dispensation of the case to the report from the doctors administering the substance abuse program. Bettman then met with Bell in New York on Monday to hear his side of the story, before suspending him under NHL by-law 17, which governs conduct deemed to be "dishonorable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey."

Nor did Bettman mince words when assessing what would have to be considered a fairly modest penalty under the circumstances — and would have been much higher had he not been convinced that Bell is both contrite about his actions and legitimately on the road to recovery.

"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," thundered Bettman, in a prepared statement. "Mark Bell will serve jail time following the 2007-08 season after pleading to felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an alcohol-related automobile accident that caused an injury. He also left the scene of the accident. Such conduct is a violation of our covenant with our fans, and to the game, and is prejudicial to the welfare of the league."

Bettman's phrasing is eerily reminiscent of the wording of commissioner Roger Goodell's statement when he suspended a couple of NFL miscreants (Pacman Jones and Chris Henry) last May. Goodell talked about the "integrity" of his league; how it was a "privilege to represent the NFL" and that its members must meet "the highest standards of conduct."

All of which sends a clear signal to professional athletes everywhere — that whatever standard of behavior was tolerated in the recent past by the NHL, NBA, NFL and major-league baseball, the rules are starting to change and that part of the "covenant" with their fans that Bettman alluded to is becoming good role models again.

Many decades ago, before the Internet became ubiquitous, before 24-hour sports talk radio came along, before endless highlight shows dominated the airwaves, athletes were put on a pedestal by an adoring public. It wasn't so much that they were necessarily better behaved than the current generation of athletes; it's just that their various foibles and missteps didn't make their way into the public eye nearly as often.

All that changed over time, as the nature of reporting evolved and the desire to sweep discretions under the rug disappeared. Simultaneously, more and more athletes were blunt about how they saw their responsibilities to the paying public — and that in their minds, being a role model wasn't part of the bargain. Charles Barkley, a smart and educated man, once famously said: "I don't believe professional athletes should be role models. I believe parents should be role models."

Given the way athletes behaved in Barkley's era and on into today, that wasn't bad advice. Nowadays, the sports pages are filled with accounts of transgressions large and small — for drugs, for cheating, for drunk driving, for domestic abuse and sometimes even for murder. Now that he can't play football, Jones is involved in professional wrestling. On Monday night's NFL telecast of the Cincinnati Bengals-Baltimore Ravens' game, there were numerous references to Henry's eight-game suspension, assessed for his multiple violations the NFL's personal conduct code as well.

It isn't hard to detect the pattern here. These commissioners have collectively decided that enough was enough. They were deathly sick of the black mark that so many of their players were leaving on their respective sports - and were determined to see the code-of-conduct pendulum swing back from the current extreme into a more moderate middle position.

A cynic might also add that these commissioners were businessmen first and thus must surely fear that a backlash could come from their all-important backers - television networks and million-dollar sponsors - if they couldn't do a better job of reining in their athletes, the so-called ambassadors of their sports.

Not only is their behaviour wrong it's also bad for business. That's a double whammy all the bad boys playing a child's game for big dollars better get their heads around and soon. These suspensions are a warning shot across the bow of the industry — and the penalties are only going to get stricter from here on in.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My mother is my real role model

I’ve always believed God places certain people in your life at certain times. I have been blessed with a great number of influential people throughout my life - from high school friends who let me be myself to mentors who have helped me make the most of myself. Throughout, there has been one person who has always been in my life. My mother.

Without insufficiently stating her impact and influence on the person I am and aspire to become, I must say my mother is the only role model I’ve ever had.

Often times, black youths, or for that matter any youths in disadvantaged or low-income environments, lack true role models. Instead, these children and young adults idolize professional athletes, entertainers and musicians. Not to denigrate these individuals and their contributions in the community, particularly in black and inner-city communities, but I was blessed with a truly one-of-a-kind role model in my own home and my life each and everyday.

My mother was always there to make sure her three boys would grow to become three successful men. As the youngest of that trio, I am proud to let her know I whole-heartedly believe she couldn’t have done a better job.

And this is not to say she is the only single mother of three (boys, especially). Nor is she the only woman to raise herself and her family out of welfare. However, my mother is the only mother I’ve ever had and has doubled as the most dedicated and hardworking person I have ever known.

Now I bring this up not to profile my mother, the setbacks she overcame, and the feats she accomplished, but more so to share the great many lessons she taught me. Among them are prioritizing, patience, and planning. Above all, these three Ps are the most important lessons my mother shared with me.

By priorities, I’m referring to the ability to set them and follow through with them. The significance of this life lesson cannot be understated. While my father was absent and halfway across the country doing God knows what, my mother made sure my brothers and I were being provided for. She went on the occasional date, had fun and made sure to spend time with friends, but mostly, my mom was either working overtime, putting a meal on the dinner table or shopping for bargains at the local Goodwill or K-Mart.

From this, I learned that only through efficient and careful prioritizing can one achieve anything worth being proud of.

Not because my mother pushed me, but because she encouraged me was I able to make education a priority in my life from a young age. Though no one in my family had a college degree, I always knew I’d graduate from a top-tier university. It was my priority.

Ten years after jotting down The University of Texas at Austin as one of my top-tier college prospects, albeit as a 7th grader, I was able to walk across the stage as a graduate of that same institution. With my mother watching, eyes watering and gleaming all at once.

Today, I continue setting goals and prioritizing my life to achieve them, but like prioritizing, one cannot achieve anything without a great amount of patience. Thankfully, again, I learned from the best.

For nearly 25 years, my mother strived to purchase her own home. She went from minimum wage to her currently salary, all the while with the same goal in mind. As many single mothers can attest to, she spent many of those years repairing credit mishaps of younger years passed and getting income stability. Still, many more of those years were spent waiting. Being patient.

Finally, at the youthful age of 45, the mother of three adult sons, has accomplished her greatest feat. She became a homeowner.

Following in the footsteps of my mother, I have learned the importance of being patient. Just recently, I contemplated a move back to Austin after just 12 months away before convincing myself to stay put in D.C. where, perhaps, bigger things await. If I only wait and find out. So here I am, being patient.

Will I be rewarded for my patience? So far all evidence points to yes. However, all the prioritizing and patience in the world can’t offset no or insufficient planning.

More times than I care to remember, I’ve seen capable members of the black community fail because of poor planning. The ambition, drive and talent may all be there, but the planning is weak. Where Tiger Woods had his father Earl to help him master his skills and reach his lofty goals, many other young men in the black community live without fathers to usher them from ambition to accomplishment. And many young black women lack the know-how to avoid the social ills that force them into all-too-familiar positions as child bearers instead of college students.

I, too, missed many of the lessons and comforts availed to those with fathers, but my mother never let me think I’d achieve anything without planning. Whether it was how I’d spend my grass-cutting money on or what I’d do with my after-school time, I did my best to keep my mother’s practices in mind.

Setting priorities, being patient and making a plan. My mother never said those words precisely, but she put them in practice every single day. As I continue growing and goal-setting, the examples and lessons she provided continue to serve as my life’s compass.

Creating a path, providing life lessons, and leading by example are the true qualities of a role model. We do not all have mothers and fathers. Some of us may even go without either. Still, as I mentioned earlier, God finds a way to put someone in your life who may be able to fill this role.

I’m sure a great many of you, like myself, owe your lives to your role models.

(As written for Diatribes by Joah on March 8, 2007)