Return of USFL is Latest Example of Everything Old is New Trend

A long, long time ago in a swamp far, far away a wise old green puppet said, “long enough live you do, all things old become new they will.”

Okay, maybe I am not remembering the exact source of the quote but the force behind it is that if one waits long enough, everything old will become new again; even things one never thought would return.

The latest example of this recycling of retro chic is the recent announcement that the United States Football League, aka the USFL, plans to make a return to the gridiron in the spring of 2022 after a lengthy time on the sidelines.

For those unfamiliar with the USFL, it was a spring football league that played for three seasons from 1983 through 1985. Some notable USFL players who later joined the NFL include Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Steve Young and Hershel Walker just to name a few.

Ultimately like the myriad spring football leagues that followed, the USFL went the way of the dinosaurs and became extinct. Of course, with the number of failed leagues trying to come back to life lately perhaps one should say the USFL is trying to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its own Icarus style hubris of flying too close to the sun during its initial three season run.

I will not get into the inner workings of why the USFL failed aside from saying that had they stayed in their lane it is possible the USFL would have never disappeared from the sports landscape all those years ago. At least that was the thesis statement of a research paper I wrote during my M.S. in Sport Management studies.

For those wanting more specifics on what ultimately killed the USFL, numerous books and documentaries cover that subject in grave detail. However, for those wanting to get down in the weeds on why the league failed, I do recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Aside from my academic studies of the USFL, I am old enough to remember the league from the perspective as a fan. Granted a very young fan. Growing up in Florida I was a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Orlando Renegades who were coached by Steve Spurrier and Lee Corso respectively.

Spurrier would of course spend his post USFL days reinventing college football at the University of Florida, while Corso became a key member of the College Gameday crew that changed how college football pregame shows were done.

So, as a fan of the old USFL with the hats, programs, media guides and team buttons to prove it, I am both intrigued and horrified at the thought of the league making another run.

Like a moth to a flame, I was always drawn to the spring football teams of Orlando. From the Renegades of the USFL, the Thunder of the WLAF, and the Apollos of the AAF, when it comes to failed spring football leagues Orlando has seen its share of short-term tenets that enter with a flurry of promise and excitement and exit with a whimper of disappointment and failed potential. Time will tell if the Renegades rise again after spending a single season in Orlando in 1985. If the Renegades are resurrected it is highly likely that the native American identity and penchant for tomahawks from the earlier version will be toned down or eliminated all together in the current climate of acceptable team names and iconography.
Photo R. Anderson

Would I love to see Orlando get yet another minor league sports franchise while continually getting passed over as a serious contender for the NFL and MLB? Sure, I suppose.

But, at the same time I am skeptical that any spring football league can make a serious dent at long term stability. If I thought that the USFL, or any league stood a real chance at being financially independent and not just some made for TV revenue stream to fill the air on the airwaves or a streaming service, I would dust off my Sport Management degree in a heartbeat and stand in line with the rest of the applicants wanting to make a lasting impression on the wide world of sports with spring football.

Instead I will quote Lee Corso and say “Not so fast my friend” when it comes to my belief that the USFL can succeed in the current sports climate.  I just do not have a good feeling about the USFL succeeding as more than just a gimmick and a way to for Fox Sports to sell some ads on television.

It should be noted that Fox Sports, which has a minority equity stake in the company that owns the new USFL, will serve as the league’s official broadcast partner.

One has to wonder how quickly Fox will run away from the deal if their ratings expectations are not met. It is also a slippery slope when the people creating the content are also the same channels broadcasting it.

Of course, the rising symbiosis between leagues and broadcast partners is a column and/or research paper subject for another day. Suffice to say, as a classically trained sports journalist I am deeply troubled by the trend of mergers and blending of networks and leagues.

It goes back to the age-old journalism school question of whether sports events are news or entertainment. Based on the number of leagues jumping into bed with gambling interests I would say sports are sliding into the easy to manipulate realm of entertainment programming which could very well soil the sanctity of the game.

So, the USFL selling a portion of the league and perhaps their soul to Fox Sports is a huge red flag for me in terms of whether I should get excited about yet another Spring Football league coming to town.

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF). My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town. The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations.
Photo R. Anderson

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF).

My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town.

The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations. A fun fact tying the WLAF to the USFL was that Lee Corso was the Orlando Thunder’s general manager after coaching the Orlando Renegades of the USFL.

So, the Renegades and the Thunder were strikes one and two. My skepticism is further fueled by the rise and fall of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). The AAF came out of the gate strong in 2019 and even lured the Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier himself to coach the Orlando Apollos. Despite good coaching, and decent on field action, the AAF folded during the inaugural season after it was unable to secure additional funding to make payroll.

Strike three.

Of course, leagues will always say that they learned from the mistakes of others as they climb over the smoldering remains of all of the spring leagues that came before them. In this way they really are like the classic tale of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell down to earth after his wax wings melted.

It really would be fitting for a spring football league to use Icarus for one of their teams if one could decide if the plural should be the Flying Icaruses or the Flying Icuri.

In making the announcement of their return, USFL 2.0 noted that it will play the 2022 season in the spring with a minimum of eight teams. The league also noted a desire to “deliver high-quality, innovative professional football to fans.”

In keeping with other big spring league announcements over the past few years no details were given on which eight cities will be blessed to be given an USFL franchise. The USFL did note that they still retain all of the naming rights and intellectual property of “key original team names.”

Over the course of the USFL three seasons the Denver Gold were one of only five teams that played all three years without relocating or changing team names. The other teams with three season staying power were the Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.
Photo R. Anderson

For those who are curious, the key names that the USFL could select from based on their first go round include; Wranglers, Stallions, Breakers, Blitz, Gold, Gamblers, Bulls, Express, Showboats, Panthers, Generals, Invaders, Outlaws, Stars, Maulers, Gunslingers, Bandits, Federals, and Renegades.

Over the course of the USFL three seasons only five teams played all three years without relocating or changing team names. Those lucky teams with the most stability were the Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.

While the new USFL claims to have the intellectual property rights for all things USFL, Steve Ehrhart, the executive director of the original USFL was quoted in a Philadelphia Enquirer article following the news of USFL 2.0 as questioning the legitimacy of those claims.

In the Enquirer article Ehrhart noted that when it comes to claims that the new USFL has all of the rights to logos and names, “I was surprised when I heard about it this morning. I want to dig into it and see who they’re claiming they acquired these rights [to the name] from. Because it didn’t come from any legitimate source.

“My guess is there’s some knucklehead out there who claimed he had registered the name and had the rights to it. We’re not being antagonistic. But if they want to do this, they should do it the right way and talk to the actual people, not some guy who sent in an internet registration or something like that.”

Assuming the right knucklehead is located, and the rights really do belong to Fox and friends, time will tell whether the latest iteration of the USFL can match, or best the three-year high-water mark of spring league viability it set nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps Icarus will use some stronger wax this time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dust off some USFL gear and take a trip down memory lane.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Opening Day in Time of COVID-19 is Deja Vu All Over Again

This week marks the Opening of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Season.

Normally, MLB Opening week would feature me wearing my finest Tampa Bay Rays gear as I welcome the possibly of all that is to come over the six-month plus season.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continued presence of COVID-19, in the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again” as teams are canceling games and league officials are acting like they can wish away a global health pandemic merely by declaring themselves open for business and welcoming fans and their wallets with open arms.

In a perfect world the start of the 2021 MLB season would be cause for celebration as I cheer the Tampa Bay Rays on as they defend their American League Championship Crown. Unfortunately, thanks to the continued nagging presence of COIVD-19, that level of excitement is tempered by the fact that once again baseball is being played in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Last year, the Miami Marlins became the victims of an early season COVID-19 outbreak that caused them to cancel games.

This year, that honor falls to the Washington Nationals who saw their opening series get cancelled due to COVBID-19 outbreaks in the clubhouse.

To paraphrase Alanis Morrisette, it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, I mean a little too ironic, I really do think, that a year after Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening day pitch for the Nationals that they would have a COVID-19 outbreak. Didn’t they listen when Dr. Fauci told them to wear masks and social distance to avoid spreading the virus?

A year after welcoming Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the first pitch, the Washington Nationals are stating the 2021 MLB season on the sidelines after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of their opening series.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein lies the rub, while the COVID-19 situation is improving this year compared to where things stood last year thanks to vaccines and other factors, numerous health officials are continuing to caution and urge continued vigilance in fighting the virus.

Despite these ongoing warnings from health officials, many state leaders have declared the virus over and are opening things wide open.

Case in point, the Lone Star State of Texas. After the Texas governor removed all remaining restrictions on masks, venue capacity, and other measures, the Texas Rangers are set to open to full capacity for their games. Other teams are welcoming fans back at various capacity levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to go to the Ballpark and watch some baseball. However, I am not going to be so selfish while people are still dying from a virus that can be mitigated through mask wearing and social distancing.

With capacity restrictions in Texas lifted by the governor, the Texas Rangers seem to have declared “Mission Accomplished” against COVID-19 has they became the only MLB team to open their Ballpark to full capacity for the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

I am also not so arrogant as to think that just saying something really loudly makes it true. I mean if one could just wish away inconvenient things, I would have declared victory over my statistics class in grad school instead of struggling every week with hours of homework on formulas I will likely never use again.

As I have said many times before, the selfish desire to see live sports in person is likely allowing the virus to spread. At the very least, it is horrible optics for leagues and teams to welcome fans back when all public health officials are urging us to restrain from gatherings for just a little bit longer.

Other countries have sports, and their fans would likely love to be seeing games in person as well. But for the most part, one does not see the same type of thumbing of noses at public health policy in other countries as one sees in the United States of America.

I am sure that many people in those countries around the world find it quite peculiar that a country with “united” in its name could be so divided when it comes to caring about others before themselves.

In addition to MLB Opening Week, this is also Easter weekend. For those who believe in the biblical account of Easter, versus only following the furry egg giving rabbit side of Easter, the season is a time to remember an ultimate sacrifice made in order to save others.

It is telling therefore that a country founded in part on those beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.

It is telling that a country founded in part on beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.
Photo R. Anderson

When lock down restrictions were being rolled out in the early part of the virus response in 2020 many churches were the most vocal about feeling that their right of assembly was being taken away from them.

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker in the pre-meme days that asked What Would Jesus Do? I am just spit balling here but I am pretty sure that Jesus would not hold large indoor gatherings of mask-less people in the middle of a pandemic.

I cringe each time I see someone who identifies as Christian on the news decrying how masks infringe on their freedoms. I also still shake my head at trying to figure out how the Second Amendment gets thrown into the discussions on masks.

Can one really call themselves a Christian and be anti-mask and ignore science and common sense? Isn’t that the same thing as trying to be a fan of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at the same time? The two beliefs are simply incompatible.

One cannot believe the Bible and be anti-mask anymore then they can cheer the Bronx Bombers while singing Sweet Caroline. One cannot follow the biblical teachings that say do unto others, while refusing to wear a mask that health officials say protects those around us.

It certainly should give people something to reflect upon during this Easter season.

Speaking of reflection, for years baseball has been called the National Pastime. As such, I get that people want to be taken out to the ballgame for a few hours of entertainment. Lord knows I would love to see the sights and sounds of a Ballpark. It has been nearly two years since I last saw a baseball game in person.

I had hoped when my plans to travel to Spring Training in 2020 were cancelled that I would make up for it in 2021 but this was not the year to do that.

If everyone does their part and gets vaccinated when their turn comes, things will return to normal. If that occurs, hopefully by 2022 I will be enjoying Spring Training baseball once more.

However, if people continue to prematurely declare “mission accomplished” and ignore the science we will continue to have virus hot spots pop up and will never truly be able to return to normal.

Easter and MLB Opening Week are both time for reflection for believers of the biblical account, as well as for those who like Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy believe in the Church of Baseball.

Whatever one believes in terms of religion, or who they follow in terms of a baseball team, when it comes to COVID-19 we should have all been one unified front against a common enemy since day one. Instead of unity over a year later we are still a house divided and made up of warring factions convinced that their beliefs are the only true beliefs.

There will come a time when historians will look back at this COVID-19 era and provide a postmortem on what went wrong and what was done right. Now is the time to do more right to send COVID-19 away for good.

If we don’t it will continue to be that pesky thing that continues to get under our skin and causes problems, kind of like that annoying drunk person who always seems to find me at the Ballpark no matter where I am sitting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball themed Easter eggs to hide.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Supermarket Shooting Shatters Safe Zone and Reignites Gun Control Debate

When the news first broke earlier this week of a shooting inside the King Soopers in Boulder, CO I found myself flooded with various emotions. When news broke later that 10 people lost their lives, the emotional flood continued along with a realization that mundane, every day activities like going grocery shopping are no longer safe.

The tragedy struck me on several fronts. While people dying inside a grocery store, or anywhere else, is tragic, I had driven past this particular store several times during trips to Colorado. I also have many friends who live in that part of the state so my mind immediately started to wonder whether any of them had been in the store at the time of the shooting.

Waiting to hear whether any of my friends were among the victims was an especially trying period. Thankfully, my friends were not among the victims. However, for the friends and family of the 10 people who were killed, their lives will never be the same.

Aside from feeling a connection to that particular store, I also have a tie to the grocery industry as a whole. When I was a senior in high school, I started working part time at a local Albertson’s grocery store. I would end up spending four and a half years in the grocery trade before hanging up my apron at college graduation and entering the world of journalism full time.

And while those days working retail are long behind me, I have always felt a sort of kinship to those people working within the grocery industry. During the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic I was especially thankful for grocery store workers as they ensured that the shelves were stocked and that customers had the opportunity to do curbside pickup if they did not feel safe going inside the store due to COVID-19.

On November 8, 2018, one day after a gunman killed 12 people, including a police officer, at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, I took part in a moment of silence at the Staples Center before an L.A. Kings hockey game. Over two years later, another mass shooting, this time at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, CO that ended with 10 people killed, once again leaves a community and nation to wrestle with the issue of mass shootings and gun control.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, thanks to a shooting inside a grocery store that left 10 people dead, people may have an entire new reason to not feel safe doing something as simple as going inside the store to pick up a loaf of bread.

The grocery store I worked in was one of the first in the area to have a bank inside it.

It also dealt with a lot of cash with the registers. The thought that the bank, or the store in general, could be robbed was always in the back of my mind. However, we were trained to just let the robbers take the cash and to not resist. The thought being it was not worth dying over money. We also had plains clothes off duty police officers in the store during the more popular times as mitigation to prevent shop lifting.

Of course, that philosophy does not work when the person bringing a gun into the store is there not to rob it of money or products, but to rob the people inside it of life.

There is no perfect defense for a gunman intent on causing harm, versus someone just trying to grab some cash, or snow crab legs and go. That is a sobering and scary change in the threat level for people in a grocery store as well as people in any public place.

Of course, school aged children have had to face the constant fear of active shooters for over 20 years. One of my first post college graduation professional newspaper assignments was interviewing a man who ran a company that trained students and school staff on what to do during an active shooting event.

Sadly in the years since that interview the business of training people to avoid gunmen in public places has only grown in importance, and the shootings have gone from primarily taking place inside schools to occurring everywhere from movie theaters, concerts, clubs and big box retail stores to massage parlors and grocery stores.

A week before the grocery shooting in Colorado eight people lost their lives at the hand of another gunmen in Georgia who went to three different massage parlor locations on his killing spree.

There will be discussions in the coming days, weeks, and months about gun control. These discussions occur every time there is a mass shooting. The result of the discussions is usually one step forward and two steps back.

I am not going to get into the politics of gun ownership vis a vis the Second Amendment and all of the gun lobbies, Republican senators from Texas whose names rhyme with Fred Snooze, and other factions that tend to resist any calls to curb the access to high powered firearms.

And yes, there is the tried-and-true argument that always gets brought up following mass shootings that, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” One could just as easily argue that water doesn’t drown people, swallowing too much water drowns people. But I digress.

Most gun owners are responsible people who are not going to go on a shooting spree. However, for those irresponsible gun owners there needs to be a way to prevent senseless loss of life.

While stopping short of diving into the political quicksand that talk of gun control seems to generate, I will just say that mass shootings and vaccine hesitancy seem to be mostly American concepts.

One could argue that it is the very freedoms that Americans enjoy that cause the high incidents of mass shootings and vaccine resistance, but that would be too simple of an answer for a complex issue.

Until the root cause of mass shootings is identified and addressed, there will likely be more cases of heavily armed individuals killing innocent people who are just trying to go about their daily lives.

One person I saw talking about the shooting in Boulder even brought up the possibility that the isolation and restrictions of COVID-19 may be behind the shooting. Short of the gunmen directly saying what motivated him to do what he did, the experts on TV are free to hypothesize and generalize as they try to rationalize the irrational.

As the world prepares to reopen and gatherings get larger and larger it will be interesting to see if people return to normal activities in large crowds, or if the fear and isolation brought about by the restrictions of the past year cause people to think twice before heading to that packed Ballpark for a game.

Personally, I have not decided how ready I am to cram shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people inside a Ballpark once attendance restrictions are lifted. Of course, I was already tired of being crammed in like a sardine in a can before COVID-19 closed things down. Life in the press box definitely spoiled me.

So, any apprehension of returning to sitting butt cheek to butt cheek with perfect strangers has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with it being way more comfortable to watch games from home.

I will likely still attend some Minor League games and the occasional Major League game but any desire to have season tickets has gone away. Of course, whenever I do attend a game, I will continue my long-held tradition of having enhanced situational awareness of exit routes and my surroundings.

Thanks to the events in Boulder, that enhanced situational awareness will now be needed whenever I venture to any public place.

I have many fond memories of my time working in a grocery store. However, now I will be a little more cautious and aware of the people around me whenever I go inside one. I will also likely rely more heavily on curbside pickup. However, some victims of the Boulder shooting were killed in the parking lot so even curbside is no longer 100 percent safe.

I never thought that I would need to be on high alert making a Dr Pepper run. Sadly, recent events have shown that danger is all around and even the simple act of getting a massage or buying a soda and a candy bar can turn deadly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try to make some sense out of all of this senselessness.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic

For the first time in about 100 years the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a health pandemic. While the last pandemic was centered on the Spanish Influenza, this year’s uncomfortable guest at the dinner table is COVID-19.

COVID-19 is like that distant relative that no one really remembers how they are related to, yet can’t wait to get away from each year at the big family gathering. Like that distant relative, COVID-19 also has a way of showing up when least expected.

Depending on one’s political and scientific leanings, they either believe that COVID-19 is something horrible, or they think that it is a myth created by the same people who invented one sentence proverbs inside folded cookies.

No doubt people on both sides of the political COVID-19 spectrum will argue their case until their faces are redder then canned cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving meals together. After all, one of the things people are often thankful about on Thanksgiving is the right to have their own opinions.

As a former Boy Scout I was taught to always be prepared regardless of the situation. As the son of a mother who believes ham is not a Thanksgiving meat, I always keep an emergency ham in the freezer.
Photo R. Anderson

The way those arguments will occur will vary this year. Some people will have large in person gatherings as in years past, others will have smaller gatherings, and others still will have virtual gatherings using video conferencing software.

While there will be plenty of arguments about COVID-19 protocols and government overreach at the dinner tables across the country tomorrow, there will also be people who will spend the holiday alone because their families are either unable to join them, or in some cases because a family member passed away over the course of the year.

While this will not be a typical Thanksgiving for many people, that does not mean that there aren’t things to be thankful for.

One of the biggest things I am thankful for this year is my health, the health of my family and loved ones, as well as the fact that I have a job that thus far has proven to be pandemic proof; which means I have the resources to put food on the table.

The pilgrim narrative of coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution and forming a thriving colony despite odds stacked against them, and huge death tolls, is something many of us were taught in school. The reality of that event differs slightly from the Norman Rockwell meets Thomas Kincaid narrative, but nonetheless people came, they gave thanks at some point, and they stayed.

On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation.
Photo R. Anderson

While Thanksgiving is often portrayed as something coming out of a land of the pilgrim’s pride and unity, it actually became a holiday much, much later during a time of huge division within the United States. On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation that said:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 was set aside as a time to care for those in strive. Fast forward 157 years, and we are still a divided nation with many people in strive. The current strive does not come from a physical war, but from the economic and medical side effects of a response, or in some cases, lack of response to a health crisis.

Sadly, more and more people each day are losing their health, their jobs, and their ability to put food on the table for their families. It is incomprehensible that the richest nation in the world has so many people with food insecurity who wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so grateful for the various food banks and other organizations that work around the clock to ensure that people are able to provide food for their families. I am also ashamed personally at how little I have helped in that cause despite having been blessed with so many resources myself.

But, while I am grateful for those organizations, I am also angered by the fact that so many people are in a position where they have to utilize those services. In many cases people are having to go to a food bank for the first time in their life.

Ensuring that people have food to eat should not be a political thing. It should not matter whether a person votes blue, red, or purple. We are all the same on the inside and we all require food to survive. The sooner people realize that, the better society will be as a whole.

Years ago when I worked for a weekly newspaper, I had the opportunity to write a feature on a food bank that was set up in an old rice drying silo. Sadly, the food bank burned down a few years ago since rice silos are extremely flammable. While that food bank is gone, there are thousands of organizations across the United States handing out help to those in need, as well as looking for help from those wanting to help those in need.

If watching Hallmark movies nonstop for the past four weeks has taught me anything it is that a) there are only three plots to Hallmark movies that are recycled again and again b) every town needs a gazebo and a decent Christmas tree farm c) no one ever takes anything with them when they move away from their parents’ house since their rooms are basically sealed off as a time capsule for them to return to after their big city boyfriends dump them and d) every one pitches in to help when the town needs them.

While I am certainly glad that the world has more depth then a Hallmark movie, the concept of chipping in and helping each other in tough times is one trait in those movies we should all want to immolate. Another trait being installing hot chocolate stands everywhere.

Although a staple of many Thanksgiving feasts today, it is doubtful that turkey was on the table at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. Instead, fish was likely the protein on the pilgrim’s plates.
Photo R. Anderson

The first settlers in the new world had to rely on themselves and their Native American neighbors in order to make what we now know as the United States of America successful.

Of course, once a beachhead was established and more settlers came, the Native Americans were treated horrifically. Additionally, slavery is another shameful stain on the whole democracy and all men are created equal thing that we all ascribe to as part of the American ideal.

So yes, there are so messed up, horrible examples of Americans being absolutely brutal to each other and those around them dating back to even before there was an America. Those chapters in the history books often get glossed over in favor of the happier narrative. And in the years to come the era of job losses and food insecurity that is happening right now in the middle of a health pandemic may be rewritten to try to put a more positive spin on things, versus showing America once again as the divided along ideological lines, flawed experiment in democracy that it is from time to time.

However, while we are in the middle of this mess, there are people wondering where their next meal will come from and how they will pay bills without a job. Let the historians figure out what lens they want to use at a later date to describe the last four years as well as the four years to come. For now, there is chance for people to act like those larger than life characters the history books teach about, instead of the flawed, divided founding fathers they were in reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is much to be thankful for. There is also much left to do to ensure that everyone has a Thanksgiving to remember, even if that means having to wait 50 days to kick the crazy uncle with those wacky theories out of the house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to figure out a way to help a food bank.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s Note: For anyone wanting to help out with a food bank, or for anyone needing the services of a food bank, they can visit FeedingAmerica.org for details on food banks in their area.