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Ruth’s Soapbox

Can’t Watch Football Players Kill Themselves for Sport

Ever since I learned about the concussion risk associated with American football, I can’t in good conscience support the sport. Not only do these athletes risk their lives during the game, they risk serious brain injury, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the associated problems that can afflict them for the rest of their often too-short lives. It’s devastating to learn about the players to fall into drug addiction and/or attempt suicide.

Rams Football Field by Miss Wetzel’s Art Class from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The more I learn about the CTE and the widespread risk players seem to take, I feel like football is modern-day bullfighting. We watch players accept the substantial risk that participating in the sport will kill them, and this sport exists simply as entertainment. It’s a money-making scheme for the owners, the coaches, and hopefully the players. I suspect those in power have little regard for players once they are no longer contributing to the team’s winning record.

Although I have serious problems with this sport, it seems like a majority of fans are unfazed by disclosure of information about CTE. I kicked a simple anonymous survey to my football-loving friends to try to understand their perspective.

Out of the 30 people who responded to my questions, all of them knew that CTE is a problem facing NFL players. Eighty percent (24/30) knew about the research on the 111 NFL players brains that were tested for CTE – 110 of them were found to have it.

I asked my friends, “How do you feel about watching and loving a sport where it appears that every player except the kicker is likely getting brain damage while they’re playing the game and associated problems after they retire?” Many of them responded that professional players are adults who freely accept this risk (hopefully with full disclosure of the health consequences), just like people who choose to smoke, drive, or participate in other dangerous professions. Others said this situation bothers them and they will likely watch fewer games.

I also asked my friends, “What are your thoughts about players like John Urschel and A.J. Tarpley who retire early to preserve their health?” The overwhelming response was positive. They said these players were “smart” and that they “respect,” “applaud,” and “support” their decisions. One friend responded that these players, “made the best decision for themselves” because they suspected their “long-term financial success was going to be outside football.” Another friend said, “I think it is a great statement to others about the dangers of this sport.”

A friend pointed out a flaw in my questions. Since CTE currently can only be diagnosed post-mortem, we only know about the data in players who have had their brains examined. A lot more than 111 people have played professional football, so the information about how widespread this problem is among current players is speculative.

And I don’t disagree that football is fun – at least flag football – and many players professional and not, love this sport. I suspect most of them started as children, and participation gave them friends, heartwarming memories, and for some, academic and professional opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. With child athletes, it’s up to the parents to decide what activities their kids will do. Note: I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you let your kid play football. I just hope you make educated decisions about what league they play in and what safety precautions are required. As a former gymnast, I can say when you fall in love with a sport so young, it’s hard to give it up, even when it’s in your best interest.

While others are getting excited for the upcoming Super Bowl, I cringe at the thought of players risking their lives for our entertainment. I don’t watch the game, and it makes me want to ask the sponsors and companies that run ads: “How can you feel good about making money off these players’ lives?”

Undeniable Recap of 2017

2016 was bad. I felt as if that year couldn’t end soon enough.  But it’s as if 2017 started the year saying, “Hold my beer” and it went downhill from there. I had a lot of challenges this year including reconstruction at Castle Carter after my condo flooded, death of my childhood coach, being in a car accident, studying for the California bar exam, and processing my gender identity.

My jar of happy memories

Thankfully, I started a new tradition of keeping a jar next to my bed where I wrote notes about things that happened in my life that made me happy or giggle. Even on bad days, I could look over at my jar that was filling with notes and be reminded that life doesn’t suck all the time. It was a joy to go through them while I wrote this post. Here are my top 5 events/activities from 2017:

Me and my skateboard

1. I got a Skateboard at CMWorld
Content Marketing World always does an excellent job taking care of its speakers. I look forward to this conference every year and I’m proud to be part of Team Orange. When they announced that Casey Neistat would be one of the keynote speakers, I started tweeting at them that I wanted an orange skateboard as my speaker gift. (They usually get us each a wireless mouse/laser pointer.) Shortly after I checked into my hotel room, the hotel dropped off a big box for me. It was a mini orange skateboard! I love this thing, not just because it’s awesome, but because it made me feel like part of the CMWorld family. Once I finish my marathon in 2018, I’m going to take a skateboarding lesson and learn how to ride it properly.

I love this tattoo

2. “Don’t Be What They Made You” Tattoo
I saw Logan in the theater. When I heard this line, I instantly knew I wanted it tattooed on my wrist. A few months later, Hollis at Iconic Tattoo made it a reality. This is a daily reminder and inspiration for me.

3. “But I’m still your Tranpa”
Accepting that I’m non-binary made me feel like I was a baby queer all over again. I felt especially vulnerable a few months ago and sent an email to trans entertainer and advocate Buck Angel, just an open invitation for lunch the next time he’s in Phoenix. He responded and signed it “Tranpa.” I wrote back and said, age-wise, we’re more like cousins. (We’re only about 7 years apart.) He responded, “Hahaa but I’m still your Tranpa ❤️.”

This warmed my heart. It matters to talk to people who “get it.” Buck is someone I reach out to when I experience dysmorphia or feel like I live in a world that wasn’t made for me.

Still smiling after running 20 miles – and rocking some mad hair

4. Running with David
I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2018. After getting a DNF at my last marathon attempt, I decided to hire a coach, David Roher. He lives on the east coast, so we communicate over email, text, and phone. He gives me my assignments and tracks my workouts via Strava, plus we talk about nutrition, stretching, injuries, and life in general.

David always has a word of encouragement when I need it – often to remind me that I have the ability to do any assignment he gives me and not to push myself too hard. When I finished my 20-mile training run a few weeks ago, I was pleased with my pace and by how good I felt at the end of it.

5. Ethics and Ice Cream
I had a flash of brilliance at the beginning of August to do a continuing legal education seminar looking at what Arizona lawyers were being disciplined for during the last few years to look for patterns and commonalities. I pitched the idea to do this for ASU CLE and call it “Ethics and Ice Cream.” They loved it and we scheduled the event for about a month later. I recruited fellow lawyer and comedian, Matt Storrs, and we reviewed all the Lawyer Regulation reports since 2015 and pulled off a successful event.

This event made this list, not because I created a CLE, but because I put this idea into action and made it work.

As I read all the notes in my jar, I noticed there were at least six notes that mentioned hugs or being the “little spoon.” Besides giving me a warm fuzzy trip down memory lane, these notes reminded me how important the people in my life are to me.

Rosie Dog – Go check out her Instagram

Firsts in 2017
Flying in/out of a city in one day (for Ungagged Las Vegas)
Standing ovation for singing “O Holy Night” at the Community Church of Hope Christmas Show
Love and Complements Rally
Interview on The Out House Podcast
Foods: Almond butter (meh), Vegan gourmet shreds (cheese-like, not bad), Cashew milk ice cream (best non-dairy ice cream), Almond milk yogurt (not food), Cashew yogurt (not food), Pumpkin seeds (so good), Spirulina (meh)
Events: ICON, Law Launcher, TBD Law, BlogHer

Minions make me smile

Celebrity Sightings
Tom Green
Joseph Gordon Levitt
Chris Guillebeau
Casey Neistat
Paul Risser
Minions

In Memoriam
George Seivert
Don Rickles
Andrea Esquer
Laurel Graver
Dorian Kreiling

Thoughts About #MeToo

I’ve been following the #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, and became widespread when Alyssa Milano posted about it following the dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein.

Alone by Marc Falardeau from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I wish things like the #metoo movement weren’t necessary. I feel sad and disgusted when I think about the sheer number of people who have been sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted. How can anyone feel entitled to take advantage of another person like this?

These predators thrive in silence. They rely on the fear and shame they invoke in their victims so they can continue to prey on others. #Metoo helps break the silence, and give survivors a voice. It breaks the pattern of downplaying these incidents and staying silent out of fear of the repercussions that could result from speaking out against these perpetrators.

As a survivor, I’m grateful for #metoo.

Don’t Rape by Richard Potts from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It’s validating and empowering to see people speaking out about their abuse. It reminds me that I’m not alone. It exposes the vastness of this problem. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to “other people,” it happens to your friends, your family, your co-workers, people you look up to – people you know.

Although reading about other people’s #metoo experiences is validating, it’s also painful. I read these posts to honor and validate the survivor, but I also read them to see that I’m not alone in my experience as a survivor. My fellow survivors know what it’s like to be taken advantage of, to be frozen in fear, and what it’s like to be physically violated.

When I read a #metoo story like McKayla Maroney’s, who was repeated sexually assaulted by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, for years starting at age 13, I read her words, and I identify with her experience. It reminds me of what it feels like to be trapped, helpless, and covered with the sensation of icky-ness. Even as I type, I pause to shake my hands, trying to rid myself of that wave of shame.

I love this photo of Joe and me by Brandon Larkin (Creative Commons License)

Reading these accounts is triggering. As I was getting ready for work one morning last week, I wanted to climb back into bed and avoid the world instead of going to the office. Enveloped in shame, I could barely look anyone in the eye. When I went to my therapy appointment, I spent most of the session curled up on my therapist’s couch while we processed what I was feeling. (I couldn’t look him in the eye either.) He reminded me to take extra care of myself.

Why do I share all this? Because calling out the people who commit these disgusting acts is only part of the story. The impact on the survivors from being sexually harassed or assaulted can be devastating. It was for me.

It’s not something I went through, it’s something I live with. I’m getting better, thanks to therapy, medication, treatment, 12-step programs, and having a loving supportive people around me, though I still have days where I struggle with depression and I’m burdened with shame. Going to 12-step meetings taught me that “our secrets keep us sick,” so I have to share my story to help myself heal.

I support the #metoo movement and survivors sharing their experiences even though it can be triggering for me. This problem will only continue if we ignore it.

Thank you to everyone who validates me by sharing their story.

What Am I

I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon in 2018. When I do my long run for the week, I prefer to listen to podcasts instead of music. It’s easier to be distracted from the pain I’m inflicting on myself and find a rhythm with 30-minute episodes rather than 3-minute songs.

Recently I’ve used my training to catch up on the podcast Unthinkable, hosted by Jay Acunzo. I met Jay in 2016 when we were both speakers at Content Marketing World where he spoke about how being different leads to success in business. I always get something good out of every episode.

Be an Authority
This run started with his interview with marketing consultant, author, and speaker Robert Rose. Robert says he prefers to be called an “authority” rather than an “expert,” in part because the words “authority” has the root “author.” An expert knows a subject, but an author created it. I love this! I am absolutely stealing this for two reasons:

  1. I love the idea of being an authority on social media law (I did write the book on this stuff), and
  2. The State Bar doesn’t allow lawyers to call themselves “specialists” unless you’ve been certified through their process. This gets around that issue.

Be an Exception
Jay says, “To be exceptional, you have to be an exception.” Statements like this remind me that it’s ok to be me, and when I embrace and run with my unconventional ideas, things tend to work out. And I don’t do what I do just to be weird, but because it’s what works for me. I’m just being me. When I try to fit into someone else’s box is when things go sideways.

Jay is all about intuition. He highlights people who are successful because they trusted their gut. They ask the right questions and find the answers from within. I believe in this too. My gut feeling is never wrong – sometimes inaccurate, but never wrong. I know when I’m going with my gut, I’m doing what’s in alignment with who I am.

What Am I?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been mulling over this question. It started back in September when I saw my friend, Ari Kaplan, speak at ASU Law School about making opportunities for yourself. I don’t know what Ari said, but it inspired me to write, “I’m an artist” in my notebook.

When it comes down to the basics, I think that’s what I am. I’m a writer, a musician, a creator. I’m happiest when I’m creating, learning, sharing, and when what I do makes a difference.

Looking to the future, I can picture myself taking music lessons and going to ballet classes (in male attire with Rocky’s leg warmers). I also see myself zipping around on my orange skateboard and learning how to be a survivalist (not that I like camping, but I bet it’s handy stuff to know). Being a lawyer pays the bills, but more and more, I accept that this is what I do. It’s not who I am.

For now, I’m putting more energy into being creative. On the wall where I put my to-do items on sticky notes, I added one that says, “Just Write.” When I saw Ann Handley speak at Content Marketing World, she inspired me to devote time to writing every day, even if no one ever sees it. And I’m listening to more music, pulling from my entire iTunes library, and not just my race day playlist.

Giving Myself Permission to be First

Making myself a priority is not an area where I excel. I put my work first. I put my goals first. I put other people ahead of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was letting people down, especially when it seems like everyone around me is doing so much more than me.

I know, quit comparing my insides to their outsides.

The Road Not Taken by Greg Westfall from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lately, I’ve felt like a typical lawyer: I get up; I go to the office; I do client work; I go home; I wake up the next day and do it all again. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. I’m so drained by the time I leave the office, I barely have enough energy to work on my blogs, let alone new projects.

I’ve been working on my first online course, but it’s been a much slower process than I envisioned. As long as I need sleep to function, I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth to just work on this just in the evening and on weekends and expect to bring it to market. It needs substantial blocks of uninterrupted time. The hackathon method has been effective so far, when I do it.

Yesterday, I decided the right thing to do to get this course done is to take one weekday every week to stay home and crank on this project. I think this is the only way to give myself the time and space I need for this creative endeavor.

Yeah, that’s me with fire breathers. 
Photo by Annie Christodoulou

So that’s my plan – I’m going back on the road less traveled and clearing my calendar one day a week until this course is done. I hope once I re-dedicate substantial time to this project, that it will have a snowball effect and I’ll be even more jazzed about it instead of being crippled by the fear of failure.

I’m reminded of the Beverly Sill’s saying: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” One step at a time, one component at a time, this is going to get done. And likewise, if I want a lifestyle that works for me, I have to make it happen.

Footnote: I have no plans to leave my firm. I love working at Venjuris, but I need to balance client work (which is so satisfying to help people in a way that they can’t do for themselves) with speaking, writing, and other projects. It’s just who I am. I’ve never been normal, and I’m not going to start now.

My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.

Suicide or Homicide

Every person, when pushed to their limit, is a Suicide or a Homicide. The Homicides are people who take their stress and frustration out on other people who don’t deserve it and blame others for their misfortune. These are people who scream at wait staff, key your car, engage in road rage, and get referred for anger management training. In the worst-case scenario, these are also the people who “go postal” and physically attack others.

Image by eflon (Creative Commons License)

The Suicides are the opposite. When they reach their breaking point, they self-destruct and vent their emotions against themselves. A Suicide who acts out will berate themselves, engage in self-injury or eating disorders, self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and possibly attempt suicide (accidentally or intentionally). The Suicides are sly because a lot of what they do happens behind closed doors or only in their minds. Outsiders often only get to hear about a Suicide’s process after it’s over. It’s not a public display like a Homicide.

I’m a total Suicide – always have been, probably always will be. I remember being self-destructive when I was just 8 years old. One day, I was really angry about something, and I decided the best way to deal with it was to cross the monkey bars in the backyard 100 times. Don’t ask – it made sense at the time. Around pass 65, my hand started to feel weird but I didn’t stop. Finally, after pass 88 I took my hand down from the bar and saw I had a huge blister that covered my palm that had popped.

Even as an adult, I’m a Suicide. Early on in my relationship with my current therapist, he started to confront me by saying, “Don’t throw the pillow me, but . . .” When I see my therapist, the first thing I do when I get into his office is take off my shoes and make myself comfortable on his couch, usually with a pillow under my head and another one my knees. I started laughing and said, “You know I’m only a threat to myself.” I’m such a non-threat, it would never cross my mind to do such a thing.

One of the ways I knew I was getting healthier in early recovery was when I started to shift from being a Suicide to having appropriate angry thoughts against other when warranted. Such as, when a person cuts me off in traffic, puts pressure on me, or says something rude, instead of wanting to take the negativity out of myself, I had fleeting non-serious thoughts like, “You’re an asshole,” “I’m going to kill you for this,” and “I hope you get crabs.” Remember, I said they were fleeting thoughts and I’m still inherently a Suicide. I don’t actually wish ill-will on others. These thoughts mean I can direct my anger at the appropriate target instead of myself and in a way that validates my feelings and without causing harm. I don’t always deal with my emotions in an appropriate manner, but I’m getting better.

Author’s Note: Using “suicide” and “homicide” in this post may be crass, but I assure you, it’s not meant to be offensive or minimize the experience of anyone who has been truly suicidal or homicidal. It’s just how my mind works – I process ideas best in unambiguous forms so I can’t overthink them. I think I picked up this idiom from someone else in the recovery community. When I first heard this idea, it made perfect sense to me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. If you feel suicidal or homicidal, please seek help.

Can’t in Good Conscience Watch the Super Bowl

I used to like football. I thought I wanted to play football in high school, but I was overruled by the adults in my life. But I played in the powder puff games in high school and played intramural flag football in during undergrad. It was fun.

Football was fun to watch . . . sometimes. The guys who play at the college and professional level are incredible athletes. And then I saw the movie, Concussion:

This film made me more aware of the dangers of repetitive head trauma facing football players. It can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that led to several players’ emotional downfall, and several committed suicide. I knew concussions were a risk in this sport, but I didn’t know it was this bad.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was portrayed by Will Smith in the film, estimates that 90% of NFL players have CTE. Unfortunately, this disease can only be diagnosed after death. What’s repulsive is the NFL seems to care more about the money than protecting players’ health and safety. I was pleased to see several players retire early after learning about the risks of CTE.

Knowing what I know, I can’t in good conscious support full-contact football. I can’t even attend a Super Bowl party because it’s based on supporting a sport that’s killing people.

I could support football again if they changed the rules to flag football. It would change the strategy of the game and what skills and abilities are valued in players. Baseball and basketball are comparatively low-contact sports and people enjoy them.

Goal Post 2 by Matt Denton from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I asked my friends what they thought of the idea of changing all American football leagues (pop warner – professional) to flag football rules. Some of their reactions were disconcerting:

  • Millions of Americans would lose their favorite means of acting physically aggressive by proxy.
  • I honestly think the vast majority of football fans are like the casual hockey fan – they watch to see the “hits”.
  • There would be way fewer head injuries. Many rabid football fans would also cry about their sport being corrupted by liberal worrywarts, no doubt.
  • It would not be worth watching.

I don’t understand how anyone can endorse and enjoy a sport that is slowly and painfully killing its players. Thankfully some of the responses had a different perspective:

  • It would probably be considerably less popular. But it also might attain a following a “strategy” game.
  • It would stop being a professional sport in the U.S. but would still be a popular sport for kids. I’m thinking something like volleyball in the U.S.
  • The sport would die (and it’s about time it did).

If that’s the price for keeping people alive, I’m ok with that. So, what will Rosie and I be doing this Sunday?

Yes, I’ll be gleefully working on my taxes.
“Gleefully” may be overstating it, but I’ll be happy when they’re done.

Trump’s Tweets Analyzed

In my life before law school, I was a licensed mental health counselor. One of the lessons we learned in our masters program was that anger is almost always a secondary emotion for sadness or fear. If a client came into my office and was fuming mad, it usually meant they were sad or scared.

Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Do you read Donald Trump’s tweets? Have you read them since he took office? He seems to be spewing anger, which I think is a sign of his own insecurities and fears. (It doesn’t surprise me that his actions and statements have led to accusations that he has a micropenis; he seems to be excessively compensating for something. It’s so over-the-top.) Looking at his tweets just since January 20, 2017, I produced a list of things he appears to be afraid of:

  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • CNN
  • Barack Obama
  • Chicago – or being murdered
  • Mexico – or being labeled as someone who can’t keep their campaign promises
  • Chelsea Manning – or people who will expose his secrets
  • Anyone who isn’t a U.S. citizen
  • Anyone who voted against him
  • Celebrities who oppose him

Looking at this list, I wonder if Donald Trump is afraid of the Constitutional rights to free speech, assembly, and religion – all of which come down to freedom of thought and expression. I would not be surprised if he’s afraid of anyone he can’t control, especially anyone who might cast him in a bad light.

Reading Trump’s tweets reminded me of the documentary, Tough Guise, which examines how boys are socialized in the U.S. and what it means to be a “man.”

This film also examines the impact of race on notions of masculinity and how white men have been in a place of privilege in society for much of American history over women and men with other skin colors. Some white men find moving towards social equality threatening because it means that they will be on equal footing as others whereas the fact that they were born with pale skin and a penis previously gave them an advantage. To them, equality means losing their status, which they find intimidating because it means they have to compete with a larger pool of people. It means losing their advantage.

I would not be surprised if Trump has this mindset – not that I expect him to admit it or be self-aware enough to acknowledge it. I suspect he sees everyone who isn’t like him or does not agree with him as a threat. If he wasn’t in a position of power, I would feel sorry for him. Unfortunately for him, Trump was hired for a temp job and the American people are his boss. We have an obligation to continue to corral and correct him, regardless of how many tantrums his throws on social media.