Sports

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Penn State Program, Perfect for Pedophiles

“Anytime you hear the number of children who come forward in an abuse case with this much history, add a 0 to get the real number of victims.”

That’s what the district attorney told me in 1994 when I was a witness set to testify in a case much like this one.

If the formula holds true for former Penn State University football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, long-time friend and one-time heir apparent of fired coach and chief enabler Joe Paterno, we’re talking not about 8 victims, but 80.

Maybe more. Maybe many more.

Because in just 4 days since Sandusky’s arrest, the number of known victims has more than doubled, from 8 to 17. (Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly is urging other unidentified victims to come forward.)

You do the math.

Considering Sandusky began coaching at Penn State in 1969 and established his own “charitable” foundation 8 years later, he’s had more than 40 years of unfettered access to ‒ and unquestioned authority over ‒ 1,000s of young boys.

The Second Mile Foundation, whose ironic tag line is “providing children with help and hope,” is a state-wide organization serving 100,000 children.

It’s clear from the grand jury testimony that Sandusky used his foundation to meet and cultivate victims, who he then betrayed in the worst possible, permanently damaging way.

If you think reading the indictment is hard, imagine living through it.

Sandusky feels “terribly depressed, terribly distraught” by the situation in which he’s found himself, claims his attorney, who’s drinking the Kool-Aid already because the only thing child abusers are ever distraught about is getting caught.

Penn State president Graham Spanier, who’s just been fired (and frankly that seems insufficient punishment), called the allegations against Sandusky “troubling.”

Troubling.

It’s well documented that pedophiles choose careers that give them access to kids. It’s a bonus if those kids are disadvantaged and vulnerable, seeking love and approval from a father figure otherwise missing in their lives.

In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile Foundation, first as a group foster home ‒ another favorite career choice of child molesters ‒ to help “troubled boys” from troubled families.

A cruel recipe for disaster.

Because being a “beneficiary” of The Second Mile Foundation’s “generosity” cost these boys their bodies and hearts and futures. And the best Penn State officials could do was to take away Sandusky’s locker room keys?

And report the crimes to…Sandusky’s own charity?

This timeline of events and cast of characters amply demonstrates how many missed opportunities there were over many years to put Sandusky behind bars. For preying on victims as young as 7 or 8.

2nd and 3rd graders. Foster children, who drew the short straw in life to begin with.

People who shield predators try to characterize ‒ in an attempt to minimize ‒ child molestation as just “bothering,” or “overly affectionate,” or in this case “horsing around,” which implies the child consented to “play.”

Probably ill advised, but not devastating. Kids are resilient. Prioritize the family man whose career and reputation I risk if I say anything.

It’ll probably get messy. I’d rather not get involved.

This all causes seriously psychological damage to the child. But add extreme violence and you add even more crimes, especially if the child is under 13 (in some states under 14, or 14-15).

An adult male pinning a child 1/3 of his weight, only 10 years old, against a shower wall and sodomizing him is brutal RAPE.

Here are the penalties in Pennsylvania for sexual assault. Jerry Sandusky should’ve faced these charges almost 10 years ago. Given the timeline, much longer ago than that.

Joe Paterno and his wife Sue have 5 children and 17 grandchildren. If any of them had been rape victims, every police officer and FBI agent in Pennsylvania would’ve descended on Happy Valley within minutes.

But this was somebody else’s child, a nobody who didn’t matter. And of course he would never tell on his idol, or if he ever did, wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Thus, Joe’s precious football program, precious corporate sponsorships, and precious coaching legacy were safe.

It’s telling that Paterno continues to talk about My Goals and “one of the greatest sorrows of My Life.” Me, Me, Me. Or, Me and Penn State.

“I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.” No sincere wish to help the children whose lives he knowingly let his protégé ruin by his selfish silence.

Maybe “we ought to say a prayer for them (the victims).” If I can take time away from worrying about what’s going to happen to Me, now that I’m no longer coach of Penn State’s illustrious football program that I built, and that made me untouchable.

As for the 2 Penn State officials, athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior VP for business and finance (and holding on to his $70 million plus annual revenue for dear life), who are now charged with failure to report a crime and committing perjury before the grand jury, you’re despicable. You should be charged with criminal conspiracy, along with Paterno and everyone else who knew about these crimes against children and did nothing.

And, worse than doing nothing, covered it up.

Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz will find out in prison exactly what it feels like to be the one pinned to the shower wall and brutalized, helpless and alone.

But the person I hold most in contempt, though, is Mike McQueary, the man on the scene in the Penn State locker room in 2002 ‒ an eyewitness, rare in rape cases involving children, according to this same district attorney ‒ who didn’t intervene to stop the crime in progress, didn’t call the police, didn’t even have the decency to get medical attention for the young boy afterwards.

According to his own grand jury testimony, McQueary walked in on the attack in the showers and both the victim and the rapist saw him clearly.

McQueary looked the 10-year-old boy right in the eye and, rather than help him, allowed the rape to continue and ran away in a panic…

…then, instead of 911, called Dad for advice?!

So what if McQueary was a graduate assistant with no power, terrified of Joe Paterno and the consequences of ratting out Joe’s friend Jerry. He was a 28-year-old man! He wasn’t a boy in elementary school, like the victim.

(Why is Penn State letting McQueary coach next Saturday against Nebraska? FIRE him already.)

Adults have rights in this world. They have money and resources. They are believed by the authorities.

They can drive!

Even if no-one calls 911 during the assault, adults at least have the chance to get away from their attackers and drive themselves to safety at a hospital or police station.

What happened to this young boy afterward? Did he have to wait outside the gym by himself for someone to come pick him up, while Sandusky walked by on his way to the parking lot and laughed at him?

Or did he, like another victim we’ve learned about, have to ride in the car while his abuser drove him home…

…acting like it was just another ordinary day?

Off-Season at the Derby

I like Western states for the same reason I like aisle seats: they’re on the edge.

The problem with Kentucky, besides the fact that it’s “hotter than blazes,” announces the flight attendant as we land in Lexington, and that iced tea comes pre-sweetened, is that it’s in the middle.

(Actually, Kentucky is considered the south, but we’ll get back to that.)

I once turned down a perfectly good job…in Chicago. Respectfully, I must decline because lakes, however vast yours might be, just aren’t the same. Any time I get too far away from the ocean, I start feeling panicky.

I’m liking Lexington, Kentucky just fine, thank you…because I’m holding an onward ticket to Vancouver, British Columbia.

You already know all about my forebears’ Kentucky business endeavors. But this visit, let’s focus on the legal ones.

After all, we’re in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky is famous for many other things besides bluegrass music, the Kentucky Derby, and its sometimes championship winning ‒ this year’s unfortunate NCAA details ‒ men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Kentucky was the first southern state to adopt the Civil Rights Act in 1966. It’s known for its Victorian architecture. It hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival.

It manufactures the Corvette!

And maybe it’s just my imagination, but all around me are honest-truth, blue-green fields, prettily dotted with white farm houses and divided by white picket fences.

Kentucky’s motto ‒ or at least its marketing tagline ‒ is “Revere the horse,” which I take to mean revere the horse-owning, -riding, -showing lifestyle, which I find fascinating, despite having no interest in achieving it personally.

My shuttle driver Leon doesn’t own horses, either, nor does he drink or smoke, 2 other fundamental pastimes in these parts, but he more than makes up for it in Wildcats fever. In violation of his employer’s dress code, he wears a University of Kentucky jersey, just to prove his point.

I asked if he was a native Kentuckian, born and raised. Yes, ma’am, but horses are raised, he’s quick to point out. Children are brought up.

Of course.

Although Lexington is the 2nd-largest city in Kentucky, population half a million, it feels deserted in mid-summer. Anyone left in town is in the pool, or at Starbucks. Besides the upcoming Taylor Swift concert, there’s nothing much scheduled at the Rupp Arena and conferences at the business hotels are sparse.

However, there’s an important horse sale happening on Saturday, for which many prospective buyers are flying in from out of town, ready to spend more on animals listed in the Horse Classifieds than I earn in a year.

For championship-caliber equine stock, make that a lifetime.

Chit-chat on the plane is of horse shows, horse breeding, and horse boarding. I changed stables (or farms) to whom and why and what for.

Oh, and horse racing.

The Kentucky Derby is actually held in Louisville in early May, but Lexington is still Derby County, which is close enough….for the Derby parties!

More fashionable people than me ‒ which, let’s be honest, is everybody ‒ tend to attend the Barnstable Brown Party, the place to see and be seen on Derby Eve. Or the black-tie Julep Ball, which raises money for a cancer charity. Or the Night of Silk, if your heart’s desire is to meet one of the jockeys in person.

Here we are again, 3 months and 4,000 miles away from the British Royal Wedding, shopping for hats!

Ann Sawyer Fabulous Hats, Inc. closes daily at 5pm sharp, like most everything else in downtown Lexington. Which is enough to drive crazy anyone who’s lived in Italy, because at 5pm you’re just waking up from the afternoon “il pisolino” and haven’t decided whether to maybe think about wandering down the street for a gelato.

Take your time. Dinner’s not ‘til 9:30pm/21:30.

Since it might be awhile before I’m invited to another Royal Wedding, although I admit to scanning the London tabloids to see what Prince Harry is up to, I’m relieved to see that the hat I bought for his brother Wills’ nuptials is going to work perfectly next spring at Churchill Downs.

Ms. Sawyer is the official hat designer of the Kentucky Derby and has made hats for First Ladies, actresses, minor royalty, and wives of famous athletes, referred to in a style I thought went out in the 1950s: Mrs. “Husband’s First and Last Name.”

Her Racing Collection is a predictable assortment of Ascot contenders, low $120/high $1200, with pleasant choices in the $400-600 range. Terribly sorry, Ann, but that one you’re selling in peach for $395? I bought that identical hat in London, in blue.

For a mere 30£ ($50), including VAT.

It’s a steamy Thursday night in a town square called “Cheapside”…because it’s where African slave families were separated and the least desirable from each “shipment” ‒ the young, old, injured, and weak ‒ were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Generations later, families of every ethnicity gather here, greeting friends and neighbors. Kids splash in the fountain. Parents drink bourbon by the glass.

From the stage, Celtic sounds of Appalachia cross musical paths with African sounds of jazz and blues. “A high lonesome sound,” bluegrass great Bill Monroe used to call it.

Then the reggae band invites the crowd to slow dance…to Kentucky’s most famous love song, and the official song of the Kentucky Derby:

“My Old Kentucky Home (Good-night)”

Thierry Plays Cricket

“How could you possibly miss, with a bat that wide?”

This is me in a smack-down with an arrogant, check-me-out English cricket player who just dissed America’s national pastime (baseball, one third of the Trinity, along with Mom and apple pie), a flame-throwing rebuttal that, while true, will probably get me denied future entry into the UK for reasons of the national interest.

Even though I agree that the World Series is a silly name for a tournament with teams from only 1 country (well, nominally 2), and a baseball game really can go on for what seems like forever ‒ which is why “The Wave” was invented ‒ without getting any points on the scoreboard, nobody but NOBODY gets to tell me the San Francisco Giants aren’t rulers of the batting sports universe until next October!

I guess what I disliked most about these particular cricket players was their insufferable superiority. This is a gentlemen’s game, Miss, implying that men who don’t play it by definition cannot be gentlemen and that while we admit some women can play cricket, they shouldn’t.

Thus, you’re not particularly invited, except to watch, in high heels and posh hats.

Pardon me, but aren’t you forgetting about the UK women’s cricket EBC National Club Championship (won by South Northumberland in 2010)?

I also think the USA women’s 3-time Olympic gold medal-winning softball team could learn to play cricket in about 10 seconds and take on the best of you. I’m so confident, in fact, that I’ll see your 100£, and raise you 200£.

Actually, I had some issues with cricket before ever meeting you…gentlemen. Starting with your uniforms. What’s with the all-white? At the end of the match, does the cleanest guy win, or are you advertising Clorox?

Dressing like that, people are going to think you’re chefs. Not a compliment…to us.

Living overseas for quite a few years, I’m a soccer fan. I watch the World Cup. I know FIFA, EUFA, FWA, PFA, and all kinds of other acronyms in European football (or “il calcio,” as it’s called in Italy).

I’m also an Arsenal fan, having first followed Thierry Henri there from Juventus, back when nobody thought his career was going much of anywhere, and even after he left for Barça.

As a holder of a French carte de séjour, I was obliged to be a fan of the French national team, Les Bleus, which, let me tell you, was not a hardship during the 2000s, with Thierry at striker. I was proud to be French…er, American.

Thierry: Golden Boot, Time cover, Hall of Fame.

Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.

However, if any loyal Manchester United fans work in Immigration at Heathrow, they aren’t very forgiving and I’m in serious trouble.

Aside: there’s pretty much nothing more exciting since time began than being in Africa when Cameroon is in the World Cup quarter-finals against Who Cares. The entire continent is on fire, watching the game en masse, with giant TVs in every town, running on giant generators.

We’ll happily trade off the chilled cherry Coke, since for the most part we’re not supposed to be drinking beer. Although, let me direct your attention to the top-secret, bright-red cooler out back.

Back to cricket, England’s #3 export, behind the Beatles and digestive biscuits.

Let me introduce you to the laws, not rules, of cricket play. The Cricket Constitution, if you will, circa London 1744, which contains a Preface, a Preamble, 42 Laws, and 4 Appendices.

If you don’t believe me, go to the Cambridge Law Library and look it up.

These provisions include a guaranteed 10-minute interval between innings, plus additional intervals for lunch, tea, and drinks, basically guaranteeing that very little play happens at all, which is why when you finally do get out onto the pitch, you have to rack up 100s of points to make up for it.

To the cricket players’ chagrin, wanting so badly to bore me with all the history and philosophy behind the game, I care about only one thing: how do you get points? Most commonly: “Runs are scored when the two batsmen run to each other’s end of the pitch.”

(You mean players run toward each other, not into each other ‒ aggressively and on purpose, as in soccer ‒ although I suppose that happens occasionally in cricket, too.)

What fascinated me the most were the “The Mechanics of Dismissal.” Shockingly civilized. “If the fielders believe a batsman is out,” the laws stipulate, “they may ask the umpire “How’s that?”, commonly shouted emphatically with arms raised, before the next ball is bowled.”

We’re more used to the shouting emphatically with arms raised, “You *&&$$)&%! Go to ()$#*!@#! ” before running out onto the field and getting ejected from the game. And that’s just the coach we’re talking about.

(If you’re a baseball fan who happens to be buying a hot dog at the concession stand and misses a blatantly bad call, never fear ‒ there will be rumble in the parking lot afterwards.)

Another way to get out in cricket is Law 36: “Leg Before Wicket” (LBW). Ouch.

Although I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, I’d rather see Thierry playing cricket for the Marylebone Cricket Club in London than ‒ sob! ‒ soccer for the New York Red Bulls.

Thierry, s’il vous plaît, ne me quitte pas!

His Bad Luck With Brackets

In between thought-provoking-I-hope posts on political change in North Africa and the Middle East and tsunami recovery in the land of my birth, just checking in to see how your brackets are doing.

At least half the readers of this blog don’t have brackets and have no idea what I’m talking about.

See, in the USA, it’s called March Madness: 64 of the best university basketball teams competing for the annual NCAA championship trophy.

You predict which teams will win against which other teams and advance to the next round to play against which other winners.

These predictions are called brackets.

A few weeks ago, Americans didn’t much care about President Obama’s trip to Brazil. What they really wanted to know: what were his 2011 NCAA brackets?

Same as last year, the President filled out his brackets on national television. At least he’s honest and doesn’t fill them out in pencil and erase his bad luck as he goes along, like some people we know.

The President is a good ‒ and surprisingly informed, for everything else he has on his plate ‒ basketball player, so his brackets count for something, even among people who will never vote for him.

However, since George is my friend rather than my President, I respect his brackets judgment, despite the fact that he’s famous now, too.

George wrote one of this year’s best-selling economics books, The Economist’s Oath, which everybody who watched their retirements evaporate in the recent financial meltdown needs to read ASAP…and weep. (Listen to George’s interview on National Public Radio.)

Although I’m usually too lazy to make my own brackets, that doesn’t stop me from having opinions on other people’s brackets. And I had a few questions about George’s, some of which ‒ in my uninformed opinion ‒ sort of defied logic.

Pittsburg, for example.

I admit I’m a sucker for a small liberal arts school from the Midwest that graduates its student athletes, but Butler is anything but a Cinderella. They’ve been in the NCAA tournament 10 times!

Thus, I was a little surprised when George called it so blithely for Pittsburg, even if it was the #1 seed. Siding with history and heart, I went with Butler.

And Butler won. Barely. Which is what makes March Madness great and makes even people with naturally low blood pressure prone to sudden stroke.

With a 1-point spread and 2 seconds to go, Butler had the win in hand. Then we watched, horrified, as they made an inexplicably stupid mistake, tying the score.

Then their opponent made an even stupider one. Butler had a chance to redeem itself, and did…winning by 1, and not even in overtime.

If it makes George feel any better, President Obama had Pittsburg in his brackets, too.

George puts UConn in his brackets every year in a show of family unity…and because Connecticut is a proven basketball force.

UConn women will undoubtedly be in the Final Four, but if the UConn men make it that far, I’ll be shocked, I recklessly went on record as saying.

Sweet Sixteen is where the brackets start getting interesting. This is where the teams that nobody gave any thought to before now upset, without warning, the top seeds and move on to the potentially big time.

Once the axe has fallen on half of the Sweet Sixteen and they’ve sullenly headed home, trying to figure out what went wrong with a sure thing, it’s on to the Elite Eight.

Then the Final Four.

Then the NCAA Championship on April 4th in Houston.

George and Barack agree that it’s Kansas vs. Ohio State in the final. The President picked Kansas to win last year and Kansas ‒ regrettably for both parties ‒ didn’t come through for him.

He’s giving them a second chance in 2011. Pretty forgiving, I’d say.

It’s what happens up until then that’s a lot up for debate.

People who know how little I know about sports are wondering what qualifies me to write this post. Absolutely nothing, which should be a cautionary tale to anyone who believes what they read in the blogosphere.

Sometime during college, I was playing baseball with friends. I was up to bat and accidentally got a hit. Then I accidentally made it to 2nd base.

Later in the game, I was up to bat again. Somebody said, “I thought you batted left.” (I’m right-handed.)

What do you mean by that? You handed me a bat and I bat. You’re so picky.

How was I supposed to know that you’re supposed to bat the same way every time? Seems like a petty rule, if you can bat equally badly either way and don’t know the difference.

Then I found out it’s actually a good thing to be able to bat left or right, because the baseball goes to different players in the field that way. It’s called a switch hitter and some people who are kind of ambidextrous can do this.

Accidentally, my one and only (losing) baseball team contribution.

Back to college hoops, another of George’s brackets that I couldn’t quite see happening: Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. His logic was that they’re playing all 5 seniors. Sounded sensible at the time. He also had Kentucky and Tennessee winning. They’re both legendary basketball programs that crank out top players on a regular basis.

Tennessee lost and promptly fired their coach.

Earlier on, carrying in a tray of appetizers, I inquire how George’s brackets are doing…just as Michigan State goes down in flames against UCLA.

Testing both extremes of prophetic in the same playoffs, George saw past the hype and put BYU in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since before he was even in college, but then put too much faith in the supposedly dominant Big East.

Proof that really smart, really logical people can sometimes really mess up their brackets with emotional choices, George favors Ivy League schools. When Princeton lost by 2, he was crushed, although really, George: Princeton over Kentucky? Seriously?

You saw that coming a mile away.

Besides the aforementioned Pittsburg and Notre Dame, George’s pick Syracuse didn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen, either. Ouch.

We both like Stanford in the women’s Final Four, although they deserve to be there without endorsements from either of us. I’d like to like Georgetown across the board, but they continue to disappoint…me and everybody else.

The truth about my alma mater: Washington isn’t nearly as good a men’s team as when I was an undergrad and collapses well under pressure, sending North Carolina to the Sweet Sixteen. Again. The UW women’s team, talented in past years, is south of nowhere in 2011.

Last year, I picked UC Berkeley over Duke. My reasoning had nothing to do with national rankings, nor with being from California.

Duke plays better basketball, but Cal has better tattoos.

Somebody’s Gonna Hurt Somebody

One hand in the air, one hand on the rope.

We’re at the National Bull Riding Championship Finals, a highly-trained-to-be-crazy bulls/cowboys matchup that city folks pay $15-20 a head to watch in complete alarm, hoping medics ‒ maybe even priests ‒ are standing at the ready.

The contest has one official goal: the cowboy does whatever it takes to stay on the bull for 8 seconds or longer, earning scores of up to 100 points. (The winning score at this rodeo was 85.)

The unofficial, contrary goal: the bull does whatever it takes to get the cowboy off his back as soon as possible. If I have to hurt that SOB in the process, then so be it. These are the consequences, fellas, of roping me (literally) into something I never wanted to do in the first place.

These bulls are angrier than the ones I remember at rodeos as a kid. They come out of the chute looking for somebody on which to take revenge. If not the guy on my back, then anybody in the stands will do.

“One way or another, I’m gonna find ya, gonna get ya get ya get ya…” as each bull in turn crashes into a barrier or three at 90 miles an hour, sending the cowboy assistants ‒ whose job looks to be even more dangerous than the bull rider’s ‒ racing for the fences and the VIP visitors leaping out of their front row seats in panic. (This is the time you’re glad to be sitting high above the ring in the cheap seats.)

Many of the same theme songs are used at rodeos as at hockey games: Who Let the Dogs Out, Start Me Up, Hurts So Good, and Another One Bites the Dust.

Literally.

Surely there are easier ways to earn $5,000 than to “Fly like an eagle…” face first into the dirt and run the very real risk getting trampled a few times over by a ton of pure muscle and ferocity.

I wonder why anybody would want to spend their Saturday nights around creatures named Powder Keg and Bone Crusher, ask the skydivers, underwater cave explorers, and ultra-marathoners in the audience.

Everybody else wonders how many Bud Lights (one of the rodeo sponsors) does it take to even consider saying to a bull in a bad mood, “Hit me with your best shot…”?

The trick: start young. Little kids practice on sheep. Nicer temperament and lower to the ground, although it still worries us that they didn’t wear helmets.

Real cowboys don’t wear helmets, you idiots.

The winner in the pint-sized category was a 4-year-old boy who hung onto his sheep’s wool ‒ it’s OK to lie face down on the sheep’s back and use both hands ‒ for dear life…for quite a bit longer than 8 seconds, amazingly.

He cried a little bit when it was over. The ribbon was so long that his medal hung down to his knees.

Before the rodeo, before the National Anthem even, we were witnesses to something I’d never seen before: new Army recruits taking their oaths of enlistment. Young men and women from towns in the area who had enlisted in the military and would shortly be on their way to boot camp.

They entered the field as a group: wrinkled Army logo T-shirt tails not tucked into low-slung jeans, marching in a raggedy line. Nothing close to snappy, but that’ll come.

The Sergeant administering the oath stood at attention while one of his colleagues announced over the loudspeaker the names of the soldiers-to-be and their respective divisions and assignments. Artillery. Intelligence. Engineering. Special Forces.

Cavalry Scouts. A whole bunch. Maybe 1/3 of the group.

Do you know what a cavalry scout does? “Works to obtain, distribute, and share vital combat and battlefield information on the enemy and on combat circumstances and environmental conditions.” They do “recon out front” and send intel back to commanding officers in the field.

Translation: cavalry scouts work inside enemy lines. Without a doubt, these scouts will be deploying soon to the Middle East.

Wish them all a safe return home; meantime, keep them in your prayers.

And if in the future you read on a list of war casualties any soldiers from hometowns Chico, Gridley, Centerville, Oroville, Magalia, or Feather Falls, California, it might be one of them.

With right hands raised, these young people took the oath of enlistment:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The Sergeant saluted the recruits and presented to the audience the newest members of the United States Army…to hoots, tears, and thunderous applause.

The title of this post is the opening line of Heartache Tonight, the Eagles’ #1 single in 1979.

Friends of Bill Are Friends of Mine

(…and no, I’m not talking about Bill Gates).

Please tell us a story, they said, about people who surprise us in a GOOD way.

Anyone who’s been reading my blog lately knows about our friends who weren’t friends, but instead were Islamic terrorists masquerading as friends, breaking our hearts.

I received responses from readers all over the world, who’d never met those people, but were heartbroken anyway, mostly for me for needing to write posts like that at all, but for themselves, too: for somehow never seeing these things coming, but dreading them all the same, or for being constantly under suspicion, no matter what good you do in this world.

It’s just as heartbreaking to realize that none of us can see an end to the number of people willing to lay waste to their lives in adoration of a jihadist killer from the backwater of the Middle East, who wouldn’t even recognize them if he saw them on the street.

Over and over, I read the words “you just never know,” and not in a good way. See what happens to us, the ultimate dim-wits, when we trust people?

Yet we go on trusting, because our national motto is “Think Positive” and we aren’t allowed to go off to kindergarten until we learn that there’s some good in everyone, if we just look hard enough. As adults, every time we’re at the end of our rope with that naïve line of reasoning, we get surprised…in a good way, in a way we never expect.

I believe more than ever that those words “you just never know” are true. I also believe that there are an equal number of people out there who turn out to be better, kinder, wiser, more loyal, and truly more wonderful than we ever could’ve imagined and who we would’ve missed out on entirely had somebody not taken that chance on what you can never know about people.

It was a long-ago colleague, and his friend of friends, who showed me that beautiful truth of trust.

Among our employer’s business associates was the general manager of a professional sports team. Our employer bought a block of tickets every year, for performance rewards; people who preferred cash bonuses but loved sports never complained. After the games, this GM would then invite these employees to meet the players.

I was lucky enough to be in that city on game night and tagged along for the field trip.

My colleague was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and when I met him had just celebrated 1 year of sobriety. Although AA is by definition anonymous, he talked openly about his alcoholism and the damage it had done to his career and his family, which he was trying to repair, but knew deep down that, despite fulfilling Step 9 (making amends) of the 12-Step Program, some things lost were going to stay lost.

When I met the players – great guys, all – it turned out that my colleague already knew one of them very well…from AA. This player was also a recovering alcoholic and was equally open about his struggles with addiction and sobriety. These two introduced each other to me as follows: this athlete was my colleague’s AA sponsor.

This was a guy who made untold millions and was part of one of the most successful sports teams of the decade. During the season, he was interviewed constantly. His young fans mimicked everything he did (and didn’t). He went to events he didn’t like and pitched foods he didn’t like, either. (Too much sugar, fat, something. We big guys have to watch our weight, too.)

Yet somehow, hidden for years, was a terrible secret that his teammates, his agent, the franchise management, even his extended family, never guessed: he went home and got drunk, every night. I think nobody guessed because it seemingly never affected his sports performance. I don’t know how. But imagine what kind of player he would’ve been had he been sober, given that he was a phenomenal player as a full-on alcoholic.

Another reason nobody guessed was because he was subjected only to drug testing for illegal and performance-enhancing drugs, never for alcohol, and he was (obviously) functioning just fine at work. At home, though, where his immediate family knew perfectly well what was going on − but you can’t make people do things they don’t want to do, especially somebody his size − things slowly but surely fell apart.

This athlete got sober after wrecking his something like $200,000 car, while driving when he wasn’t drunk. He could’ve replaced it the next day, in cash.

But he didn’t.

Instead of to the car dealership, he went to AA. Not to a celebrity detox clinic; to his local chapter down the road. At AA, he was just a regular guy, another new friend of Bill W. (who co-founded AA in 1934 and remained sober for the rest of his life), who stood up in front of everybody and admitted that his family had been right all along, and they’d been right to leave him when he’d gotten dangerously out of control, as opposed to just annoyingly out of control, like he’d been for years and no amount of nagging, cajoling, threatening, and pleading ever made a dent in that thick head of his.

Fast-forward some years, when my colleague went to his first AA meeting. For the first couple of weeks, he said nothing and just cried. His alcoholism had caused him a brush with the law and on the judge’s orders he was required to attend one AA meeting a day − for a long number of days, I can’t remember now how many − or he’d be in real trouble, I mean it, and I don’t want to see you back in my courtroom ever again unless it’s about something good.

That’s how the larger-than-life pro athlete met the ever-shy middle manager not much more than half his weight. Nowhere on this planet, one would think, would these two people ever meet, let alone become fast friends.

So, this famous man became my colleague’s AA sponsor. He accompanied him to those first AA meetings, which he still attended for his own sake, and when the next season began, he took my colleague’s frantic calls in the middle of the night, sometimes every night, wherever he was.

He was extremely careful about anyone finding out about this. Not for his own sake, since he led a very public life; for the sake of his friend, who didn’t. He didn’t want any “credit” for what he was doing because somebody else had been his sponsor back in the day, when he was off the wagon more than he was on and didn’t think he could make it, even one day at a time.

We didn’t talk about the score (they won), the game highlights, or even the latest gossip about his team (and that could’ve easily occupied most of the evening). We talked about addiction, getting sober, and making it stick.

I’m not really a sports fan and told him, my apologies, but I’d never seen you play before today (and might not again afterwards, either). He wasn’t the least bit offended.

Underneath that infamous “game face” and the bravado for which he was paid more than handsomely, he was a modest, old-fashioned guy, really…from a modest upbringing in the modest suburbs, who to even his surprise had made it big. In that vein, he’d had an XXXXL letterman’s jacket custom-made for himself, very like the one he’d worn in high school. I kind of like thinking back on those days, he said, when I played with my friends for fun, before I got into booze and lost some of the best years of my life.

On the front of his jacket, in place of his own name, he’d had embroidered, “Friend of Bill W.”

If you’re an alcoholic who’s seeking help and would like to find an AA meeting near you, or for more information about alcoholism and recovery, please visit Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’re a family member or a friend of an alcoholic, please visit Al-Anon/Ala-Teen.