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.

Italy earthquake.jpg

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.

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.

Rio closing ceremony.jpg

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.

It’s due time we address #LochteGate

In American sports lore, we have a tendency to label certain athletes as having spent their entire career living in another’s shadow.

As in, they were pretty damn good, but not as good this other dude.

For example, Patrick Ewing would have probably won a championship had he not played at the same time as Michael Jordan. Andy Roddick likely would have won more than just one grand slam if his career didn’t coincide with a guy named Roger Federer.

And Phil Mickelson still cringes every time he hears Tiger Woods’ name.

But one can certainly make the argument that no athlete has ever performed in a greater shadow than Ryan Lochte.

The four-time Olympian is one year older than Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of any sport in the history of our planet. And yet, Lochte still has 12 medals — six of them gold.

The Today Show Gallery of Olympians

But nobody has ever really cared. Because he’s not Michael Phelps.

Instead, Lochte is probably better known for his perception as a dim-witted athlete, fueled by a hilarious SNL impersonation by Seth MacFarlane four years ago; a must-watch, post-interview roast by two talk show hosts; and a short-lived reality TV show on E! that nobody ever asked for.

And this week, Lochte — whose silver blonde bleached hair I can only assume is in tribute to Eminem or Sisqo — pretty much cemented his legacy in that he will be better known for his shenanigans outside of the pool than in it.

You all have been following the story. Lochte, with fellow American swimmers Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, went partying all night at a club in Rio last weekend, and then told Olympic officials the following day they were robbed at gunpoint while traveling home early the next morning.

The episode was immediately painted as the most prolific in a series of criminal activity Swimmersthat took place in Rio during the Games, a city that is notorious for its habitual violence.

But then, the story started to change. Put it this way: I could have blogged about this every day this week, and each post would have contained a different narrative.

Brazilian police first couldn’t find evidence of Lochte and the other swimmers’ accounts. Then Lochte’s own retelling bore discrepancies. Then Bentz and Conger were pulled off a plane on Wednesday night. Then Brazilian police determined that the swimmers were flat-out lying.

It’s been a whirlwind turn of events. And just when public opinion was turning on the swimmers and their wild fabrications, TMZ releases a video that sort of corroborates Lochte’s story.

No, the swimmers were not robbed by men posing as police, like Lochte said, but they were held at gunpoint by a gas station security guard, who demanded compensation for the bathroom that they just severely damaged.

In the end, while the story was riveting to follow, it doesn’t look like there will be major consequences. If the worst offense these swimmers committed is lying to police, they will likely be subjected to a mere fine and possibly community service.

Brazilians, however, are outraged that Americans would further stain their country’s already poor reputation with lies, and are demanding harsher consequences — or at the very least, a public apology.

My opinion? Maybe we should give Ryan Lochte another TV show. The man is an endless source of entertainment.

In fact, give him a blog.

There’s room for two studs on the blogosphere.

Think about it, Ryan. It’s all I ask.