Tag Archives: University of Michigan

This land is their land

The Saturday after the Paris attacks I watched football as usual, but also for a little normalcy, a break from apprehension and sorrow. The game I saw was ideal for that purpose: Michigan vs. Indiana, taking me back to my home turf and calling up memories of football Saturdays in Ann Arbor 40 years ago.

Both schools are part of the Big Ten, which is as American as they come, being the oldest Division I athletic conference in the country.* Some people claim its brand of football is stodgy and boring, but this one was, as they say in Middle America, a barn-burner. Michigan won it 48-41 in double overtime, with the quarterback tossing six touchdown passes. One of them went to tight end Jake Butt (yes, the joke potential is limitless), who’s from Pickerington, Ohio.

But four of those TDs were caught by a lightning-fast wideout named Jehu Chesson, who was born in Monrovia, Liberia during the first Liberian civil war. The final, game-winning touchdown was scored by Amara Darboh, born around the same time in Freetown, Sierra Leone amid that country’s civil war. Chesson and his family moved to Ivory Coast before going on to St. Louis. Darboh’s parents were killed, but he escaped on foot with relatives to Gambia, Senegal, and finally, with sponsorship from a Christian group, to Des Moines. He’s now a U.S. citizen.

These young men came from places that many Americans would find obscure, like Raqqa. They fled bloody conflicts that dragged on for years, killed hundreds of thousands, and displaced millions. Would we be safer or stronger if we’d arbitrarily locked them out, as various politicians say we should do with the Syrians?

I know: Liberia and Sierra Leone didn’t breed terrorists who plant bombs in other places. But (1) the ones flooding Europe are trying to get away from the bombers themselves. (2) Refugees don’t just waltz into the USA through customs; the existing screening can take months or years. And (3): They’re less likely to be radicalized here than in some European slum.

I’m not blind to terrorism. I was among those who had to evacuate the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 and I spent the day a few blocks from there, wondering if another plane was coming at us. I’m absolutely not excusing extremism either. But Jeb Bush, who I rarely agree with on anything, committed common sense in talking about Paris and, “the despair and the hatred that has built up over time…where people may have a French passport, may be a French citizen, but they’re not really French.”

Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are sociology majors at one of our great universities. They perform the ritual of running under and touching the Michigan banner at home games, and they play those games under the Stars and Stripes. Even the people in Indiana can be thankful and proud that they’re here. We can all be proud if we reject ignorance, fear, and hatred, and welcome the Syrians to come.


*The Big Ten actually has fourteen teams, having extended its Midwestern roots to Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland. It’s also one of the most tradition-bound conferences in the country, but that’s another story.

Retired, but not from life

Yesterday I retired from the job I’d held for many years. I had a great sendoff, with lots of good wishes and some truly special gifts from the best bunch of colleagues anywhere, or at least in this corner of the Milky Way. I’ve got plans for the first day of the rest of my life, and the days after that. What’s been a little hard to pin down is my identity and sense of self.

“Retirement,” of course, isn’t what it used to be. In the old days, I might’ve put on a golf cap and plaid pants and headed off for a life on the links. Now I’m updating LinkedIn – but how? Do I call myself a former journalist and writer-editor or a current…what exactly? My conundrum isn’t “Woe is me” but, “Who is me?”

Even though I was ready to move on and did so wholly on my own, with nobody nudging me toward the door, it’s a jolt to the system. Except for a year in grad school, this is the first time I’ve been voluntarily without some kind of paying job since I got my undergrad degree back in (!) 1976.

I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, and not just any old rollercoaster, no sir, but one of those new ones like the “Twisted Colossus” or “Wicked Cyclone.” After all, this is a Big Move, especially for someone in the early stages of geezerdom. I was ready to declare a mid-late-life crisis with all the attendant benefits, like moving my personal happy hour from 5:30 to noon. Then I read about the latest chapter in the all but unbelievable story of Austin Hatch.

You might know that name if you’re a University of Michigan sports fan. Austin survived two small plane crashes that killed his parents, brother, sister, and stepmother. The second time, in 2011, he was not only orphaned but left in a coma with a severe brain injury. However, U-M honored the basketball scholarship it had offered before the crash. He fought his way back, stayed on the team, and scored his first points last season in an inspirational moment for the ages.

Now he’s facing another life change. To focus on academics and all-around recovery, he’s taking a medical redshirt. That means he’ll keep his scholarship and be a student assistant with the team but his playing days are over.

This has thrown lots of athletes into despair. But Austin’s response, as reported here by the Detroit Free Press, was “Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, however, it is what I play, not who I am.”

Thanks for the reminder, kid. I’m not a title or a Facebook status, but a person. And if Austin can handle the kind of adversity and upheaval that the fates have dealt him, people like me can definitely get through our own relatively minor transitions. (Grammar grump alert: transition is NOT, at least on these pages, a verb.)

Some of my retirement will be inspired by Bob Dylan’s line “Oh, oh, are we gonna fly, Down in the easy chair!” from “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” But I’ll also keep trying to live by this one, as I have for a long time: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Monday morning I’m going to sleep in. Then I’ll get up and write. See you soon.

Gone Blue

Even if you’re not a college football fan or a resident of Michigan, you’ve probably caught a whiff of the circus parade that began when a quarterback who’d been blasted by a defender and was obviously wobbly was allowed to stay on the field. I don’t have the space or the stomach to recap the details. In fact, I’m so sick of the whole thing that I’m retiring from Michigan football fandom, at least for the rest of this season and maybe for good.

How can I do this? Not easily. I’ve been following Michigan’s fortunes since my freshman year back in ’72, and I paid a little visit to the Big House even before that. But from now on, the remote will not point toward ESPN or the Big Ten Network at game time. The t-shirts will stay in the drawer. The blogs and Michigan newspaper sites will go unread. A modest volume of beer will go undrunk.

Call me crazy, disloyal, old and cranky, or anything you like. But friends, we are not given unlimited time in this world and I’m just not going to waste any more of mine on this clown car of a football team. It’s over. Done. Finished. Kaput. I’ve crossed the Rubicon, bought my last round and hopped in the cab. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than Jo Dee Messina did:

Well you filled up my head with so many lies
You’ve twisted my heart ’til something snapped inside
I’d like to give it one more try
But, my give a damn’s busted

You can crawl back home, say you were wrong
Stand out in the yard and cry all night long
Go ahead and water the lawn
My give a damn’s busted

Fire irks and ireworks

Would it surprise you that the first controversy of this year’s college football season is already here and it has nothing to do with football – at least not what happens on the field? Nope, this one is about what will or won’t occur a few hundred feet above the turf, specifically Michigan Stadium (where I once played Frisbee at midnight). The athletic department had the idea of staging a fireworks display as part of the festivities at a couple of games this year. But nooooooooo!

The Regents of My Alma Mater have solemnly decreed with all the dignity and intellect ascribed to their office that none shall pass: no red glare and bombs bursting in air. No aerial shells, ball rockets, dragons’ eggs, stars, or other pyrotechnics shall light up the sky over the Big House. The reasons for this kibosh, as reported here by the Detroit News, include safety, which one might understand, but also concerns about “tradition and excess.” One Reg said, “We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus … I love Michigan football for what it is … and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”

Intentionally simple? Extra! Read all about it! A U of M Regent has discovered an actual, honest-to-Crisler time machine and journeyed back to the days of leather helmets and the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame! STOP THE PRESSES!!! (I worked as a journalist for 20+ years and always wanted to say that.)

Resists the excesses? Friends, we’re talking about major college football in the 21st century. You’ve got more than 100,000 people cheering, yelling, whooping, and waving their colors, TV copters and blimps overhead, marching bands, drunks and drunkettes, banners, beer commercials, traffic jams, and three or four hours of pure spectacle.

One of the times where the AD wanted to use fireworks was when Penn State comes in for a nationally-televised night game. I watched last year’s night game at Penn State, and even though my team found about 15 ways to blow it, I truly enjoyed all the pomp, the excitement, and the passion of the home crowd. Fireworks in an atmosphere like that would be just a bit of colorful frosting on a big cake.

The biggest problem with fireworks is that wherever they go, the amateur fireworkers follow. Some kid would get hold of some non-professional but powerful stuff, scare the bejabbers out of the neighbors, and maybe come away with a missing digit or two. This is the kind of thing that probably inspired one of Jeff Foxworthy’s best redneck gags: “What is the last thing a redneck ever says?” “HEY, Y’ALL! WATCH THIS!”

But I digress. My advice to the Regents is to quit worrying about tradition and just enjoy the party, like my friends and I did in the pre-ESPN, no-Internet days. Come to think of it, that time machine’s not such a bad idea after all.