June 16, 1996 was Father’s Day. Michael Jordan’s father, James Jordan, was shot and killed three years prior on July 23, 1993 at a rest stop in North Carolina. That 1996 Father’s Day, MJ helped his team, the Chicago Bulls, clinch another NBA title.
Filled with emotion, Jordan fled to the locker room, sobbing deeply. This was the first title he had earned since his dad was murdered.
June 16, 1996 was the first day I was ashamed of my profession as a journalist.
Photographers and videographers followed MJ to the locker room, pushing and shoving each other, trying to not miss a single tear in hopes of that forever-elusive Pulitzer.
Was it news? Michael Jordan, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time, crying his heart out?
Yes. He was a celebrity, a public figure. All’s fair then. But, ethical?
Was it news that we needed to know?
Sure. It helps us to know that even giants among men have their weak moments; but we had no need to witness that moment. It would have sufficed to inform us after the fact.
I was alone in my living room watching, but I felt small. I felt like a pariah. I could not identify with this hunger to show a man in his moment of vulnerability.
I find it equally interesting that we are prone to identify with those who accomplish something good.
Here in the little town of Stockton, we recently celebrated the fact that President Trump singled out one of our own, Kalena Bruce, as someone who has done something special. I do not know the lady. I’ve never met her. Probably never will. But, I felt a sense of pride when the president called her name and hometown.
When Fred Barnett, a wide receiver, played for the Philadelphia Eagles, I always straightened in my chair when the announcer noted that he was from Arkansas State University, my alma mater. Barnett played there while I was matriculating. I never saw him play in college. However, in some way, in some manner, he represented something I could identify with — and that made me feel good.
Whether for good or ill, we tend to feel a commonality with others of a similar background, experience, hometown, whatever.
That commonality, that communal feeling of being “like them,” is now being sorely challenged as I witness the degradation of America, and all that she once stood for.
No, I am not about to go on a rant with a diatribe about the “good ol’ days.” The lists and comparisons of today and yesterday are innumerable, and slanted to whichever narrative fits your agenda or set of beliefs.
The degradation of which I speak is more along the lines of the phrase we have heard so often over the years — the dumbing down of America.
We have reached a place where civility is no longer even a vague concept, let alone a practice among equals.
The exercise of reasonable debate has given way to whoever can shout the loudest and the longest.
Neither compromise nor consensus is sought.
And all is fostered and festered, promoted and perpetuated by social media.
Again, I have no desire to bash Facebook, even though it may have somewhat to do with the problem I see. I get a chuckle out of the statement that “the miracle of Facebook is that it has allowed the dumb to speak.”
My sense of shame, my identity with a group is heightened by what I see on FB.
I see people I’ve known since high school surrender their intelligence and rational thought to an ideology that disdains any consistent logic. I see people so stuck within a particular mindset that they refuse to acknowledge what they actually see with their own eyes.
And I see members of my former profession leaving off any semblance of objectivity for the sake of an agenda — something we were not originally permitted to allow within our reporting of events.
I am no longer ashamed of being a journalist, for I no longer identify myself with that trade.
However, I find no way, no respite from being identified as a human being.
The social climate of America today makes that identification hard to bear.