Life

Why Arthur Ashe Would’ve Been Happy With Caitlyn Jenner Winning The Courage Award

When I first found out on June 3rd that Caitlyn Jenner would be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, I was a bit perplexed.

I knew that she would be a powerful icon for the transgender movement. I knew that with her brand and the image of her family, she would be making a big sacrifice in choosing to live her life a different way. I have the utmost respect for her decision and I didn’t, for a second, doubt her courage.

At the same time, I had the same big question as anyone else: What the heck does any of this have to do with sports? With big stories around the indelible impact of Devon Still and Lauren Hill’s courage, it was hard to figure out why a former decathlon athlete who had long been removed from sports-related headlines would suddenly deserve this honor.

I soon realized my critique was innocuous compared to what I began to see on social media.

It didn’t help that Caitlyn Jenner had long been affiliated with the Kardashians, a family known for publicity and unique capitalist opportunities, or that the announcement came very close to a Vanity Fair cover that had not allowed much time for society to process or educate themselves on the meaning of the transformation at all. As expected, many chimed in to announce more deserving winners and pictures of army soldiers and cancer patients. Others threw in words like “freak”, “gross”, “disgusting”, “monster” and other hateful comments with no relation to the award. An extreme low.

The most intriguing comments I saw were related to Arthur Ashe himself.

I was curious. I looked up Arthur Ashe’s story and what his thoughts would have been to Caitlyn Jenner as a recipient.

Many know Arthur Ashe as a reputable tennis player but few know why he became the namesake of an award related to courage. In September of 1988, after receiving a surgery, Ashe was discovered to be HIV positive through a complication from blood transfusion. For years, he and his wife kept his illness private for the sake of his young daughter. It wasn’t until 1992 that Ashe decided to go public with his illness and became an advocate, working to raise awareness of the virus and to clear up common misconceptions about his diagnosis and disease. He started the Arthur Ashe foundation for defeating AIDs and committed to working for resources and funding to build support. This was at a time when there was still confusion around who could contract it and how to interact with those who had it.

There was a large stigma especially around the fact it was mostly homosexuals who could contract this disease. This led Ashe to interface with many members of the LGBT community throughout his fight and it was stated that he had nothing but sympathy and respect for the gay communities, often arguing in defense of their lifestyles.

My guess is no — Arthur Ashe wouldn’t have been upset. As a celebrity creating awareness for a relatively unknown disease, he would’ve had empathy for the challenge that lay ahead of Caitlyn Jenner and battling the stigma around the transgender movement. As someone who had to keep a matter private for the sake of reputation and his family, he would’ve understood Caitlyn’s struggle. As someone who spent much of his life fighting to create acceptance of a new reality for millions of others, he would’ve been smiling to see Caitlyn Jenner trying to do the same.

As for the courage award itself being awarded to those in sports, my quick research led me to another understanding: the award is not limited to athletes. By definition, the award goes to those whose contributions transcend sports. The award was won in 2009 by Nelson Mandela for his actions in South Africa to divert racial tensions. It was won in 2002 posthumously to those who diverted one of the flights during 9/11. The award has been won by cancer patients, military veterans, activists and more. If anything, this award should teach us that courage comes in many forms. Last year, Michael Sam caught similar criticism for his public announcement of homosexuality. Courage means staying brave in the face of bullets and medical treatments, but also staying brave in the face of hate, discrimination, and harmful prejudice. Courage is not a competition. In fact, courage in 2015 is starting to mean more. For Arthur Ashe, he had to brave a debilitating virus but dealt with much of the same skepticism from American society. He understood courage in many of its different forms. To think that he would have condemned this type of courage is disingenuous at best.

Whether you think someone else was more deserving of the award, it should not mean that Caitlyn Jenner was simply not a qualified candidate. I highly doubt it was a simple decision from a PR side. It was probably one that was highly scrutinized by Disney and ESPN alike. If you should criticize anyone, you can continue to criticize ESPN. Just know that many others — including the 40% of transgender people who attempt suicide at some points in their lives — count this platform as a blessing.

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The Questions No One Is Asking About DeflateGate and the NFL

It’s been almost two weeks since the ‘DeflateGate’ mystery hit the mainstream media. The timing was uncanny; it energized antagonists and conspirators who were upset about a Patriots win, baffled and numbed those still in the midst of an AFC Championship celebration and turned the heads of non-NFL fans to yet another juicy story about questionable integrity. Why has this story become so dramatic despite the fact that many claim it had no influence on the game whatsoever? For one, it’s a classic Good vs. Evil contest. It’s the arrogant and reticent Bill Belichick against the rest of the team’s fans. Why should this man be so quiet and shady without having ulterior motives? Hungry NFL Networks and advertisers are the primarily catalysts of the “DelfateGate” support team. They love yet another shot at attempting to corroborate the narrative that a dominant team like the Patriots cannot win games without bending the rules and scoffing at unknown league policies. Why not? The Patriots are one of the easiest targets. Challenging the integrity of a team that has had much success gives people a common platform for opposition and a neat opportunity for the confirmation bias many people have yearned for since Spygate.

Sadly, the league that has instigated investigation has made so little effort to prevent the extremities of media reporting that it makes those who have accepted the Patriots’ firm denial wonder what the NFL is hiding. For anyone who believes “DeflateGate” was the beginning of suspicious league tom-brady-leaves-practice-with-a-possible-knee-injuryactivity is overlooking the fact that this postseason alone has already began to prove the incompetence of officials (“Rescinded Flag in Cowboys Game”). While the NFL tries hard to portray the league as fair and balanced, their credibility is faced with the constant threat of questionable calls by officials that have unequivocally turned games around. The Patriots are taking the fall for what is amounting to a crass lack of responsibility in the officiating, game procedures and the NFL in general. Why does the NFL care more about antitrust law than the health of the players and fairness of the game? What is the rationale behind any team to be in possession of game balls and why has there never been a procedure to detect any ball manipulation? Other players and teams have done it, right? Many teams have even claimed the Patriots did it multiple times this season. No one finds it funky that this media frenzy just happens to come up before one of the league’s biggest cash cows? Why is this investigation, if it’s considered essential to the league, planning to extend itself until after the league’s biggest game of the year? Most importantly: Why is the NFL, who took a huge hit on public image for their lack of transparency with the Ray Rice ordeal, still choosing to give zero information?

Nobody should narrow down this crisis to allegations of the Patriots: DeflateGate is just another domino that further exposes the problem the NFL has been having with preparation and accountability. The fact remains that the Patriots were and are a superior team. The players deserve proper recognition for their hard work and accomplishments. It’s hard for anyone with common sense to dismiss any appreciation for what the Patriots have accomplished over these past 13 seasons. It has been over 7 years since the one technical violation and the Patriots have continued their winning ways through diligence, talented team building, and creative coaching. To say that their success is attributed to the fact that every player on the team has continued to be complicit in a culture of cheating is extreme. To say that a coach who got penalized severely is still attempting to practice cheating under the table is disingenuous at best. Enough of the jealousy. Enough of the “DeflateGate” garbage detracting from the play of a great football franchise. Enough of the exasperating excuses for why a team may have gotten steamrolled on both sides of the ball aside from the fact that the quality of the teams were unequal. Enough.

15 Quotes To Help You Think Differently in 2015

Originally published as a Linkedin post.

Inspirational quotes and sayings are one of the best ways to help us inspire change when it comes time for self-improvement planning before 2015: they can prompt us to look at situations differently, motivate us to reach that next level, or simply capture thoughts or emotions that make us feel better after a rough day. Sure, they look cute on calendar box sets and your high school friend’s Pinterest posts, but they can also have a profound effect on your attitude towards life if you let them. Here are some quotes to help you think differently…

..About Success:

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

..About Adaptability:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivien Greene

..About Optimism:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden

..About Bullshitting:

“If you’re really successful at bullshitting, it means you’re not hanging around enough people smarter than you.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson

..About Limitations:

“Our fears are mental. The mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation.” – Buddha

..About Throwing Away Opportunities:

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, It might have been.” – Kurt Vonnegut

..About Perspective:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln

..About Ambition:

If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” – Donna Williams

..About Doubters:

“People will kill you over time. They’ll kill you with tiny, harmless phrases like ‘Be realistic.'” – Dylan Moran

..About Expectations:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; it’s that our aim is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

..About Complacency:

“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” – Thomas Watson

..About Courage:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

..About Acting Over Complaining:

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” – Chinese Proverb

..About Valuing Others:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” – Galileo Galilei

..About Life:

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” – David Viscott

If you enjoyed any of these, feel free to tuck them away for a rainy day or share with a friend. Happy New Year and good luck with your resolutions for 2015!

The Timing is Never Right

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One of the biggest factors of anxiety that we have when starting something new is the timing. We always want to wait until the “time is right” when we want to do something that will create a change in our life.

I wanted to share a quote from a great book I recently just finished called the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss:

“For all the most important things in life, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The Universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually’, just do it and correct course along the way.”

If you wait for the timing to be right before you make a move, you may never make a move at all. Great advice to consider as we approach a new month!

What Stops Us From Changing The World?

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

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Originally published on Student Voice.

A few weeks ago, I sat on an airplane with my newest Amazon purchase open on my lap: Adam Braun’s Promise of a Pencil. Braun’s story was, without a doubt, incredible. He had traveled for a semester at sea and founded the global education organization “Pencils for Promise” at the tender age of 24, eventually leaving his job at Bain and Company in an epic saga of social entrepreneurial struggle. As I finished the last page, I was propelled into a bit of an epiphany. Here I was, close to Adam’s age. I was still young, had all the resources Adam had when he started his journey, and had a similar desire to change the world. So what was stopping me? In fact, what stops most of us from changing the world at such a young age?

I thought back to early college when I was in a phase where all I wanted to do was start a business. I remember relegating all my other career options in favor of this daring and random pursuit of entrepreneurship. The more I lamented on how to achieve results, the more I realized that I was stockpiling on one toxic resource: the “excuse”. I’m not old enough. I don’t have enough time right now. This homework isn’t doing itself. I’m not qualified enough. I don’t have enough money right now. My idea isn’t new enough. Sunday football is on. I don’t know anything about technology. I don’t know nearly enough people. I’ll just work for a few years, save up money, re-evaluate life, and then become an entrepreneur. It’s too much to learn. The list went on and on.

Our mind will believe anything we tell it. Most of the time, the excuses and reasons for procrastination alone will preclude us from doing something we feel strongly about. Ignoring the problem seems to be easier than encountering the consequences or worst case scenarios. But how do we overcome these barriers we place on ourselves? How do some people make it while others don’t?

This is where I arrived after some pondering. Part of it is perspective. “Changing the world” can sound so daunting. The idea of starting a venture and putting your entire livelihood around it can sound daunting as well. We have to start with our own personal definition of “changing the world”. We don’t always need to quit our day job. People who volunteer change the world. People who put together book drives and food recovery programs change the world. People who donate money online to causes change the world. Of course, people who start multi-national non-profits change the world too. What kind of impact do we want to make in the long-run? We don’t have to make it all at once. While thinking big is encouraged, when we think too big that we ignore pragmatism and drive ourselves into an unreachable dream, that’s when most of us tend to quit.

Second, we have to find a reason to fix everything holding us back. Money. The internet has enabled new and wild ways to fundraise. Adam Braun only started out with $25 when starting his social venture. Too much competition. Find an area that drives you and work with other collaborators in that area. We spend too much time on competition and finding that “unique idea that nobody has ever thought of in the history of ever”. Not unique enough. Changing the world doesn’t have to start with a ground-breaking idea or re-inventing the wheel. There are plenty of non-profits out there who do the same exact thing. Qualifications. The only qualification we really need is passion. It costs a lot less than a graduate degree and a thousand certifications. We have to start ignoring the guy that tells us that we need to be old and rich to be a philanthropist. If you have a passion now, don’t risk letting it rot.

Finally, we have to start connecting. Read blogs from successful young entrepreneurs. Read autobiographies from the founders of inspiring organizations we respect. Meet young people in person. Follow them on twitter. Keep learning. I follow many people my age and younger and I can always count of them for some of the most refreshing professional perspectives I get on a daily basis. It can only benefit us to use these stories as a template that age is nothing when it comes to world change.

This all puts us in a position for the hardest part: to start executing. Zak Malamed, Student Voice Founder, once wrote, “The most disrespectful thing you can say to young people is, “you are the leaders of tomorrow.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where young people are stigmatized to believe that there is a minimum age for being capable of changing the world.” Let’s stop succumbing to the stigma and change the paradigm for youth and real, tangible change. We don’t have to find the next “Pencils for Promise” but just create something that’s a reflection of a real, raw dedication towards a cause. Why not us?

The Art of “Not Knowing”

Uncertainty. This is a topic I’ve discussed on the blog before but I found a post on Facebook this morning from a speaker I met at a conference three years ago, Dhru Purohit. Dhru is the CEO of the Clean Program, a highly endorsed and acclaimed detox program. He wrote on the art of “not knowing”:

Not knowing the answer to a question doesn’t mean you are confused. It just means you don’t know.

Confusion is: not knowing, but needing to know. The “needing” changes everything. The needing is where the anxiety and stress comes from.

When I hear people say “I’m so confused, I don’t know what I want,” I feel like I’m hearing one of two things:

[1] “I don’t know what I want, but I feel I should know.”

or…

[2] “I do know what I want, but I’m afraid of the consequences of my decision.”

If you don’t know what you want here is my suggestion: breathe and slow down. The answer always comes if you are willing to be silent enough to hear it. Allow things to unfold. The pressure of needing to know is going to drive you freaking nuts. A lot of growth happens when we become comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s worked that way for you in the past and it will happen again.

If you do know what you want, but are afraid of the consequences of your decision, here is my suggestion: address the fear. It always comes back to fear. Write your fears down on paper. Be clear about them, don’t hide from them. Give a name and a face to the boogie monster that is holding you back. Monsters are never as scary as they seem when we can see what they really look like.

If I had to put my money on it, I’d say that most people who say they are confused actually do know what they want. But for some reason they are scared. Scared of making the wrong choice, scared of losing love, scared of failing. Being scared is a great thing, it shows you that you care. But when we stop because we’re scared, we don’t learn the lesson that we were meant to learn.

Best honest with yourself. Question your fears. Go for what you want.

Ray Rice: What did the Video Change?

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Like many others, I was appalled when I first heard about Ray Rice dragging his wife out of an elevator unconscious. Like many others, I was confused upon his initial punishment when contact football violations and minor drug use seemed to yield tougher suspensions. Like many others, I felt that even an isolated issue of domestic violence should’ve been treated with proper care in the stead of the negligence the NFL had displayed. Like many others, I was perplexed when Rice’s character was revered in the wake of the incident instead of attention being brought to his actions. Time passed, Goodell responded to criticism with a change in domestic violence policies, and the media attention seemed to ebb. He was integrated almost immediately back into the fabric of the league, reserving a late round pick in fantasy leagues and to the general pleasure of Baltimore fans, practicing with the Ravens.

Then, Monday came. That notorious video dropped into our laps and the world turned their backs on Ray Rice. Fantasy owners dropped him, the media disparaged him and the Ravens along with the NFL cut ties. Conversation about domestic violence and abuse was ubiquitous and many called for Rice’s ban from the league. Ravens fans who had idolized Rice and praised his character now called him a “disgusting human being” and “piece of garbage.” Harbaugh, who was once vocally adamant about Ray Rice being a great guy, responded “The video is something we saw for the first time today. It changed things.”

But, what did the video change? What were people expecting to see in the video? Ray Rice baking his wife cupcakes in the elevator? Giving her a nice little shoulder massage? Everyone, from the Ravens to the NFL to the law enforcement officials, said Rice was complicit in admitting his role and described the incident with full detail. He did not sugarcoat it. If he described what we all saw, he should’ve been condemned and vilified months ago. He should’ve been given an indefinite suspension from the start. Whether or not the actual video got into the hands of the organization is not important. What’s notable is that these organizations were clearly giving this guy the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t want to believe he did what he did. He told them what he did. They knew this. They knew he smacked her. That should’ve been ENOUGH. When they couldn’t unsee it, they took action. When we called for action, they took action.

It is indeed better late than never. But the chaos has brought the NFL and media big lessons: We shouldn’t wait for videos. We shouldn’t give athletes privileges because of their prestige or idolatry. We shouldn’t give men gender privileges. Mistakes are mistakes no matter how hard you have worked. Unfortunately as a public figure, Rice had a responsibility he may not have wanted. In my mind, I do think that Rice will get a second chance. Donte Stallworth did after vehicular manslaughter and Mike Vick did after serving a prison sentence. Will he ever get his respect back, especially from female fans? That remains to be seen. But next time, we shouldn’t need a video to affirm this.