We have covered the waterfront on this topic but I know it will continue to be a big one. I saw one Internet blurb that my favorite all-time sportscaster, Charles Barkley, may even be hosting a series of shows on the issue.
To summarize, I believe there are several more important categories than the purely artificial one of “race”: income, education, ideology, religion and occupation, to name but a few.
A great example on occupation is professional athletes: in the last two decades or so it’s been very rare to hear any prejudice against black or Latino (sometimes they seem a majority in baseball) athletes. What matters is pure performance.
This of course is being written as the 2016 Rio Olympics proceeds-any mention of race among the medal winners would be completely absurd!
I was inspired to be a runner by the 1964 Olympics, perhaps the best performance of US distance runners ever. One huge element of running is that “the stopwatch doesn’t lie”. In team sports you can fraternize with coaches and get a leg up, so to speak.
In running it’s you against the world. As a teen I was comparing my times to Africans and Australians, the distance powerhouses of the 1960’s and again race was completely irrelevant.
Since it is Olympics time, I’ll just conclude by telling about my closest brush with it. In 1974 I moved from New England (after winning a couple road races and competing in maybe still the world’s most enjoyable one, The Boston Marathon) to the mecca for distance runners, Eugene, Oregon.
There are 12 US athletes that go to the four distance events (three per 5k, 10k, marathon and steeplechase). Amazingly, five of the 12 came from Eugene: a fact that I don’t believe ever happened before or since. The most famous by far was Steve Prefontaine. All I can say is that he was the Michael Jordan of the sport. There are 18 different events in the sport and when a poll asked, “Who’s your favorite in track and field?” Pre got over 90% of the votes. I doubt if MJ himself ever polled that high and they certainly never made two movies about him as they did for Pre back in 1996: check the one where Jared Leto plays him, he seems to capture Pre’s spirit better.
To conclude my 1974 running items I’ll state that I only had a couple great races there, both 10Ks. In the first I finished just behind Jon Anderson, an earlier Boston Marathon runner-up and just ahead of Steve Savage, a 1972 Olympian. To be fair to Steve S, the 10K is three times longer than his event, the steeplechase! In the second I grazed the Olympic Trials 10K qualifying time but a month later my running career was over with a knee injury-Se la vie!
I did have a training partner, Matt Centrowitz, who made the 1976 team and now his son, Matt Jr. is a favorite in the 1,500 meters. You can be sure I’ll watch that one on Aug. 21st!
Another thing about running and race is that the emergence of African athletes in the 1960’s and 1970’s was not nearly as important to fan interest, one way or the other, as the gradual ebbing of the Cold War. As I recall, in the early 1960’s Stanford Stadium was packed with 80,000 fans to see US versus USSR. A US-Russia track meet today would draw a small fraction of that number now. I truly was lucky to have my decade of running coincide with what many would call the “golden decade” of the sport in America, 1964-1974.
To wrap up both the running and race topics together, I will cite the seminal mid-1990’s epic work from D’Souza, “The End of Racism”. It covers a wide swath but with my athletics (by the way, that’s how most of the world refers to our “track and field”) background, my favorite part was how he dissected the genetics behind African Olympic medal winners over the previous two decades.
It turns out that no West African has EVER won a distance race medal (but it has excelled in both sprints and soccer-sports where power bursts are crucial), while no East African nation has EVER won a sprint medal, nor excelled in soccer, despite winning MOST of the Olympic distance races since the 1970’s. Scientists say they represent two completely different gene pools, as different as black and white, so to speak! To hark back to week one of this series, it is a clear case of genotype over phenotype. To complete the picture, North Africans, being on the Mediterranean for millennia, seem to be a complicated genetic mix, but even there there is some consistency: I can’t recall them ever winning a sprint medal but they’ve done well in some middle and long distance running events.
West Africans tend to be stockier and more powerful than their slim East African counterparts and of course US African American athletes are descended from West Africans and thus dominate those sports where power and quick bursts are vital while it is rare to see an elite African American distance runner, except of course for our East African imports!
To conclude the whole series, let me refer to the great Martin Luther King. I can still vividly recall walking across my Dallas campus on an April day in 1968 when I heard the news of his murder. I cried like a baby for quite a while: it really affected me deeply. That was before I’d met my first black friend and my “fighting racism” consisted mainly of vociferously arguing with racist dorm mates and athletes, the majority of both groups being racist in 1967-68.
That next summer I had a job as a nonunion teamster with many black co-workers. We would unload 30-40 pound bolts of cloth from inside trucks. Although it was a little over 100 degrees outside, when we brought a thermometer inside the truck it measured 150 degrees! I know it’s not nearly as bad as picking cotton but after I finished eight hours of that drudgery by running 10-15 miles in the slightly cooler Dallas summer evening. Two interesting physical aspects of that summer is that, first I would urinate on awakening and that was it for the rest of the day-I would wring out my saturated shirt all day long. Second, my other runners and I would run a 10 mile loop around Dallas’ famous White Rock Lake because it was cooler, but the water attracted a wild variety of insects. After our 60-70 minute run our entire bodies looked like a car’s windshield if you’d driven it cross country in summer without a cleaning!
Back to my black coworkers, maybe half the staff as I recall. It was my first encounter with blue collar types of any hue! I became really fond of most of my co-workers and one in particular, a young black guy named Roy. He was the embodiment of the term “Hell on Wheels”. In what I believe was a more lenient era of enforcing driving laws (not forgetting the infamous DWB-driving while black), Roy had what seemed to be a Guinness Record for violations, especially speeding. Since he wasn’t allowed to drive a car he took his frustrations out on the poor humble fork lift. It could easily be a reality TV show today. Roy was charming, always joking but he drove those warehouse forklifts at breakneck speed. The lift alone at those speeds in the tight warehouse corners is amazing but he did it with them stacked 3-4 pallets high! Amazingly, I can’t recall any injuries or even spilled pallets.
Of course when you spend eight hours a day for three months anywhere it’s hard not to pick up the local “patois”. In this instance, most of the workers there spiced up their conversations with the intermittent M-F word. It’s possible I’d never heard anyone utter that word in person. Which was OK except when I went home to dinner. My mom wasn’t there as a referee since she worked the 3-11 shift as an RN and my younger brother didn’t have a clue at the time.
Anyway, the M-F word just seemed to seep out of my mouth. For example, “Please pass the M-F butter”. I still remember the horror on my dad’s face the first time it happened-maybe something like the first Japanese bomb to fall nearby in Okinawa! To make it even more tense, we usually ate dinner in front of the TV news. I vividly recollect one “M-F bomb” landing during a news account of one of the many racial riots that occurred in that era-THAT night was our most vociferous argument on race!
To wrap up my personal early racial experience, I’ll refer back to my previous entry and my first black friend, Adam. He, along with Dr. King, inspired me to be much more active in “the struggle”. In the fall of 1968, Dallas’ #1 racially-tinged issue was high food prices in black neighborhoods. Of course a lot of folks talk and complain about an issue but that fall two young black men decided to take action. They went to a local grocery and each filled up a cart with various goods but when they got to the cash register they just stood there refusing to pay. For their fairly mild protest they were given a 30 year sentence! A tiny group on campus printed shirts saying “Save Matt Johnson and Ernie McMillan”. I knew I had to wear one. On campus the shirts were mostly ignored (SMU was a rich kids school and I was only there due to the full athletic scholarship) but “crunch time”, in both senses, came during meals. I ate all three meals in the athletic dining hall. There were maybe 100 athletes (most of them giving me looks that could kill and they were all pretty big!) that ate there, with only a handful of black ones and not a single one of them ever wore a “Matt & Ernie” shirt as I did. Perhaps because the 1968 Olympics had just finished with that iconic scene of Tommy Smith and John Carlos holding up the black glove salute on the medal stand the SMU coaches had all given “the talk” with their black athletes on attempting similar protests on campus.
It’s only fitting to conclude all my words about that antiquated 18th century shibboleth, “race” with Dr. King’s most famous quote:
“I have a dream that my four little children that one day I will live in a nation where they won’t be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
As any reader of this blog knows, it started as my own little protest against family court. I continue to firmly believe that keeping fathers and less-well connected mothers from their children is one of the two or three greatest injustices in the US today, is almost totally ignored by the media and has almost as grave consequences for society as segregation had for America and apartheid had for South Africa.
If you’ve read many entries you know that I had a 14 year struggle (beginning with my son two months in utero!) to get 50/50 custody, never asking for full custody. I went through six or seven bad, mediocre and good attorneys, losing my career and $1.3M in lost wages, attorney fees and travel expenses in the process.
Part of it was appealing a 700 mile move away. I wrote my own appeal (wonderfully assisted by one of the two “good attorneys”) and miraculously won! I heard that a layman writing his/her own winning appeal happens less than 10% of the time. It made no difference in the least because my ex was granted nine straight continuances (I asked for one and was denied). I know perhaps a dozen dads and one mom who went through San Diego Family Court and had almost equally negative experiences. Even worse than the judges, were the so-called “mediators”, who seemed particularly biased. And, of course, it isn’t confined to San Diego. If one reads the actor Alec Baldwin’s book, it sounds like Los Angeles could be even worse!
Anyway, May 2015 was a turning point in my life. I had just broken up with my girlfriend (yes, she was black), the one I’d felt most compatible with in my entire life. The rents in San Diego continued their ascent to “Dante’s 7th circle of heaven” and it just hit me-why not move close to my son? I had of course thought about it for years but the economy in NE California had been slow (unemployment as high as 20% for one year) and seemed like a western version of Appalachia-beautiful but poor.
Since I was now on Social Security (albeit at a low rate due to working in Japan in my prime earning years), it made it feasible to move. It is beautiful here, the weather’s better than I thought, I live across the street from a CC with teaching potential and, best of all, only eight miles from my son.
I had a previous divorce with a VERY cooperative ex who allowed me to have, on average, a 32% time share through my daughter’s 8th grade. This was despite six moves on her part (another reason I hadn’t moved north to NorCal earlier) to exotic locales like Sitka and Kotzebue (above the Arctic Circle where my daughter learned the local Eskimo dialect) Alaska. Despite those overwhelming geographic challenges, I can’t remember a single missed visit. It was easier in the 70’s-kids could fly unaccompanied at age four!
So, missing my daughter’s high school years (we did have every August & December together to see the UK, Japan, China, Thailand, The Philippines, Mexico/Copper Canyon and Argentina/Iguazu Falls, the worlds widest). I wonder how many dads have taken six extensive international trips with their daughters? Having missed HER teen years I didn’t want to miss HIS years, so I decided to move north.
And of course, once again family court looms. Last May I calculated that all my clawing and scratching in court had given me about a 15% time share since his birth. In the third of three court cases I had, it seemed the facts were on my side since my ex had not complied with 13 of the last 16 court-ordered flights but, again, absolutely no difference. So, last May I had the case transferred north-all six files. As one might expect with this massive bureaucracy, there were delays. In all it took four months. I calculated that if one put the six files in a shopping cart and pushed it only six miles a day you’d have them there faster-pure Kafka (by the way, a good man to know if you decide to take on family court!)
Despite that outrageous delay, I was in a completely different judicial world up north. San Diego Courts gave lip-service to shared parenting but mostly ignored it when it came to enforcement. This county was completely different-they actually believed in it! Now, a cynic might say that since my son was now almost 14 it should be an open and shut case and maybe they’re right. Anyway, after 14 years and with no attorney (I might say that was a factor but I tried it only once in San Diego and it was a disaster.) I finally achieved a 50/50 time share. It can be complicated with holidays, birthdays, etc. but overall I was 95% satisfied-I don’t believe that number in San Diego ever got over 10!
OK enough of the good news-family court survivors can’t take too much of of that. At roughly the same time I got 50/50 custody (New Years) I got cancer and this wasn’t one of those misshaped moles on your arm but a tennis-ball sized lymph node on the neck. The oncologist I saw in January was very optimistic,even saying a 70% chance of cure because my type of cancer, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma is common and there should be lots of up to date research. I asked, “Which stage is it?” In his taciturn Indian-MD style he said “four”. I replied, “What’s stage five?” With no change of expression he simply said, “Death”.
Well, that was before the first chemo regimen. I have now started #5. The third was Keytruda, the $150,000/year wonder drug that stopped 90 year old ex-President Jimmy Carter’s cancer. It did nothing for me. I am currently traveling 460 miles round trip to receive care at UC Davis. There’s a great staff and facility there but it’s strictly stop-gap. My plan is to move in with my daughter in LA by month’s end.
My family situation couldn’t be any better. My brother is a 100% match as a stem cell donor and he’ll drive me to LA. I’ve always put my daughter on a pedestal (She runs her own company and just signed contracts with Fox, NBC and CBS and has two preschoolers while she juggles her hubby’s globe-trotting cameraman schedule) but she’s really outshown even herself recently. She has a strong spiritual side and, as Trump would say, she’s HUGE on healthy eating, both of which are crucial in overcoming “The Big C”.
Of course all this means that, after those 14 years of struggle, I’m going to be separated from my son once again, this time for the longest time since his first year (that was a six month separation!). The doctors are vague on time frames but I’m expecting to have at least three months in LA. As in earlier eras, he’s going to have to start being a man. One of my biggest pet peeves is the helicopter parent/”boy in the bubble syndrome”. I went to Catholic schools in which both geography and history were much better taught than in today’s public schools. My son’s going to hear from me that for 99.9% of human history 14 year-olds were working, procreating and hunter-gathering. Not that we should shove them out the door at 14, but kids today are extremely sheltered from the real world. 100 years ago most kids grew close to some of their farm animals but saw them die regularly. In all of our big wars : WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam many 17 and even some 16 year olds were on the front lines. The bottom line is that my son will gain more maturity this year than in all his previous 14 together.
One last thing about LA. I’m lucky again in that my daughter’s house is roughly equidistant between two great cancer hospitals, City of Hope and UCLA. The latter is rated #6 in the US for cancer and the other is #20 but known for innovation.
This blog will be suspended and perhaps is finished for good. I frankly feel that I’ve exhausted family court (for a great summary of the topic see the DVD DivorceCorp) as a topic. Even The Big C can’t conquer Twitter, so you can follow me there:@jskidsmc. It’s very different from this blog, a lot of anti-PC stuff and geopolitics. I think my last one was presidential vs. parliamentary systems. If we had the latter, we’d maybe only be stuck with one of these two abysmal candidates for a few months!
As the main character used say in my favorite TV show as a six year old:
“Bu-deep, bu-deep, bu-deep, that’s all folks!”