• Athletes in trouble, parents in pain

    I wonder if this happens to men, too.

    I wonder if they can report on stories without at some point filtering them through their perspective as parents.

    I can’t help it.

    When Patrick Kane said today that the worst part about his arrest a little more than a week ago, was his family seeing him in handcuffs, his voice caught in his throat. And my throat closed up.

    Kane is the 20-year-old Blackhawks’ star accused, along with his cousin, of attacking a cab driver in Buffalo over what the driver initially claimed was a dispute over 20 cents in fare. We still haven’t heard Kane’s side of the story and he said Monday that he hopes we never will because that will mean charges were dropped.

    Clearly, there is a big part of the story still missing because even alcohol does not explain why a multi-millionaire athlete whose behavior has never before been questioned, would suddenly beat someone up over 20 cents.  

    But all I could think about as Kane answered his questions, was how his mother felt when reporters called her cell phone to ask about her son’s arrest, and her biggest problem before that was getting him to stop playing with his mouth guard.

    I pictured the first time Kane faced his parents and told them his side of the story and no matter how innocent he thought he was, knowing how destroyed they were seeing their son in handcuffs.

    When Kane looked into the cameras and spoke into the microphones and said, “My family didn’t raise me that way,” I had a feeling that’s what they told him.

    I thought of Kane’s three younger sisters, who make scrapbooks and “Welcome Home” signs every time he comes back to Buffalo, who struck deals with him when they were little – “We’ll play hockey with you, if you play dolls with us” – and how they must have felt when they first heard the news about their big brother.

    And I thought of his grandpa, who lives next door to his parents’ house and who played cards with his grandson and laughed and who told Patrick he “added a couple years to his life” just by what he accomplished.  

    I wondered how many people in the Kane’s South Buffalo neighborhood conspicuously stopped talking when they saw Donna Kane in the produce section of the grocery store last week; and how many who thought nothing of coming to their house at all hours to ask for autographs and mementos of the local hero, now whispered and pointed at the house.

    I thought about Kane working out at home last week because he didn’t want to go to the gym. And I wondered how you go from the top of the world to sitting up at night wondering how quickly your entire world can change.

    I wondered how a parent deals with something like this and how you never stop worrying, even when they’re 20. Maybe especially when they’re 20.

    And I wonder how I can ever report a story like this one and forget I’m one of them.  

  • High(-five) expectations

    My husband Rick is, all in all, a good sport. He barely blinks when people call him by my father’s name, “Mr. Isaacson.” He knows to double the time I tell him I’ll be finished writing. And he hardly ever complains when he accompanies me to sporting events only to never actually attend the actual sporting event. 

    Today, he came with me to Bourbonnais and Bears training camp. And because, if you happen to read my blogs regularly (and, by the way, thank you so much for that) you already know how I feel about training camp, I will write this blog through Rick’s eyes.

    Today, Rick’s eyes told him that most football players are jerks, only he used a worse word.

    Fans obviously have a different experience than journalists do. Granted, I was working today, but while I was interviewing players, eating lunch in an air-conditioned cafeteria, writing in an air-conditioning press room and watching practice from along the sideline, Rick was sweating along with the thousands of other spectators, my son Alec and a few of his friends, behind the ropes.
    (A quick disclaimer here to note that my husband, while possessing many manly traits, is not one of those men who relishes sweating with thousands of strangers.)

    Still, all that was fine and he even managed to squeeze in a trip to Culver’s for one of their famous butterburgers (OK, tasty, but they’ve got to change the name). The part that had him complaining later was what he considered rude behavior by the players.
    (Another disclaimer here to note that my husband, while perfectly secure in his own right, still has a bit of a problem every time an athlete of even superb ability turns down a multi-gajillion dollar contract to sign one for 10 bucks more. I’ve tried to explain the concept of fair market value to him but he doesn’t want to listen.)

    The main objective today, besides eating butterburgers and watching the Bears run through drills from a vantage point in which he could only see quarterback Jay Cutler’s socks, was to help the boys get autographs.

    He didn’t really even have to help, just mostly point them in the right direction and make sure they didn’t get trampled in the process.

    His opinion is that this is a spectator-friendly event. Fans attend for free. There are interactive games for kids to play. Adequate parking. And there really is plenty of space to watch practice (I, personally, do not think he had to watch Jay Cutler’s socks and could have tried harder to improve his vantage point).

    There is also lots of room to spread out along the ropes where players leave the field and try to collect autographs. The Bears even set up a special autograph area for kids 12-and-under, where players have to pass through to leave the field.

    But in the 45 minutes Rick spent observing, only a handful (maybe five or six) of the 78 players on the field bothered – and this is a direct quote from Rick –  “to pause long enough to smile, say ‘hi,’ wave or high-five, much less sign an autograph.”

    Many ran past the kids. “Couldn’t they have just slapped hands or something while they ran past?” Rick suggested.

    New Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sped by in his golf cart, though I don’t think he can technically be ripped for speeding since he was not driving.

    “All the kids were fenced in this special area,” Rick said. “All they really wanted was to be acknowledged.”

    If I didn’t think he would turn cranky, I might suggest to my husband that most probably expected more than an acknowledgement, but I agree that a passing wave would’ve been nice.

    All that said, there were some very nice players, the names of whom did not surprise me. Tight end Dez Clark, who had his adorable little girls with him, still signed autographs for at least 20 minutes. Running back Kevin Jones took off his cleats and tossed them to two grateful kids (I’m assuming cleat side up as Rick did not mention any bloodshed). Alex Brown was terrific, giving Alec’s friend Joe the thrill of a lifetime when he handed him his sweaty, practice-used glove, complete with autograph (Joe does not have the same aversion to other people’s sweat as Rick does).

    Joe also finagled an Adewale Ogunleye signature for their pal Jake. And third-string quarterback Brett Basanez spent considerable time signing autographs, among them for Alec and Zack, and perhaps introducing himself to the kids in the process.

    In my opinion, roughly six percent of the team was not a bad turnout. But Rick is not buying it.

    He may be a good sport, but he’s a tough customer.

  • Black cloud over blond kid

    I went on TV tonight and lied.

    OK, not really lied. But when Elizabeth Brackett asked me on Chicago Tonight if I was shocked when I heard that Chicago Blackhawks’ star Patrick Kane had been arrested after allegedly robbing and beating a 62-year-old cabdriver in an early morning dispute in Buffalo Sunday, I first babbled about how as a sportswriter, you’re never really shocked when an incident like this happens regarding a professional athlete but that yes, it was surprising given that Kane did not seem to fit that profile.

    Surprising? I’m surprised I tempered my comments when, in fact, my reaction when my 11-year-old son’s friend texted him about Kane was something like, “WHAT? NO WAY? Little Patrick? I don’t believe it.” I may have even thrown a “My God” in there.

    As if it was my cute little blond nephew was the one who got pinched.

    And that’s the point.

    Was I shocked because Patrick Kane looks like my nephew? Was it because I felt like I knew him after visiting his childhood home in Buffalo a few years ago, went to lunch with his parents and ate Patrick’s favorite spaghetti at their favorite restaurant? Or was it because I stood in his bedroom and looked at his little bed with the hockey blanket and pillows and trophies neatly arranged on shelves above it, and plaques and pictures on the walls?

    Was I just as shocked when the allegations came out earlier this summer about Bulls’ star Derrick Rose cheating on his college entrance exams, and a photo circulated on the Internet with him at a college party, flashing gang signs? (He later said he was just fooling around.)

    I am not suggesting that those allegations are as serious as what Kane is charged with. But it’s hard not to compare the two. Both are their team’s and their league’s top draft picks; both are 20 years old (Rose is six weeks older) and both, I had deduced through interviewing and observing them, are seemingly good kids with good intentions.

    I know I would have been just as shocked if Rose was arrested on felony charges. But I also know that when I blogged about Rose a couple months ago that I was suspicious of him, even as I repeated allegations for which there was no proof.

    I rationalized that my suspicions stemmed from being burned by athletes’ transgressions before, athletes whom I also initially believed and trusted. I wrote that I didn’t really know Rose at all.

    And so as I sit here, my TV makeup coagulating in my pores because I know how long it will take me to scrub it off and I want to get my thoughts down, I have no thoughts. At least not any that make sense.

    Am I racist or is this the proverbial white liberal guilt kicking in?

    Would I have jumped all over Rose if he had been in this situation when I find myself wanting to giving Kane the benefit of the doubt and hoping that there is an explanation that will at least make it all a little more palpable?

    Do I know Patrick Kane any better than Derrick Rose because I stood in Patrick’s bedroom with his parents and looked at his little trophies, and Rose’s mother did not want to be interviewed.

    I wrote that I wanted to believe Rose when he said he didn’t cheat. I still do. It will be harder to buy anything Kane says but I still want to – particularly when the last time I had a conversation with his father several months ago, he said his wife was “mad” at Patrick for playing with his mouthpiece instead of wearing it like he was supposed to when he crashed into a teammates and cracked his front teeth.

    When I heard the news Sunday, I pictured his parents grounding him.

    There was a time when a hockey player going out, getting drunk and maybe even hitting a cabdriver would not have created the scandal it does today. Maybe we’re more civilized. Or maybe it’s because we pay athletes millions of dollars to  perform on the athletic field but also to be the face of their franchise.   

    Maybe it’s because we expect more from them.

    Even when they seem to disappoint us so damn often.

  • Class of ‘79

    Went to my high school reunion last night.

    Very interesting.

    A former classmate and friend who we will call “Tony” because that’s what we agreed his pretend name would be (his real name is Bob), accused me of going only to collect blog material.

    This is only partially true.

    I went hoping to collect blog material.

    No, that’s not true either.

    Actually, I didn’t want to go at all because I felt slightly fat and am very insecure, but my husband said, “If nothing else, maybe you’ll get a good blog out of it” as if this is a dealmaker for everything these days.

    I don’t know too many people except perhaps the Homecoming Queen – and ours did not come – who do not feel at least a tad apprehensive about going to their high school reunion. Either that or just ambivalent, the reasoning that “Anyone I want to see, I still keep in touch with, so why go see people I wasn’t even really friends with 30 years ago?”

    But I can say this morning with full conviction and only a teeny hangover from my two free drinks that I am glad I went. Very glad. Because here’s what happens or at least happened to me.

    All those people who you never kept in touch with or maybe weren’t even friends with? There’s still a connection, a really cool connection when you get 100 or so people into a room all born in the same year (accept for this one guy in a Bergundy sports jacket whom nobody knew and all suspected he wandered in thinking it was the ’69 Niles West class reunion by mistake).

    In the case of Niles West — and I’m sure most high schools unless you live on the prairie — several suburbs and junior highs fed into the school. So I had two experiences last night. One was with all the Lincolnwood “kids” I’ve known since kindergarten (the Wooders) and the other was with the kids from Morton Grove, the other predominant suburb feeding into Niles West (the Grovers).

    Though I had a wonderful time seeing the Grovers and later bragged that I was one of the few Wooders who crossed over at the reunion and had a great time talking to them (even “Tony”), it was especially fun with the Wooders (I’m sure the Grovers felt this way as well).

    Mind you once again, these were not people with whom I have shared a bond for the 30-plus years since. In fact, one good friend from grade school whose name I can’t use for many reasons I couldn’t possibly go into (we’ll call her “Susie” because those are the names we all have – normal girl names like Susie and Debbie and Nancy and Julie and Lisa and Karen, even Karyn – and NOT Carson and Dakota and Winter), asked me why we never talked to each other after junior high.

    Because I’m me, I was instantly mortified, assuming I did or said something terrible to her (this was not my normal behavior but we’re talking about 13-year-old girls here and this is a wild and wonderful and truly evil age).

    “Susie” quickly assured me I did nothing of the kind but that I just “disappeared” in high school. I assured her that I was in the gym if anyone was looking, and that I thought everyone else disappeared in high school.

    Same thing with my kindergarten boyfriend Michael. I loved Michael. Adored him. We both shared a similar speech impediment and a love for Romper Room (or was that my kindergarten boyfriend Howard? I got around in kindergarten).

    Anyway, when I asked another classmate Steve, if he knew who the bald guy on the dance floor was, he told me it was Michael. My Michael. I immediately ditched Steve and sprinted toward Michael – or the bald guy I thought was Michael – only to find it was Jimmy, a Grover who did not know me and seemed slightly alarmed. But NEXT to Jimmy was my Michael, also bald (sorry, Michael but you are — shaved head not balding, so I can say this without feeling badly because I think he knows).

    There was something weird and wonderful about the kindergarten thing last night. I must have talked to a half-dozen people from Miss Tatz’s kindergarten class, all of whom had vivid memories of it. I’m pretty sure it was because Miss Tatz was not a normal kindergarten teacher but a Playboy bunny posing as a kindergarten teacher. The boys, even at five, had wild crushes on her and the girls all wanted her white Go-Go boots, micro-mini skirts and fishnet panty hose. Yes, she wore these to school – also brought her Lhasa Apso one day – which I suspect is why I don’t think she had a long teaching career.

    My friend Kathy remembered asking her mother for fishnet pantyhose like Miss Tatz and getting rebuffed (her mom was strict). I begged for white go-go boots and my mother finally relented. But shortly after I put them on, I fell down the stairs and that was the end of the Go-Go boots.

    I also had another memory of kindergarten I did not share with Michael. Mind you, I do not remember extremely important adult things most of the time, but I do recall that in Miss Tatz’s room, we had a large gray tub of cardboard blocks that looked like red bricks. And I remember that one day, Michael and I were inside the tub flinging them around the room.

    When Miss Tatz looked up at the precise time I was flinging, she made me put my head down (which was extremely traumatic, particularly since it meant I had to miss Show-and-Tell and I had a really good thing to show and tell about that day). But first she asked me why I did such a thing. Naturally, I replied “Because Michael told me to,” and she said, “If Michael told you to jump in Lake Michigan, would you?” and I said, in a very tiny voice, “Yes” because I would have.

    Of course, I shared none of this with Michael either then or last night because I was busy babbling about Romper Room and other things that men never remember. In fact, I am reasonably sure most of the men in the room didn’t remember high school, let alone their hot kindergarten teachers (except for Steve, he still remembers Miss Tatz in a slightly creepy way).

    But all things considered, it was a really fun reunion, even considering that it cost $77 and all we got was cheese and crackers and taffy apples because one of our classmates has a taffy apple company (which was a very nice perk) and the two free drinks.

    But we left with much more. At least I did. By 47 and 48, people mature (with a few exceptions). There was no high school pettiness, no cliques, only the camaraderie of a group of people who shared our childhoods together, who know things about you that very few people outside the room do and who, at least for a few hours one Saturday night, believed we were all great friends.

    Except for that guy in the Burgundy sports jacket. I’m still not sure about him.

  • Down in front

    I have nothing against cornfields, per se. I would maybe even like them if corn on the cob was less expensive this summer. But I don’t especially like working amongst them as I have this past week at the Chicago Bears training camp.

    Training camp, spring training, Draft Day. To many sports fans and sportswriters, this is fabulous, compelling stuff. I would sooner spend the day scrubbing floors.

    There is a reason they do not sell tickets to attend these events, though if they did, I am sure people would shell out the cash no matter the price. More than 11,000 people showed up the same day I did on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., most of whom at one point or another yelled at me that I was in their line of sight as I paced along the sidelines waiting for it to be over.

    After telling one man – in my nice voice with no swear words – that he didn’t have to scream at me, I surrendered to the accepted etiquette and took a knee.

    I looked around to see if anyone else was excruciatingly uncomfortable and it was hard to detect. I tried sitting but was soon reminded that was not allowed. The reason they make you take a knee on the sideline of a football practice is so you will not get killed by a runaway tight end, the logic being that if you’re standing or kneeling, you can easily jump out of the way and avoid getting run over.

    I tried to assure the Bears official that I could not possibly avoid on oncoming rush from a kneeling position any more than I could from a sitting one, and I work out regularly (see: yesterday’s blog). But they weren’t really interested in discussing  the matter.

    It briefly brought back memories of one of the first major-league baseball games I ever covered when I innocently hooked a finger in the netting of the cage as I watched batting practice.

    “Do you like that finger?” a coach asked me.

    “Excuse me,” I responded cleverly.

    “If you want to keep it, you might want to unhook it from there,” he said.

    I barely had time to thank him when a foul tip came speeding back into the net at precisely the same place my severed finger would have been.

    I realize that when I cop to things like this, or admit to being bored watching football drills, that I risk the chance of sounding like a dumb girl who has no business covering sports for a living if I can’t appreciate the beauty of a tackling dummy.

    But I do not think this is a gender thing. I suspect many of those taking a knee around me to be faking their enthusiasm, that they are really not having fun going down the 76-man roster and counting each player on the field to see who may be missing, and that their knees hurt just as much as mine do.

    I suspect they are also bored on Draft Day watching a clock tick down on a television screen for two days straight, and are, like me, tempted to switch channels to a good movie, but will never admit it.

    If you spend more than seven minutes at home doing this, I simply have nothing to say to you.

    And to those thousands of people in Bourbonnais who arrive hours early in order to situate your lawn chairs to just the right angle in front of the tackling dummies?

    I’m taking a knee. Shut up already.