Date: September 11, 2001
Time: 1:38 PM EDT
MyTeam.com discussion board
To: smosher From: gkozy
Subject: Are you happy now?
Have you changed your way of thinking??????????????????????
How many Children are sleeping peacifully in the DR. How many Americans did you call bigots that are dead today.
How many children have no parents tonight.
How many children from the DR are in discusted with what has happened today.
Get out of the classroom. Stop collecting the your acolades. And start studing human berhavior. You are the flame that ignites this type of problem. You have no solutions. You only make headlines by offering contempt.
YOU ARE A PART OF THE PROBLEM.
The above is an actual post — complete with all of its errors in spelling and grammar — I received just about ten years ago.
What had I done that evoked such an astounding personal attack less than six hours after the first airliner struck the Twin Towers in New York City? It’s a long and complicated story, but in a nutshell, I had defended a little boy.
That little boy was Danny Almonte (pictured left), who was in the eye of a hurricane whirling around the Little League World Series . . . a 14-year old masquerading as a 12-year old . . . a storm of moralizing and politicizing a youth sporting event that is far more than that.
I had written about Danny Almonte, the team from the Bronx and the political purpose of baseball in the Dominican Republic. Through the persistence and persuasiveness of Will Weiss (Sport Studies minor, class of 2000) pitching the idea of an academic writing for its LLWS web site, my three stories appeared on ESPN.com between August 15 and August 31. (Please take a moment and read them in this order before you continue to read this post.)
The last one, the day the Almonte deception was revealed, even led the ABC News web site for most of the day. That’s when the emails and phone calls threatening me and my family started. I had already joined discussion boards of several web sites including MyTeam and Free Republic (a politically conservative web site). I had done so at the urging of my students who had alerted me to the fact that my stories were the subject of some interesting commentary. I joined the cyber conversations and specifically identified myself as the author of the articles being discussed, patiently (I think) correcting misinterpretations and challenging false conclusions. I still have the 1,200 or so pages of transcription of these exchanges, but it is difficult to reread them and see just how much of a failure I was in relating to these zealots. Thankfully, Free Republic’s archives don’t go back that far anymore and MyTeam seems to have morphed into a facilitating service rather than a locale for discussion.
These discussions were still going strong — eleven days later, on that morning which had a sky that Bruce Springsteen recalls as “unbelievably blue” — when Mr. gkozy’s post came through.
Instantly I had been transformed from an academic egghead living in a fantasy world to a part of THE PROBLEM. None of the subsequent attackers had any idea that my daughter’s office building in Arlington, Virginia was across the street from The Pentagon and that American Airlines Flight 77 had passed within feet of her and that neither my wife nor I could reach her for most of the day. How could they know that over the next decade, when the phone rings at 2:00 a.m. in my house, it’s not, maybe, “. . . so-and-so needs a ride home,” but, perhaps, “. . . someone’s dead in Iraq or Afghanistan.” That’s what families who have relatives serving in the military and deployed overseas think.
That’s why I approach this weekend’s mediated sporting events with such fear and dread. I know what’s going to happen. It happened recently on August 16th at the Little League World Series when Christina-Taylor Green was permanently linked to Michael Cammarata, Ross McGinnis and Thomas Bennett as if Little League actually does what it claims to do in its dedication and motto: “From the ranks of the youngsters who stand now on the morning side of the hill, will come the leaders, the future strength and character of the nation.” Yes indeed: Character, Courage, Loyalty.
While their Little League experiences certainly helped shape these four human beings’ lives, I doubt it was more important than family or school or — certainly in the case of Bennett — church. Weirdly, on that August 16th day of remembrance, the Little Leaguers from Huntington Beach and Billings wore a patch in their uniform to honor Green and Cammarata, but the players from Mexico and Japan (who had just played in the International Final) did not. Ten years later, the phrase “Today we are all American,” rings hollow.
Even though it is my job, and I have assigned students to consume sport media this weekend, I dread having to do it. Of course, all Sunday MLB games already sing the unofficial national anthem “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. NASCAR, a sporting organization that seems to only have Christian invocations prior to starting a race, is already promoting its patriotic Richmond event. The rain-plagued U.S. Tennis Open now has its men’s final match scheduled for Monday, and thus will have a much smaller audience on Sunday and will see the moment become less than had been intended.
And, of course, the hyper-masculine, hyper-patriotic NFL season opens on September 11. Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears has already tweeted his intention to wear gloves and cleats in the colors of the United States flag, a clear violation of the NFL’s uniform policy. The NFL Commissioner’s Office is now in an extraordinarily difficult position, having set precedent by fining several players for previous violations. If the NFL fines Briggs, will it be seen as insensitive to expressions of patriotism? Commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff must be working on multiple responses to cover multiple situations. (Editor’s Note: The NFL has responded.) Personally, I’m hoping at least one player paints a peace sign on his cleats. Imagine the uproar!
I have asked my students to also read — carefully — the three LLWS stories from August, 2001. But they are incomplete. Below are the four photos that were deleted from the “What’s in a flag?“ story sometime in 2003.
I recall the day I took them and the incredible sense of pride in their identity displayed by Bronx supporters in the first three. These pictures can’t be the problem, can they? No, it’s got to be the fourth — the trash can photo. As the story states, all the trash cans on site were decorated with the national flag of countries that participate in Little League throughout the world. They are the heartfelt products of schoolchildren in Williamsport, meant to celebrate diversity and cultural differences. They are meant to be inclusive. But what they are . . . are trash cans. No thinking, feeling, empathetic human being can escape the irony. These trash cans are embarrassing. So, through the magic of editing, they don’t exist anymore.
Clearly, the one line that evoked the torrent of venom spewed my way was my last: “Waking up hungry is something one never gets used to,” but I suspect it was the trash can of life out of which Danny Almonte crawled that was the problem behind the problem. I hope he is doing well. The last I heard, he was being given a chance to give back . . . in the Bronx of all places. Imagine: James Monroe High School allowing its baseball coach to have Almonte mentoring his young students.
We all should reflect and remember 9/11/01 with respect and in a dignified manner. But, please, when we watch the public ceremonies, let us take note when they cross over that line and become exploitative. Let us resist being played — again.
(Editor’s Note: After reading this post and taking a moment to digest, please read Will Weiss’s companion post.)
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett (1st photo)