Honoring Three Women Who Shaped my Love of Baseball

Aside from being the month of my birth, March is also Women’s History Month.

Established in 1987, Women’s History Month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

Few can argue that women have played a pivotal role in societies across the globe for centuries. It would be impossible to list all of those accomplishments in a single column.

Instead, I am going to focus on the three women in my life who, among other things, helped shape my love of baseball and sport in general. It is a love that has proven to be quite useful throughout my life and career.

Those three women are, my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother.

Each of them, in their own unique way set me on the path that I am on today.


Our journey through the inspirational baseball loving women in my life begins with my mother.

My mother grew up as a Washington Senators fan and became a Baltimore Orioles fan after both versions of the Senators fled the Nation’s Capital to become the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers, respectively.

As my mother would often point out, had the Senators stayed around, I likely would have never been a Baltimore Orioles fan.

But the Senators did leave town twice, which meant either by default, or by choice, I became a Baltimore Orioles fan.

In addition to taking me to my first regular season Major League Baseball game in Baltimore, my mother also took me to my first Spring Training game to see the Orioles play in Orlando.

In January 2013, I wrote a column about the series of events that occurred on that fateful trip to Memorial Stadium in 1983 for my first regular season game.

The story behind my first Spring Training game was equally memorable.

After moving from Maryland to Florida in the third grade, I went from living in a state where I had a local Major League ball club to root for from April to October, to a state that only had Major League Baseball during two months of Spring Training.

I did not know it at the time, but the lack of full time Major League Baseball, that existed until the arrival of the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays about a decade after I moved to Florida, would be a great benefit to shaping me.

While I would go on to attend hundreds of Spring Training games in my life, my first encounter with spring training started with a bit of constructive deception.

The Program from my first Spring Training game that occurred thanks to some creative deception from my mother.
Photo R. Anderson

One March day, which also happened to be my birthday, as I was sitting in my classroom like a good little student, my name was called on the intercom to go to the principal’s office.

To be fair, there were many times when my name was called over the intercom because I had done something to warrant a trip to see the principal.

However, on this particular day I was at a complete loss as to why I was being summoned.

As I exited the classroom, my mom met me outside my classroom door. We walked in virtual silence. The whole time we were walking, a series of thoughts ran through my head. The thoughts ranged from someone must have died, to I must have really done something this time if my mom is the one escorting to the office.

But we did not stop at the office. Instead we kept walking in virtual silence all the way to my mom’s car.

Once we were safely away from listening ears and inside the car, my mom told me of the real reason why I was leaving school. And that reason was, we were going to Tinker Field to see a Spring Training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.

I was excited to learn that my fears of a death in the family were not realized. I was even more excited that I was getting to go see a baseball game Ferris Bueller style while the rest of my classmates were stuck at school.

Two traditions began for me that day. The first being, that one should never be in school ,or at work on their birthday, and second, birthdays are best when they are spent at a ballpark.

In the years since that first Spring Training game, I have often followed my mom’s example to stop and smell the nachos from time to time by skipping school, or work, in order to take in a day at the ballpark, even on days that aren’t my birthday.

My mom did not only take me to see Spring Training though. She would often take me to see the Orlando Sun Rays play Minor League Baseball games. My mom also took me to a Senior Professional Baseball Association game where I was able to meet Earl Weaver.

I have written extensively through the years about how those numerous trips to Tinker Field with my mom shaped me as a fan, as well as a sports writer. Those trips also instilled in me a yet unreached goal of working for a Minor League Baseball team.

As I also recently noted in another column, my mom also often took me to baseball card shops and card shows to ensure that my baseball itch was scratched outside of the ballpark as well.

Yes, my mother was quite influential in ensuring that my love of baseball was fed at every possible opportunity. However, she was not alone in nurturing my love of baseball.


The next women who inspired my love of baseball was Edna Kirby, who I called Granny. Granny lived among the slash pine trees of southern Georgia about four hours away from Atlanta. In addition to going to nearly every baseball game at the local high school, Granny always made a point to watch her beloved Atlanta Braves whenever they were on TV.

Before she got a satellite dish, and long before streaming games on the internet or a phone was a thing, Granny used an over the air antenna strapped to the roof.

On the days when the antenna just couldn’t pick up the station carrying the game, Granny would go old school and listen to the broadcast on the radio.

There were definitely some lean years to be a Braves fan. Still, Granny would soldier on with her devotion to her “boys” and most of all Chipper Jones.

Whenever Chipper Jones would make a great play, shouts of “attaboy Chipper” would resonate throughout the house from Granny’s recliner.

And, whenever Chipper would strike out or make a bad fielding play the battle cry from the recliner turned to “oh Chipper.”

Checking up on Chipper at Astros Spring Training in Kissimmee, FL.
Photo by R. Anderson

About 20 years ago, my mother and I traveled from Texas to Georgia to visit Granny in the hospital.

While it was never spoken out loud in the car, we both feared that maybe we were driving to say good bye to her based on the severity of why we thought she had been admitted to the hospital.

After driving for 16 hours straight, we arrived at the hospital and prepared for the worst as we approached the small rural hospital.

However, nothing really could have prepared us for what we saw once we got inside. Instead of a woman near death, we found my grandmother standing in the hall in her hospital gown shouting to us to hurry up since the Braves game was on.

She did not wait for us to get down the hall. Instead, she turned and went back in her room. By the time we got to her room, she was already back in bed and giving us a recap of the game and asking what took us so long to get there.

Near death indeed. She was as full of life as ever, and it was yet another time to talk about the Braves. Granny went on to live about another 10-years after her “near death” experience.

When Granny went into a nursing home, many of her things were divided up among family. There were not too many items of my grandmother’s that I wanted, but I made sure I got her television. It was far from a new television. In fact, it was downright old and heavy by today’s standards.

For me, it was the Braves TV. Every time I saw it or powered it on, I thought about Granny and our shared bond over the game of baseball.

Eventually I replaced Granny’s TV with a newer HD model after thinking to myself, there is no way that Granny would still be watching the Braves on this set.

I laughed a little when I thought that if she were here she would say, “Buster Brown, get rid of that old TV and get yourself one where you can see the blades of grass on the field.”

To this day, whenever I watch the Braves play, I smile a little wider because I know we are both watching the same game.


The third woman who shaped my love of baseball is Pat Hall, or Mom Mom as I called her. For years, Mom Mom lived in the perfect area to take advantage of a love of baseball. After retiring, Mom Mom moved from Maryland to the west coast of Florida near Bradenton.

In addition to being located near some really nice beaches, which made for great summer days in the surf, as well as year round fishing, there was proximity to baseball; lots and lots of baseball.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the layout of baseball in Florida, there are several teams that hold their Spring Training games in and around the west coast of the Sunshine State.

Each year when Spring Training rolled around, Mom Mom and I would try to plan when I could come down from Orlando and catch a game with her.

Sadly, it never worked out that we could see a Spring Training game in Bradenton. However, we were able to see several Minor League Baseball games together at Tinker Field in Orlando.

A map of the teams that call the Grapefruit League in Florida their Spring Training home.
Photo by R. Anderson

In addition to fueling my love for attending baseball games, Mom Mom also helped add to my autograph collection.

Mom Mom interacted with many ball players through a part time job that she had at a restaurant that was owned by a former player in the Pirates organization. Every so often, a new package filled with autographs of people that she had met would arrive in the mail.

Many of those autographs are still displayed in my office. One particularly cool item from those years is an autographed team ball for the Bradenton Explorers of the SPBA.

The SPBA disbanded after a single season. So, I consider that extra cool to have that memento of a forgotten era.

Encounters with sports figures was not just tied to baseball however. During one visit to her restaurant, I was also introduced to college basketball announcer Dick Vitale.

I met him before I really knew who he was. So, there was not a huge wow factor aside from the normal pleasantries of being introduced to someone and being told that they were famous. Once I did learn who he was I must say as he would surely say, “it was awesome baby.”

One of my remaining bucket list Ballparks is McKechnie Field in Bradenton. It is the Ballpark that Mom Mom and I never made it to. It is important to me that I make it there at least once in her memory.

I had planned to make the trek in 2020, but then the world of sports shut down for COVID-19. Hopefully 2024 will allow me to finally catch a game there 40 years after the invitation was first made.


Although both my maternal and paternal grandmothers have passed away, the lessons they taught me and the love of baseball remains.

My mom and I have attended many baseball games together over the years, and hopefully we will get to attend a few more in the years to come. Inside and outside of ballparks she continues to be an inspiration.

There are countless other personal stories that I am sure people can tell about their own experiences with inspirational women in their lives.

Of course, just like a single column cannot contain all the stories of important women in my life, a single month cannot contain all of the ways that women have contributed to societies throughout history.

Be sure to take time to recognize a few women in your life who have helped shape you into the person you are today, and the person you are yet to be.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some Ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

A Topps Quest 40 Years in the Making

Through the years, I have collected everything from Matchbox Cars and comics, to ticket stubs and books from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It has often been said that my collections have collections.

One of the earliest things that I collected was baseball cards.

I started collecting baseball cards in elementary school back when packs could be purchased for pocket change and included a stick of card staining bubble gum.

One of my greatest joys back then came from riding my bike to the neighborhood 7-Eleven to spend some of my allowance on a pack of baseball cards, a comic book, some powdered doughnuts and a Sunny Delight.

On special occasions, my mom would drive me to one of three baseball card and comic book stores where I would thumb through the boxes of comics and binders of cards looking for items to add to my collections.

Once I was able to drive and was earning money from working, I would still go to the card shops on the weekends. My trips became less frequent once I was in college.

Eventually, as other priorities and interests emerged, my card collecting was relegated to occasionally buying a pack here and there out of nostalgia.

Way back in 1983 I started collecting baseball cards. This binder, complete with dot matrix label printed on a Commodore 128, was the first time I tried to complete a full set. The set has remained 125 cards short of being complete for 40 years.
Photo R. Anderson

Back on August 19, 2013, I wrote a column about wanting to finish the 1983 Topps baseball card set that I had started 30 years earlier.

In that column, I made a bold prediction that I would finish the set by the end of the year by procuring the missing 125 cards that I needed out of the 792-card set.

Despite starting the quest in the fourth quarter of 2013, it seemed like a very doable thing to complete.

In reality, the quest to finish the set would take another decade.

Paraphrasing a song about black eyed peas and homicide, as spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall, I found out that the 1983 Topps baseball set might be the set that was not completed at all.

I cannot really say why the set was not finished back in 2013.

When I wrote the column, I really had the intention and desire to finish the set that year.

In the years since 2013, I had mostly forgotten about the incomplete set of cards despite walking past the binders of baseball cards nearly every day.

That all changed in January. While I was moving my baseball card binders, I was once again reminded of the incomplete set.

At the time, I did not take any action to finish the set.

Then in late February as I was looking through some old writings, I was reminded of the column about the 30-year quest.

So, determined not to wait another 10 years, I decided that I would make completing the set an early birthday gift to myself.

Back in the latter half of the 20th Century when I was actively collecting baseball cards, I carried around checklists in my wallet for each set I was working on. The checklist was numbered from 1 to 792, or however many cards that particular set had. As I found a card, I would cross it off of the list.

This system was extremely helpful in providing an exact snapshot of the status of every set of cards I was working on at any given time.

Back in 2013 when I first came up with the grand idea to complete the set, I could not find my checklist from 1983. So, I was forced to sit on the living room floor and thumb through the binder with the cards I did have crossing off the corresponding number on the checklist one by one to determine just how many cards I needed.

One would think that realizing how tedious that task was that I would put my 2013 checklist somewhere safe.

This was the thought that ran through my head on a continuous loop as I found myself in 2023 once again sitting on my living room floor creating a checklist for the cards that I needed.

Having lost both the 1983 original, as well as the 2013 version, I once again found myself painstakingly checking off cards one by one in 2023 as I sought to complete the 1983 Topps baseball set.
Photo R. Anderson

With my list of missing cards completed once more, the question now was how to best procure the 125 cards.

Back in 2013, complete 1983 Topps sets were selling for around $50 on eBay. At the time, I decided against buying 792 cards when I only needed 125.

In my mind I thought that it would be way more fun and economical to procure 125 cards on a card by card basis to mimic the old days of thumbing through the cards at Ye Olde Baseball Card Shop.

Of course, in 2013 Ye Olde Baseball Card shops were hard to find. Many of the shops had either closed altogether or consisted of people who used to run baseball card shops selling their stock online.

When I resumed the quest last week, I had the same mindset that it would be cheaper to buy the 125 cards I needed individually compared to buying a whole set.

I also ran into the same problem as I did in 2013 that the days of driving to a strip mall and looking for baseball cards at a baseball card shop have come and gone.

So, it was off to Ye Olde world wide web and the virtual baseball card shop to find those pesky missing cards that had eluded me for four decades.

After spending several hours online carefully selecting the cards from a vendor who was selling singles, I watched as the price soared well past the complete set price.

I was about to give up hope until I saw a listing on another site for a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps baseball cards. By mostly complete, I mean that the set had every card in it except for the five most expensive cards including the rookie cards of Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg.

As luck would have it, I already had those cards from my trips to 7-Eleven back in 1983.

So, I was able to by a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps Baseball cards for far less than a full set price, and way less than the 125 card a la carte price. This approach also allowed me to claim a technicality that I did not buy a complete set to only find 125 cards.

Sure, I bought 667 cards that I already had, but what a bargain compared to paying the per card price for the 125 cards that I did not have.

Best of all, I can finally say that the first set of baseball cards that I ever tried to finish, has now been completed.

Happy early birthday to me indeed.

When the cards arrived in the mail, bringing an end to my quest to complete the 1983 Topps baseball set, I was hit by a range of emotions.

While I was both happy and sad that the quest was completed, the emotion that was most impactful as I stared at a cardboard box filed with cardboard baseball cards was the feeling of being transported back in time to the sunken living room of my parents’ house in Florida.

In 2013, I wrote a column about wanting to complete my 1983 Topps baseball set. The column was inspired in part by being reminded of the set when Ryne Sandberg was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2023, I was able to add the 125 missing cards thanks to buying a mostly complete set that did not include Ryne Sandberg’s rookie card and three other rookie cards that I thankfully already had.
Photo R. Anderson

As I placed the finally completed set of 1983 Topps baseball cards on the shelf, I was also reminded that I will be ending another 40-year quest in December when I graduate from the University of Florida.

Two 40-year-old goals completed within nine months of each other. Not too shabby.

Back when I was riding my Diamondback bike to the 7-Eleven to buy baseball cards that I sorted while sitting on the sunken living room floor of my parents’ house while watching the Gators play football on TV, I never would have imagined that I would find myself accomplishing two goals 40-years after they first formed in my head.

Back then, I likely also would have thought that 40-years is a very, very long time.

And while my bike is now a Mongoose instead of a Diamondback, it really does seem that the more things change the more they stay the same.

While I do not think that my recent baseball card purchase will fully reignite the passion I once had for collecting baseball cards, it was nice to revisit younger me for a bit and to be reminded of a simpler time filled with bike rides to the 7-Eleven and Saturday trips to a baseball card shop.

I guess the morale of the story is, one is never too old to accomplish a goal. Also, if you ever find yourself sitting on the living room floor making checklists of baseball card sets, by all means make sure you remember where you put the list in case you need to find it years later.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide on what my next 40-year quest will be.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Some Journalists are Showing a Total Lack of Respect, Bruh

The other day I read a story about a reporter being fired for calling Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson “bruh” on Twitter.

The reasoning behind the firing as cited by the Dallas Morning News, was a violation of the paper’s social media policy.

Many news organizations have social media policies in place as a means to try to provide guardrails for a mostly unregulated, constantly available, nonstop temptation to create content.

I am not going to weigh in on whether I think the reporter should have been fired aside from saying that, in my time working as an editor for newspapers, I have fired people for less when their actions reflected poorly on the organization. At a minimum, the reporter should have been reminded of the expectations for conduct expected of journalists representing the news organization.

I am also not going to give oxygen to the questions about whether the use of the word “bruh,” as well as the firing, were racially motivated.

What I will say is, I do not see any circumstance where anyone in a position of authority should be called “bruh” by a journalist on social media.

Taking it a step further, I would go so far as to say that a journalist should not call anyone “bruh” on social media.

There is enough mistrust and lack of respect circulating against the field of journalism without reporters scoring an own goal by making the point for people who claim that all journalists are bad.

Long before computers replaced typewriters in newsrooms, journalists have needed to balance what they say and how they say it when it comes to reporting the facts in the best way for their readers. Social Media has blurred many of those lines and led to scenarios where reporters try to get too familiar with public figures.
Photo R. Anderson

Again, this is not about the word “bruh.” It is about the lack of respect and the familiar tone being used with a public official. There are myriad other words that could have been substituted for “bruh” and the result would have been the same.

It should be noted that the reporter in Dallas is not the first journalist to get too “familiar” with a public figure on social media. Nor are they likely to be the last.

In many ways, the rise of social media and its relaxation of societal norms is partly to blame for the lowering of the bar in terms of communication expectations.

It also doesn’t help the argument when some politicians and other public figures are equally guilty of lowering the communication bar on social media through their own posts.

Still, members of the media should be held to a higher standard of conduct. This standard covers what they say on social media, as well as what they count as truth found there.

As I have noted before, social media posts should not be the sole sources for any article written by a real journalist. That is just lazy reporting and opens up the reporter to all kinds of scrutiny.

The use of social media posts as “sources” is a column for another day.

The reporter’s defense of using the word “bruh” was that as a millennial that is just the way she talks.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have long had issues with certain things that millennials have brought to the table compared to other generations.

However, this is not a column about millennials.

Despite recently celebrating a birthday, this proud Gen-Xer is still far too young to be the guy standing on the porch shouting at the “kids” to get off of his lawn. Still, I am old enough to know that respect should be given by journalists to the people they cover.

Respecting someone’s position does not mean that you have to agree with everything they say or do, or that you necessarily have to like the person you are covering on a personal level.

It also doesn’t mean that as a journalist you stop doing your job of speaking truth to power and holding people accountable for their actions.

However, it does mean that while doing that job you do not call a mayor “bruh,” or anything other word that does not show respect for the position.

Again, there is a difference between respecting an individual, versus respecting the position they hold.

Long before computers replaced typewriters in newsrooms, journalists have needed to balance what they say and how they say it when it comes to reporting the facts in the best way for their readers. Social Media has blurred many of those lines and led to scenarios where reporters try to get too familiar with public figures.
Photo R. Anderson

In my years covering school boards and city councils, there have certainly been officials that I have disagreed with. However, whenever I was writing about them, I would state the facts and let the voters draw their own conclusions.

I also know that there have been people who did not like how persistent I was in covering certain issues.

Although they likely wished I was reassigned to a different beat, they always understood that I had a job to do and that I would cover them respectfully and fairly.

My respect for a person’s position has been a standard throughout my educational career as well. Even though I have had professors younger than some of the t-shirts in my closet, I still respect their role and address them accordingly.

I am sure that I take that to an extreme, but I would rather err on the side of respect than to try to be informal and cute on social media by de-formalizing language while blurring the line between reporter and source.

Going back to the Dallas incident, even if I was not directly involved in covering the political beat, as a representative of the newspaper, I would respect both my colleagues and the mayor and give them both the respect they their positions warranted.

Common courtesy used to be pretty easy to find.

Unfortunately, lately it seems like it is not as common as it once was.

By the time I am that old man standing on the porch shouting at the kids to get off of my lawn, I shudder to think how far the lack of respect within society will fall.

It may force me to be tempted to stay inside.

At the end of the day, there are certainly bigger issues facing the world than whether a reporter who hopefully was taught better in Journalism school used informal speech to address a person elected by a majority of voters.

However, if one stops calling out troubling things, than they become societal norms.

I am often reminded of a paper I wrote 30-years ago during my freshmen year of college about this wonderful thing called the internet and the Information Superhighway that was going to connect the world and put vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips as a means to make a better more united society.

I misplaced that paper a few years back, and have looked for it off and on ever since. Something tells me that were I to locate it now, I would be sorely disappointed by what was predicted and what came to pass.

Instead of bringing us together, in many ways the technology continues to sow division and turn us into a society of silos where no one really knows how to talk constructively and work together.

If we are not careful with how we control social media, we may discover it is a “memes” to an end.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about “bruh” has me in the mood to watch some old surfing movies.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Killing of Orlando Reporter is Latest Salvo in War on Journalists

When an Orlando television reporter was killed, and his cameraman wounded while covering a story about a shooting last month, they became the latest victims in what has become an increasingly violent time for journalists.

Despite the First Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically citing a freedom of speech, and of the press, attacks on journalists, both verbal and physical, have been on the rise over the past few years.

To be fair, the recent attack in Orlando may have been an attack of opportunity, and not a targeted attack on journalists. Accounts of the crime state that the vehicle that the journalists were in was not emblazoned with the logos and tell-tale signs of news vans in the past.

Advances in technology have created a world where journalists reporting live from a scene do not need the large satellite trucks that they once did. As a result, journalists now have a lower profile on many news scenes.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, regardless of whether the two journalists were targeted because they were journalists, or if it was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, one cannot argue that in recent years attacks on journalists have become more frequent, and, in many cases, deadlier.

In 2015, a reporter and photojournalist in Roanoke, VA were fatally shot while conducting a live television interview.

In 2018, five employees were killed, and two injured when a gunmen entered the Annapolis, MD offices of The Capitol newspaper.

The above incidents of journalists killed while doing their jobs is just a small fraction of the overall picture of journalism in the cross hairs.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2021 alone there were 142 assaults on journalists.

On January 6, 2021, many journalists were attacked and thousands of dollars of equipment was damaged at the United States Capitol.

It is too easy to place the blame on the war on journalists on politicians who encourage their followers to call journalists the “enemy of the people.”

It is also too easy to blame the war on journalists on individuals who shout “fake news” whenever they disagree with a story reported on by a journalist.

No, the attacks on journalists cannot be blamed on a single individual or group.

Instead, the increase in attacks on journalists is the result of a combination of factors ranging from a rise in violence against all groups, as well as a failure of local, state, and federal governments to take action to ensure proper mental health and gun reform measures are in place.

For years, journalists from the United States and elsewhere have voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way in order to report from various war zones.

Last year, I wrote a column about the history of war time journalism. In that column, I noted that one of my earliest memories of CNN involved watching the “Boys of Baghdad,” Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman broadcasting live when the first missiles of Operation Desert Storm were fired. That broadcast represented the first time, Americans were seeing live video in the middle of a war zone.

In the years that have followed that first live from the battlefield report, countless journalists have reported from war zones and other areas of unrest around the globe.

Even now, hundreds of journalists are in Ukraine and other hot spots risking their lives to report on the battles going on there.

War correspondents sent off to cover conflict, know going into the situation that there is a high probability that they will be shot at covering the story.

Some have even been killed while on assignment.

However, based on the rise in attacks on journalists in non-combat zones, it is not hyperbole to say that all journalists can now be considered war correspondents, since there is definitely an active war going on against the press.

Throughout my career in journalism, I have often worn a press pass, or other identification on a lanyard or clipped to a belt loop identifying me as a member of the working media whenever I was covering an event.
Photo R. Anderson

Throughout my career in journalism, I have often worn a press pass, or other identification on a lanyard or clipped to a belt loop identifying me as a member of the working media whenever I was covering an event.

My identification as a member of the press was not always worn on my person, however.

Back when I worked as the sports editor for a daily newspaper in Texas, I had a sticker on the windshield of my car that was provided by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association as a way to identify me as a member of the working press.

I took great pride in that sticker and what it stood for. The sticker was so important to me that when I was cleaning out my car after someone ran a light straight into the side of my car and totaled it, I removed the sticker from the windshield.

Part of the reason I removed the sticker was because it was a symbol of my commitment as a journalist.

The other reason for saving the sticker was that I did not want someone else taking the sticker and using it to pose as a journalist.

I still have the sticker to this day.

Back when I worked as the sports editor for a daily newspaper in Texas, I had a sticker on the windshield of my car that was provided by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association as a way to identify me as a member of the working press.
Photo R. Anderson

With the rise in violence against members of the press in recent years, I now question whether I would still proudly have that sticker on the windshield of my car, or if I would fear that having a Press sticker would act like a target that could be used by an individual who had it out for the press for one reason or another.

Would a sticker on my car invite someone to scratch the paint, knock out a window, or in an extreme case plant a bomb under it because some had told them that as a member of the press I was their enemy?

This is the reality facing many journalists today.

Despite the rise in attacks, I am convinced that dedicated journalists will continue to go to work each day to tell the stories that need to be told in order to inform their readers and viewers.

After all, based on what the average journalist makes in salary, individuals join the field of journalism out of dedication to the craft versus seeking financial gains.

Unfortunately, thanks to events outside their control, many of those journalists will likely be looking over their shoulder and wondering whether their commitment to reporting the truth will get them killed.

It may also become common practice for journalists to wear Kevlar vests whether they are covering a war zone overseas, or a city council meeting around the block.

In journalism school we are taught to report the story and not to become the story.

Unfortunately, the war on journalism and journalists is making it harder to stay on the side lines of what is quickly becoming a life-or-death battlefield in the name of speaking truth to power and providing an eyewitness account of history in real time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to go remember a simpler time before journalism was under attack.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

From the Vault: Astros Parade Response Shows Social Media Threats Can Start at a Young Age

Editor’s Note: As I was working on my content schedule for the next few months ahead of the return of Major League Baseball, I came across a column that I wrote on November 7, 2022 but never posted.

Through the years I have written several columns that for one reason or another were never posted. As part of a semi-regular series called From the Vault, I will occasionally dust off these written but never posted columns and allow them to see the light of day. So, without further ado, fresh from my vault, here is the column that was originally meant to post on November 7, 2022. Sadly, many of the issues addressed are still relevant today.

The other day the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to become the 2022 World Series Champions.

It is the first title for the Astros since a cheating scandal tarnished their 2017 World Series crown like a line of trash cans littering a pristine alley.

Having given up my Astros fandom years ago, I did not plan to write anything about the Astros winning the World Series aside from perhaps a quick mention about how nice it is that Dusty Baker can finally call himself a World Series winning manager after a quarter century of falling short.

My desire to avoid writing about anything Astros related all changed when I saw an article from a local television station about two students getting arrested for making threats on social media related to the Astros World Series celebration parade.

First, a little background. Numerous school districts in and around Houston cancelled class on the day of the parade to allow students and staff to attend the parade.

The University where I earned my MS in Sport Management even joined the school skipping party, which I found to be particularly odd.

The fact that a parade for a winning sports team is considered worthy of cancelling school and other events, but we still do not have a national holiday on election day to ensure that everyone who chooses to vote can vote really says a lot about the priorities in this country. But that is a column for another day.

Today’s column is about two students at two different intermediate schools within the same district who felt slighted that their district did not see fit to cancel classes like so many other districts did.

I am in no way minimizing the role that sports can play on a young person’s life, or even the role it plays on an older person. One of my very first public speaking experiences captivating a crowd was leading a Super Bowl rally in front of my entire elementary school when I was in second grade. Many decades later, it is still a very fond memory.

The two students in the suburbs of Houston will likely not have fond memories of the steps they took to show their fandom for a sports team. The students took to social media and made comments about the district being open.

The comments were deemed to be terroristic threats which led to an increased police presence and other heightened security on campuses throughout the district.

Now, some people reading this will likely say that they were just “boys being boys” who they took things too far.

Of course, in a state where many students have taken actual violent steps on campuses like engaging in mass shootings, one does not get to have the luxury of saying they were just “boys being boys,” or even “girls being girls.”

Others may respond by saying that “everyone knows that social media speech isn’t real speech so no harm was done.”

To that I will say, many of the actual events of violence that occur on school campuses, grocery stores, synagogues, United States Capitol complexes, etc., first involved threats, or boosting on social media.

Still others will say, “sure the threats are bad and they shouldn’t have done it, but they will grow out of it.

To that I say, kids who post threats on social media can turn into adults who post threats on social media. One can also look at how comments made on social media regarding a certain rally in Washington D.C. back in 2020 had real-world consequences.

The social media genie is never going back in the bottle. Attempts to regulate content and try to limit threats and violence will continue to fall short leaving people to police themselves with what they say and do.

As I have said many times, as a journalist I am a huge proponent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the protections it offers regarding free speech.

What I am not a fan of, is people trying to use the First Amendment to justify hate speech and generally abhorrent rhetoric that has no place in a civilized society that claims to have been formed on “Godly principles.”

Unfortunately, hate speech will continue to fall under free speech and people will be left to monitor and censor their own speech by deciding what should and should not be said in a civilized society.

That is a very sobering and troubling thought.

This all brings us full circle back to the two middle schoolers in a pair of Houston suburbs who saw nothing wrong with posting a threat on social media because they did not get their way regarding having school cancelled, so they could go see a bunch of baseball players in a parade.

They will likely be charged as minors and will go about their life’s as if nothing happened once they turn 18.

For the rest of us, social media will continue to allow hate and threats to fester in the darkness like a rat hiding in a corner waiting to strike.

As a proud member of Generation X, I, like the generations before me, can recall a time before the internet and social media were the de facto communication methods.

The generations that follow will have had access to tablets and social media in many cases from the crib to the grave.

A failure to instill responsible means to use and regulate that technology among people who don’t know of a world before social media is critical to ensuring that a civil society does not morph into a society embroiled in a civil war.

That is the problem with threats made on social media, they have a nasty habit of sneaking into the real world and becoming actual events where people can be injured or even killed.

For a platform that calls itself a social media, there is definitely a lot of anti-social behavior going on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to curl up with a nice book and forget about social media for a while.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson


Remembering former UCF President John Hitt

The other day I was saddened to hear about the passing of former University of Central Florida (UCF) president John C. Hitt.

President Hitt, who was 82-years-old when he died, became UCF’s fourth president in 1992 and retired from the post in June 2018. He was a transformational figure at UCF. Over the course of his 26-years at the helm, President Hitt ushered in an era of explosive growth and opportunity both in terms of facilities and enrollments.

While many buildings were added to the UCF campus during President Hitt’s tenure, perhaps the most visible one is the on-campus football stadium affectionately known as the “Bounce House.”
Photo R. Anderson

President Hitt, transformed the UCF campus on the Orange and Seminole County lines from a commuter school withering in the shadow of larger universities like Florida State University and the University of Florida, to the second largest university by enrollment in the country.

UCF’s enrollment tripled from 21,000 students to more than 66,000 by his retirement.

Enrollment was not the only thing that grew during President Hitt’s tenure at UCF. Under his watch, UCF opened a College of Medicine and created momentum for the ultimate construction of an on-campus football stadium.

To celebrate his 20th year leading UCF, the on-campus library, which was the first building on campus that was open to students, was renamed in his honor.

The oldest building on the UCF main campus open to students, was renamed the John C. Hitt Library to celebrate former college president John Hitt’s 20th anniversary at the school’s helm. Hitt, who died February 21, 2023, went on to serve as UCF president for 26 years.
Photo R. Anderson

While much will be said over the coming days about President Hitt’s legacy, my association with him is a little more personal.

During my time as an undergraduate at UCF, I created a student newspaper called Knight Times, which I ran for three years with the help of some very dedicated staff and friends.

Eight months after forming the paper, I wanted to do something that both set the paper apart from our better funded competitors, and also showed that we were not afraid to go to the top.

To accomplish that goal, I decided that I wanted to interview President Hitt.

In 1997, I had the opportunity to interview President Hitt for a two-part series of articles for Knight Times, the student newspaper I founded and operated while enrolled as an undergraduate journalism student at UCF.
Photo R. Anderson

To my surprise and delight, he accepted the offer and a two-part series about his vision for UCF’s future was created.

For President Hitt, the interview was likely just another appointment on his calendar that day.

However for me, it showed that not only had Knight Times arrived in terms of being taken seriously, but I had shown that I could score big interviews as a journalist.

I have interviewed thousands of people in my journalism career. I even had some pretty high-profile interviews during my time as editor in chief of my high school newspaper.

However, my interview with President Hitt was the first time that I felt that I had scored the interview through my own efforts and was being taken seriously as an equal to journalists who had been in the field longer than I had.

Knight Times lasted an additional two years after my interview with President Hitt ran.

The visions President Hitt outlined in that interview have lasted much longer.

At the time of my interview, President Hitt was in his fifth year at the helm. However, even then it was clear that he had a strong sense of where things were headed as noted by the quote from the interview below.

“If I had to look out and see what my fondest dream 15-20 years from now it would be that we would be recognized as the premiere metropolitan university, that we would be a Research One according to the Carnegie Commission’s classifications, and that we would still be regarded as having a lot of concern for an excellence in undergraduate education,” Hitt said.

That desire became a reality in the years that followed drawing attention from some pretty powerful figures along the way.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush once said that it was his belief that, “Walt Disney and John Hitt have done more to transform Central Florida into a vibrant, dynamic place than any two people.”

In addition to being focused on growth, President Hitt knew that it was attention to the students that really mattered as referenced in another quote from that 1997 interview.

“A lot of people around the country see campuses where faculty members won’t cooperate together or with the administration. We don’t have that here,” Hitt said. “We have a real good community atmosphere here. We have got a pretty darn good situation here at UCF and we are proud of it.”

Two and a half years after my interview with President Hitt, our paths crossed once again as he handed me my diploma on the graduation stage inside the UCF Arena signaling the end of my time at UCF, and the beginning of the next phase of my professional journalism career.

Speaking as one of the thousands of Knights who benefited from your leadership, we are pretty proud to have called you our president. Charge On, President Hitt, and thank you for granting me that interview so many years ago.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to read some more articles from the Knight Times archives.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Shooting at Michigan State University Shows How Vulnerable College Campuses Are

Earlier this week a 43-year-old man killed three people and injured five others on the campus of Michigan State University.

The shooting, which occurred on the eve of fifth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, marked yet another example of what appears to be a uniquely American problem related to the use of guns to create mass casualty events on soft targets like schools, places of worship, grocery stores, parades, and a slew of other events where people gather.

As of February 14, 2023, there have been more mass shootings in America than there have been days of the year.  In January 2023 alone, there were 52 mass shootings that left 87 dead and 205 wounded.

Let that sink in for a moment.

This is not a column about repealing the Second Amendment, or creating a movement to take away people’s legally obtained firearms.

This is not a column about the move in some states to loosen laws that seem to make it easier for individuals to gain possession of guns and ammo.

Following a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, TX in 2019, instead of cracking down on guns, Texas made it easier for people to get guns by eliminating burdensome gun permitting and training requirements that had caused citizens to have to wait a few days to get their guns and also show that they took a course to know how to responsibly use them.
Photo R. Anderson

This is also not a column about lawmakers who fail to act to pass simple legislation that could make it harder to get and use guns to kill citizens just trying to go about their daily lives.

No, this is a column about the sad fact that everyday people are unprotected from falling victim to senseless gun violence in the most prosperous country in the world.

While no one is immune from falling victim to the plague of mass shootings, for this column my main focus is mass shooting events on college campuses which represent a small fraction of the hundreds of mass shooting events that occur in America each year.

Since 1966 when a gunman killed 15 people and injured 31 at the University of Texas in Austin, in what many consider the first mass shooting event in America, there have been 12 mass shootings on college campuses where over three people were killed leading to 99 deaths.

Prior to the Michigan State shooting, the most recent college shooting was in 2022 at the University of Virginia where three people were killed and two were injured.

Colleges and universities from sea to shining sea serve as both institutions of higher learning, as well as soft targets for would be mass shooters to prey upon.

Last year, while visiting the University of Florida to be inducted into an Honor Society, I found myself on high alert looking in the shadows for potential threats as I walked the sprawling campus.

Like many other colleges and universities, UF is a large campus that acts like a mini city surrounded by various homes, businesses, and infrastructure with no walls or gates to funnel visitors through central entry and exit points to control who comes and goes.

Like many other colleges and universities, the University of Florida is a large campus that acts like a mini city surrounded by various homes, businesses, and infrastructure with no walls or gates to funnel visitors through central entry and exit points to control who comes and goes. The same is true for Michigan State University making it nearly impossible to fully prevent mass shooting events from occurring on campus.
Photo R. Anderson

The same was true for Michigan State University where it appears the gunman entered a publicly accessible building on the edge of campus and opened fire before opening fire in another publicly accessible building full of students.

It is impossible to fully secure a college campus. So, the blame for the shooting does not fall on Michigan State University.

During my tenure as the Public Information Manager for a college, I constantly drilled myself on how I would respond to a crisis communication event on campus. Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy to spend so much time cooking up responses to scenarios that they assured me would never occur.

Then the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred and we found ourselves faced with the need to evacuate the campus for fear that the highly explosive oil tanks that surrounded the campus would be the next target of the terrorists.

Although, the oil tanks and the campus remained unscathed, from that moment on, my “hope for the best but always plan for the worst strategy” did not seem so farfetched to my previously doubting colleagues.

Although the campus I worked on was small, it was spread out with numerous unsecured entry points. It also lacked armed security officers. While thankfully it never happened, it would have been very easy for someone to walk in off of the street and start shooting.

Unfortunately, like many campuses both then and now, there is really no way to prevent an individual from bringing a gun inside a classroom and creating a mass casualty event.

Of course, in Texas and other states, the response to mass shootings by some lawmakers would be to say that the armed good guys in the classroom would take out the armed bad guys.

There is so much wrong with that statement, but I will leave that for another column on another day.

Like I said, this is also not a column about lawmakers who fail to act to pass simple common sense legislation that could make it harder for people who should not have access to firearms from getting and using guns to kill citizens who are just trying to go about their daily lives.

Since it appears most are unwilling to take proactive steps to prevent gun violence, that leaves us in the category of reacting. Throughout my career in public affairs and strategic communication, I have always held firm to the practice of being first on the scene to deliver credible information while also being transparent about what I do not know during a fluid situation.

There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t have that information right now, but I will bring it to you as soon as I do have it,” in the heat of communicating in a crisis.

It is a far worse crisis communication blunder to say nothing at all as a scene unfolds leaving unqualified experts on social media to fill in the voids left by the silence of the official sources.

Based on what I have seen so far, the Michigan State University response to the shooting should be hailed as a textbook example of how to respond to an event.

Multiple jurisdictions worked in harmony with a clear command structure to secure the scene and protect all people on campus. Additionally, regular updates were provided to the media and other concerned individuals while the scene was still active.

That is a stark contrast to what occurred during the 2022 Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, TX. The Robb Elementary response should be added as a case study to every crisis communication and law enforcement practitioner as a prime example of what not to do during a mass shooting.

As great as the response at Michigan State was, the simple fact is something needs to be done to stop these mass shooting events from happening.

As a crisis communicator, I was pleased to see the transparent way that the incident at Michigan State was handled.

I will be more pleased if a day comes when crisis communicators and law enforcement personal do not have to respond to calls of shots fired at campuses where people are just trying to learn, or stores where people are just trying to bring home some groceries to feed their families.

America has twice as many firearms per 100 residents as the next country on the list of Top 10 gun owning countries.

We should be better than this.

And yes, I know that there are people who may not know anything else that is in the United States Constitution, but they use the Second Amendment as their lodestar allowing them to collect an arsenal of firearms.

Again, I am not suggesting that the government come and take away everyone’s guns. However, we should not be willing to just accept mass shootings as a way of life and pray that we and those we love are never the victims.

We should demand that politicians make common sense changes to gun laws to make it harder for people to use guns in mass shootings and easier for people to get the mental health resources that they need.

That can be done while still protecting people’s Second Amendment rights as well as all of the other rights outlined in the Constitution.

The real question is whether any politicians are willing to take those steps, or if they will remain content to putting on their shocked and outraged face for the cameras every time someone takes an easy to obtain firearm and kills a bunch of innocent people while crying “lone wolf” to anyone who will listen.

Students of all ages from preschool to grad school should be able to learn in their classrooms without living in constant fear that someone is going to barge in with a gun.

Likewise, people should feel safe going to see a parade, going to their house of worship, or picking up some groceries on the way home without wondering if the sound they heard was a car backfiring or someone firing a gun.

How many innocent people must be killed before politicians acknowledge there is a problem with gun violence in America and take common sense steps to prevent future attacks on everyday citizens?

The number of victims of mass shootings is already in the thousands. Will it have to reach the tens of thousands before people take proactive steps?

Or, will American society be left in a constant state of reaction where praise is given to the first responders who do things right, criticism is heaped upon those who botch the response, and thoughts and prayers are sent out to the victims along with prayers that the violence stays away from the people sending out the thoughts and prayers?

I guess this was a column about urging elected officials to do something about the unacceptable rise in gun violence and mass shootings after all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, as I said during a column last year following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, I am off to see if I can make sense out of that another senseless act of violence and see what steps I can take to prevent another one.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Super Bowl Once Again Puts the Use of Native American Mascots in the Global Spotlight

Leading up to this year’s Super Bowl match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs a lot of attention has been placed on the match-up between quarterbacks Jalen Hurts of the Eagles, and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. Barring a late scratch by one of the quarterbacks due to injury, this will mark the first time that two black quarterbacks have started in the Super Bowl.

Having two black quarterbacks starting in a Super Bowl is of course an important milestone. Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl in 1988. Williams was named Super Bowl MVP after leading his team to a decisive victory in Super Bowl XXII. Including Williams, seven black quarterbacks have played in the Super Bowl, with three of the seven leading their team to victory.

With a week of media coverage leading up to the game, the head-to-head battle between Hurts and Mahomes is the type of human interest story that reporters love to cover. Another story gaining traction ahead of the game is the fact that Travis Kelce suiting up for the Chiefs and Jason Kelce playing for the Eagles will mark the first time two brothers have played for different teams in the Super Bowl.

I had the opportunity to cover Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers and found trying to find new things to write about each day leading up to the game to be quite exhausting. By the time I finished my “Postcards from the Bowl” series, I was worn out from covering the Super Bowl long before the time kickoff rolled around.

As a Super Bowl media week veteran, I can attest that it can be an exhausting week trying to cover all of the stories leading up to the game. Unfortunately, sometimes the stories most in need of coverage are ignored in favor of the shiny things that support the

My exhaustion was likely not helped by the fact that after spending eight hours at the Super Bowl experience each day, I still had to do my day job of laying out a sports section and covering high school games.

I say all of this to point out that there is a lot of stuff that gets covered leading up to a Super Bowl. One could argue that there is information overload for the reporters covering the game who are working hard between all of the various social events and parties.

Even the pregame show on the day of the Super Bowl is “super-sized” to the point that the game can often be seen as an afterthought, or merely something to fill the time between the commercials and halftime show.

One thing that should not be relegated to the noise, or considered an afterthought, involves Kansas City’s use of Native American names, image and likeness.

In recent years, a slate of professional sports teams have changed names tied to Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. This includes an MLB team in Cleveland, a Canadian Football League team in Edmonton, and an NFL team in Washington, D.C.

After years of protests, efforts to force a name change in Washington D.C. bore fruit. Similar efforts in Kansas City have failed to gain the same level of results. Protestors are expected to continue their call for change outside the Super Bowl this weekend in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo R. Anderson

While I think that Commanders is a lame name, it does impact my memories of supporting the team. It does however impact my willingness to buy new team merch. After all, what exactly are they commanding?

While I wish that they had picked a better name, I understand why the name was changed.

While earning my M.S. in Sport Management, I explored the subject of Native American mascots and iconography used by sports teams extensively. Team names like Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Eskimos, and Redskins have long been considered offensive to some indigenous people.

The origin of the team names in many cases were first set up in the early parts of the 20th Century as part of imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race. In both instances, the belief being that the best way to honor the nostalgia of the vanquished was to use names and imagery to remind people of them.

Of course, the problem with hanging one’s nickname hat on imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race, is that the Native American populations are very much still among us. They remain despite efforts throughout American history to wipe them out, or relegate them to out of sight, and out of mind reservations.

So, the use of a population as a mascot becomes problematic when one tries to adhere to the “all men (and women) are created equal” wording of the founding fathers.

Which brings us back full circle to this year’s Super Bowl.

Native American activists who have been urging the team to retire the name “Chiefs,” the arrowhead and the rest of an accumulated 60-plus years of cultural appropriation and stereotyping plan to protest the Chiefs ahead of the game in Phoenix, Arizona.

Although they use Native American iconography, the origin of the Kansas City name is a little different from some of the other sports teams who use Native American terms. The Chiefs were named after former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe “Chief” Bartle as a reward for his efforts to convince Lamar Hunt to move the Dallas Texans, to Kansas City in 1963.

Much like the Washington team before them, the Chiefs have aligned themselves with a group of Native Americans who do not find the name offensive, while mostly ignoring those who do. In defending their name and use of Native American iconography, the Chiefs have an entire website dedicated to all of the ways that they are including Native Americans in their game day festivities.

Of course, as the saga in Washington D.C. showed, Native American culture is not a monolith. Gaining buy-in from one group does not mean that every Native American agrees that the continued use of their imagery is not offensive.

It is likely that when the Chiefs take the field in their third Super Bowl in four years, the Kansas City fans in the stands, and around the globe will do the “tomahawk chop” and “war cry” whenever Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs do something good. There will likely even be some fans wearing headdresses and war paint at the game despite the Kansas City Chiefs barring that practice from their home stadium a few years back.

As was the case with me so many years ago, a majority of fans may be unaware that what they are doing is offensive to Native American groups. Such is the sneaky embrace of cultural appropriation.

The Atlanta Braves are among a dwindling number of professional sports teams that have shown little interest in changing their nickname and use of images and chants that some Native American groups find offensive.
Photo R. Anderson

Unless something changes, the Chiefs will continue to blaze an increasingly less crowded trail with the Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles clinging on to their mascots and customs for the benefit of their fans, and the detriment of indigenous people who have suffered great injustice throughout the history of the great experiment in democracy known as the United States of America.

The purpose of this column is not to make people feel guilty for mistakes and actions taken in the past. The past is the past. As has been said many times, one most learn from the mistakes of history in order to ensure that they are not repeated in the future. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

It is certainly a cause for celebration that there are two black quarterbacks taking the field in the Super Bowl this year. However, as the protests by Native Americans outside the stadium show, there is still a long way to go until all groups can enjoy the game and feel equally recognized.

As the NFL looks to expand their global footprint, it would be wise for them to look at how they treat Native Americans and other groups domestically before spreading their brand further on the international stage.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to watch some commercials disguised as a football game.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

The State of the Union is…Divided: Presidential Address Shows That Much Work Remains to Forge a More Perfect Union

President Joe Biden has delivered three State of the Union (SOTU) addresses  during his presidency. The most recent address took place on February 7, 2023.

Unlike the previous two addresses where the Democratic party controlled both chambers of Congress, Biden’s most recent address took place before a Democratically controlled Senate, and a Republican led House of Representatives.

At times, the address looked like it had been hijacked by the British parliament with shouting from the gallery directed at Biden, and a fair amount of clap back from the president aimed at his hecklers.

Despite the uncharacteristic back and forth, for brief moments, the address offered a small glimmer of hope that two political parties might agree to actually pass legislation that helped form a more perfect union.

However, for the most part, the address followed the similar pattern of the party of the president agreeing with everything that was said, and the opposition party disagreeing with everything said out of principle during their opposing party rebuttal.

The United States Capitol, depicted here in Lego form, was the site of the State of the Union Address. The address often serves as a barometer for where things stand in the country. Based on the initial reaction, some might feel it would be easier to fix the crack in the Liberty Bell than to heal the divide tearing the nation apart.
Photo R. Anderson

As a classically trained journalist, I was taught to avoid discussing politics in most cases.

Instead, my journalism school professors taught us to report the facts and let our readers decide what position they wanted to take on an issue.

Relying on my trusty friends Who, What, When Where, Why and occasionally How, I have interviewed countless individuals and covered myriad events while always letting the facts tell the story.

Somewhere along the way, in the 20 or so years that have passed since those Journalism school lessons, the environment has certainly changed.

No, I am not talking about global warming, although that has certainly led to changes in the environment. Instead, I am referring to a rise in the inability to discuss issues without people retreating to their trenches on the far left and the far right.

In short, society has moved to the point where it is almost impossible to not talk about politics.

Everyone has an opinion now, and for the most part, they are not afraid to share it with whoever they come in contact with. There are many hot button issues that cause people to dig in ranging from immigration, to renewable energy, and of course the aforementioned global warming.

It is easy to blame social media for the rise in polarization of opinion. Although, a media landscape where people are only fed stories and ideas that coincide with their personal viewpoint is certainly not helping.

While news is getting more partisan on the national level, the rise in news deserts, where the guardrails of sound journalistic principles have given way to a wild, wild west news silo and echo chamber approach, is also contributing to fostering divisions among people.

A 2022 study by the Poynter Institute noted that a fourth of all  local newspapers in the United States have closed since 2005. Some estimates state that an average of two newspapers a day are silencing their presses for good.

Seventy million residents, or roughly 20 percent of the population of the United States, live in communities without easy and affordable access to local news and information that binds the American experiment in democracy at the grassroots level.

A 2022 study by the Poynter Institute noted that a fourth of all the local newspapers in the United States have closed since 2005. Some estimates state that an average of two newspapers a day are silencing their presses for good.
Photo R. Anderson

Of the 10 newspapers I have worked for during my journalism career, only two remain in operation.

The two surviving newspapers have enacted extreme cost cutting measures by relocating to smaller offices, reducing the number of days they print, reducing the width and number of pages of the printed paper, laying off the majority of their staff, and moving their printing operations to remote sites shared with other publications.

When the trusted source of local news is gone, misinformation fills the spot left behind. After all, nature abhors a vacuum.

As a journalist, I am sickened by the decline in the news profession.

As an American citizen, I am worried by what the loss of local trustworthy news means for the future.

So, how does a classically trained journalist navigate the politically charged waters of 2023 without alienating half of their readers?

As noted above, I still try to avoid writing about politics. However, as any long-term reader will recall, during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, I dedicated many columns to discussing the shear lunacy of the politicians and sports leagues who were denying the science of the COVID-19 virus for their own selfish gains.

Some politicians even went so far as encouraging their constituents to engage in “treatments” that were dangerous to their health and debunked by science, and in many cases common sense.

As the world slowly emerged from under the COVID-19 fog, I had hoped that the deep divisions along party lines were caused by the hysteria of dealing with a once in a century pandemic, and were not the new normal.

I even went so far as to suggest that society would emerge stronger and a “Coronaissance” that would leave society in a better place then it entered it would occur after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2023, I can sadly report that my predicted Coronaissance did not arrive. If anything, society is even more divided than it was in the before times.

Which, of course, brings me to trying to identify strategies and tactics to use when engaging in conversations about difficult and charged political and social topics.

One could argue that the simplest approach to trying to engage with people who have vastly different political ideals would be to channel the Captain from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” and just throw your hands in the air and say, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men, you just can’t reach.”

It is certainly true that some people will never be swayed, or “reached” to change their opinions no matter what the preponderance of evidence says.

Aside from being sampled by Guns N’ Roses in the song Civil War, the Captain’s speech in the film Cool Hand Luke about a failure to communicate was listed at Number 11 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most memorable movie lines. As a means of art imitating life, sometimes conversing with individuals entrenched in a certain belief can feel like a real-life failure to communicate.
Photo R. Anderson

Some people will always prefer to stick their heads in the sand ostrich style while enjoying some tasty horse dewormer.

As tempting as it might be to just channel your inner Captain, some people can indeed be reached in the moveable middle.

In my experience, when trying to have a constructive conversation it is always important to not attack someone’s beliefs directly.

Going in with the verbal barrage telling someone all the ways that their point of view is wrong will only cause them to build a wall and stop listening to anything you have to say.

This approach can be especially important when dealing with people whose go to plan for anything they don’t like is building a wall.

Instead, I will ask the person why they believe a certain way and inject opposing and truthful views while gently pointing out along the way that a Facebook post or meme should not be the basis of a life philosophy.

I also will usually point out that as a news junkie myself, I recommended that everyone get their news from multiple sources to avoid the news silo and echo chamber effect caused by only drawing from a single news well.

In a functioning democracy one should be able to have a spirited disagreement on policy issues without it leading to a need to storm a Capitol, or consider everyone who does not think exactly like they do to be the enemy.
Photo R. Anderson

I have also discovered that it can be good practice to point out that in a functioning democracy one should be able to have a spirited disagreement on policy issues without it leading to a need to storm a Capitol, or consider everyone who does not think exactly like they do to be the enemy.

As sound as those practices can be, to quote the late Kenny Rogers, one also must know when to hold them, know when to fold them and know when to walk away.

This can be walking away from a conversation to salvage a friendship, or it can also be to walk away from the person entirely if their views are just too extreme to discuss rationally.

It is never worth stooping to the level of someone who just will not see reason no matter how hard you try to present the truth.

The state of the union is definitely divided, and I miss those carefree days early in my career when politics was not so front and center in my writing. I would like to think that society will return from the brink and move back towards the middle.

Until then, one just must continue to try building a bridge across the expanse in an attempt to find common ground and hope that those who would want to tear the bridge down are silenced by the voices of those who want to keep it intact.

After all, at the end of the day, failure to communicate is not an option that anyone should accept.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have this sudden urge to watch “Cool Hand Luke” for some reason.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Adult Happy Meal Rollout Leaves Much to Grimace About

Earlier this month, the fine folks at McDonald’s rolled out a Happy Meal aimed at adults called the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box in honor of the company that they partnered with to bring the vision to life.

In full disclosure, during my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at the University of Central Florida I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal.

Motivations for getting a Happy Meal range from when just wanting a quick and cheap snack, to wanting to feel a little like a kid again with a chocolate milk and some tiny fries.

During my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at UCF, I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal. Recently, the people at McDonalds decided that they had had enough with the kid stuff to the point of rolling out an adult version of the happy meal with more food and freakier looking toys.
Photo R. Anderson

So, I really never saw the need to differentiate between a kid’s version of a Happy Meal and an adult version.

After all, at the end of the day, a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger no matter how you wrap it in yellow paper.

The people at McDonald’s however do see a need to target different demographics with their boxed meals as evidenced by the 2001 rollout of the Mighty Kids Meal. For those who may not recall, the Mighty Kids Meal was for those discerning youth who considered themselves too old for a Happy Meal, yet not quite ready to take the plunge and order off of the adult menu just yet.

Which brings us smack dab to the waning months of 2022 and the rollout of an adult version of a Happy Meal.

Putting my Ad/PR minor from UCF to use, while also proving that I did more than just eat Happy Meals as an undergrad, (I also took part in all you can eat pork Tuesdays at Sonny’s).

Still, undergraduate eating habits aside, I can imagine what the brain trust at McHeadquarters was thinking as they brought the idea of an adult Happy Meal to life.

Wearing my marketing hat for a bit, I am guessing one of the interns came to a meeting McCafe iced coffee in hand and said, “you know, the last couple of years have been like a real-life poop emoji, we should do something to make our customers feel better, while also increasing profits during the third quarter.”

Then, an older, wiser Generation X marketing person stood up, wiped the cheeseburgers crumbs off of their tie and likely said, “back when I was young, I often found my happy place inside a cardboard box filled with a hamburger, French fries and a toy. We should try to recreate that magic again, but fill them with toys for adults instead.”

Of course, in certain circles the term “adult toys” has an entirely different meaning, but that is beside the point. The point is, on paper the idea of an adult Happy Meal seemed like a can’t fail slam dunk dripping with nostalgia and carbs crammed inside a cardboard box.

Sadly, the reality of the rollout was anything but smooth.

The McDonalds near the Johnson Space Center recently relocated and left its McPlayplace behind. For years, McDonalds has been on a mission to try to seem more adult as the playgrounds that were once a staple of the stores have been replaced with coffee bars and dual drive thru lanes. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before they would try to lean on both nostalgia and practicality with an Adult Happy Meal that tried to honor the past, but with less germ-infested ball pits. Unfortunately, as the old space saying goes,

For starters, the four-eyed version of classic characters from the Ronald McDonald McUniverse made me grimace like someone had hamburglared away a piece of my childhood. I was so not lovin’ it.

If the ice cream machine was ever working at my local McDonald’s, it would take many a McFlurry to try to erase the image out of my mind of the four eyed version of classic characters.

While I can accept that the original concept of Grimace included two sets of arms, I am still trying to get over the fact that a McDonald’s manager made waves last year when he stated that Grimace was designed to be an enormous taste bud.

How dare they tarnish my memories of the jolly purple sidekick further by turning him into a four-eyed purple vision of horror making people think they are seeing double. I don’t even get me started on the nightmares that a four-eyed clown can induce.

Still, the design of the toys did not dissuade people from wanting them. People descended upon McDonald’s like a swarm of angry murder hornets seeking sweet nectar from an endangered cactus flower.

So many people came, that the worker bees at McDonald’s took to social media to implore them to stop coming to the restaurants because making all of those adult Happy Meals was creating a hardship for them.

Long ago, I decided that I enjoyed eating food too much to ever work in a restaurant. I wanted to remain blissfully ignorant about what was or wasn’t done to my food between the time I ordered it, and the time I ate it.

So, I do not have a frame of reference related to the complaints from the staff of McDonald’s pertaining to the workload that the promotion caused them.

Still, when your job is literally to make food, and someone orders something off of your menu, you don’t get to blame the customer, or say don’t order something because it is hard to make.

That would be like me saying, “writing is hard, so don’t read my words, in order that I don’t have to string them into sentences anymore.”

My job is to write and give people something to read.

A restaurant’s job is to make food people can eat.

A fast-food restaurant’s job is to make the food rapidly.

Of course, part of the disdain from the workforce involves certain people over indulging and making huge orders. Many of these orders come from collectors hoping to stock up on the toys in order to sell them on secondary market sites.

And even as Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery once told Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek that he was sitting on a gold mine, I never got a Happy Meal because I thought the toy inside would fund my retirement. I got the Happy Meal because I wanted it.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

To get a glimpse of how ga ga gy people can go for McSwag, consider the cautionary tale of the Beanie Baby craze of the mid to late 1990s. Never one to miss a craze, McDonald’s placed mini Beanie Babies in Happy Meals.

People were so confident that Beanie Babies would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later.

As was the case with many crazes that came before and after, the Beanie Babies bubble burst.

Fast forward from the nineties to the 21st century and we see another example of good intentions going awry under the arches of gold.

Never one to miss out on a craze, McDonald’s placed mini beanie babies in Happy Meals in the late 1990s. People were so confident that the Beanie Baby would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later. This lone beanie baby from that era has been collecting dust on various shelves in my office for over 20 years and others like it are currently listed online for an average of $5 which could barely buy a Happy Meal yet alone fund an entire retirement.
Photo R. Anderson

Back in 2010, McDonald’s recalled 12 million Shrek movie character drinking glasses because the paint on the glasses contained the toxic metal cadmium.

Of course, the recall only made the demand for the bootleg glasses distributed pre-recall even more valuable.

I would not be doing my job as a respected journalist if I did not pause for a moment and say, in the spirit of don’t try this at home, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, aka OSHHA, states that exposure to cadmium can lead to a variety of adverse health effects including cancer. Acute inhalation exposure (high levels over a short period of time) to cadmium can result in flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, and muscle pain) and can damage the lungs. Chronic exposure (low level over an extended period of time) can result in kidney, bone and lung disease.

With that in mind, I suppose the current shortage of retro four-eyed McToys does prevent people from getting ill from any adverse chemicals in their construction. After all, you cannot get sick if you don’t touch it. (Excuse me while I pause for a brief interlude to picture MC Hammer dancing and saying, “You Can’t Touch this.”)

To be fair, I am in no way suggesting that the current slate of toys is dangerous or cancer causing. I am sure that the Ronald McBrain Trust learned their lesson from the Shrek glasses and only source their toys and food from organically and ethically sourced vendors who are dedicated to environmental stewardship.

I cannot speak for their food being good for the environment based on the many tales of decades old French fries being found virtually in the same condition as the day they were deep fried in flavor juice.

However, McDonald’s announced in 2021 that they plan to drastically reduce their use of plastic by2025 by replacing the 1 billion children’s toys they sell annually with cardboard or recycled plant-based plastics.

That brings us back to the current four-eyed slap in my childhood’s face that is the new re-imagination of classic characters from the McUniverse.

You can have your four-eyed Ronald, Grimace and Hamburglar. As for me, I shall continue to honor the two-eyed versions of the classic characters with all of the saturated fatty goodness I remember. Although I suppose the next adult themed Happy Meal might be the Doogie Howser retro glucose monitor and EKG kit at this rate.

Sometimes one just needs to leave well enough alone and not try to keep reinventing the wheel, or try to be hip. People don’t go to McDonald’s to be hip. They go there for a quick and somewhat inexpensive meal that occasionally comes in a box with a toy and a milk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to put on my protective gloves so I can dust my cadmium laced Shrek glasses.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Observations from the cheap seats, the beach seats and everywhere in between