Colin Kaepernick’s stand: the mixing of athletics and politics

Quarterbacks of the National Football League have been in the news lately in a big way. In a development that’s mostly newsworthy within the sport itself, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings each lost their starting quarterbacks this week when Tony Romo and Teddy Bridgewater suffered severe injuries.

Another story that’s made headlines throughout the entire athletic world is the announcement that Tim Tebow will attempt a comeback — in baseball.

The former quarterback and ambassador for Christianity whose victory celebration was the origin of a new verb in the English language held a workout on Tuesday for Major League Baseball scouts.

Scouting reports were very mixed, but Tebow did get at least one professional offer from an independent league team. A far cry from the big leagues, but an opportunity nonetheless.

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Personally, I think this is a prime chance for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to step up to the plate and see if Angels in the Outfield can actually be a real thing. If anyone can do it, Tebow can.

But let’s move on to the last newsworthy quarterback, whose actions resonated not only in the sports community, but throughout the country.

Colin Kaepernick, who was once laughably hailed by one sports analyst as the potential “best quarterback ever,” and whose poor play in recent years has soured him in the eyes of 49ers fans, attempted to make a political statement last week, and the way he did it has made him the topic of conversation in workplaces across America.

Wanting to draw attention to the denial of civil rights and violence against minorities, Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem last Friday before a preseason game.

The Star Spangled Banner has become so entrenched in sporting events in America that no one even thinks about it anymore. It’s performed minutes before each game, you stand, and then the game begins. It’s the least bit controversial.

By not standing, Kaepernick has certainly drawn the attention he desired. But it’s come with significant backlash.

For the most part, I’ve heard two schools of thought from critics on Kaepernick’s behavior — the first being complete and unequivocal condemnation for his actions.

The second being a more understanding viewpoint of his motivation, but disapproval of the method. Which is pretty much where I stand.

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There’s no doubt that Kaepernick has every right to do what he did. This country was built on protest. It’s a constitutional right available to all of us.

But many view it as an ultimate act of disrespect to not only the freedoms that this country affords — or the opportunities (which led to Kaepernick making millions of dollars) — but also to those who have served, sacrificed and even died defending those freedoms.

Interestingly, one hashtag that came about in response was #VeteransForKaepernick. One serviceman wrote: “I serve to protect your freedoms. Not a song.”

Athletes, of course, have had their own opinions. Some were dumb. But one football player who had every right to voice their thoughts is Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan before playing football.

Understandably, Villanueava disapproved of what Kaepernick did, but in a graceful and eloquent manner.

“I think he’s obviously upset and I think we all agree, the majority of America would agree, there’s an issue with minorities in our country, the way some groups in our population are being treated,” Villanueva said. “I just think not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because he’s not taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself, the thousands of people who lay their lives so he can express himself.”

I don’t think you can say it much better than that.

Like Tebowing, Kaepernicking once was in its own verb — flexing and kissing your bicep in celebration.

Here on out, I think that term will take on a whole new meaning.

Kaepernick is poised to lose the starting quarterback job this year, and therefore will have plenty of time to sit down this season.

After becoming a national lightning rod the last few days, my guess is he’ll pick a well-timed few minutes to stand from here on out.

The automation of the Internet begins

I’m a couple of days late on this, but a big congratulations to Endwell, N.Y., whose Little League team won the World Series on Sunday.

It’s especially meaningful to me because Endwell, in central New York near the Pennsylvania border, is just a few miles outside Binghamton, where I attended college.

So in a way, I feel like I was personally connected to this year’s Little League World Series champions. In the same way that Kylie Jenner considers herself one of the Kardashians.

The team from Endwell defeated a squad from South Korea in the deciding game. So you know what they say — all’s well that Endwell.

On another global note, a Civil War ended this week. No, unfortunately, that does not mean the latest Captain America movie was pulled from theaters.

But the Colombian government and its rebel opposition have agreed to a peace accord that officially ends a 52-year conflict.

There’s been a war raging in our hemisphere for more than half a century, and nobody in ShakiraAmerican even knew. The only time we ever even think about Colombia is when we enjoy the things that originated there — like coffee, more coffee, Sofia Vergara and Shakira.

I’m really not sure which of those two exotic females Americans would be most unable to live without. My answer? I could do without Sofia Vergara’s nagging voice, but Shakira’s presence I would welcome whenever, wherever.

OK, enough jokes. Let’s get real now.

One of the major themes in not only this year’s election, but in politics in general, is the economy.

But it’s become an especially charged topic this year amid one candidate’s suggestion that American jobs are being stolen by undocumented immigrants — which economists have debated the truthfulness of.

But as for me, I say those fears are misguided. We’re not losing jobs to immigrants, we’re losing jobs because the American workforce is becoming automated.

Technology has been taking away jobs since the Industrial Revolution. Factories that once required hundreds of workers were downsized with the development of more complex machines.

Computers continued that decline. And now that we’re in the era of smart computers — we’re screwed.

Look no further than Facebook. You all may have noticed that the “trending topics” section along your news feed looks different. And that’s because Facebook recently made the change to remove humans from deciding what’s trending, in an attempt to remove any bias.

AutomationAs a result, we’re no longer informed of why something is trending, but just given a simple list as a result of Facebook’s algorithms. And so far, it hasn’t gone too well.

The words “Megyn Kelly” were trending on Monday, and typically, it’s because she said something stupid. (Although, I’ll be fair, she’s not as big of a blithering idiot as most on that network.)

But instead, her name appeared because a completely fabricated news story was trending about her.

And that, my friends, is something that a computer can’t realize on its own.

So I say let’s change the narrative in politics. Instead of rounding up illegal immigrants, let’s have a mass deportation of smart computers. Because they’re not only taking our jobs, but they’re doing them worse than we could. And that’s tough to do, because humans are natural screw-ups. Just look at what we’ve done to our freaking atmosphere.

Don’t worry folks, the Weinblog will never be taken over by a computer.

Or has it been written by a computer this whole time?

Although I do type this every day on a computer, so it’s not really a trick question.

I don’t even know what I’m talking about. It’s time to go listen to more Shakira. But early 2000s Shakira, none of that “She Wolf” crap.

Yeah, I’m going to let a robot blog for me tomorrow.

The Chocolate Factory loses its captain

I don’t care what age you are, anytime you’ve opened a candy bar wrapper to unveil your chocolaty treat, a small part of you held the tiniest glimmer of hope that something else would show itself first.

A golden ticket.

That split-second of anticipation and wonder was instilled in us at a young age, when we first watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The 1971 film is unarguably a classic, transcending time and genre. And that’s because it doesn’t really matter when it was filmed. With only its grainy video quality betraying its age, the movie is so standalone in story and imagination that it could have been filmed anywhere in any year.

It’s impossible not to be immediately transported back to your childhood when thinking of Willy Wonka, if only for a second.

We were compelled by the adventure, the vivid imagery and the eccentric characters, led by none other than Willy Wonka himself, played by Gene Wilder.

Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder passed today at age 83. For many people, especially the younger generation, his death likely didn’t cause too much of a shock. He hadn’t really been in a notable film in more than 20 years.

But for most, hearing his name brought us immediately back to the Chocolate Factory.

No one else could have played Willy Wonka. Wilder’s alluring portrayal was marked by an endearing, soft-spoken demeanor, accompanied by a dark and mysterious quality. So much so that for some, the thought of being inside the Chocolate Factory might produce a hint of the shivers.

And I speak from experience. As a child, I had a mortal fear of the Oompa Loompas. I actually left the room whenever they emerged on the screen, with their bright orange make up and clown-like green hair. The way they sang in low-pitched, cultlike unison gave me the creeps.

But no matter your prevailing memories, there’s no doubt that the movie was iconic. And Gene Wilder is not a reason for that, but the reason.

Don’t believe me that nobody else could have captured the magic of Willy Wonka like Wilder did? See Tim Burton’s 2005 monstrosity of a remake starring Johnny Depp. For lack of a better description, Depp — a fantastic actor in his own rite although his best days are behind him — portrayed Willy Wonka so high-pitched and creepy that he came off as a pedophile.

Trust me. Don’t watch that version.

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen much else starring Mr. Wilder, the most shameful omission being Blazing Saddles. If there was ever a time to use the red-faced, blushing emoji to portray my embarrassment, it’s now.

But I think Jim Carrey summed it up best in a tweet earlier today: “Gene Wilder was one of the funniest and sweetest energies ever to take a human form. If there’s a heaven he has a Golden Ticket.”

If we’ve learned anything from Gene Wilder, especially in an age where every website tells us what we need to eat if we want to live long and happily, it’s to never stop eating chocolate. Never lose your anticipation when peeling open that wrapper.

Never stop chasing your golden ticket.

Destruction in Italy, and a despicable backlash towards Leslie Jones

Before I begin, allow me let my Italian brethren know that I did not forget about you.

As you are all aware, a devastating earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, all but destroying one town, decimating several others, and killing at least 250 people.

After discussing Louisiana’s flooding the day before, though, I thought it would be a little too demoralizing to talk about another natural disaster immediately after.

It’s tough to imagine people buried under rubble, unable to shout for help or even move. But that’s the reality in parts of Italy right now.

The only silver lining that is a common theme in these disasters is the extraordinary efforts that people will make to help the victims. Out of the ashes, there’s always a glimmer of light that shines through to remind us that people are good.

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But besides the normal methods like donating blood and money, a neat response has come in a different form from Italian restaurants. Eateries across the world, like these ones in New York City,  will donate portions of their sales to the relief efforts.

So you get to eat delicious Italian food and help others. What’s better than that?

Now before I move onto my main topic, it’s absolutely worth noting that Ryan Lochte’s troubles continue. He’s now being summoned to Italy (not extradited) to testify before a Brazilian judge about his version of events from the notorious Olympics after-party fiasco that caused a stir around the world.

This is pure drama at its finest.

OK, as much as I’d love to keep discussing the Lochte Ness Monster, I want to touch on a pretty sensitive issue that’s come up this week that carries a little more cultural significance — racism against Leslie Jones.

The Saturday Night Live cast member is definitely one of those comedians that you either really enjoy, or don’t see the appeal. I’m not going to lie — whenever she makes an appearance on the show’s Weekend Update, which she does regularly, I tend to fast forward my DVR.

Her shtick is pretty simple — she yells. She’s loud and abrasive. And it just doesn’t really do anything for me. But just because her comedic style is not my cup of tea doesn’t mean that I have anything against her as a person.

However, many others apparently do. I suppose that, for many, it’s hard to see Leslie Leslie Jones.jpgJones — a middle-aged black women with spiky hair — and her loud nature, and not be able to disassociate her from the color of her skin. If for no other reason because any one who yells regularly will draw a lot of attention to him or herself.

And for many in this country who still haven’t quite gotten the grasp that America is a place built on tolerance and diversity, and that all men and women are created equal — it’s caused a problem.

It’s a problem that Leslie Jones has been dealing with for quite some time. For months she’s been the victim of cyber-bullying. And this week, her site was hacked, featuring images of primates and explicit photos.

This isn’t ambiguously or even borderline racist.

People hate Leslie Jones because she is black. And that is despicable.

We wonder why our country doesn’t match up to the standards that we all think it should. We wonder where the hateful actions that occur at a certain politician’s rallies come from.

We shouldn’t wonder. It’s something that’s here, and has always been here, and if you need further evidence than just look at what’s happened to Leslie Jones.

Leslie, I may DVR through your SNL bits, and I may never have any desire to see Ghostbusters, but I sure as hell have a whole lot of respect for you as a person.

Hey, it may not mean much, but a little solidarity during a dark time never hurt any one.

Oh, there’s a third dude running for president

Probably the most popular sentiment that I have heard expressed by most Americans from a political standpoint in recent months is mutual disgust over the candidates that have been put before us.

A significant reason for that is because the dominant political commentary people hear is the hateful and nasty rhetoric that has come from each side.

Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.

Hillary Clinton is a liar and untrustworthy.

That’s all they know. I don’t mind if people are unhappy with the candidates. It is what it is. But it bothers me when they express that opinion before they actually take more time to educate themselves over where each candidate actually comes from and what their candidacy would actually mean for America.

And — no need to even admit full disclosure here — this is coming from someone who detests Donald Trump and has made it known. That being said, I can’t hate on someone who fully understands Trump’s agenda, the reality of him actually implementing it, and still wants to vote for him. At least they did their due diligence. Somewhat.

However, what most people don’t realize is that they do have the ability to express their political disenchantment in the voting booth this November.

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Don’t get me wrong — Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, will not be able to compete with Trump or Hillary. But he is a credible politician representing a party with a significant following. And for that, he deserves to have his voice heard.

So who is Gary Johnson? He is a former two-term Republican governor from New Mexico who later turned Independent. He supports the legalization of marijuana, is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and believes that humans are contributing to climate change.

But since he’s an Independent, he also believes in a hands-off government. Like, really hands off. Meaning minimal regulation on Wall Street. The phasing out of Social Security.

Oh, and he’s climbed Mount Everest. Which is a metaphor that writes itself given the mountainous climb in the polls he must make to be taken more seriously.

The most famous Libertarians in recent history are Ron Paul — who actually made a respectable run at the presidency in 2012 — and his son, Rand Paul, whose presidential campaign this year was as successful as Ryan Lochte’s Olympics after-party alibi.

The problem for Johnson is our political forum is too entrenched in the two-party system. The Libertarian Party trying to get attention is basically like Khloe Kardashian trying to make people notice her between Kim and Kourtney. It’s just not happening.

But here’s where I have a problem. Despite his hopeless chances, Gary Johnson is polling at about 10 percent. Which means, naturally, that about one in every 10 registered voters wants him to be president.

And if that’s the case, then it is an injustice if he is not allowed to participate in next month’s presidential debates. To do so, he must be polling at 15 percent.

It probably won’t make a difference as far as him even winning a single state, but if 10 percent of voters support him — then how the hell can he be shunned aside by our system at the peak of when most Americans are finally paying attention?

I won’t vote for him — but people at least deserve to know that there is a third option. And one that’s gaining a little bit of traction, at that.

Because after the political shit-storm we’ve experienced the past 18 months, at the very least, we are owed a threesome.

There’s more you can do to help Louisiana than complain about who visits

We are now in the second week of Louisiana’s historic flooding. More than a dozen people have died. Almost one-third of the state’s parishes are underwater. And some 60,000 homes are damaged.

And yet, the story of the day on Tuesday was not about the destruction, the displaced or the recovery efforts — but about the timeliness of President Obama’s visit to tour the wreckage.

Gotta love American politics, right?

Obama, of course, was on his last vacation before gearing up for the final months of his presidency. Many critics — including an editorial from a Louisiana newspaper — expressed their dismay that he didn’t cut his getaway short to pay a visit.

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The critics were barking even though Louisiana’s governor said the federal government has given them everything they need, and despite the overall consensus that FEMA has been doing a good job.

Indeed, Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said last week that it would be more pragmatic for Obama and any other major politician to visit weeks after the flooding, so as not to distract from the recovery efforts. The next day after that warning, of course, Trump visited.

Although, it’s unfair to completely dismiss the criticism of Obama when the same thing transpired 11 years ago, when George W. Bush was president, and he was “slow” to visit the state following Hurricane Katrina.

The only difference is that FEMA’s response to that disaster was calamitous. Obama Louisiana

Nonetheless, the politicizing of natural disasters is just stupid. People’s lives are ruined — some lost — and the best we can do is condemn someone for visiting five days late? Is a president supposed to go in and scoop up all the water himself? (Or herself — just sayin’)

I challenge all the complainers to answer me this — why don’t you go to Louisiana? Why don’t you go and make a difference?

Don’t have the resources or the ability to go? Fine, a local news website has created a resource for how you can help each affected region. The Louisiana government has also created an online database for volunteer opportunities.

This is an opportunity to put our money where our mouths are.

And I know I am being hypocritical. Me criticizing the criticism is, in a sense, distracting from the real issues at hand. But somebody has to pour some sense into this lunacy.

Heck, why is only Obama blamed for a belated visit?

Why don’t we get mad at Kanye for not going? Where’s Taylor Swift at?

And shouldn’t Justin Beiber at least tweet about it? He has more than 86 million followers! He honestly has the ability to raise more awareness than anybody else in the world. He wouldn’t even need to elaborate. Just a simple tweet reading “Louisiana” would become an instant trending topic.

You can pretty much just start writing “Loui” on your phone and it will autofinish to Louisiana. You don’t even need to spell it right.

You all blame Obama. I blame Beiber.

Come at me.

Oh, and donate to the links above.

I didn’t expect to say this, but I miss the Olympics.

Over the last few years, I’ve made a point to watch less television.

Of course, I still watch all my favorite sports teams and I never miss an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” but other than that, I don’t keep up with any new shows.

That all changed the last two weeks. Any spare moment I had, my TV was tuned into NBC or one of its affiliate channels, watching whatever the hell was on. Whether it was the standard track and field, gymnastics, swimming, soccer or volleyball, or the more obscure ping-pong, handball, water polo, shot put or fencing — it didn’t matter.

I loved watching the competition. I loved watching the athletes give it all they had for pride and love of their country.

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I appreciated that every single one of these athletes had worked relentlessly for decades and dedicated their lives to get to where they are. I felt their jubilation when they won, and I shared their heartbreak when they fell short of their ultimate goal.

Another thrill for me was to read the stories behind the athletes. Of the refugee, Yusra Mardini, who risked her life fleeing Syria and was now competing at the highest level under a flag with no country on it. Or when Michael Phelps, after his second DWI two years ago, texted his agent that he didn’t “want to be alive anymore.” And how Simone Biles was adopted by her grandparents in Belize after her own parents could no longer take care of her and her siblings.

It taught me that greatness certainly doesn’t come easy.

We also witnessed the end of two of the most prolific Olympic careers in history. No longer will Phelps and Usain Bolt of Jamaica represent their respective countries in the greatest level of international competition.Usain Bolt.jpg

In a two week span, we got to see the best swimmer of all time and the best runner of all time.

But alongside that came new stars. Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, both 19, have 11 medals between them — 10 gold.

We saw an American swimmer make a statement about staying clean when Lily King of the U.S.  defeated Russian swimmer and convicted doper Yulia Efimova. We saw how longstanding regional conflict can bleed into international competition when an Egyptian refused to shake an Israeli’s hand.

But that blemish was overshadowed by a single act of sportsmanship that exemplified the best parts of humanity, when an American and New Zealander encouraged each other to finish a race after falling.

And of course, we were privileged to witness Ryan Lochte’s buffoonery —  once an innocent source of entertainment — get him into actual trouble.

Brazil, too, overcame most people’s meager expectations by stepping up to the challenge and putting on a successful show. The country still has its problems, no doubt, but these Games can at least give the nation and its people something to build on.

So consider this my thank you. To Rio, to the athletes, and to the world of international competition.

I will never win a gold medal.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be excited when others do.