Peter Richmond

On the Glint of the Steel in the Gander Mountain Gun Case

December 2nd, 2015
by Peter Richmond

My local Gander Mountain outlet store, with its emblem of a flying duck and its motto of “We Live Outdoors,” is one of 152 Ganders in the land. On a recent visit, I noticed that its semi-automatic assault rifles, of the kind used yesterday in San Bernardino, were no longer in public view in the firearms section of the store.

But this rearrangement of the wares, and the absence from view of semi-automatics like the Ruger AR556 with its 30-round magazine (still for sale on the company’s website) has an unintended effect: the glass-encased handgun case — about fifty or sixty feet in length, with three tiers of handguns — is now all the more prominent. Approach the firearms section at my Gander Mountain now, and the handgun case lures you with myriad glinting winks of reflected fluorescent light on burnished steel.

The hundreds of shotguns lining the back wall of my Gander Mountain both wooden and dull-black in color, aren’t very sexy. They’re all poised vertically, sitting on their stocks, barrels pointed to the air, trigger belly exposed, which is not the angle that a long rifle kills with. They carry no sense of death; displayed this way, they’re just product on a shelf. But the handguns are laid nicely and uniformly down on their sides, barrels all pointing to the left, triggers fully exposed, the way the guns would look to you if you were standing off to the side, an idle observer, as someone shot at someone else.

Walking slowly down the length of the display case yesterday, from left to right toward the clerk and the cash register, I counted about 120 handguns on the top tier in the case. Despite my obvious non-gun-guy demeanor (I was wearing a Banana Republic long-sleeved tee shirt, a quilted vest and khakis) I’d already put the clerk, a stocky, bearded man, at semi-ease by telling him that I was writing a story about whitetail deer hunting (this was true, sort of) and wanted to know what shotgun a deer hunter would use tracking whitetail in Iowa.

“30-30 or .410 depending on the distance,” he said. Bored, he clearly believed my story. Writers always look like writers. Now he was talking to a young couple. The man, bearded, was signing a piece of paper as his wife and the clerk looked on. The clerk held a rifle. As a non-buyer, just an old man, I’d become a ghost.

At 120 handguns per tier, that made for about 360 different models in the display case, each with its own potential story. Each had been designed to be used for a specific reason. Smith & Wesson wouldn’t manufacture an M&P .40 caliber handgun in both “full size” and “compact” size for no reason. Each had been designed to fulfill its own specific destiny.

As I lowly strolled the case another time, this time away from the clerk , I sort of came to gradually see the forest for the trees, the whole of the thing, the breadth of the potential collective massacre. I even imagined 360 bodies stacked like cordwood. I’d once seen a black and white photo 400 Japanese soldiers stacked that way on a beach on Guadalcanal after a futile Japanese night-long charge across Alligator Creek. The Japanese were armed with single-shot rifles, the marines with tripod-mounted machine guns; it was no contest, as would also be the case with anyone facing many of the Gander Mountain pistols if they were equipped with extra-round magazines that allow up to 30 shots in 15 seconds.

These bodies wouldn’t all be in the same uniform, of course. But it was hard not to imagine what they would look like. As is always the case when you’re perusing a glimmery catalogue, and parsing possibilities, three in particular caught me eye. Each begged for a story: a narrative, a costume for the victim, a motive for the shooter. All three were awaiting their missions, and begging, like strays in a pound, to be picked up and given life, if only in fantasy.

The story that might accompany the first needed no conjuring. It was a no-brainer. I’d spotted a 40-caliber semiautomatic pistol manufactured by the Austrian firearms company Glock. The gun commanded attention, and not only because its design is efficient, all intent, free of frillery, but also because James Holmes used the same model, among other guns, in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, when he killed 12 people and wounded 59 others during a premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Also Rises.”

Holmes had purchased his at the Gander Mountain in Aurora, one of 152 Gander Mountains in 26 states. According to a slideshow on The Washington Times’ website about the top-ten selling handguns in America, it was Tommy Lee Jones’ use of a Glock in The Fugitive that gave the brand its first boost. Since then, various Glocks have been featured prominently in the news: the Glock 19 used by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson and by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech (available on the Gander Mountain website) and a Glock 10mm used by Dylann Roof in Charleston (ditto). Rooff didn’t buy his at a Gander Mountain. He bought it legally at a gun store in Charleston.

The next pistol to catch my eye did so because it was really, really big. It looked like Dirty Harry’s pistol, only his was a .44, and this was a .45, which is a caliber capable of wreaking damage that borders on the unimaginable to most people who don’t direct action movies. It was a revolver called The Judge, fashioned of a gray metal that didn’t reflect light.

A smart-phone scroll of the website of its Brazilian manufacturer, Taurus, revealed that its nickname derived from the number of judges who own one to protect themselves, although the site offered no hard data on this. I was glad that Taurus had provided me with a storyline of its own — accused felon leaps toward judge’s bench, judge fires a single .45 round, accused felon’s head explodes like a watermelon — and saved me from my own imagined scenario, which probably had to involve point-blank assassination, perhaps of the organized-crime kind.

The third pistol that caught my eye, and suggested its own narrative, was the most troubling, although it was, by far, the smallest of the three, and one of the smallest of the whole array of lethality contained in that case. It was a .38. snub-nosed five-shot revolver. Its barrel was silver, its grip was gray, and the middle part of it — the body? — was wrapped in bright, pink plastic. It was called “Lady Pink,” and it retails for $499. The Charter Arms Co., of Shelton, Ct., which specializes in “personal protection” handguns, lists the Lady Pink as part of its “Bulldog” line.

And as I walked back to my car in the huge parking — not far away, the bearded man and his wife walk toward their car, his new rifle encased in a snappy case, his wife smiling — he, now, the happiest of hunters — I tried to conjure a narrative for a Lady Pink, one that would support my storyline about the gratuitous violence being served up in an “outdoors” store to a gratuitously violent nation.

But only two storylines came to mind, and neither quite fit my anthology’s theme. The first was that a woman in a bad relationship bought a Pink, practiced for maybe a day at the range, waited one night for her husband to try and abuse her again, and, emboldened by the wine, shot him dead. Justified manslaughter, and more power to her (literally as well as figuratively). But this one rang false; a woman plotting to kill her man isn’t the kind of woman to care about the cosmetics of her new accessory. Hell, she’d be better off with The Judge (which would make an acquittal before her own judge a no-brainer).

No, the Lady Pink owner of my manufactured storyline is a professional. Her daily trip to and from work involves walking on city streets and through parking garages in a modern America ginned up violence against women, a land where no woman can take anything for granted. In her purse she keeps a Lady Pink because it’s a pretty nice combination of personal protection and cute design. She visits the range regularly, with a friend who owns her own pistol.

And if there ever comes a late, late night when, after a few drinks with friends, she has a four-block walk to her car, and on the third block she sees a man ahead, moving not quite right, and she puts her hand in her purse just in case, and the man does, indeed, start to race toward her and she pulls out the Lady and puts a .38 in his stomach, well, who could argue? No jury would.

And so I drove out of the Gander Mountain parking lot with the hardly-rocket-science realization that with every flashpoint both sides are shouting at each about these days, it’s always good to remember there’s always a gray area in there somewhere. Or a pink one.

On the other hand, it’s also good to remember that no one can walk in and buy one of those semi-automatic handguns (which were also used in San Brnardino) without a permit, which entails a long waiting period in most states. Then again, what’s a waiting period to someone with time to kill before they killed? On the other had  anyone with a driver’s license and cash can walk out of a Gander with a shotgun, like the Remington 12-gauge that Brian Short of Hennepin, Minnesota bought from his local Gander on as Sunday in September, along with 50 rounds of ammunition. When police found the bodies of Short, his wife and their three children the next day, eight rounds were missing. Among other search warrants, the police reportedly asked for one for the Gander Mountain.

 

When Hope Dies: One Teacher’s Tale

June 15th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

My friend Alison is a very good teacher in a very troubled inner-city high school — the kind of high school where the Thanksgiving-weekend football game against the archrival had to be cancelled at halftime because of gang gunfire in the stands, wherein the faculty were herded into the school and the doors were locked with the kids still outside, because of insurance concerns about letting kids inside on a Saturday.

It’s the kind of school where Alison’s students kept asking in this, her first year, “Are you coming back next year, miss?” because traditionally, at her school, no good teacher voluntarily returns after a year in a school like this, in an underfunded district, where instructors who want to make a difference simply aren’t allowed to, and quickly move on, leaving the least committed teachers to teach those who need and deserve the most commitment. That’s when those teachers don’t “call out” — as in, fail to show up on some days.

Alison’s idealism could light up a large Midwestern city. That her spirit was broken last week speaks worlds about how tragically the system is rigged against the underclass. When a large city high school can fail its students so heartlessly that it can bring someone like Alison to tears, it’s time to stop pretending that the American Dream exists for one and all.

This past term, determined to bring art into the lives of her intervention lab — a class where the students need extra academic support — Alison applied for a grant, on her own, and got it. She used the funds to purchase an art vocabulary curriculum and pay for a trip to an art museum. Kids who’d never seen art, let alone talked about it, were now immersed in class discussions about the great masters, about graffiti artists.

Then she designed a research guide — 20 pages long, for kids who’d never done a research paper. Then she bought them art supplies. Then they created some astounding art, and on the bulletin board, wrote notes complimenting each other’s work.

Last week, the big day arrived: The field trip to the art museum, where she was going to be able to see their faces as they saw the real stuff. As, yes, in a very real way, all of their lives would change. She’d been looking forward to the trip as a beacon in the fog as the wearying year wore down.

But when she got to school, the principal told her that no fewer than 19 other teachers called out. Nineteen absences, because the school term was virtually over, so why bother to keep showing up. So instead of Alison and a colleague taking the trip, a guidance counselor and a security guard replaced them.

She watched her student’s faces fall when she told them she wouldn’t be coming, and tried not to let them see the devastation on her own. Then the trip went on as planned. Alison wasn’t there to see Anastasia’s face when, after working her tail off for a paper on Picasso, she saw her first Picasso. Or what Wilber thought, after diving into his research paper on Banksy.

While her kids were at the museum, Alison sat at her desk and cried. She lives three hours from her hometown, in a tiny apartment with a ceiling that’s falling down. Her work is her life. The satisfaction of making just a small difference in a student’s life is what keeps her going, day in and day out.

“But at the end of the day,” she told me, “the kids came out on top, and that’s what matters.”

Is she going to return? Of course. Alison doesn’t give up. Anyway — she got the gig through an organization that recruits recent college grads called Teach For America, and that’s what Alison intends to keep doing.

The trouble is, after just one year, she’s beginning to see what the America she’s teaching for really cares about: the kids in one-percent school districts where the “good” teachers reside, appreciated and compensated.

I suspect that there will come a day, all too soon, when Alison will take her impressive resume (after her first year, based on student evaluations, she was rated “accomplished” — unheard-of for a first year student in a huge city high school) to just such a district, where she’ll be out of the line of fire, and the school will be able to afford the best art supplies available — leaving her former high school, and all of its students, in an even worse place. As if that were possible.

A Memorial-Day Memory

May 24th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Sometimes we forget that Memorial Day is for remembering those who died in battle. A memorial tale, then: For four days in June of 1992, during the annual reunion of the First Marine Division, seven members of G Company, Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment, met at a table in a huge ballroom in a hotel in Las Vegas — exactly fifty years since they, and the other 250 marines in G-2-5, landed on Guadalcanal — to talk and drink. The bar opened at 10:30 each morning, and by 11 the men would be sitting at the round table sipping their vodkas and bourbons. They would drink for several hours, but never get drunk. (One day, over in a corner of the room, a table erupted with drunken laughter, and one of the G-2-5 guys said, “Must be Vietnam.)

The G-2-5 guys never raised their voices as they spent the week exchanging memories: not about the victory in the pivotal battle that turned the war around; about their friends who didn’t make it off the island. Day after day, their conversation centered around the young men with whom they’d fought, side by side, fifty years earlier, in jungles where the snipers crouched behind the huge roots of the banyan trees, and strapped themselves into the tops of towering palms, so that after they themselves had been shot, their body wouldn’t fall, and the marines would continue firing into the sky, wasting ammunition (Sixty-three marines in the G-2-5 were killed in action on the island. By the time the shooting was over, fewer than 70 were able to walk onto the LSTs on their own.)

After a few days of quiet drinking with these men (my father had commanded their company), I began to understand why they were drinking all day, with quiet dignity: to ease the guilt, to soften it. They had not come to Las Vegas to backslap and catch up; they had come to drink with their friends in order to ease their pain by sharing it, and reassuring each other that things turned out the way they did — they had lived, others had died — just because that’s the way that life and death are. No cause, no blame. It’s war. (As my father said in one of his letters to his mother, “Of course, war is hell, just like they say,” but he did end the letter with this: “Let’s have the good news. Anything at all. It is gettin’ dark. Mosquitos getting to work. Bugs chirpin’. Love, Tom.”)

By remembering their fallen friends — the young, young men who had been killed next to them on the mosquito-and-snake-infested banks of the Matanikau River under an infernal equatorial sun, or on Edson’s Ridge at 4 in the morning, the night the battle turned in our favor, the moment the Pacific war turned around and the Japanese, who had never been defeated in modern history, began to give back the one-seventh of the globe they had occupied — these half-dozen G-2-5 were able to both honor the dead and soothe themselves, the surviving. By the third day, the men fell into group silence more often than not, and in their stares into the half-distance, I saw the ultimate memorials: memories of 18- and 19-year olds — and 16, if the enlistee had lied about his age before taking the last bullet — that had lasted fifty years. And should last forever.

Patriotism for Pay, the NFL Way

May 13th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

It slipped beneath the radar this week amid the deafening DeflateDebate — for which event the NFL ought to be really, really relieved: Over the last four years, 14 NFL teams quietly took a total of $5 mil from the Department of Defense (your taxes) to appear, on Sundays, to be all warmfuzzily patriotic and heartfelt re: the young men and women of our armed services, what with all the F-14 flyovers and scoreboard salutes to soldiers and pregame field-sized stars and stripes flags and coaches prowling sidelines in camo garb…while in reality, actually having agreed to appear to be patriotic only for a price. (Falcons were paid $1 mill, Dolphins only 20k; what’d that buy? A cheerleader tweaking with a marine at halftime?)

Shame on you, Roger. Suggested punishment for your shameless profiteering on the sacrifices of those young women and men actually serving? Fines won’t work for a guy making $50 million a year. How about this: For the rest of your life, you get to live with the legacy of being the man who was once at the helm of a “patriotic” American institution that agreed to fly the flag — but only for the right price. That, with an annual income that the Koch brothers would envy, took $20,000 from the taxpayers to fly the flag. That treated “patriotism” as a marketing stance.

Go away, Goodell. Just go away. Meantime, if you feel the need to buttress your stance, to get feedback on the legitimacy of your treason, Richard Cheney is probably available for lunch.

A Tale of Two Draftees

May 6th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Six weeks ago, a young man named Randy Gregory displayed his physical prowess at the National Football League combine, an unashamed meat market where, for a couple of days, football players run, jump and lift many heavy things in hopes of bolstering their chances to be selected by a team that will pay them a lot of money for their athletic prowess. Gregory had displayed considerable promise in his two years as a defensive end at Nebraska, and after the work-outs, most draft projections had him going with one of the top ten picks.

But a few weeks later, Gregory received word that he had tested positive for marijuana at the combine. On every bandwidth and airwave, NFL analysts trumpeted their disbelief at Gregory’s “poor decision-making.” “You have to worry,” said former Oakland Raider Rich Gannon. “He knew he was going to be tested!”

Yes, he did. And that’s why, according to Gregory, he hadn’t smoked weed since December. By his own admission, he smoked a lot at Nebraska, where he had twice tested positive. According to California NORML, in the case of a frequent user of weed THC can be detected in the urine more than three months after the person last smoked. Gregory, it seems likely, must have figured three months was safe, and he seems to have figured wrong.

Over the course of the five weeks between the news of his test and the draft, analysts were confident that his stock would plummet. And it did. The night of the first round of the draft, all 32 teams passed on the best defensive end in college. The next day, 27 teams passed again, before the Dallas Cowboys took Gregory with the 60th pick in the draft, at the bottom of the second round. the proverbial steal. Instead of having to pay him somewhere in the $15 million range, they’ll likely sign him for somewhere between three and four million.

Randy Gregory has never been charged with a crime. The NFL has teams in states where marijuana is legal. And at 22, neuroscience has proven without doubt, Gregory’s “decision-making” capabilities are flawed: his prefrontal lobe, the seat of judgment, is not yet fully formed. He has a few or years before, neurologically, he can intuit true consequences for his actions.

But his self-awareness is remarkably acute. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News’ Tim Cowlishaw two days ago, Gregory said, “I think a lot of people are getting tied up in the weed and think it’s just a weed problem. I don’t think it’s a weed problem. I think it’s decision making. I think I’m immature. I’m definitely working on that.”

And making progress, if the quote means anything. His candor is rare. His drug habits aren’t. Half of America’s used it.

*

 

Jameis Winston, a quarterback from Florida State University, had a terrific combine, as was expected; he was arguably the best quarterback in the nation. After the workouts were over, he seemed poised to be the first selection in the draft, despite his brushes with infamy.

 

On December 7, 2012, something happened between college football’s best quarterback, Jameis Winston, and a Florida State student named Erica Kinsman. Kinsman called it “rape” when she went to the Tallassee police. The medical examiner noted that she had bruises on her knees, and semen on her body. She identified her “attacker” as Winston. A police investigation ensued.

One year later, the Tallahassee Police Department finished its investigation of the incident, and found no reason to charge him. The New York Times reported that neither the TPD nor the FSU investigators had conducted a real investigation. The TPD did not interview Winston or take a DNA sample. The officer in charge of the police investigation worked on the side for an FSU alumni organization.

In June, 2013, police were called to a Burger King after Winston walked in and, without buying food, began drinking soda he hadn’t paid for. Caught, he defiantly kept doing it. In April. 2014, Winston was arrested for shoplifting king crab legs from a supermarket. He did twenty hours of community service.

This past September, imitating an internet meme, Winston stood atop a table in the student union, shouting, “Fuck her right in the p***y!” He was suspended for a game.

Two weeks before the draft, Erica Kinsman sued Winston in a civil court action, charging “sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape.” According to the lawsuit, Winston picked her up in a bar and offered her a shot of liquor. She then ended up in a taxi with Winston and two of his teammates. Back in his bedroom, she alleges, the rape took place while one of the other students filmed part of it.

Also, according to the lawsuit, the third student said to Winston, “Dude, she is telling you to stop.” After that, Winston allegedly hoisted her over his should, took her to the bathroom and locked the door. The student left, and later posted this message o Facebook: “I feel the worst I almost felt in my life Smh #stupid.’”

On the night of the draft, Winston was, indeed, the first overall selection. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pay him in the neighborhood of $23 million over four years. More than $14 million of it will be guaranteed.

Winston did not attend the draft ceremony. He held his own ceremony at a friend’s estate in Alabama, where 200 people celebrated his good fortune. It was a lavish party, and at one point, Winston posed for cameras holding some of the food: king crab legs.

It was poor decision-making at its best. Not just Winston’s; the team that took Jameis Winston, as any team would have, and every team that passed on Randy Gregory.

The actions of a league which desperately talks a good game in light of its domestic violence problem and misogynistic culture increasingly speak louder than its words. They present more than a mixed message; they reveal a set of priorities that speak of mercenary, old-boy arrogance at the very least. At the other end? Complicity in an allegedly brutal crime, and rewarding its commitment by bestowing riches on the accused.

Shame on you all.

 

 

A Tale of Two Draftees

May 6th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Six weeks ago, a young man named Randy Gregory displayed his physical prowess at the National Football League combine, an unashamed meat market where, for a couple of days, football players run, jump and lift many heavy things in hopes of bolstering their chances to be selected by a team that will pay them a lot of money for their athletic prowess. Gregory had displayed considerable promise in his two years as a defensive end at Nebraska, and after the work-outs, most draft projections had him going with one of the top ten picks.

But a few weeks later, Gregory received word that he had tested positive for marijuana at the combine. On every bandwidth and airwave, NFL analysts trumpeted their disbelief at Gregory’s “poor decision-making.” “You have to worry,” said former Oakland Raider Rich Gannon. “He knew he was going to be tested!”

Yes, he did. And that’s why, according to Gregory, he hadn’t smoked weed since December. By his own admission, he smoked a lot at Nebraska, where he had twice tested positive. According to California NORML, in the case of a frequent user of weed THC can be detected in the urine more than three months after the person last smoked. Gregory, it seems likely, must have figured three months was safe, and he seems to have figured wrong.

Over the course of the five weeks between the news of his test and the draft, analysts were confident that his stock would plummet. And it did. The night of the first round of the draft, all 32 teams passed on the best defensive end in college. The next day, 27 teams passed again, before the Dallas Cowboys took Gregory with the 60th pick in the draft, at the bottom of the second round. : the proverbial steal. Instead of having to pay him somewhere in the $15 million range, they’ll likely sign him for somewhere between three and four million

Randy Gregory has never been charged with a crime. The NFL has teams in states where marijuana is legal. And at 22, neuroscience has proven without doubt, Gregory’s “decision-making” capabilities are flawed: his prefrontal lobe, the seat of judgment, is not yet fully formed. He has a few or years before, neurologically, he can intuit true consequences for his actions.

But his self-awareness is remarkably acute. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News’ Tim Cowlishaw two days ago, Gregory said, “I think a lot of people are getting tied up in the weed and think it’s just a weed problem. I don’t think it’s a weed problem. I think it’s decision making. I think I’m immature. I’m definitely working on that.”

And making progress, if the quote means anything. His candor is rare. His drug habits aren’t. Half of America’s used weed.

*

Jameis Winston, a quarterback from Florida State University, had a terrific combine, as was expected; he was arguably the best quarterback in the nation. After the workouts were over, he seemed poised to be the first selection in the draft, despite his brushes with infamy.

On December 7, 2012, something happened between college football’s best quarterback, Jameis Winston, and a Florida State student named Erica Kinsman called it “rape.” The medical examiner noted that she had bruises on her knees, and semen on her body. She identified her “attacker” as Winston. A police investigation ensued.

One year later, the Tallahassee Police Department finished its investigation of the incident, and found no reason to charge him. The New York Times reported that neither the TPD nor the FSU investigators had conducted a real investigation. The TPD did not interview Winston or take a DNA sample. The officer in charge of the police investigation also worked on the side for an FSU alumni organization.

In June, 2013, police were called to a Burger King after Winston walked in and, without buying food, began drinking soda he hadn’t paid for. Caught, he defiantly kept doing it. In April. 2014, Winston was arrested for shoplifting king crab legs from a supermarket. He did twenty hours of community service.

This past September, imitating an internet meme, Winston stood atop a table in the student union, shouting, “Fuck her right in the p***y!” He was suspended for a game.

Two weeks before the draft, Erica Kinsman sued Winston in a civil court action, charging “sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape.” According to the lawsuit, Winston picked her up in a bar and offered her a shot of liquor. She then ended up in a taxi with Winston and two of his teammates. Back in his bedroom, she alleges, the rape took place while one of the other students filmed part of it.

Also, according to the lawsuit, the third student said to Winston, “Dude, she is telling you to stop.” After that, Winston allegedly hoisted her over his should, took her to the bathroom and locked the door. The student left, and later posted this message on Facebook: “I feel the worst I almost felt in my life Smh #stupid.’”

According to the lawsuit, when police got around to asking the student who’d allegedly filmed the encounter if they could see the tape, 11 months after the incident, he said he’d erased it.

On the night of the draft, Winston was, indeed, the first overall selection. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pay him in the neighborhood of $23 million over four years. More than $14 million of it will be guaranteed.

Winston did not attend the draft ceremony. He held his own ceremony at a friend’s estate in Alabama, where 200 people celebrated his good fortune. It was a lavish party, and at one point, Winston posed for cameras holding some of the food: king crab legs.

It was poor decision-making at its best. Not just Winston’s; the team that took Jameis Winston, as any team would have, and every team that passed on Randy Gregory.

The actions of a league which desperately talks a good game in light of its domestic violence problem and misogynistic culture increasingly speak louder than its words. They present more than a mixed message; they reveal a set of priorities that speak of mercenary, old-boy arrogance at the very least. At the other end? Complicity in an allegedly brutal crime, and rewarding its commitment by bestowing riches on the accused.

Shame on you all.

 

 

Maybe “Guilty of Murder” is what he wanted to hear.

April 16th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Pop-psych theory: Testimony makes it clear that Hernandez was so sloppy in trying to cover up evidence he was certain to be caught…as he was, allegedly, for the other murder he’s about to be tried for. Every talking head on the radio today is wondering how he could “give it all away,” as if what he had — $40 million, fame, our worship — was something he really wanted.

We’d want it, sure. But I don’t think he cared one way or another about the football thing. He was a true gang member, or thought he was, anyway, and when true gang members — real ones, not wannabes — feel they’ve been dissed, they do what they have to do, what there’s no option not to: they do the crime, they do the time.

Who knows? Maybe in his world, and that of his friends, he just entered the hall of fame. Or maybe, knowing he couldn’t be executed, he knew that prison — where he’ll be a gang leader — was his true destiny. Not playing a sport, where the violence is mostly mock, and the glory you receive is virtually meaningless in the real world, and you wear pads so you won’t get hurt.

Maybe his destiny was to play a real sport. Where it isn’t “only just a game.” It’s real life and death. You know how they keep showing shots of his face during the reading of the verdict because he didn’t flinch, didn’t bat an eye? Maybe that’s because “guilty of murder in the first degree” was what he’s been waiting to hear his whole life.

For the next 18 months, can we ignore the sexists and let Clinton do her job?

April 13th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

So it’s already getting ugly, even here on our side of FB, among friends, and the sniping will reach dissonant crescendos over the next year and a half: She “is in bed with Wall Street.” Her (pioneering) attempt to take on Big Health Care in her husband’s first term “failed.” She’s a “politician.” (Well, yes. That’s how she’ll be able to build a whole lot of bridges which will help accomplish the many good things she has been trying to accomplish since we first heard her name. Good “politicians” do that, don’t they?) (She was pretty good for my home state, even if wasn’t a native.) (And would Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders be electable? Despite their terrifically populist stances that we on this side of the Facebook Page prefer?) (We are currently cursed to have to abide by this current political system; until a revolution, then, by definition, a “politician” is always going to be elected.) Anyway: I, for one, am going to let the next 18 months of sniping at her past mistakes, much of it accurate, but now irrelevant, slide over my back, like a stone at the bottom of a stream as the yattering passes over me, tractionless — because we have been here before, exactly eight years ago, when all of the slamming of our current president running up to his election turned out to be ineffectual. Over the course of the next eight years — two terms that future presidential scholars might, you know, smile upon — the critics kept slamming, though most of this president’s initiatives have been not only successful, but essential to a reasonable global way of life. So what were the detractors keeping on about, if, by every metric, we’re all in a far, far better place? Racism. I’m American. I know it to be true. And so now: for the next 18 months, and the next eight years after that, they’ll pretend to be criticizing her policies. But the “debate” won’t be legitimate, not really supported by any real data. It’ll be fueled, at bottom, by institutional and organic and generic and personal sexism, pure and simple: as strong and toxic an undercurrent as the hate that tried to bring Mr. Obama down. So, go ahead, guys: rail away at her, as you try and flay her for not being some idealized combination of Benazir Bhutto, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Jane Alexander and Jane Goodall, with some Kiera Knightley and Nicole Kidman thrown in. As you pick at her, from both sides, count me out — if only, and if everything –: That when she is elected: I will be able to say that I was an American in an era in my country’s growth as a nation when we elected a black man as president, and then a woman. Cooler still? Growing up, I think that my two children, now in their twenties, expected nothing less of their country…and their country has risen to the challenge. So, to those who want to make the next year and a half prickly and nasty: Go ahead and criticize her hair, her laugh, her lousy individual people skills (when she is 100 % in this for the actual people). But don’t ask me to listen to your message — especially over the next 18 months — until you can convince me that sexism isn’t the basis for your rant. I expect to be waiting for a long, long time. Just sayin’. I could be wrong.

On Greg Hardy, America’s Team, and Deafening Silence.

April 3rd, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Sometimes it’s really cool to be an American, like when a prehistoric governor signs a prehistoric bill and the backlash is so mightily forceful that the BBC, heard everywhere from Sri Lanka to Syria, is compelled to lead a morning broadcast with details about the nation-wide outrage across the pond. Like when the panicked state legislature revises the bill with a linguistic band-aid to try and stem the PR bleeding — but the gesture is too little, too late, and Angie’s List stands by its decision to halt its $40 million expansion, deeming the new wording “Insufficient.” Like when you search the words “Indiana backlash” and there are more links than you can keep up with.

Then, sometimes it’s not as cool. Like when America’s Team signs a football player who’d been convicted of dragging his girlfriend out of the bathroom he’d thrown her into, throwing her onto a couch covered in loaded assault weapons, choking her and saying, “I’m going to kill you” — when the other 31 NFL teams decide to pass on him — and the state of Texas shrugs. Like when you search the words “Greg Hardy backlash,” and the fifth link is a former Dallas Cowboy named Charles Haley saying, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

If they really are America’s Team (and all you have to do is listen to NFL satellite radio for a day to know that they are; every other call is from a Cowboy fan), then the mass indifference that followed the Hardy signing (for a possible $11.3 million) speaks worlds about how primitive the culture of our nation’s most lucrative form of entertainment is when it comes to violence against women. The clamor over Indiana: one step forward for human rights. The indifference in Dallas: a huge leap backward.

For the record, Hardy’s conviction was overturned. After a judge convicted him of “assault on a female and communicating threats,” he appealed and asked for a jury trial. But in the months before the new trial, the accuser could not be located, and the conviction was overturned. Reportedly, Hardy had reached a civil settlement with her prior to her disappearance.

That leaves us with some of her sworn statement to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department:

“On May 13, 2014, Greg Hardy…picked me up and threw me into the tile tub area in his bathroom…pulled me from the tub by my hair, screaming at me that he was going to kill me, break my arms and other threats that I completely believe…choked me with both hands around my throat while I was lying on the floor…threw me onto a couch covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns…bragged that all of those assault rifles were loaded… took me out into the hall, pushed me down & went back inside his apartment. I crawled to the elevator and ran into CMPD.”

In court, the accuser testified: “He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said just, `Do it. Kill me.”

The guns? He owned at least ten, all of them scary. The scariest? A P-415 semiautomatic rifle with a 30-shot magazine (think 30 shots in 10-15 seconds), and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with a nine-shell magazine (maybe 15 seconds). So let’s say for the sake of argument that the woman was lying. Fabricated the entire thing, including the emergency-room photographs (which the NFL has asked to see, even though common sense would dictate that if the photos were persuasive enough for a judge to convict, the NFL should hardly need to see them.) But what kind of guy needs to own ten guns, each capable of inflicting massacre-level fatalities? The kind of employee you’d want in your entertainment industry?

The NFL will likely suspend him for six games, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who also wrote that he believed many teams were wary of signing Hardy because of the “public battering” they’d receive.

This is the scope of the “public battering” The Dallas Cowboys have received in the week since Hardy joined the team: Other than Dallas mayor John Rawlings denouncing the signing, calling it a “shot in the gut” — curious metaphor, there — and a passionate excoriation by the Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen…nothing. No call for a boycott of the team by anyone. Not Bank of America, Lockheed, JP Morgan, ATT or American Airlines. Not a word — online, anyway — from the Dallas chapter of NOW.

All of which begs the question: Since the Cowboys just restructured quarterback Tony Romo’s contract to free up $13 million, and Viking running back Adrian Peterson’s contract calls for $12.5 million this year, but Peterson’s conviction for whipping his child with a switch prompts the Vikings to trade him, will the reaction in the Big D be as disappointing if America’s Team trades for America’s Not-Father of the Year?

Speaking of questions, I asked one yesterday, of my Young Adult literature class: two dozen freshmen and sophomores, most of them young women. I described the details of the Greg Hardy case. I reminded them that America is the land of second chances.

Does Hardy deserve one?

Two dozen “no’s.” The jury has spoken. Why hasn’t anyone else?

Bednarik Did Not Make The Hit. But He Invented The Taunt.

March 21st, 2015
by Peter Richmond

He was the archetypal poster-boy for a lunch-pail league that was finally escaping its status as a sport whose reputation lay one step above pro wrestling (as Charlie Conerly’s widow once told me about the early days). The old NFL has gone all fuzzy and rose-colored in retrospect, but it harbored more than its share of madmen, with styles of play that were routinely borderline felonious (see Bill Pellington, Baltimore Colts, 1958).

Now the old Eagle linebacker Chuck Bednarik is dead, at 89, and amid all the deserved paeans to his balls-out style of play, we will not read this: That the first true taunt in NFL history, the seed that’s led to the routine mocking and self-celebration that asterisks the modern game, was laid down by Chuck Bednarik.

On November 20, 1960, in Yankee Stadium, Frank Gifford caught a pass from George Shaw, whereupon Bednarik tackled him, throwing him to the frozen ground, whereupon Gifford’s head bounced very hard, and knocked him out. Gifford instantly lost consciousness.

The ball popped loose. Bednarik did not chase it. Instead he stood over Gifford and began counting, throwing his arm down again and again, like a referee dramatically counting out a fallen champion. If he’d done it today, of course, flags would have filled the sky. But back then, tacky celebration wasn’t outlawed…because as far as I can tell, no one had ever done it, until Chuck did.

History has chosen to ignore the The Taunt, dwelling instead on “The Hit:” the moment that defined “Concrete Charlie’s” illustrious career. This passage from a Sports Illustrated profile in 2007 exemplifies the way the play has been long celebrated: “Gifford tucked the ball under his arm and turned back in the right direction, all in the same motion—and then Bednarik hit him like a lifetime supply of bad news”…except that, uh, no, he didn’t.

Even a cursory look at the play on Youtube makes it clear: Bednarik actually moves his head away so as to not go head to head, then, corrals Gifford by the shoulders — on icy dirt, Frank was going moving just above a fast walk — and slams him to the ground by grabbing both of his shoulder pads.

But don’t trust your own eyes. Listen to Frank, from the “The Glory Game,” which I co-authored:

“It’s time to set the record straight on that play. It wasn’t the Eagle linebacker who hurt me. It was the hard, frozen Stadium dirt that did the damage.

“Shaw hit me on a slant, coming across the field on our own 30 yard-line. I was wide-open, and as I looking to cut upfield, I didn’t see Bednarik coming full-speed at me from the far side of the field. Bednarik, taking aim, actually turned his head away. There was no helmet-to-helmet collision. There was no clothesline; his arms weren’t even raised. Bednarik’s left shoulder pad hit my left shoulder pad as we ran in opposite directions. Period. Our helmets never even touched.

“But with no traction on the hard turf, I was immediately knocked right off my feet. Now I was in free-fall, backward, with no time to cushion myself, my helmet slammed to the hard ground – just as Bednarik threw his entire weight on top of me, his stomach landing on my head. That caused the concussion: hard turf and a huge body as it piled on.

“There was no reason for Bednarik to jump on me; I’d fumbled the ball away before I hit the ground. He could have chased the fumble. He chose to throw himself on top of me. So if history wants to think that I was somehow leveled by the hardest hit ever thrown, let it. But the truth is completely different.”

The takeaway? How to truly remember Concrete Charlie (he sold the stuff in the offseason) at the very time we’re bemoaning CTE and concussions and uncontrollable violence? Maybe we should praise Bednarik for trying to set an example on the play, and not trying to hurt Frank. Those days of civility would soon pass, as we soon learned to gauge the likes of Lawrence Taylor not by the number of tackles he made, but the number of QBs he’d disabled.

Yes, he epitomized the old lifeblood of the game, this son of Slavic emigrants who grew up in the shadow of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces where his parents worked. But let’s not forget that he also opened the Pandora’s Box of Self-Promotion.

So the next time you rail against a wide receiver mockingly wagging a finger in the face of the cornerback who blew the coverage, pause and thank one of the true pioneers. RIP, Concrete Charlie. You were only human, like everybody else.