Thursday, May 5, 2011

The First Amendment Lost in Space

Generally, I do not make back-to-back posts.  There are a lot of reasons for that:  time, strategy, I don't do that much, what's to say really?  But, in this case, I think I'll make an exception because there are a couple of things that have happened lately that are on my mind, both dealing with the written word.

Two of us in the Pittsburgh area, myself and Rashard Mendenhall, have caused some controversy with our words.  Actually, in my case, I think it is because of my lack of words.  My audience is so tiny, and his is so large due to his celebrity, but we find ourselves intersecting somewhat out in cyberspace because of how we chose to express ourselves, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking about that.

For my part, I've drawn blood in this blog before.  Once or twice on purpose, but mostly not - and recently, most definitely not.  I spend a lot of time actually considering what I say, how I phrase things, whether I use people's real names or not (I do not generally for anyone I know personally outside of the immediate family - public figures are total fair game).  I weigh whether or not I think the individual would be receptive to being brought up and discussed in the blog.  I guess I probably just should ask - but, truth be told, I usually hammer these things out early in the morning or late at night, so I just use my judgment.  Judgment I've gained - or not gained - over the course of a lifetime out in the business world and dealing with my suffering children where one wrong thing can reverberate for years.  I've got a lot of seasoning in my pot, and I still manage to get the recipe wrong sometimes.  Hurting people with my words, or lack of them, is not my intent.  My intent is to chronicle my journey.  But, I'm mindful that it's a cheat to some degree.  I don't write about all things.  Some things are too dark.  I don't want a parent who has lost a child to stumble onto this and see some of my darker days, I keep those to myself.  I want them to read this as a long and painful road, but a road that is negotiable.  We're left behind for a purpose.  I believe it is our obligation to find what that is.  But, there are days when that resolve for me falters.  I could probably benefit from writing that all down, but you won't see it here.  There are people who have helped my family in getting past those black days - because we've all had them - some of them have found representation in this blog, some have not.  It doesn't mean I don't love them - sometimes it just means my thoughts are too complex to boil into a few succinct sentences - somebody make me a book offer where I can really get long winded - sometimes it means I think they'd rather not get thrown out into a public forum, and sometimes it means I'm still processing the information and am not ready to write about it.

This was very much the case with my most recent situation.  The weekend was whirlwind and emotionally charged.  And I slammed right into the work week, behind on my assigned workload, dealing with dogs peeing in the house (should have seen behavorial issues coming - how could they not), and just the normal affairs of life - bills, Mother's Day to address.  I chose what I thought was a safe and light hearted topic and ended up hurting someone very dear to me by my omission of their contribution to our lives.  For that I am so sorry - but I'm still not really ready to address the weekend, because I want to address the other 'Burgher who has some mea culpas to make first.

There is a lot of buzz everywhere, but here in particular, about what Rashard Mendenhall said in his Tweets immediately after the news of Osama bin Laden's death broke.  I follow Rashard on Twitter, so I was seeing them come across real time and remember thinking, "Oh, there's going to be some serious backlash about some of these."  I had no idea exactly how much.  A sports news feed I subscribe to ran a headline today suggesting that he'll be offloaded by the Steelers.  He made a spectacular fumble in the Super Bowl that many of us still see in our sleep and no one talked about trades.  Don't even get me started about Big Ben Roethlisberger, and he's still around.  No, it took some ill advised, yet perfectly legal, comments at a time when our collective Patriotism was running at a fever pitch to cast him into disfavor with the Steeler Nation and the rest of the country.  Don't get me wrong, I don't defend some of what he said.  I do, as once so famously stated, defend his right to say it however.  Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe.  I've been openly critical of individuals in this blog before:  Maura Kelly, who made me cry with what I felt was an ignorant and hateful column centered around weight, Donald Trump with his Birther nonsense, and several other Tea Baggers of note.  Of course, the Trump thing is a bit different because I do not honestly in my heart of hearts believe that he was sincere with any of that - it was showmanship, pure and simple.

But, here comes this kid - because, at 23, that's really what he is - with a computer in his hand, clearly sincerely impacted with emotion over a world event, trying to articulate deep, complex thoughts in a series of messages no longer than 120 characters.  I feel for the guy.  I don't agree with him, some of what he said was downright ignorant, like the Holocaust Deniers of my generation, but, here's the thing:  I think he was genuinely troubled by the blood lust that he saw - of human beings celebrating the pain and the death of another human being.  Am I personally troubled that Osama bin Laden is dead, that maybe he was unarmed when he was shot point blank?  Oh, hell no.  I'll admit it:  I'm glad he's dead.  But, I get the sentiment I believe Mendy was trying to convey.  I do think some of my fellow Americans missed a point.  We shouldn't celebrate the death of someone, we should celebrate the survival of our freedoms and our way of life.  That ability that Rashard Mendenhall and I both have of making total asses of ourselves in a public forum is pretty precious.

I don't think a young kid with wrong headed ideas should have his career upended because he said some things our constitution says he has the right to say.  Let him take his PR hits for it.  Better yet, someone help him see the error of his ways.  Maybe Mr. Rooney, who came out quickly and distanced the team from the comments, should arrange a meeting with Rashard and some of the families of the victims of 9-11 so he can learn from this experience.  He was just a boy when it happened.  Can he really understand the pain of that day and those people?  (Donald Trump, on the other hand, is not a young boy and does understand the weight of his words, so I still think he's just mean-spirited.)

Bottom line is this:  you put yourself out there in cyberspace with sincere and innocent intent, and sometimes it just comes out wrong.  That's unfortunate, but human.  It's an odd time we live in, when our words travel so far so fast and can carry such impact.  Some fumbles and missteps along the way are inevitable.  But, what a glorious freedom to be able to take the journey.

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