Is Integrity an Absolute? — The Tom Brady Issue

May 13, 2015

We’ve seen hubris before—think Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Both mistakenly assumed they were too big to fail. Their legions of devoted fans wouldn’t stand for it. Both were wrong.

Ever since the lop-sided playoff victories of Brady and the New England Patriots, people have been wondering whether or not the NFL high command would have the guts to do more than slap the wrist, give a conspiratorial wink, and say, “Naughty, Naughty – don’t do that again” to their favorite cash-cow and glory-boy.

This time (according to newspaper columnists and reporters from papers such as the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal),  it turns out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was not amused–least of all by Brady’s arrogance and refusal to cooperate by releasing his phone and e-mail records so that the investigation for Deflategate could reach a fair verdict. Brady clearly felt he was above the law. He was, in short, untouchable. Instead, what few expected: he and the Patriots get more than a wrist-slapping—considerably more.

It is now obvious that Goodell and his team realized a truth that Brady and his win-at-any-cost coach Belichick did not: If once the public perceives that the National Football League can no longer provide a level playing field for all teams (in which all teams have an equal opportunity to win games and pennants) – well, once that perception becomes a reality, millions will turn elsewhere with their allegiances and money.

Machiavelli, half a millennium ago, summed the issue up best: A Prince does not necessarily have to be moral; however, if once the public perceives that he is not moral—all is lost, for it can never ever be fully regained. In this respect, perception trumps reality.

Tom Brady–like Armstrong and Woods before him–had everything: wealthy beyond the average person’s fondest dreams, a lovely wife and photogenic family, world-wide fame, and millions of adoring fans. They were on Mt. Olympus. And assumed they’d stay there. Tom Brady, all too clearly, has made the same false-assumption: Oh it will all blow over; nothing will change.

It already has. Brady’s lustre has already dimmed. In today’s public perception, there will always be an asterisk (a la Barry Bonds and A-Rod) after his name and sports achievements. When people think about him–and this will include sports commentators–, there will henceforth always be a noticeable diminution of their respect for him. A shadow, akin to an eclipse of the sun or moon, has already reduced the wattage of Brady’s once undimmed glory.

It will never return.

It can not return.

Reason being this: like it or not, admit it or not, integrity remains as much an absolute as virginity. Neither can be qualified: one cannot be partly a virgin–one either is a virgin or one is not. Just so, one cannot be partly honest–one is either completely honest or one is not really honest at all.

It is also akin to love: love may precede respect–but it cannot survive the loss of it.

The general perception: that Brady is a man of absolute integrity–is now gone forever.

A pity.



March 25, 2015

What would you get if you asked fifty of the world’s most eminent people to share with you the most significant insights into wisdom they’d gleaned from this thing called “life”? That’s exactly what photographer and film-maker Andrew Zuckerman did in his wondrous volume titled Wisdom (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008).

Interviewees included the likes of Richard Rogers, Chuck Close, Madeleine Albright, Burt Bacharach, Andrew Wyeth, Buzz Aldrin, Desmond Tutu, Judi Dench, Clint Eastwood, Michael Parkinson, Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Robert Redford, Frank Gehry, Henry Kissinger, Rosamunde Pilcher, Jane Goodall, Alan Arkin, Dave Brubeck, and Vaclev Havel.

In his insightful “Afterword,” Zuckerman explores the evolution of his concept:

It is very hard to tell another human being that he or she is an icon, and that you’re there to extract the wisdom out of their iconic beings. It doesn’t sit well. People are people. We’re sitting down to have a conversation. I’m a young person conversing with an older person and there’s a certain human engagement. I thought: what no one has a problem with is being a human being. Everyone is human. I kept thinking about this idea of setting out on this amazing adventure to create a field guide for navigating one’s life. I wanted to explore what it is to be human, to hear from people who have lived for a long time and have an enormous amount of experience. . . .

I’m thirty years old and at this point in my life most of my generation, my peers, are creating work that is a mirror of youth culture. Our society is obsessed with youth. I have never understood that. My whole life, I’ve enjoyed meeting accomplished older people–it just seemed logical to me that these are the people who had done it. They have all the secrets. Why wouldn’t you ask them? ‘What secrets does youth hold? How did you do it? And how do you feel now about how you did it? And what did you learn?

* * * * *

It took me most of a week to fully digest all this, and the several hundred 3 x 5 note cards on which I copied quotations. I’ll be sharing with our readers in our daily quotation tweets.


I take very serious these daily quotations. Quite candidly, one of my biggest fears is that my reference field would be too narrow, reflect my own reading too much, my own academic fields of expertise too much, my own era too much. With these concerns ever in my mind, even though I already have millions of quotations to draw from, I’m constantly seeking new sources of fresh wisdom.

Consequently, I consider it providential that our son Greg already had this seminal book in his personal library so that I could immerse myself in it.

I’m hoping you’ll agree.

I’ll start out with a longer quote from the book – too long for a tweet. On being asked what sessions stood out to him most, Zuckerman responded with:

One was Chuck Close, who spoke of the enormous amount of information contained in the topography of a face. He said, ‘If you’ve laughed your whole life you have laugh lines, if you’ve frowned your whole life you have furrows in your brow. Sometimes you have both, and most people have a kind of duality of life experience, some tragedy and some great moments of extreme happiness, and I don’t want one of those to overwhelm the other.’ It’s true. There’s an enormous amount to communicate in a portrait that can’t be communicated in words. The face reveals the journey traveled. And one of the incredible things about photographing people at this stage in their lives is that they’ve had quite a long journey and the information in the face was really what I was there to capture with the utmost clarity.


September 4, 2013

What triggered this blog is Mark Goldblatt’s column, “Welcome Back, My Ungrammatical Students” in the September 3 Wall Street Journal. Mr. Goldblatt teaches English at State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Set off in bold type is this jolting line: Unlike your friends, who will excuse your errors, your college professor may or may not like you.

Goldblatt, in his very first line, leaps into the heart of the matter: “The fall is mere weeks away, another college semester either under way or soon to be. If you’re one of thousands of freshmen nationwide, you’ve just discovered you’ve been placed in a remedial English class.

“‘How can this be?’ you’re asking yourself. ‘I got straight A’s in high school! I love writing stories and poems! I’m good in English!’”

Needless to say, Goldblatt postulates that it does matter whether or not a student uses correct English.

But I must confess I am a tad grateful I’m now a full-time writer rather than being an English
teacher barraged by poorly written essays that have to be daily evaluated and responded to. But I put in my time–34 years worth. However, no English teacher is ever permitted to escape his/her calling. Just ask any English teacher this question: “What’s it like when your introduction to a group of people includes this line, —is an English teacher.” What do you get? How right you are: dead silence. The ultimate example of clamming up. And it’s even worse if you happen to be an “English Professor.” To be an English teacher is perceived to be at least human; but to be an English Professor is perceived to be someone possessing grammatical infallibility. Whatever you do, don’t even talk to such a sage–you’re sure to get zapped!

But there are other downsides to being an English Professor, chief of which is the sadistic delight people–especially one’s former students–take in catching grammatical mistakes you may occasionally make. Case in point, my last week’s blog. By the time I got to the last line, I was too tired to re-check the exact meaning of a word I’d used before. Sure enough, here came a zinger from my dear friend and fellow writer, Elsi Dodge, chortling with glee that she’d caught me confusing “enervating” with “energizing.” What could I do but grovel and promise to mend my ways?


Goldblatt, in referencing “grammar,” does so in these words: “to refer to the overall mechanics of your writing, including punctuation, syntax and usage.” And he negatively singles out those who don’t know how to put sentences together in ways that clarify, rather than cloud, what they’re trying to say.

Permit me to approach this issue pragmatically. The inability to write or speak correctly is not likely to hurt you too much among your peers and friends. Not in the short-term, that is. And especially not if you are charismatic, cover-girl-beautiful, or a candidate for sexiest man alive hunkhood. If you’re perceived to be one of these “golden ones who seemingly can do no wrong, you’ll suffer little more than winces from such disasters as “me and Joanie were like, wild about like see’n Tony.” But, in life, there are such things as fuses. When one’s proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” are over, and the long descent takes place; when you are no longer drop-dead beautiful or headturningly handsome, what then? You may have been hired because your looks and contours were impossible to ignore, but inevitably there will come a day when your looks can no longer make up for your embarrassing mistakes in writing and speaking. When one more mangled syntax, misspelled word, or misplaced punctuation mark costs the firm one of its most valued clients—and out you go.

The problem is this: there is no one-day-seminar that can possibly fix such deficiencies. It is anything but an easy fix. Even if you memorize Strunk and White’s timeless masterpiece, Elements of Style, you’d only be part way there. Only by reading widely, reading selectively, and avoiding slangy, slovenly, poorly structured prose whenever possible, can you begin to improve the quality and enhance the power of your writing and speaking.

Which is a good time to reference another Goldblatt zinger: “While there definitely is such a thing as good writing, there’s no such thing as good grammar.” I agree 100%. One does not become a good writer by simply mastering grammar. Untold thousands of potentially significant writers have lost their love of writing because teachers sold them a bill of goods: that, unless they mastered grammar first, they’d never become good writers. Which is only partly true. They are on far safer ground if they are encouraged to write, write, write, even with occasional grammatical mistakes, and deal with one problem area at a time, not all of them at once. As problem areas–one at a time–are called to their attention by wise and empathetic mentors, who value substance over grammatical correctness, and, most important of all, consider the individual’s God-given one-of-a-kind voice sacrosanct, and not to be tinkered with, they can, over time, become “great” writers. Here I must qualify “great,” for I often say and write, “There are no great writers–there are only great stories.” By this I mean that no writer ever “arrives,” but rather we continue, as long as we live and breathe, to be works in progress. If we take too much time off–at any age—inevitably we lose our edge and become irrelevant and not worth reading any more.

So in conclusion, I invite each reader of this blog, to take grammar seriously. By so doing, you will avoid devaluing the substance of what you have to say. Recognize that effective communication is the key to success in almost every area of endeavor one may think of. Believe me, today’s world is almost desperate in its searches for men and women who are capable of writing coherent, persuasive, and interesting sentences and paragraphs.

What none of us want is a long-fuse, a ticking time-bomb, that is guaranteed to explode down the line. And let’s face it, if you are someone who is afraid to open your mouth or write an opinion on a piece of paper, then you do a grave disservice to the God who created you to do less than your best in correcting the problem–in becoming all you can be.

If this describes your condition, make today the first day of the rest of your life; if you are one who is already there, why not mentor someone who is not?

The London Olympics — A Retrospective

August 29, 2012

What a show London threw for the world!

And that’s one thing London appears to do better than any other city in the world, unexcelled as they are in royal pageantry.

Every four years of our lives–barring world wars–, the world gathers for another Olympics. The Winter Olympics, since they disenfranchise the Southern hemisphere countries, can never be truly global. In today’s electronic world, it would be almost unthinkable for any nation to do a no-show for a Summer Olympics for its very place among the family of nations is at stake; not to show up would represent a worldwide black eye. Indeed, these Olympics can truthfully be said to represent the most-watched spectacle on earth. Hence the sheer amount of money and effort expended for bragging rights for specific events.

Each Olympics of our lives gifts us with a new set of heroes and heroines. The coin of the realm is medals, with Gold equating the laurel wreaths of ancient times. One moment, an athlete is unknown; only seconds later, the athlete’s name and image is transmitted on every computer screen in the world. One moment, an athlete may be facing a minimum wage future; only seconds later, endorsements worth millions! No wonder they cry, when they have to settle for fourth place, for not to earn at least a Bronze is to be saddled with an achievement that doesn’t even make a blip on the media screen.

Especially is this true in the U.S., where, sadly, the only medal that appears to count is Gold. On talk shows, Silver and Bronze winners rarely are even approached for interviews. This is, of course, a far cry from the Olympic ideal: To be honored for the effort represented by the achievement of edging out their competitors in their native countries–and thus earning the right to show up in the quadrennial Olympic parade of nations. Tragically, this U.S. led perception that only Gold counts has seeped into the global Zeitgeist and distorted it as well.

The Olympics creates its own royalty. In this respect, case in point is Ethiopia’s most famous runner. So idolized is she that in her home nation she has achieved such a level of idolatry that she is treated as though she were empress of that former monarchy.

The same is true with the so-called “fastest man on earth,” Usain Bolt of Jamaica. Yet even he had to re-earn this status, beating out an up-and-coming Jamaican who had defeated Bolt in Jamaican pre-trials, proving that past laurels are ephemeral at best: lasting only until someone else comes along who proves better, stronger, or faster.

Or if further proof of fame’s short shelf life were needed, we’d need look no further than Michael Phelps, the Superman of swimming. Even though his supremacy in prior Olympics had seemed absolute, he came into the London Olympics under a cloud of doubt, which early meets did little to dispel as in several cases he failed to medal at all. The big question had to do with whether archrival Ryan Lochte might supplant him. But then Phelps awoke, and the lion roared once again, and he finished his astounding Olympic career with 22 medals, 18 Gold, making him perhaps the greatest Olympian ever. At least for now. Next Olympics, in Rio, it will be someone else’s opportunity to shine and inevitably Phelps’ medals will lose their luster. As Robert Frost famously put it in his poem by the same name, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Prior to the Olympics, all around the world, in each nation, as Olympic tryouts took place, those who excelled became locally famous, high hopes held out for the best of them. This local fame crescendoed as each team was sent off to London. In some cases, this early fame proved to be justified; in the majority of cases, it would not, and that early fame wouldn’t even last long enough to accompany the athlete back home.

We couldn’t help but note this phenomenon in the case of our state’s Wunderkind, Missy Franklin, temporarily lauded nationally, lauded as well in Colorado. In her case, however, the hype proved to be justified for she went on to win five medals (five Gold and two World Records). More significantly than that, however, she emerged from the games as America’s new sweetheart, her infectious joie de vivre lighting up every room and venue she entered; and not coincidentally energizing every team meet she participated in. Just as significant, if not more so, had to do with her parents’ determination to value their daughter’s right to a normal growing up over the siren call of professional sports and the money it could shower upon her if she’d just renounce normal girlhood in favor of becoming a cog in professional sports’ straightjacketing and mass-produced squirrel cages, akin to the State-run sports programs operated by medal factories such as China and Russia, in which the athlete’s parents are provided few opportunities to interact with their children.

Nor should we forget the way the so-called “Flying Squirrel” Gabby Douglas, captured the adoration of every little girl in the United States.

A serendipity had to do with the sight of the world’s most iconic couple, William and Kate, reveling in the sights and sounds of the games like any other couples sitting in the stands.

These, of course, are but a few of this year’s crop of Olympians who capture–at least temporarily–hearts all around the world.

See you in Rio!