Is This Story Worth It?

Is this something you not only want to share, but need to share?

Will it cause change— change that can be felt physically, mentally or emotionally?

Does the story make you laugh or cry?

Does this story take a piece of you, or does it add something to you?

Is it a story you want to hear at a party? Is it a story you desperately hope to remember?

Is this story tense and do you hope for resolution? Do the characters deserve a happy ending?

Does this story make you proud of the characters—will you cry at their moment of triumph like a proud parent?

Would you go to war over this story?

Would hearing that this story was destroyed forever in a fire devastate you?

Could you look back and say that this was the story that changed everything?

Would you listen to this story late at night under a blanket while jazz music plays?

Does it build suspense? Is it a page-turner? Would you lose sleep over this story? Would you abandon work and obligation to finish this story?

Is it a place of beauty in its words and images? Does that beauty stay with you after you leave the story?

When all of this is over, will you need time to recover from this story? Will you be unable to move the moment it ends? Will you sit there, unable to process everything and feel the weight of the story? Will you know that this will take years to process and feel in that moment that the story will evolve with you with each retelling in your head? Does it seem that from the moment this story began it was destined to become a part of you?

Are you not sure you can handle this story? Might it destroy you?

Is this story worth it?

Then begin…

The Sports Question I Want to be Asked

Covering sports, I witnessed emotional moments firsthand. I’ve asked questions that sparked angry answers and seen professional athletes fight back tears as they address the media. Asking thoughtful questions in sports breaks down barriers and humanizes the games we love. There’s just one question I never get asked.

People ask me about athletes I interviewed or which sport is the most fun to cover. I’m happy to talk about the layout of the Broncos locker room or the havoc that is postgame hockey interviews. I even listen intently while people describe athletes they met or games they attended.

I’m taking the year off from sports. I needed a break to reignite my passion. And as I have, this one question continues to bother me. In fact, now that I’m out of the press lounge and day-to-day interactions, the answer to this question infuriates me.

So I’ll ask it.
Derek, what surprises you the most about covering sports?

The sexism:

  • Men using job offers and media access to try and date women
  • Men telling their female colleagues to impress with their looks
  • Men sexualizing women (including colleagues) in media areas
  • Men openly flirting with women while in professional settings
  • Men degrading the work of women for sexist reasons
  • Harassments/stalker tweets online

When I say men, I mean players, team officials, journalists and fans.

And yes, I only covered sports and announced games around Denver—a place I consider to be fairly progressive. On the flip side, I am friends with a lot of women in sports and I hold their words in high regard.

The signs of this problem are everywhere. Kate Feldman’s tweets were a catalyst for this article, followed by Megan Richardson’s. I was disturbed by the treatment of Lindsay Jones after she asked a question at Peyton Manning’s retirement ceremony—I’ve seen firsthand what a great reporter she is at Broncos practices. Samples of other instances include players’ inappropriate interviews with sideline reporters and this Sports Illustrated piece about social media.

If you’re skeptical, I’m sure you’re asking for proof. I’m not giving it to you here. It’s not my place to tell women’s stories on this issue without their permission and I don’t want to get lost in a few details. These behaviors need to be addressed and swiftly corrected. If you talk to enough women in sports, I’m sure you’ll hear stories. They just may not want to go public because it could hurt their careers—the backlash from the sports community and fans has damaged women’s careers before.

Let me be clear, I like people in sports. Almost every man in sports I’ve interacted with appears to be respectful towards women. The perpetrators of sexism are a small sample size—working discretely or protected by a team. Most of my friends in sports would do everything in their power to change unfair treatment of others.

Now it’s time to prove that. Male journalists should be willing to step up and end this behavior when they see it or are told about it. There is nothing about sports journalism that necessitates a different environment for men and women. We should speak out and fight any sexist behavior.

Players, player personal and other journalists need to be held accountable.

I’m willing to do what little I can now. Any woman in sports journalism who has faced discrimination against them can send me their story. I will post it here, anonymously. If I return to sports journalism, I will take this fight on with more force.

Sexism is currently a part of sports culture. This is not one or two instances, but a reality for women in the profession. It hurts sports and journalism. We are all better when a diverse group of people have the access and the voice in public spaces. We need to end safe havens for sexist behavior. It’s on all of us—men, fans, journalists, and team officials—starting now.

The Honest Work of a Feather-Covered Chalk Boxman

The box made Alex uncomfortable, but the man was confounding. This sight took up Alex’s attention everyday evening as he looked out the window on his bus ride. There were other staples of Alex’s ride of course. He tolerated the sign twirler directing people to the Chick-Fil-A and the banjo playing man who walked between cars. Alex could calibrate his day around those rituals, but not this one.

Alex called him Boxman. Boxman spent his afternoons on the same city street, filling in the same box with chalk every day. The ritual occurred at the northwest corner of two one-way streets—Vine Street (north-to-south) and Holland Avenue (east-to-west). Boxman worked in the space just past the parked cars on Vine. He carved out his intersection—for an awaiting pawn or knight perhaps?

When Vine Street had a red light, Boxman ran out with a piece of white chalk—the big sidewalk chalk, not chalkboard chalk. He drew a box, about four feet on all sides. Without a straightedge or measuring stick, Boxman created an almost perfect square every time. Then Boxman pressed the chalk flat and rubbed it against the pavement, whiting out the area. Depending on the buses arrival at the spot, Alex saw the different phases of the project. He guessed it took Boxman about forty minutes to complete the box.

Boxman’s gray cloak, covered in feathers, added to the mystique. These were not bird feathers, but colored feathers found in craft stores; short blue, red, yellow and green feathers glued into place. Boxman also wore a traffic cone on his head. The lime green traffic cone would glow in the dusk of the winter months.

Alex saw Boxman from the Holland bus every day on his way home from work. Alex lived by routine. After work, he took the bus home to watch Jeopardy. Alex never deviated from his schedule. Boxman’s routine jarred Alex. Alex assumed his life varied drastically from Boxman, but they met on this corner every day. The craziest part, Boxman didn’t know about Alex. Alex spent hours thinking about the man with the feathered cape and the cone on his head. Boxman never thought about Alex.

A couple of times, Alex walked to work in the morning just to pass the spot of Boxman’s square. Each time, Alex was astonished to find no trace of the box, merely wet pavement.

When it rained, Boxman simply drew the box’s outline and watched the chalk rinse away. When it snowed, he shoveled out the spot. If someone parked in the spot with their hazards on, Boxman waited for the car to move before starting with the chalk.

Alex had a lot of theories about the spot. Maybe Boxman hoped aliens would land there. What if something tragic had happened in that box and he performed this ritual to pay his respects? Perhaps Boxman made that box because he knew something important would happen there in the future.

One Friday, after going to a bar while Jeopardy was tape delayed for a sports game, Alex rode the bus home late. As he passed the intersection, he saw Boxman, this time in white feathers instead of the multicolored ones. Boxman wore the same cone hat and carried two water buckets. As Alex watched from his seat in the idling bus a few feet back, Boxman dumped the first bucket in the square and then pulled out a squeegee. He began to wipe the chalk off toward a storm drain. The bus whisked on, but Alex craned his neck for a long time, looking at the white-feathered Boxman drowning his work.

Alex never talked to Boxman. He dared not walk by the man as he filled in the chalk. That would have taken Alex out of his routine. Strangers might ruin Alex’s schedule.

For something that consumed so much of Alex’s thought, it’s amazing he never found enough curiosity to end up in that box.

One Tuesday, Boxman did not show up to work on his box. He never filled that chalk box in again.

I would like to tell you why, but how should I know? Alex never asked him.

 

What a Disaster With a Smile

“It blew up! It was a total mess! You would not believe how badly that failed! Oh man did we screw that up. It wasn’t incompetence; it just went the exact opposite of everything we thought. Maybe we should have seen it coming, but can you blame us?”

Failure can be fun.

Go back and read the beginning again, but this time read it like you’re having the time of your life.

Of course, most of us treat failure with disbelief. We beat ourselves up. We take full responsibility and punish ourselves in an attempt to correct the behavior. We ask divine forces, how can I ever be ok after this?

Usually, life goes on.

Sometimes, life slowly rolls off the edge of the table like a glass just out of reach. The plans shatter. Obstacles appear out of nowhere and the whole thing just falls apart in your hands.

What happens if you look for the fun in those failures?

Throughout my life, I have performed well in those moments where I was allowed to fail gracefully. I think about anchoring TV shows I did where I felt like no one was watching, or hockey games that I announced where the score was 7-1 and I wanted to try something new. On those days, I took risks. I attempted to find joy in the process.

Sometimes the risks failed. Then all I could do was smile at the camera and try to do better next time.

If you can find ways to enjoy those moments where things fall apart, then you will be willing to have more of them; unintentional catastrophes make great stories, after all. This attitude also allows you to quickly move beyond that moment.

I’m not someone who fails for fun often, but I like thinking about it. I like that instant where something has gone terribly wrong, and you find a way to laugh about it. It gives me energy.

So here’s to taking more risks and laughing about the mess!

Lessons From the Tough Moments

I learned some unexpected lessons since I began the Experience Institute in August.

A few unexpected lessons:

1. Trying new things shifted my perspective on old routines
2. Changing to be what other people want does not always lead to the job/apprenticeship
3. Having a single place to stay is really important to me
4. Most people, friends and strangers, want to be kind
5. It’s scary to start new adventures, but so is doing the same thing forever.
6. There will always be advice and opinions—sometimes too many
7. Finding confidence in myself trumps evolving into someone better
8. A mistake is something I can laugh about later
9. Pick my teammates—and make sure they’re adding to my team.
10. Add to the world what I feel is missing

You can read about the secret benefits of an Experience Institute year here:

How will you survive Experience Institute?

My Own Worst Enemy

Let me address a problem I’m having with the DK Chronicle. It’s an intimate problem about the way I write and perfect my pieces. I keep editing all my empathy from my pieces. It’s a downside to this project. I don’t know if I’m afraid of being vulnerable or just expecting perfection.

The effect is indifference. When I’m detached, I don’t have a lot of investment in what I’m writing and I want to change that. I know you can’t tell, but I meant that last part, with immense feeling. I write to inspire emotion, not dazzle people with my technical keyboard maneuvers.

The catalyst for this current piece was a set of Facebook comments you may have seen on a previous piece. If you did, then you likely scrolled by and briefly contemplated if Derek Kessinger was, in fact, a racist narcissist.

In case you missed this delightful exchange, a Facebook friend attacked me for writing an article about Donald Trump. For those of you who only read cookbooks, Trump is a pretty divisive figure.

The strange part – we were on the same side. Both of us are afraid of Trump. My Angry Facebook Friend was livid because I used a metaphor about the American flag to make my point. That made me a neo-conservative trying to promote the oppression of all people.

I have had disagreements with My Angry Facebook Friend before, and tried to ignore the continued insults this time. If not for the accusations of my skinhead philosophy and the involvement of another friend who commented, the whole thing would have died down. It did not.

A year ago, this whole exchange would have bothered me because I hated when I felt like my writing betrayed me. It tore me up inside to be misrepresented and misunderstood.

Why was I able to take the blows with irreverence instead of hurt this time? Well last year, I had almost the exact same conversation about a different piece with My Angry Facebook Friend. My Angry Facebook Friend has a view of the world where opinions different from his or her viewpoint are invalid.

I think that’s silly. So I will admit that I wasn’t very serious about addressing this person’s tirades this time around. My end of the exchange featured a picture of Bugs Bunny, shamelessly plugging for other Chronicle pieces My Angry Facebook Friend could mock, and a great quote explaining what a metaphor was.

“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyze the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.” ― Andrei Tarkovsky

My Angry Facebook Friend unfriended me at the end of this tussle in the social media jungle.

Here’s what really bugs me about this. I toned the piece down! The original Trump piece made me shake as I wrote it. It was filled with true emotion. Then, I took out a lot of the inflammatory information. I watered the piece down and edited out the controversy.

I wish I hadn’t.

If I want to be a writer when I grow up, I need to be willing to write my heart into my work. This piece isn’t half bad. Some people will hate it, and hopefully some people might feel emotion somewhere in it.

I just have to deal with my own worst enemy—the version of myself looking to sterilize this piece before it can contaminate someone else’s mind.

You’ve Got To Be Kind

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” ―God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

I recently texted a friend about how her kindness added to the world.

She texted back, “I need to have a bigger impact than just being a kind person.”

I worry that people don’t understand the need for kindness in the world. Some people want to change the world in big ways, but we also need to see the value in changing the world one person at a time. Then that person can change the world for someone else. Kindness empowers others to change the world—it’s a gift.

Some days are accounted for when I wake up. I am committed to previous obligations. I give my time and energy to others. I go through the motions. These days are where I am the one in need of kindness.

These are the days where I need also to choose kindness.

Kindness serves two purposes in my life. It allows me to impact my personal interactions in the world. It also allows me to shrug off animosity and continue on in my day without bruising my mental state or someone else’s.

Aesop’s Fable

One day the wind and the sun were fighting over who was stronger. They agreed to have a contest. The sun looked down on the Earth and saw a traveler wearing a coat. The sun told the wind that the first one to cause the traveler to remove the coat would win. The sun went behind a cloud, allowing the wind to go first. The wind was confident in its strength and force. It began to blow with all of his might, but the harder the wind blew, the tighter the traveler held onto the coat. Finally, the wind gave up. That’s when the sun came out from behind its cloud. The sun shone down on the traveler and the light warmed the traveler. Finally, the traveler finally removed the coat.

In times of turmoil, people will call on me for a show of force and action. In those moments, I hope that I turn to them, smile like the sun, and show them the power of kindness.

A Wall Against Trump Supporters

There is a movement in America. It is a movement to bleach the colors out of our flag. The movement hopes to destroy the stitches of stars and stripes until it the flag no longer serves all of its people. This new, whitewashed flag would stand as a symbol of oppression. It would become a dark fixture added to the already tattered edges of our nation’s history. This, the flag of the Donald Trump movement, will only truly represent an ignorant few.

The American dream—while never perfect—is the ideal we must continue to move toward. We must not divide along any lines, but strengthen the bonds of Americans. We must recognize our differences and unite with the purpose of making the U.S. better for all. We must not let this dream die.

It is clear that Donald Trump will drive his supporters to elevate a climate of fear. He will incite riots to suppress opposition and win favor. Trump is not amassing a constituency, but a mob of haters ready to cut down others and pillage power.

This became all too clear on Friday. Trump made dismissive and pointedly racist comments toward protestors in a speech in St. Louis. Seeing an opportunity, Trump capitalized on it later that same day in Chicago. He concocted a story about law enforcement telling him not to debate for his own personal safety. The lie led to several clashes among Trump supporters, protestors and law enforcement. Trump came out on top, exactly as he had planned.

For months, many of us have dismissed the threat of a Donald Trump presidential campaign. It was a sideshow, a vanity tour, and a comic relief circus. This period of naïveté now, with Trump leading in the polls, even as he continues to inflame tension.

We can no longer afford to ignore the campaign of Mr. Trump. We must instead be willing to speak out with the fury we would if our own rights were taken away from us.  We have reached a tipping point where we can no longer stand by and hope the Trump problem will go away. We must stem this wave of hate running through the country with diligence, dedication and love.

When Donald Trump’s name is written in history books 100 years from now, let it be seen as a win for America. Let it be the moment where the American people, united together, linked arms and created a wall. It will be a wall to protect those he targets, a wall fortified against violence and division, a wall united against the forces of racism, bigotry, ignorance and hate.

We must stand to protect the advancement of the American dream. We must keep the colors in our flag.