It’s Time to Grow Up

Jose Bautista flipping his bat in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS

I have been a baseball fan since I was nine years old. Because my father was, and now my son is, a fan of most every sport, I have been exposed to sports my entire life. In high school, I would faithfully watch SportsCenter every morning between completing my paper route and going to school. And I am not naïve enough to think that poor behavior by athletes and fans alike is a new thing. But really, it is time for athletes and fans alike to grow up and demonstrate some maturity.

Athletes—you are playing a game. Sure, you should play to win. And yes, professional athletes, and now even some college athletes, are profiting mightily for playing. But if anything, that should increase the respect you have for the game. Let’s take baseball. Excitement is fine, but if you’re in the Major Leagues, act like you belong there. As a lifelong fan of another club in the AL East, I had hoped that the Guardians would beat the Yankees, but the Guardians certainly have a couple of players who did not impress me with their antics at the end of the Wild Card series. Oscar Gonzalez hit a walk off solo shot in the 15th inning on October 8. He then thought it would be a good idea to slowly take a few steps while watching it sail over the wall before flipping his bat. That’s really never a good idea, but Gonzalez, a rookie, hit it off of Corey Kluber, who has more career wins than Gonzalez has hits. Kluber has two Cy Young awards and was in the top ten for Cy Young voting five years in a row. Show some respect. (To make matters worse, Kluber did that while pitching for the Cleveland ballclub, then called the Indians).

After the game, Austin Hedges, a catcher who has managed a .189 batting average and a negative WAR in eight years in the Big Leagues, thought it would be a good idea to strip off his uniform and shirt on field to celebrate the win. Real mature. I don’t care what the sport is, or how excited you may be, there is neither reason nor valid excuse to remove your clothes in celebration.

Sadly, has a list ranking the greatest bat flips of all time, a list that begins by calling the bat flip “an art form.” With one exception, every one of the top ten came in 2007 or later. All ten of the “best of the rest” came in 2001 or later. What was the exception? In Game 4 of the 1987 World Series, Tom Lawless of the Cardinals hit a three-run homer off of Frank Viola of the Twins at the Metrodome, giving the Cardinals a 4-1 lead in the game. It was in the 4th inning, by no means a guaranteed game winner (though it did prove to be, as the Cardinals won the game 7-2). Lawless behaved almost identically to the way Gonzalez did earlier this month. And it was just as pitiful. That homer was the first Lawless had hit in more than three years. He would only hit two regular season home runs in his entire Major League career—which spanned eight seasons, but had Lawless playing in just over the equivalent of two seasons’ worth of games. The three RBIs that home run produced exceeded his season RBI totals for six of the eight seasons Lawless played. Reflecting on the homer thirty years later, Lawless said, “I don’t have any idea why I did it.” Not saying it’s okay that he did it, but I am inclined to agree with him; he was probably as surprised as anyone that he had hit a homerun.

In the same interview in which he said he did not know why he did it, which was a discussion with the Cardinals broadcasters during a game, he was asked, “Are you the original bat flip guy?” Lawless responded, “No. Reggie Jackson had to do it before I did, didn’t he?” But he and the Cardinals broadcasters then agreed then Jackson had never done it in that way or in such a big moment.

So why was the “original bat flip” in 1987…and why were they uncommon until more than twenty years later? I will suggest two reasons. One, a higher respect for the game in the previous century. Two, an exponentially higher likelihood in the last century that someone flipping their bat would have gotten a fastball in their ear or, at the very least, their ribcage the next time they came up to bat.  No one who has paid attention to baseball over the years has to wonder what would have happened had someone flipped their bat after hitting a home run off of Bob Gibson, Sal Maglie or Don Drysdale, for example?

I have to agree with James Simmons, who wrote the following in 2020:

Essentially a batter who hits a home run and flips his bat is doing to the pitcher what Roberto Alomar used to do to umpires. This is the definition of showing a pitcher up, is it not? And as a society we have glamorized it to the point it is done way too often. Not only is it disrespectful to the pitcher, but the act is also desecrating to the game itself.

Later, in the same column, Simmons said, “I’ve never seen a list of baseball’s unwritten rules, though surely this is within the first few pages. You do not show up another player.” Exactly.

Of course, sports fans sometimes act like fools, as well. I have never understood the rioting and mayhem that results seemingly anytime a team wins a championship. And this isn’t exactly new; many consider the worst such riot to have occurred in 1984 when the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres to win the World Series. Police had to escort the Padres because of the chaos.

But sometimes fans don’t even leave the stadium before the idiocy begins. Last Saturday, for example, the fans at the University of Tennessee swarmed the filed after the Volunteers beat Alabama. A story on reported,

The north end zone goalpost at Neyland Stadium cracked near the base and toppled down Saturday as Tennessee football fans swung from it.

The crossbar and uprights were carried across the field and into the stands by a giddy gaggle of Vols fans…. They reached the concourse level before police stopped the procession and guarded the remnant of the goalpost in the southeast stands.

A story in The Tennessean reported that those goalposts had stood since 1998, when fans destroyed them after the Volunteers went 13-0 and won the national title. Said the report: “Those goalposts ended up in the Tennessee River. So did the uprights from the south goalpost Saturday, one remaining in it and the other fished out and taken to a fraternity house to be sawed into pieces.”

The same story reported that the estimated cost of new goalposts would be between $10,000 and $20,000 before installation. In Tennessee, destruction of property falls under vandalism but, for the record, that makes the destruction of the uprights a Class C felony in Tennessee, punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.  Further, those who took the uprights out of the stadium would be guilty of Class C felony theft, also punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Of course, this does not take into consideration damage to the field itself.

Perhaps even more egregious than the childish and destructive behavior of the fans is the cavalier attitude toward it. UT’s coach, Josh Heupel, responded to the fans’ behavior by saying, “If need be, I will pay for them to make sure that they’re up on Saturday. But I think they’ve got a plan to have a couple of them ready to roll when we get to Saturday.” Really? Pay for it yourself? How about something like, “I hope the fans’ actions do not prohibit us from being able to play our next home game. As much as I appreciate their enthusiasm, tearing down the uprights is unnecessary—and dangerous. I appeal to all UT fans in saying, ‘please don’t do that again.’”

Heupel was not alone in minimizing the destruction, though. The president of the University of Tennessee, Randy Boyd, said, when asked about the cost of the damage done by the fans, “It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this every year.” But then money means little to Boyd, since he is a millionaire several times over. He returned his salary to the state when he was commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and he takes no salary as the president of UT.

Of course, the expense goes well beyond repairing the field and replacing the uprights. UT was fined $100,000 for violating the SEC’s policy about access to competition areas. Should it happen again, the fine goes up to $250,000.

I commend the University of Tennessee putting out an appeal to ask fans to pay for the destroyed and stolen uprights, but even that appeal was lighthearted and failed to condemn the fans’ actions. Specifically, Tennessee Football tweeted, “Y’all remember how we tore the goalposts down, hauled em out of Neyland and dumped em in the Tennessee River? Yeah that was awesome. Anywho, turns out that in order to play next week’s game, we need goalposts on our field. Could y’all help us out?” Not only that, but the response has been overwhelming; as of yesterday, more than $150,000 had been donated. The response of the school’s Associate Athletics Director of Communications gives an idea of how expensive installation and other repairs will be, though—despite raising about eight times the projected cost of the goalposts, he said that excess funds will be given to other UT varsity athletic programs if there is any left over.

Not that UT really needs help paying the bill; one report indicates their operating revenue for 2021-22was $2.7 billion. Yes, billion. But that’s a completely different subject for a different time.

Players, grow up. Show respect for the games you play and for the players you play against.

Fans, grow up. Celebrate your team’s victory in a mature and responsible manner.

Coaches, owners and league officials, step up. Enforce meaningful consequences for stupid behavior by players and fans alike. In the case of antics like those at UT last Saturday, prosecute them. A fan who runs onto the field during a game would be arrested. Don’t let a victory make that behavior suddenly okay.

It’s time to grow up.

Photo credit: Jason Swaby/Flickr

The Final Nail?

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in 2011

The Republican party—or at least a significant, influential and very vocal part of those who claim to be the Republican party—have been drinking the Trump-provided MAGA Koolaid for years now, including the almost-two years since Donald Trump failed to win reelection. Any Republican who dares to cross Trump does so at his or her own risk, as has been seen, most notably, by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who not only spoke out against Trump and called for his impeachment, but served on the January 6 Committee (officially, the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol).

As one would expect from Mr. Trump, he has since made Cheney a target of his adolescent name calling, saying that she is a “warmongering fool” (April 2021) and a “despicable human being” (July 2022) among other things. When she lost her primary race against Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, Trump said Cheney “can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion” (August 2022). Last weekend, Cheney made headlines when she said at an event in Texas that if Trump wins the GOP’s nomination in 2024, “I won’t be a Republican.” And I have to say, I do not think that Cheney is alone in that. She may be the only one, or one of the only ones, saying that out loud right now, but there are very good reasons to be extremely concerned about both Donald Trump’s possible nomination and about many of the candidates that he has been endorsing over the past year.

And he has been endorsing like crazy, issuing more than two hundred endorsements in campaigns for House, Senate and executive offices at the state level. The Washington Examiner said that Trump was embracing the role of kingmaker, but NPR said that while Trump-endorsed candidates did have an overwhelmingly winning record, three-fourths of them were likely to win anyway, with many of them running unopposed in their primaries. That is an important observation, because, as of the beginning of September, while 99% of Trump-endorsed incumbents won and 91% of Trump-endorsed candidates in open races won, only 40% of Trump-endorsed challengers won their races (4 out of 10)—and none of the four Trump-endorsed candidates for state executive office won their races. It is also important to note that some of the Trump-endorsed candidates who won likely would have won without that endorsement—or did, in the cases of J.R. Majewski, an Ohio candidate endorsed by Trump thirty days after he won the primary; Katie Britt, an Alabama Senate candidate endorsed by Trump 17 days after the primary (and after Trump had retracted his endorsement from Mo Brooks, who urged Trump to move past his claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent); and Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Senate candidate Trump endorsed 11 days after he won the primary. Trump’s chosen candidates faired particularly poorly in Georgia—especially David Perdue, whom Trump tapped to take on Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump is known to loathe, but who was defeated by Kemp 74% to 22%. Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus, who was Trump’s State Department spokesperson and who moved to Tennessee last year and intended to run for the House in Tennessee’s 5th District, was removed from the ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party after its Executive Committee ruled that Ortagus (and two others) failed to meet the requirements of being a bona-fide Republican according to the party’s bylaws.

Of the candidates Trump endorsed, 58 of them had his endorsement for less than a week, including 13 who received his endorsement the day before their win and six who received it the day of their election. In those cases for sure it looks much more like Trump wanting to attach his name to a winner than it does that his endorsement had any impact on the outcome. There were a dozen or so candidates who carried Trump’s endorsement for more than 400 days, including his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas. One of those candidates was Madison Cawthorn, who was defeated in his re-election bid, and one was Jody Hice, candidate for Georgia Secretary of State who was defeated by the incumbent Brad Raffensberger—he of the infamous phone call with Trump.

Side note – Trump has also endorsed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not expected to win reelection, though he is advancing to the runoff.

All of this is essentially a recap; what’s the point? Why would I start this post clearly implying that Trump’s endorsements are not a positive thing for the Republican party (or the country)? Well, the same reason why Eric Lutz said that the Republican party has nominated “a bunch of bozos” (August 2022). I am no fan of Mitch McConnell, but he is a wily political operative, and he has seen the handwriting on the wall. He told a Kentucky group in mid-August, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” Unspoken but still crystal clear: many Republican Senate candidates are not high quality.

Why would McConnell, who stands to regain his position as Majority Leader if the Republicans do retake the Senate, say such a thing? Well, because it’s true. And, whatever else he may be, he is pragmatic. (Which is why he also, just recently, showered praise on Arizona Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. McConnell called Sinema, who has riled her Democratic colleagues by protecting the filibuster and pursuing a moderate course, “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen.”)

So, what about the Republican candidates? Well, here’s a look at just a few of them…

Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor who became famous in no small part thanks to Oprah, is running for Senate from Pennsylvania. He shot a pretty horrible video in April in which he claimed to be shopping for elements of a “crudité,” which is a French appetizer consisting basically of raw vegetables and a dip. Nothing wrong with that per se, setting aside the fact that very few people use the word crudité, and his use of it did not help Oz in his effort to be relatable. He also mispronounced the name of the store where he was shopping, picked up salsa for the crudité, which I am pretty sure no one else does, and then, after lamenting the price of his veggies and salsa, added, “And that doesn’t include the tequila.” Again, I don’t know of anyone who commonly pairs tequila with veggie platters. To make matters worse, when attention was brought to the cringeworthy video, the Oz campaign fired back at Oz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, by saying, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Elsewhere, Oz asserted that he owns two homes, when it was later revealed that he in fact owns ten. The bottom line is that Oz fits the Trump mold—he became popular through TV, because he has been as much an entertainer as a doctor he has said a lot of things he probably now regrets, he has more money than he needs, and he really has no business serving in elected office.

Kelly Tshibaka is the Trump-endorsed opponent of Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. A video of her talking about speaking in tongues and God finding itso cute that the only person in the world who can understand me is him” raised some eyebrows among Alaska voters, but Tshibaka is certainly not the only person who believes in speaking in tongues—and that belief is consistent with her position as co-pastor, along with her husband, of Foursquare churches. Perhaps more concerning than that would be her claim in 2015 that God has told her, “I’ve made you a Deborah. I’ve made you a mother to a nation.”

J.D. Vance is the Trump endorsed candidate for Senate from Ohio. Vance is a political newcomer; he has no previous political experience at all, at any level. He is a former Marine and a venture capitalist who wrote the New York Times bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, which also became a Netflix film directed by Ron Howard. TIME called the book one of six books to read to help understand Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. And Vance once called himself a “never-Trump guy.” But none of that means that he is a viable candidate for the Senate. In May, Axios said that if he wins the election, Vance will be “arguably the hardest-edged populist nationalist in the Senate GOP.” That’s quite a statement. A July 2021 article in The Atlantic was entitled “The Moral Collapse of J.D. Vance,” with a subtitle calling him “a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown.” But none of that necessarily means he is not a good candidate for the Senate. But last month many GOP leaders in Ohio were questioning where Vance was and how effective—or not—his campaign had been. CNN quoted one Ohio Republican saying that Vance was “like the dog who caught the car,” that he did not know what to do after he won the primary election. A Cincinnati-area radio talk show host said that winning the general election would be easier if one of Vance’s primary opponents had won—and that if Vance does not win, “it’s his own damn fault. Worse than that, in an August column on, Brent Larkin called Vance’s campaign “a stain on the GOP,” writing that Vance “has awful political instincts, not an ounce of class and a tendency to embrace views parroted by political maggots he considers friends.” What’s most troubling of all, though, is some of the things that Vance has said himself. In May 2021, on The Federalist Radio Hour, he said, “We really need to be really ruthless when it comes to the exercise of power.” In September 2021, on the podcast of Jack Murphy, Vance said, “We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program,” and that is Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he should “fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people. And when the courts stop you, stand before the country, and say—quoting Andrew Jackson—‘the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.’” Last October he tweeted that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a “fake holiday created to sow division.” In February, talking to Steve Bannon, he said, “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” There is definitely a question of “candidate quality” here.

Herschel Walker is a familiar name to football fans, especially in Georgia, where he won the Heisman while playing for the University of Georgia. He is also a friend of Donald Trump and was endorsed by Trump for the Senate to defeat incumbent Rafael Warnock. Like Trump, Walker has a spotty record when it comes to his relationships with women, his business dealings and his ability to tell the truth. He claims to have been in law enforcement, including working for the FBI, neither of which is true (though he evidently did spend a week in training at Quantico). In May Walker told an Atlanta radio station that he had never heard Donald Trump claim that the 2020 election was stolen. If that’s true, he’s the only person in the country who can make the claim. Walker acknowledged in his 2008 book Breaking Free that he has struggled with dissociative identity disorder, claiming to have twelve alternate personalities. There is a lengthy list of allegations against Walker pertaining to violence and domestic abuse, and he has admitted holding a gun to the head of his ex-wife. Twenty years ago he was accused of stalking a woman who has been identified as a former Cowboys cheerleader. He supposedly talked about having a shootout with the police in 2001. Now, just days ago, a woman who has a son with Walker has claimed that Walker both encouraged her to abort that pregnancy in 2011 and paid for her to have an abortion in 2009. Walker has denied that he paid for an abortion, saying in a statement, “I deny this in the strongest possible terms.” I obviously do not know if that happened or not, but it is troubling—and does not, sadly, seem implausible given Walker’s record and the things he has admitted to doing. Also sad is the response of some Republican leaders. Ralph Reed, who founded the Christian Coalition and later the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said last week that reports of Walker paying for an abortion are “unlikely to resonate with voters in Georgia. It’s based on an anonymous allegation that is 13 years old.” Being translated, that means, “We’re not letting anything stand in the way of retaking the Senate.” Many prominent Republicans have been supporting Walker, including Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to the U.N., who is considered a possible candidate for the GOP nomination in 2024. Senators Rick Scott, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham have expressed support, as has RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. Pitifully, Dana Loesch, a conservative radio host, said, “What I’m about to say is in no means a contradiction or a compromise of a principle. And please keep in mind that I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point. I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.” is calling the Georgia race a toss-up, but projecting Warnock to win. Oz is projected to lose in Pennsylvania. Ohio is leaning Republican. Alaska is considered solid Republican, but it is unclear if Tshibaka or Murkowksi will be the winner. I didn’t talk about Trump protégé Blake Masters here, but he is projected to lose decidedly in Arizona. Leora Levy doesn’t seem to have a chance in Connecticut. Nevada is a toss-up but seems to be leaning slightly to incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.

Bottom line: if I had to make a prediction one way or the other, I would not pick the Republicans to take control of the Senate. And to be honest, there’s really no excuse for that. With the current president’s issues and the state of the economy, it should have been a no-brainer to say that the Republicans would take control. The American Presidency Project posted in August that “In the 22 midterm elections from 1934 -2018, the President’s party has averaged a loss of…four Senate seats.” Furthermore, based on historical trends, the site said, “we would expect Democratic seat losses of around 30 in the House and 3 in the Senate.” The president’s party has only gained seats in the Senate six times since 1934, and it has not gained more than two Senate seats since 1934. If the Democrats gain three or more seats in the Senate—which I am not necessarily predicting, but also would not rule out—they would do something that neither party has managed to do since the first midterm election following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first election to the presidency. If that happens, I hope it it’s the final nail in Donald Trump’s political coffin.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

What Should We Do With Columbus Day?

Statue of Christopher Columbus, formerly at the corner of Elmwood Ave and Reservoir Ave in Providence, RI, removed by the city in 2020. This statue is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today is Columbus Day according to the calendar. It is also Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Two years ago, Robert Reich tweeted, “Today is Indigenous Peoples Day. Please remove Columbus Day from your vocabulary. May this year be the last we even have to make that distinction.” Well, that obviously has not happened. On Friday, President Biden issued a proclamation declaring October 10, 2022, to be Columbus Day—but he also issued a proclamation declaring today to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making it only the second time that Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been designated as a national holiday, though it has been recognized as a holiday in South Dakota since 1989.

In the first proclamation he directed “that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and all who have contributed to shaping this Nation” and in the second he called upon the people to “observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and the Indigenous peoples who contribute to shaping this Nation.”

One could certainly argue that both of these celebrations have merit. Of course, it would be quite possible to celebrate them on different days. Tennessee and California, for example, have Native American Day in September. Planning Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as—and it would actually be the preference of many for it to take the place of—Columbus Day, however, is not by mistake. It was at a 1977 UN conference on discrimination that an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first discussed, and in 1990, at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, again sponsored by the United Nations, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day was suggested. Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937.

In order to grasp the reasons for possibly replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day it is necessary to evaluate the reasons for Columbus Day. By every indication, there are two. The first reason is to celebrate Columbus’s accomplishments, specifically, his “discovery” of the New World vis-à-vis his arrival in what we today know as the Bahamas and Cuba in October of 1492. Columbus never set foot on mainland North America, though, so that creates a bit of argument against the commemoration. Why not celebrate Leif Eriksson Day? After all, he beat Columbus to the New World by some 500 years—and he actually landed on North America. Well, there actually is a Leif Eriksson Day; it is October 9, and was first so proclaimed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Obviously, though, it doesn’t get much attention and I would guess you have never seen it on a calendar.

Again, it was Columbus’s “discovery” that led to European exploration of the western hemisphere, but it was probably Juan Ponce de León who was the first explorer after Columbus to set foot on the North American continent. He landed, in 1513, on the coast of what today is known as Florida; in fact, he named it La Florida. The oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the continental United States is St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The first attempted English settlement in North America was the Roanoke Island colony, founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. That colony famously disappeared. The first permanent English colony was founded at Jamestown in the early 17th century by the Virginia Company. So why isn’t there a Juan Ponce de León Day? Or a Pedro Menéndez de Avilés Day? A Sir Walter Raleigh Day? A Virginia Company Day? All valid questions. Seemingly they would each have claims at least as good as any that Columbus might make. Columbus, after all, “discovered” the New World by accident. He rightly believed the earth to be round, but he had no idea that North and South America existed and he mistakenly believed that he was in the Indies when we arrived.

The second reason for Columbus Day is to celebrate Italian heritage. Italian immigrants were facing some significant persecution in the U.S. in the early 20th century, so this holiday was seen as a possible way to counter some of that. But that ignores the fact that while Columbus was Italian by birth, having been born in Genoa, he was sailing for Spain when he “discovered” the New World. asserts that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, he did so “largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization,” meaning that the celebration was as much for Columbus’s Catholic faith as for his nationality.

Scott Stevens, who serves as the director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at Syracuse University, told USA Today that he sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day “as an opportunity to have more critical discussion about our American history.” I, for one, would find it difficult to argue against having such a discussion. A thorough and accurate understanding of history is important. However, Stevens also said, “To have had American colonialism looked at throughout history as not being a problem and celebrated as a good thing is deeply problematic to any of us who live in a (Native-American) community or reservation.” But that’s a more complicated issue. Looking back with twenty-first century eyes, it is easy to say that colonialism was a problem or was not a good thing. But in the 15th and 16th centuries it was both normal and accepted. It is neither realistic nor appropriate to hold our ancestors to the same standards that we hold today. After all, there would also be plenty of things that Native American peoples did at that time that we would not approve of today, either. And we must not allow ourselves to forget that there was plenty of warfare and conquest among the indigenous people groups already in the Western Hemisphere when Columbus arrived. While it does not excuse the way they were treated by Europeans, the Native American peoples who were already in the Americas were not always peace-loving peoples. An article entitled “Warfare on Pre-Columbian North America” on the website of the Canadian Department of National Defence says,

Despite the myth that Aboriginals lived in happy harmony before the arrival of Europeans, war was central to the way of life of many First Nation cultures. Indeed, war was a persistent reality in all regions though, as Tom Holm has argued, it waxed in intensity, frequency and decisiveness. The causes were complex and often interrelated, springing from both individual and collective motivations and needs.

What’s more, the same article explains that while many have tried to claim that Europeans introduced to Native Americans the practice of scalping, that is not actually the case—though Europeans were by no means above promoting it among the tribes with which they allied themselves.

Some aspects of indigenous warfare shocked the European settlers. For example, the custom of scalping the enemy, which consisted in removing his hair by cutting off his scalp, scandalized many European observers. While some scholars have suggested that the Europeans themselves during first contact introduced this practice, it now appears certain that scalping existed well before colonization.

The article also states that the torture of prisoners was not uncommon among indigenous peoples, nor was the practice of giving captured women and/or young boys to the families of those who had lost a family member in warfare. While “giving” sounds nicer, and this was certainly better than torture or death, this was really just a form of slavery.

So, while I do not say this very often, I agree with what President Biden said last year: “We also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and Indigenous communities.” We should acknowledge that and teach history realistically. We also, though, must not allow for an inaccurate portrayal that makes it seem like bad things were only perpetrated by the Europeans.

According to, Indigenous Peoples’ Day “honors the histories, cultures, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and their ancestors who lived on the land now known as North America. They existed in these areas thousands of years before the first European explorers arrived.” I have no problem with that, and I think Indigenous Peoples and their “histories, cultures, and perspectives” should be acknowledged, studied and even celebrated just as should any other culture that is part of what makes America. To be frank, I think Indigenous Peoples’ Day has a stronger claim to celebration than does Columbus Day.

Why? Well, as I have already said, Columbus never even set foot on the continent of North America. But more importantly is the fact that Columbus used his own desire for fame and fortune, and his desire to “convert” the indigenous peoples to Catholicism, as an excuse for horrific treatment of them. David Barton’s WallBuilders organization claims, in a post entitled “Celebrate Columbus Day!” that “It is especially because of Columbus’ religious motivations and convictions that today he has become a villain for most modern educators and writers, who regularly attack and condemn him.” I disagree with that completely. It is because of his enslavement of the indigenous peoples that Columbus is regularly attacked and condemned—and his motive for that enslavement is of little consequence. But if it was, I would be the first in line to say that Columbus’s methods of “converting” the indigenous peoples to Catholicism was no better than the tactics currently utilized by the Taliban and other similar groups. “Convert or die” can never be celebrated.

On another page of its website, entitled “Discovering Columbus,” WallBuilders has created what it calls “the port of departure for people who want to explore past and find the truth about Columbus.” One of the “modern lies” the page identifies is that Columbus sought gold so that he could get rich. The truth, WallBuilders claims, is that Columbus sought gold both for evangelism and to lead a crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims—that Columbus “put God over gold.” That’s quite a stretch. While it is true that Columbus pointed to a desire to convert those in the Far East to Catholicism as one of his motives, one could argue just as easily, if not more easily, that he did so through an effort to get Ferdinand and Isabella to pay for his voyage and/or to increase his own standing in the Catholic church than through any pure motivation related to the souls of those unconverted peoples. After all, Columbus had some serious demands for Ferdinand and Isabella, as well, demands designed to ensure both wealth and titles for himself and his descendants. In his 1494 letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus did suggest that a portion of all gold found on the “Island of Espanola” should “be set aside for building churches and adorning the same, and for the support of the priests or friars belonging to them.” How much? A whopping one percent. Depending on the agreement you look at, Columbus expected to receive anywhere from one-tenth to one-eighth of all of the gold for himself. In his book Columbus: The Four Voyages, Laurence Bergreen describes the tribute system that Columbus and his brothers established that required “every Indian over the age of fourteen” to pay “the equivalent of a hawk’s bell filled with gold” and had to do so “on pain of death.” Since the area was not rich in gold, what was there was soon depleted, and the result was that the tribute system “obliterated any chance that the Indians would assist or cooperate with the Spanish in any other endeavor besides the pointless tributes of gold.” Even when Guarionex, one of the chiefs of the indigenous people, “argues that the land used to provide a minimal amount of gold could grow enough wheat to feed all of Spain, not just once, but ten times…Columbus refused to consider the idea.”

On Kenneth Copeland’s “Believers Voice of Victory” program in 2020, David Barton delivered a lecture entitled “The Truth About Christopher Columbus.” You can find it on YouTube if you want to watch it but I can give you the short version: Barton does what he always does, which is handpick quotes, anecdotes and sources, talk really fast and present himself as the bastion of truth in order to make the audience believe that anyone who disagrees with him is a fool. He cites Washington Irving’s multivolume A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus as a definitive source for the truth about Columbus. The problem with that is simple—it is a work almost universally recognized as part truth and part fiction, or at best creative license. Many consider it to be more of a historical novel than any kind of accurate history. In 1956, William Hedges, who spent much of his career as an English professor and, and eventually as the chair of American studies, at Goucher College, wrote an article published in The America’s entitled “Irving’s Columbus: The Problem of Romantic Biography.” He kindly notes that Irving’s work is “not so much falsification as the reflection of a certain point of view,” ending his article with this statement: “One is thus at least consistent in calling Irving’s Columbus a history which finally manages to transform itself into fiction.” Thus, with respect to Mr. Barton, not a source upon which we should be depending for our understanding of Christopher Columbus.

So, what should we do with Columbus Day? I do not personally see any need to observe it. Columbus never set foot on what is today the United States and to use him as the symbol of the influence of Italians on American culture seems a stretch at best. I think there are many other individuals with Italian ancestry who would be better candidates. As a historical figure, he was certainly influential, but his “discovery” of the New World was an accident; how much credit should he get for that? It seems that the negative outweighs the positive when it comes to Columbus, even when setting presentism aside. Columbus should surely be studied in history classes, but I don’t think he needs a national holiday. I am not advocating that all of the many statues of Columbus need to be torn down or all of the cities named after him need new monikers; I just don’t think he needs a federal holiday. Bartolomé de las Casas would seem a better candidate, really. Indigenous Peoples’ Day has a stronger case for a holiday than Columbus, but I think Native American Heritage Month (which is in November) is sufficient in that regard. Maybe on the second Monday in October we should all just go to work and school.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Booze-Soaked View of the World

Thomas Rhett at Merriweather in 2021

Yesterday someone mentioned to me that a relative had been unable to get a hotel room in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Saturday night because “some country singer was in town.” Who was the singer, I wondered? Turns out it was Thomas Rhett. But I had never heard of Thomas Rhett, so I was curious. After all, the venue at which he appeared can  accommodate 12,000 people for a concert, so who is this guy?

Well, his full name is Thomas Rhett Akins Jr., he is the son of country singer Rhett Akins and he has released six records. (I guess by now you can tell I don’t pay much attention to country music). But I wanted to know more. Why would every hotel room in the city that is home to slightly more than one-fifth of South Dakota’s entire population be booked for this concert?

Beyond the fact that he is obviously a popular act on the country circuit I don’t think I have found the answer to that question. But I have found out enough about Rhett’s music to know that it is disappointing that he is so popular.

What do I mean by that?

That his current tour is titled the “Bring the Bar to You Tour” was my first clue that alcohol is clearly an important part of his persona. His website includes a link to the site for Dos Primos Tequila (which you actually have to enter your birthdate to access), a tequila that Rhett and his cousin “dreamed up” in order “to create a tequila that blended Mexican tradition with southern sensibility.” VIP tickets for Rhett’s current tour include “dedicated cash bar service throughout the show” when the concert is in an arena, one drink ticket and a tasting experience of Dos Primos Tequila where permitted.

Skimming through the lyrics of Rhett’s songs makes it clear that both alcohol and sex play a prominent role in his writing. When I googled Thomas Rhett, I was helpfully provided with a link to a list of his top 20 songs on the website Taste of Country. Here’s what I found:

  • Number 1 is “Die a Happy Man,” which references how happy “last night” made him, between the bottle of wine, the look in her eyes and dancing in the rain. The second stanza says, “that that red dress brings me to my knees/ Oh, but that black dress makes it hard to breathe” before calling her “a saint, you’re a goddess, the cutest, the hottest, a masterpiece.” The good news is, Rhett (along with some help) wrote this song for, and about, his wife.
  • Number 2 is “Life Changes” which is a song about changes Rhett has experienced in life, including becoming a successful singer, getting married, adopting a child and then his wife getting pregnant. Nice enough song and nothing at all objectionable. With a few exceptions, that’s about where the good news ends, sadly.
  • Number 3 is “Marry Me,” which starts out okay—saying “she” wants to get married, she wants her grandfather to do the service and she wants to keep it small so as to save her father some money. But then we find out that the guy singing the song is not the guy she wants to marry, so he will have to take “a strong shot of whiskey straight out the flask” in order to get through the wedding. This could be an okay song—yet another song about the guy who misses out on the love of his life, songs that can be found in numerous genres. But the line about whiskey, and the implication that liquor can help someone get through life’s hard times is a sign of a recurring theme in Rhett’s songs.
  • Number 4 is “Death Row.” Could have been good. Includes the lines, “How Jesus is the ticket/And narrow is the road/About how all we need’s forgiveness/’Fore we see them streets of gold.” Near the end, the song says, “I can’t say that he’s in Heaven, who am I to judge his soul?/But Jesus don’t play favorites, ain’t a name that He don’t know.” It is true that Jesus doesn’t “play favorites” and someone on death row could go to heaven—but it would have been nice if the conclusion had made clear that doing so depends on that needed forgiveness.
  • Number 6 is “Unforgettable.” There are other songs by that title and there are other songs with the same storyline as this one—a memorable first meeting with a beautiful girl. The problem is, the guy in this one who is remembering that meeting says, “I was drunk, said I was sober.”
  • Number 7 is “Look What God Gave Her,” a song that one could quibble about in parts but that is mostly about seeing a beautiful woman.
  • Number 8 is “T-shirt.” Somehow, remarkably, it doesn’t mention alcohol, but it is a song about making out. Heavily. With very little left to the imagination.
  • Number 9 is called “Beer with Jesus.” The idea behind the song has merit—imagine being able to have a conversation with Jesus, hanging out with Him one on one, asking things like how to turn the other cheek and what happens when earthly life comes to an end. The problem is, this song has all of that taking place over a few rounds of beers.
  • Number 10, “Star of the Show,” is an ode to Rhett’s wife and is basically a song about how good looking she is, no matter where or when or in what. Fairly typical country fare, but it does still manage to include a reference to ordering a drink.
  • “Ya Heard,” which is Number 11, is a song about all of the prayers Rhett has seen answered—being married to his wife, having a successful singing career, having children. The only real issue I have with this song is that it clearly implies that we know God hears our prayers when we get what we prayed for, and that is certainly not accurate.
  • Number 12 is “Be a Light.” This is an inspirational song that encourages listeners to make difference in the world. This is a good song that could, with a more clearly stated message be a great song. What is it missing? The reason for being a light—and the source of the ability to do it.
  • Rhett’s Number 13 song is a duet with his father entitled “Drink a Little Beer.” The title is pretty self-explanatory; the song is all about unwinding and having a good time with friends while drinking. The lyrics include “a Yeti full of iced-down booze” and “a jar full of lightning juice.” To be honest, I am not certain what “lightning juice” is, but I feel certain it is alcoholic. The moral of the song? The recipe for fun is beer, music and girls.
  • “To the Guys That Date My Girls” is the Number 14 song. It is a quintessential tale of a dad threatening the guy who shows up to date his daughter. Interestingly enough the song includes a warning about the need for the guy to mind his manners around the mom but makes no real reference to minding manners around the daughter. The only real instruction, other than showing up early and getting home on time, comes immediately after a tacit acknowledgement that sex is on the guy’s mind, and says “But when you pull her close/just save some room for Jesus/’Cause if you ever cross that line/I swear, boy, you’re gonna need him.” Here’s hoping that most fathers give a bit more meaningful instruction.
  • Number 15 is “It Goes Like This.” Fairly typical country song about a boy meeting a girl, and there is no mention of booze, but the song clearly implies that the very first meeting goes well beyond a hello and a conversation.
  • “Craving You,” at Number 16, is a duet with Maren Morris, another singer I’ve never heard of before. The song itself is about the undeniable allure a girl can have on a guy. But there are some problems. First, the lyrics compare the effect to that of a cigarette or 100 proof liquor. The song also says, “Well, girl, my self control’s so paralyzed/When it comes to you, no, I ain’t got no patience.” It does not require any creativity to realize the danger in lyrics that embrace the idea that a guy can lose his self-control and his patience because he wants a girl so badly.
  • Number 17 is “Things Dads Do” and this could have been a wonderful song about the things that fathers do, and why, while raising their sons. And maybe this is the kind of dad that Rhett had and/or the kind of dad that he wants to be, but he includes some characteristics I think we could gladly do without. For example, the song says that when the son has his first heartbreak, his father will suggest talking it out over a beer. Two problems. One, as I have already mentioned, is the continuous suggestion that we need alcohol to help us cope with the pains and struggles life brings our way. Two, I think every guy I have ever known has experienced their first heartbreak before they were 21, making a discussion over a beer not just a bad idea but against the law. When the son does get married, though, dad will pay for the booze, the song says. Later, when he comes to visit, he’ll ask why your refrigerator has “weird beer” in it. And when he is sitting in the waiting room of the hospital awaiting the arrival of his grandchild, dad will be “chewin’ Red Man.” Here’s hoping these are not the things most dads do.
  • “Remember You Young” is Number 18. This, too, could have been a sweet song about the reminiscences that we all have about friends, spouse and children when they were younger. But this song, too, has two glaring problems. First, references to drinking and partying in younger years (I know, no surprise). Two, near the end, the song says, “Yeah, I hope when we get to Heaven/He looks at us all like we’re kids/Shameless and painless and perfect and ageless/Forgives all the wrong that we did.” One should never assume we will all get to Heaven—especially when one follows it by hoping that God will look at us as shameless and forgive us of “all the wrong that we did.” There is indeed a way that that can happen, but it takes admitting ones sins and accepting Jesus as Savior, not hoping God just decides to forget about all of our wrongdoing and let us into Heaven.
  • At Number 19 is “Church Boots,” which is basically a celebration of being the same guy all the time no matter where he is or how much money he makes. The problem is this: the song proudly proclaims that his church boots are his work boots and his partying boots and he doesn’t think “the good Lord minds.” I am sure He doesn’t. But I suspect He does mind this: “Go straight from the farm to the bar to the back row pew.” God isn’t concerned with someone wearing dirty boots to church. He is, however, concerned with someone who makes going to church just one more thing they do—and a think that has no impact on how they live their lives the rest of the week.
  • “Us Someday,” at Number 20, is harmless and even a fine little country song. It’s too bad, though, that as he sings about what their future would hold Rhett includes kids running around the backyard, family round trips and Little League games—but not church.

It wasn’t in this Top 20 list, bur Rhett also has a song entitled “Beer Can’t Fix,” the point of which is that no matter what you may be going through, it “ain’t nothin’ that a beer can’t fix.”

So… Could it be worse? Definitely. At least there is no profanity or explicit sex as is so prevalent in some other popular music these days. But it could also be better. I am well aware that country music has long included references to alcohol; Garth Brooks’s “Two Pina Coladas” and “Friends in Low Places” come immediately to mind (and also clue you in to the timeframe of when I paid any attention to country music). But for someone to be so popular that he packs out an arena that holds 12,000 people should prompt us to wonder why. What is he singing? What worldview is he promoting? What way of life is he celebrating? Do we really want the awards for Male Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year and so on to go to someone who is promoting such pro-alcohol messages? The fact that he seems to be a loving husband and father and he throws Jesus into some of his songs actually serves to make the impact of his songs that much more threatening. If you’re a Thomas Rhett fan, that’s your choice, of course—but in the words of the old children’s song, “be careful little ears what you hear.”

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons