Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm White

I don’t know what happened between Michael Brown and the man who shot him.  I wasn’t there and I believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  But there are a few things that I do know.

I know that I was taught to find the police if I feel unsafe.  I know that I don’t worry about my brother getting shot in the street.  I know that what’s happening in Ferguson would never—could never—happen in my neighborhood.  And I know all of that related to the fact that I’m white.

Having white privilege doesn’t make you racist but not acknowledging that privilege kind of does.  It’s not enough that you personally treat all people equally or that you voted for Obama or that a bunch of your friends are not white.  The system is broken.  Not acknowledging that—not seeing the benefits that you reap that others do not—just perpetuates that system, in all its brokenness. 

That brokenness is what leads us to discussing whether Brown was a good kid bound for college or a robber.  As if either determines the worth of his life or the tragedy of his death.  It’s why sentences for black offenders are 10% longer than white offenders who have committed the same crime.  It’s why white people commit heinous crimes and we immediately ask about their mental state but non-whites commit crimes and it’s a result of their culture or character.     

White privilege doesn’t mean I’ve never struggled in my life.  It doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard to get where I am.  It means that “colorblindness” isn’t enough—that I have to look closely enough at the world around me to see the colored lens that’s already there.  It means that I have to examine what prejudices are engrained within me just through living in this world.  It means that whatever pride I have in my accomplishments should be met with even greater gratitude for the opportunities I’ve had that others have not.  And it means that I owe it to the world to help it become a place where others get them too.  Just because I didn’t break it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help fix it.  And it needs a lot of fixing…

Monday, July 28, 2014

Badass Women

 This past weekend I visited Nerd HQ, an awesome event outside of Comic Con held by Zachary Levi’s company, The Nerd Machine.  They hold a bunch of fantastic panels with casts from different shows and movies and raise a crazy amount of money for Operation Smile.  One of the panels I got to see was Badass Women featuring Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck/Dexter), Retta (Parks and Rec), Missy Peregrym (Rookie Blue), Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon A Time), Ming-Na Wen (Agents of Shield/Mulan) and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).

Look, I don’t know these people personally, but in listening to them talk I’m going to say that it’s a group of really strong women on and off the screen.  And what struck me as they answered questions was how familiar their answers were.  The things they talked about—knowing who you are and what you believe in, having conviction in that, the courage to be vulnerable or to go outside of your comfort zone—are things that we talk about so much in the USA program as we try to learn and grow and become better athletes and people.  It honestly felt like a session from one of our mindset meetings.

That isn’t all that surprising because I’m really lucky that I get to be surrounded by a lot of strong women every day.  But it was cool to see how important it is to find that clarity and acceptance of oneself no matter who you are—woman or man, athlete or actor.  Because that is the foundation of strength.   And, in my opinion, the key to being a successful person.  Success here, by the way, having nothing to do with money, fame or winning, but rather being the best human being you can be.  The people I admire and respect the most never seem to have to impose themselves on others to feel strong; it just flows from them as they live their truth.  Because doing that—living honestly and openly, with conviction and love—that’s the strongest thing there is.  That’s the strength I want to strive for every day and clearly these women are doing the same.

Also, they’re hilarious.  Really, go watch it right now.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Real Team USA

You might think that playing on the National Team would be a pretty awesome job.  And you would be correct.  We get to put on the red, white and blue and play in front of thousands of fans, to take pictures and sign things for the very people that we’re working to represent and to do what we love with people that we love.  How cool is that?

But the coolest parts of our job are often the ones that you don’t even think about going in.  While we were in Hawaii they took us to the USS Paul Hamilton, an active Navy ship docked in Pearl Harbor awaiting deployment in a few weeks. 

We got to go to the bridge with the captain and hang out with some of the crew.  And the more I listened to them talk the more I realized that the core of what they do and what we do is fairly similar.  Don’t get me wrong, what they do is way more important and impressive and dangerous and everything else.  But the crew of a ship is really a team that is operating in a high pressure situation.  Every member has a role and needs to perform in order for it to work.  They have to rely on each other, to learn quickly and to work efficiently as a unit  They train hard so that when they get to the real thing all they have to do is what they do every day.  And they do that really well, which makes them the best in the world.  It’s a pretty great example for us in what we’re trying to accomplish.
They were pretty excited to see us but I’m going to say we were the ones who got the most out of the visit.  As we walked up to the ship I saw a group of crewmembers on the deck.  I assumed they were working until they saw us coming and started chanting


I’ve heard that chant quite a few times in my life by now.  And it really never gets old.  But hearing it come from military men and women on the deck of a Naval ship is probably going down as the greatest…getting cheered on by the real Team USA.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

More than Medals

We played Costa Rica in our last match of pool play in the PanAmerican Cup. We were the top team in the pool.  They were the bottom. We hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament. They had yet to win one. We killed them. And they…

...thanked us.

In the press conference after the match their coach thanked us for playing with intensity. He said that’s something they always appreciate about playing USA—we go hard, regardless of the opponent. Their captain smiled despite the loss. Because her team was given the same respect as any of our other opponents.

We’re currently the 2nd ranked team in the entire world. We frequently get medals. We win the majority of the matches that we play. And I’ll be honest with you—that’s really awesome. But what’s even more awesome is that I can tell you that I, as an American, am proud to have this group wearing the red, white and blue. I’m proud of the foundation we’re building and what this team stands for and the way it comes out in how we play: with respect, with passion, with discipline, with resilience and with love. And I can’t think of a better way to represent our country and all it's people, than that…

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Smartest in the Room

The girls at the table next to me are cramming for a final right now. I mean, I'm not trying to eavesdrop, they're just pretty loud. They’re going over their notes, asking each other questions, etc. But one of them is also clearly, in my opinion, using this as an opportunity to demonstrate her superior knowledge.  Even when she’s asking a question, the phrasing she’s selecting is designed to show that she knows her stuff. It’s like she’s less interested in the answer and more interested in tossing out big words and technical terms, not because of what they mean but because of how she feels it makes her sound. She, like many of us, wants to be the smartest in the room.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned though: you’re never the smartest in the room. That’s not a real thing. Everyone knows more than you about something. Maybe it’s music or dog breeds or fashion or landfills or astrophysics…but it’s something. And how cool is that? Isn’t it amazing that everyone around us has the capacity to teach us something? That there’s an infinite amount to learn?

And maybe this girl is brilliant. Maybe she’s going to go ace this final. But I wonder if she’ll get to a question that her friend could’ve provided insight for, had she been listening for the answer. And I wonder, as she goes through life, how many opportunities to learn she’ll miss out on. Must be a bummer, being the smartest in the room…

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Morality, Minority and Why X-Men Rules

X-Men: Days of Future Past is coming out this month and it looks pretty awesome. How could it not be? It has superheroes and they're bringing back both Patrick Stewart AND Ian McKellan. But instead of delving into that amazing bromance, right now I want to talk about the other reason why I think X-Men rules.

X-Men is and always has been a story about the perils of minority—about the fear and distrust with which we face those who are different from ourselves and most importantly the terrible consequences of that approach.  The common thread woven throughout each chapter of this story is the fragile relationship between the mutants and humanity and the often catastrophic events that occur when one or the other steps off the road of tolerance. 

But here’s the part that we all need to realize--the X-Men movies (and comics) give us villains in the form of both mutants and humans. They are villains not because of their genetic code but because of their approach towards others. And Professor X is our hero because he gives mutants a place where they feel accepted and safe all while serving as a protector of humanity. This easily could have turned into a story of mutants vs humans. Or it could have been a story of good mutants vs bad mutants and ignored humans altogether. But it’s neither of those things and therein lies the genius of Stan Lee and the real lesson of the X-Men universe:

Your morality has nothing to do with WHAT you are. It’s about WHO you are and how you treat the people around you, regardless of what they are.

Your place in the battle of good vs evil isn’t determined by your sexuality, skin color, gender or any other part of your being any more then it is determined by the mutant gene.  It is determined by the choices that you make—to approach others with love not hate, understanding not fear and tolerance not judgment.

So channel your inner X-Man. You might not have the cool powers but that’s alright. The powers aren’t what make them heroes anyway…