Okay son, settle in. I’m about to tell you an EPIC TALE of your uncle.
Lawrence. Lee. Leonard.
Lawrence Lee Leonard married my aunt, Vicki when I was about 10 years old. I was an only child and I lived with my great aunt, great uncle, and my grandmother (Emmazine, Uncle B and Delle). I was also a Chaucer-reading nerdball.
In other words, I had NOBODY to play with. EVER.
And then came LAWRENCE LEE LEONARD.
Lawrence Lee loved to play board games. Specifically Monopoly. And he didn’t mind playing with a ten year old.
The object of our family Monopoly playing was to own every cheap property between the GO and the JAIL.
Let me set the stage …
You’re supposed to take all the houses off the board when you replace them with a hotel. I didn’t know that until I was an adult. We kept all four houses AND the hotel on the board. That stretch with all that development was TERRIFYING. You were afraid to pass GO, because you were about to have to pay a BILLION dollah to some Monopoly slumlord.
I learned to unabashedly enjoy playing passionately, winning hilariously and losing gracefully from Lawrence Lee.
He was animated and FUN and never in a rush. He wanted to play until the bitter end and then some. If he was moving his shoe or iron or whatever his token was, he was going BOOP. BOOP. BOOOOOOOOOOP, as he slid past a property that would have bankrupted him. Then he’d wipe his brow with the curtains.
This one time? Lawrence Lee totally destroyed me. I landed on property that was so loaded? I STILL have to send him a small envelope of Monopoly money every month. THE RENT WAS TOO DAMN HIGH.
When my little top hat landed on that space?
Lawrence Lee threw all HIS money in the air, jumped to his feet and ran out the door.
We heard feet running down the stairs. We heard the front door open. We got up and looked out the window. Lawrence Lee had his arms triumphantly raised in the air and was running out of the yard, and into the street. We watched him disappear down the block at full speed. A few minutes later, he reappeared from the opposite direction — still running at top speed. This man had Prefontained around an entire square block. We saw him run toward the house. we heard the front door shut. Heard him running up the stairs. He arrived back in the room, grinning like a crazy person, fists clenched and waving in the air.
LAW’INCE LEE LENARDT (that’s not a typo, he should make his name all sharp at the end when he was particularly proud) GETS ALLLLLLLL YOUR CASH AND ASSETS. DEPOSIT THEM ALL IN THIS HERE BOX.
Then he helped me count my sad little money.
“Twenty-eight … twenty–nine … AW, NAW! You owe me … lemme see … nine thousand five hunnert two dollars and semty-three cent!”
Then he sat next to me. He looked into my eyes and said, “Now if you want to do the dishes for the next week, I might be able to make you a small loan?”
I lost. He gloated. I didn’t need therapy.
Lawrence Lee inspired the house rule that I’m sure you have heard a million times by now.
You’re not allowed to be a sore loser. However, you’re allowed to be a OBNOXIOUS winner, as long as you are entertaining. You can strut, yell, whoop, laugh, talk shit, rip your shirt off with the joy of it all.
One thing I miss about spending holidays with your dad’s family is the board game showboat-fest. Your grandmother SCREAMS with joy when she beats your grandfather at Connect Four.
Your grandfather is very elegant. He says nothing until he wins. Stuff like, “You may call me … The Count.”
Now, let’s talk about a football player named Richard Sherman.
The conclusion of this one game was the stuff that movies are made of, a Cinderella story with cleats. Last play of the game, the hero saves the day and the game by foiling his antagonist. Who then TOTALLY SHOVED HIM IN THE FACE when he returned to be sportsman-like.
And then? They interviewed him …
I believe that if journalists are on the sidelines of a competition, and you go on the battlefield to interview someone, you are trying to get a real, honest, passionate response. You want to know what they are really thinking when they live that moment.
That is what he really felt. At that moment.
People got mad. They called him “pure ghetto trash.” They called him “a thug.”
I didn’t like that language. Nothing that he said was thuggish. The worst name-calling he did was call the opposing player “sorry.”
There’s a wonderful, wonderful article on Deadspin. They say you can’t be black, talented AND arrogant. America can only accept two out of the three. Three of the three are scary and distasteful.
I’m not going to go too far into that. Some folks are just plain racist. Others are prejudiced and so entrenched in the idea that they are NOT. RACIST. that they can’t see where prevailing culture miiiiight be clouding their judgement.
But I want you to know about a misunderstanding that happens a lot between people of different cultures/religions that are otherwise doing an amazingly harmonious job of being honest and awesome together.
Some non-black people that I care about and respect didn’t like Sherman’s rant. Like, had an EMOTIONAL, PASSIONATE, I’M-GOING-TO-UNFRIEND-YOU response to it.
NOTE: These are not racist people. None of these people called Sherman anything like “thug” or “pure ghetto trash.” Those people, my son, are poop-heads and have some SERIOUS prejudices. Although I’m SURE they have black friends and/or have dated a black guy.
Not talking about them. I’m talking about intelligent, loving, wonderful people who felt like the rant was poor sportsmanship.
Not everybody grew up with Lawrence Lee. But I believe that many African Americans did. Culturally, we find passion and in-context trash talking to be reasonable parts of competition.
Hey Lady was trying to read up on this incident this morning:
HEY LADY: Okay, now what did he say that was so thuggish?
ME: I think you saw it.
HEY LADY: No, I only saw the thing where he said something about messing with the best.
HEY LADY: But where is the one that made everybody mad?
ME: That one.
HEY LADY: What one? I want to see the one where he said all this AWFUL stuff?
ME: Exactly. I can also tell you who is on first. May I have more bacon, please?
Still, we can all agree that they’re not going to play this clip in your P.E. class as an example of sportsman-like behavior. Sherman acknowledges that.
But for a lot of black people I know? Including me? The way that people were so quick to call Sherman these loaded names? That FAR outweighs the issue of sportsmanship.
And when our loving, intelligent people do not see that as the higher crime? That hurts a bit.
Then the loving and intelligent people are surprised that we don’t agree. Because on any other day, we can talk about athletes’ conduct and agree, not knowing that sometimes we don’t really agree. Our sportsman-O-meters are calibrated far differently.
Then they are hurt.
Then everyone is sad and stuck.
I’m sad and stuck about it, still. Not sure what to do. If I were more like Michael Jackson, I’d grab both their wrists and lead both sides in an amazing choreographed dance. I’m still thinking this whole thing out and trying to find a salon that can give me a Jheri-curl in my locs.
But what I want for YOU, Pumpkins, is to be able to recognize these moments. Sometimes when people stumble upon a cultural difference when they have been SO harmonious, it gets a little turnt up emotionally, which makes it hard to navigate.
This is a part of the nuances of discussions around race. And not being aware of them can make good people wary of discussing their honest feelings.
You should also know this: The good people of America are lucky that your mother doesn’t play professional football. I would have wheeled a barbeque grill on the field. When they asked what I was doing? I would’ve said, “I’M SMOKIN’ THESE RIBS LIKE I JUST SMOKED CRABTREE’S ASS.”
Then I would have done a little Katt Williams pimp-giggle.
Then there’d be fireworks across the sky that read SUCK IT, BITCH.
Then, MEANING YOU, CRABTREE.
DO YOU WANT SOME OF THESE TASTY RIBS?
Because I have home training. Then I would have run to the sidelines to high-five Lawrence Lee.