My wife wants me to succeed but I cannot say I have. Three weeks ago, endeavoring to get back to writing about football, I told her I would be writing about Frank Clark. The everyday of writing a football blog was wonderfully stabilizing for me, and I say with maximum humility, editing Field Gulls and writing my very so-so book and its update, are the biggest achievements of my life.
Alanya, that's my wife, she doesn't know much about sports, doesn't keep up, and didn't know the lurid story of Frank Clark, criminal. She just wanted me to be good again: constructive, stable and happy. If I were writing about Frank Clark, I was writing about football. If I were writing about football, I could hold myself together. I could be that version of me that gives her hopeful thoughts of family, kids and a house.
I had such a neat angle for my post, and a pretty good title "Keeping Frank Clark Alive." That's cribbed from a Mike Mayock quote about whether Clark would be drafted.
"Unfortunately in our world, the more talent you have physically, the more rope we give you and I think if he was a first-round prospect people would try to keep him alive longer. But because he's kind of a mid- to late-(round) prospect, I think most teams are just going, let's not even deal with it.' "
My intention was to pussy foot around the sensitive matter of what Frank Clark may have done. To use the extended metaphor of his lack of pass rush skills to examine what it means to be an incomplete person. It was a way to champion innocence and redemption without directly considering the extremely poignant matter of Clark's arrest.
Why did I do that? In part out of respect for Danny. In part because I felt cowardly and exposed. To write about Clark honestly is to write about myself, and rarely ever do I want to do that. But I have such daydreams! Such delusions of making it! And thought I could thread the needle and write something important and insightful without risking a charged, hateful response. Next it would be Best American Sports Writing, and next it would be a paying job, and next and next and next.
When partway through writing that post, I signed into gmail and my wife sent me a simple, seemingly innocuous comment about Clark:
"I'm reading about Frank Clark. He seems good!"
And I wanted to run to her work and hug her and build a stone fortress around her against this world and I felt I could almost collapse with grief and exhaustion and shame.
This post is not timely. It is not informed by scouting or statistical analysis. It may prove to be a colossal pain in the ass, and may be my last ever. But I need to write this. I cannot express it any other way. I've lived with this writing inside me and until I share it, it will shame me.
The Business of Seahawks Football
Most every employee of every sports franchise depends on winning to stay employed.
No other team in the NFL needs to win Super Bowl 50 but the Seattle Seahawks. Only the Seahawks are considered so young and promising, like a young dynasty, and only the Seahawks won a Super Bowl and lost a Super Bowl the last two seasons, and of the latter, by seemingly one disastrous play call. There is tremendous pressure on Seattle to do something tremendously difficult, and a high degree of intolerance for anything but a championship.
Such are the breaks of success, and no one's crying about it, but if winning boosts attendance and merchandising--revenue--and it's proven that it does, the Seahawks have set their standards for success so high, all probable outcomes will disappoint.
Frank Clark was drafted because Clark should help the Seahawks win. Simple as that, and this simplicity disturbs people.
Successful people receive preferential treatment. Athletes are hardly novel in this way, but whereas one could boycott the records of Dr. Dre or the movies of Woody Allen, most fans love a team whole and are subject to its specific makeup of players. Most of being a fan of a specific team is belonging to a specific region, and most of belonging to a specific region is accident.
My parents were homeless when they met. My mom's boyfriend was my dad's best friend. That friend would put my mom in a steel barrel and roll her down the street, my dad told me again and again. He was murderously abusive. That boyfriend, my dad's best friend, died of a hotshot of heroin. It was his deathbed wish that my dad take care of her, my mom.
This was in Portland, and after my older brother was born, my parents attempted to get their lives together and escape homelessness. Eventually my dad went to trade school in Tacoma to become a mechanic, and so I was born in the Seattle area.
We moved to New Hampshire when I was two. My granddad bought me a World Almanac, and we had a set of Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedias from the supermarket, cable TV and few other books. So I read about Seattle in a kiddy enthusiastic way. Read about Mt. Rainier, Olympic National Park, the Space needle, all in a regional chauvinistic way, and watched SportsCenter, fell hard for Ken Griffey Jr. and eventually became a fan of the Sonics and Seahawks too.
But like love itself only fools and charlatans emphasize the beginning. The true beauty of the act is sustaining it. Too much of my memory, my mind is dedicated to this silly construct, the Seattle Seahawks Gridiron Footballing Club, for me to love any other team a fraction as much. And it is silly. So bitterly silly but what is life but?
Stranger though I am to him, when Clark became a Seahawk, he became an important part of my life. A big part of any Seahawks fan's life, and in that queer modern way, ersatz royalty. It is human nature it seems to forever chose an elect from the whole. And in America, a country so defined culturally by conflict and competition, merit of a kind, hard work and being self-made and winning always winning, professional athletes are marveled at, revered and despised.
Scuttlebutt was: Frank Clark is despicable. An unrepentant abuser of women and habitual criminal, who, when pressed on the subject of his arrest, blamed the alleged victim of his brutality for his media trouble.
That is what it was: media trouble. Bad press of a potent kind, as a chance video of a famous football player, Ray Rice knocking out fiancée and now wife Janay Palmer, had cut through the media whitewash and exposed the subterranean depths of football lives. And it wasn't clear what was more gobsmackingly ugly. The gritty footage of the brutal act or the feckless, unperturbed way the Ravens and the NFL handled it.
If seeing Rice punch Palmer was so disturbing and nauseating because of the absolute and undeniable quality of video, the Ravens' and the NFL's reaction was equally disturbing and nauseating because of what it suggested about the ethics of the league and its owners, and the terrible, sad lives of its players and their families.
The Seahawks are a savvy organization, not just at talent evaluation, but public relations. They knew that Frank Clark would likely be available to draft in the second round, knew that his talent could help them win--succeed as a business--and prepared their story, endeavored for plausible deniability, and prepared their statements about the matter in preparation for the backlash.
"The mistake was that he put himself in an awful situation," [John] Schneider said. "There was a lot of arguing going on and yelling and screaming, and that’s why it was a disturbance of the peace, and the police were called."
Frank Clark "would not have been on our board" had Clark "actually (done) a lot of the things that were written."
Trust us. But also:
"We knew there weren’t going to be any pass-rushers left, and we needed to grab one as soon as we could."
Grasping for Truth
At once any engaged Seahawks fan who gave a damn about social justice felt the floor disappear from below them and the sickening feeling of falling begin. We knew we couldn't know. The subject was so damn important. Most local journalists made no concerted effort to seek the truth. We're totally inured to this.
If for a year rumors swirl about Marshawn Lynch leaving the team after the 2014 season, we expect no confirmation. If he signs a contract extension in 2015, we barely blink an eye at the incongruity. It is assumed that successful members of the media develop quasi sources among athletes and agents, never divulging those sources, and in return for the relevance of access and the occasional privilege of breaking news, manipulate the news for their sources' benefit. This is sports journalism in the new millennium, and good luck to anyone counting on hard work and honesty. Journalistic ethics are Fruit Loops and Saturday morning cartoons.
True investigative reporting in sports is marginal and wonkish. To my knowledge, only Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times made much of any effort to investigate the subject. And, to my knowledge, Geoff Baker is among the most despised sports journalists covering Seattle sports. In a time when fans seek coverage by others fans, and any puff piece promising championships is a gold mine of page views (and therefore ad revenue), penetrating news about professional sports is almost anachronistic.
Let us have our fun! Like you care! You care about your career, Geoff Baker, that's what you care about! And I truly can not be convinced that's not the case. The above piece, now barred from me by a pay wall, was mostly informed by one other source. It overflowed with that narrow gathering of facts and reliance on ominous insinuation that passes for journalistic objectivity.
But this burying of Baker--I'm just killing the messenger, aren't I? Moving the target, muddying the waters, attempting to undermine the horrible implications of the facts through penny ante calls for perfection?
I don't know.
This Larry Stone piece seemed about par for the course. Tepid criticism, totally lacking in specific facts, which sorta implied "I'm on the inside. I know. I can't afford to be explicit about what I know and what it means, but trust me. Clark's a bad guy. Drafting him was a mistake." And which column probably accomplished nothing more than to get a public personality, dependent on his reputation, on what Stone thought was the right side of the argument.
It is almost impossible to remember the very soul of journalism is to help and inform people. It is forgotten because it is impractical. I do not think Baker or Stone are bad people. But the nature of the profession forces them to exploit the story for their own gain. Something like what I am writing here is a dead on arrival. It is too long. It is too personal. It cannot be easily summarized. People want simplicity, a side to stand on, and when something of vital importance but great ambiguity enters the news mechanism, it is made simpler, starker and instead of being helped or informed, we are galvanized into judgment.
Modern morality demands we judge! It is not longer acceptable to abstain. We know our history. Those that refused to stand up for what's right are equally if not more at fault for the many tragedies of the past than those monstrous few who committed the tragedies.
Here is Frank Clark. He is a potent symbol for the ongoing and pervasive tragedy of abuse and violence against women. Maybe. But there's always a maybe. It's hard to be held back by maybe. Maybe protects the wicked. Wicked people tyrannize good people by demanding good people stand by their principles. Here is Frank Clark. Can you shake that awful gut feeling, the feeling that he did it, and escaped justice because of his economic value to a sports franchise? I can't. I can't. I cannot do it, and it pains me so damn bad--maybe soon you'll know why.
First I have to explain my respect for maybe.
When I Was Accused of Rape
It happened like this.
My first girlfriend was sexually abused as a child, therefore raped, and raped as a teenager. When I moved to Vancouver Washington at 14 I moved across the street from her, and her, shall we say forwardness, was eventually undeniable. She was a broken person, abusive toward me, once she took a pair of fingernail clippers and clipped a chunk from the edge of my belly button, et cetera. Many would classify her a bad person and turn away but she was more victim than villain, as is often the case.
When we met she was being ostracized for pressing charges against her rapist. His friends insisted he had done nothing of the sort, and it cost her most of her friends. But she made new friends attending group counseling for rape survivors. There she met a person I'll call K.
Eventually as screwed up as I was, I did break up with her. She immediately started dating my best friend. Sometime after that she approached me in the school cafeteria and sucker punched me in the face. I laughed, when it happened I met my surprise with laughter, but truthfully I kind of hated her.
Rebound was something awful because my life is a dysfunctional mess; I'm short, brooding, and at that time repugnant toward women, though I should say girls.
K invited me to her birthday party. It was two barely familiar people accidentally crossing paths. Crossing paths walking between our houses in our shared neighborhood, and after a little light flirting, K extended the invitation.
A spark of attraction created by desperate affinity and desperation, many girls attended her party but I was the only boy. We slow danced to Tim McGraw. Soon everyone else but her best friend and I had left. When you're a teenager and your only parent is negligent it feels liberating like you're an adult and everyone else is a kid. We three laid on a trampoline and looked up at the puce suburban sky. I driveling pretentious profundities she put her hand down my jeans and I put my hand down her jeans, and like two ignorant little kids might, we didn't actually do much more than that. Some giddy searching around, touching.
Few days later a pair of kids maybe a year apart and definitely brothers jumped me or attempted to. Neither knew how to fight, and the older one, the aggrieved boyfriend it turned out, threw wild looping slap punches that stung the tops of my ears. Eventually I walked away not knowing what the hell was going on.
The next day at school K and her best friend and a group of girls 15 or 20 strong thronged around me and said I had raped K and let me know I was human shit, noxious and despicable. I walked up toward K and asked why she was doing this but it was instantly impossible. There was a great drive to be heroic and do the right thing and defend her from the boy who had raped her and before I could get within five feet ten girls had circled round her and stepped in between and told me again how disgusting and despicable I was.
Really though, whom I looked at most, and with the most confusion and fear, was her best friend.
That night I told my dad and in the single greatest thing he ever did for me, he contacted K's mother. Two days later we all met in my dad's house and everything was discussed, and her family, her mother most pointedly, immediately sided with me and it was all but over. I sort of pitied K. That was my luxury when for the first time in three days I felt confident I would not be going to jail. K's mom had no facts--there were no facts. K's mom distrusted her daughter, thought her daughter was a liar. It seemed a horrible, abusive relationship.
Forgiving K proved easy. Like I said I pitied her. Growing up poor you learn so terribly well that so many lives are all but doomed to misery and dysfunction. Abuse is a terrible kind of teaching and it regenerates generation to generation. My dad, a good heart, a sick man and a well-intentioned but horrifically abusive father, was horribly abused as a child. He ran away as a teenager like I ran away as a teenager, but I found hope and a home in a friend's family. Dad's functionally illiterate. I've had certain lucky breaks.
I could never understand why K's best friend corroborated her story. I never talked to her again. The stink of the accusation haunted me for the rest of my time in high school. Which was both long and incomplete.
There's no recovery from an experience like that. I did not die and I did not altogether fall apart, but the very history of it has forever filled me with dread. Generally, I can never feel wholly comfortable with strangers anymore. Specifically, and I think valuably, I do not interpret accusation as fact.
That's dicey, because facts are elusive and easy to bury. We live in a time of pressure groups and public shaming, but also a time of first-person reporting. When millionaire individuals and billionaire organizations can deliver their own story, shape its message and control its interpretation.
It is valuable to the Seahawks organization to control the story of Frank Clark's arrest. John Schneider and Pete Carroll speak for themselves, and without a blink or a wince, they said "This didn't happen. We didn't draft a player who punched a women." And that is the news. I can't help but feel like a sucker, like as a fan I am being lied to because "there weren't going to be any pass rushers left" and pass rushers are important, important for the business of winning football games.
Yet, in the face of doubt, to assume guilt is wrong. The justice system may be flawed, may be replete with loopholes and exploitable weaknesses when trying the rich or valuable, but it is singularly the best system we have to achieve justice. Market driven media assassination is a horror.
What Is and What Can Be
A common expression nowadays goes "It is what it is." Often said in a weary, defeated tone, this expression seems to be a defiance of analysis. What is cannot be broken down or further understood, it only is. In all its maddening complexity, of all its terrible consequences, there is no place for hope or understanding, there is only acceptance and survival. It is important to overcome such complacency.
Perhaps it seems I am emphasizing the lesson I learned from one life experience and minimizing the experience of others. If humans were not humans but simply rational, the argument could stand on its own and I would not need to explain why it is I think trial by media is dangerous and unethical. But we long for the authority of experience, not just because experience is indispensable for understanding, but because experience explains motivation, frees motivation from being simply material or professional. Am I only trying to be right? Am I only promoting myself? Is this piece an act of vanity and nothing more?
I grew up in a broken home. I grew up in an abusive home. A week or so before I quit Field Gulls, my father got in touch with me. A professional once told me he was schizophrenic but who knows? I know even writing about him publicly scares me very badly. Something I wrote ... something I posted, in passing I mentioned a family tragedy. My grandfather had had a stroke. A stroke he has since died of. I was used to an informal tone round here and it was on my mind and I mentioned it because I thought I might have to take time off.
A woman my dad was trying to impress read the story to him. See, he was trying to brag about me, believe it or not. And when he heard the phrase "family tragedy" he immediately thought something had happened to my older brother. My older brother is a white supremacist and no one knows where he is and for him to die unexpectedly is not far fetched. My dad called me and this set off a chain of events which I won't elaborate too much on but which had a great deal to do with me quitting Field Gulls.
Abuse is very hard to escape from because it is written into your mind like a madness. Friends, career, family--I have destroyed so many relationships, wasted so many opportunities, and my only family today is my wife. It is so hard to make it when all your intuition is poisoned by distrust, fear and anxiety.
Recently my family consisted of my mom too. When my parents were divorced, I was sorta sacrificed to my dad, because there was a deep fear among my mother and her side of the family that he might murder her or my mom's father. The grandfather who later died of a stroke.
My dad often talked about murdering her and him. It was ... I don't know how to explain how you start to not take it seriously. Once when I was a teenager I had said to him I wanted to leave and move to New Hampshire with my mom, and then his murderous rage turned on me, and he told me he would kill me, again and again, increasingly more serious, more in the grips of his rage, until I hyperventilated. This ... this saved me. Love. Pity. Whatever, I don't know. Shame maybe. Recovering I told him I wouldn't leave. I was mistaken. It was just a ... just a bad idea. He calmed down. I suffered his many future threats of murder with mordant irony. The will to survive is great.
My mom moved to Portland a few years back and finally being close again, geographically, and finally with my dad comfortably lost to greater America, we resumed something of a relationship. Strained. Bad. I'll leave it at that.
In the last edition of the book I recounted the morning of August 2013 when I woke to learn she had almost died of a brain injury. I didn't know then, and I don't know now, but it seems very likely that her now ex-husband either caused the injury, or, at the very least, neglected her until she almost died. I shouldn't write ex-husband. That I don't know. She's cut me off entirely. There had not been a divorce but after he was caught strangling my mother--a lucky break! caught strangling her outside my mother's work--there had been a restraining order. There had been talk of a divorce.
But as I said she's cut me off so I don't know.
I promise you, there is no bottom to my well of anger toward violently abusive people. This is not some cold intellectual exercise for me. It is true I am not willing to condemn Frank Clark because of hearsay. It is also true that the possibility he did punch that women but has been sheltered because of his value to the Seahawks, is sickening to me beyond my ability to communicate.
But ... so what?
Anger and vengeance, anger and vengeance, spread through a life, spread through a family, spread ultimately through all of society like plague. My father was so angry, so wronged by his family, his culture, my mother, and he instilled anger and vengeance in me like it were a creed. But as miserable and broken as he was--is, the product of unconscionable abuse and neglect, with all his love and power, he abused me less than he had been abused.
And though my life is sometimes a mess, and though my wife and I are dysfunctional even sometimes abusive to each other, I have never struck her. She has never struck me. Our marriage is strong. It is constructive and loving and a source of stability and confidence for us both. I do not wish to promise that I will be a good parent. I do not know. But I have been given a chance to be a better parent than my mother or father, and when it is my chance, I see that duty as sacred. Not religious but my sacred duty to humanity to raise good, charitable, loving people, each a little further from abuse than I was. Cycles do not break but revolution by revolution they can spiral into nothingness.
Frank Clark is ours now. Our attention and ticket sales will pay his salary. Whether he did it or did not, is the world better if he's out of public sight, marginalized, and stripped of his opportunities? Whether their motives are good or bad, the media will surely capitalize on any future screwup by Clark. He has structure. He is accountable. He has opportunity.
It is, maybe, but it does not forever have to be. Misanthropic people will surely shoot down any suggestion of football, of making it in the NFL, and the money and prestige it brings, ever lifting up a man or his family. But it's possible. It is possible. And, truly, I do not need Carroll and Schneider to vehemently insist that Clark never hit a women. It comforts me not at all. He's ours, he's theirs, he is their responsibility. Not just as an asset, a means to win games, but as a person, a member of our community, a man who will be some woman's boyfriend or husband, who may one day be a father. His life ... the Seahawks drafted Frank Clark whole. Frank Clark is a young man of exceptional talent. It is possible, too, that he is a very disturbed and destructive human being.
Bring all your pain and hatred, all of your anger and vengeance, bring all of your weakness and fear, all of the bad that made you, bring it into the light. Pass the fortune of your talent to those you love. Clark may have cheated justice. He may be privileged because of his talent. There is nothing new to this story, no new ways to tell it, no new truths to uncover. But he also may yet be a good human being, who makes people happy through exercising his talents, and who may yet pass love, fortune and promise to his children. I am not blind to the probabilities but I am defiantly hopeful of the possibility.