Sexism, Scandal, and Stolen Moments

Like Many Americans, I watched the US Open Ladies Tennis Finals yesterday afternoon when Serena Williams played Naomi Osaka for the Grand Slam title. Had Williams won, this would have been her 24th Grand Slam Title, and would have tied her for the record with Margaret Court. My hope is that she will win 2 more grand slams and Margaret Court will fade into oblivion for her bigoted views, but that is a story for a different article. At this point, we all know the outcome of what will go down as the most controversial women’s final in US Open history. Williams was denied a 24th title and Osaka came out victorious, but neither lady went home happy as a result of several controversial calls by referee Carlos Ramos. I was content to not write about this. Partially because so many people were talking about it and partially because Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post wrote without a shadow of a doubt the most eloquently written view on the subject – if Jenkins doesn’t win a Pulitzer for that commentary I would be highly surprised. I was content to let Jenkins have the final word, but then I awoke this morning to the news below:

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I am dumbfounded by this move and I cannot fathom what type of malarky the United States Tennis Association is going to come up with to try and defend an indefensible position. Time and Time again the US Open and United States tennis has screwed Serena Williams over and time and time again she has been vilified by the public and most of the press as a hysterical ABW in the throws of major meltdown. Each time, Serena Williams has emerged and changed the sport of Tennis for the better. Each time Serena has showed the governing body of a sport that is almost exclusively played by wealthy whites that there is room for all types of people in tennis – both those with and without melanin in their skin. Whether or not the USTA and the US Open every thank or realize just how important Williams has been to the game of tennis remains to be seen. But if they don’t realize it by now, then they probably aren’t going to and that just makes them as stupid and unappreciative as they currently seem.

serena-williams-us-open-2018I am not going to go through the minor details of what happened on the court during the finals. There are a million different videos from every angle imaginable. I will be the first to admit that I, along with millions of other Americans, wanted Williams to win yesterday. I always prefer an American win and I have loved and respected Serena since the days when you could hear her coming a mile away because of all the beads she had in her hair. Last night Serena abused her racket, but the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lookalike referee took a note from the Iranian dictator’s playbook when he abused his position of power. and that is far worse.

When trying to think of the reason or reasons I support Serena the most, I ended up coming up with other athletes I like. In tennis along with Serena and his sister Venus I routinely cheer for Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. In football I like Deshaun Watson, OBJ, Russell Wilson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Baseball turns me into a Nationals fan because I am a big Bryce Harper fan. Basketball has me pulling for Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. Swimming I rooted for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Soccer I of course like most of them, but I digress because at this point we are getting away from ability and moving into physical appearance.

I thought about Serena and what she has in common with every single one of these people, and if you know any of the above names its not hard to figure out why I cheered for them. Every single one of the people on that list has passion for success in their sport and they are not afraid to show that passion on the court, field, or pool when they compete. The reason I gravitate towards Williams and Nadal in tennis is because I find tennis players like Federer and Djokovic boring to watch because they play so stoically. I like watching Steph Curry show off on the court and I like watching the swag that Russell Westbrook has when he walks into the stadium before a game looking fly as hell. Same thing goes for DeAndre Hopkins, whose instagram makes him seem more like a model for Emporio Armani than a player for the Texans. That is why I never had a problem with all the antics of Baker Mayfield when he played for Oklahoma. Yes, he was a show off, and yes, he could be obnoxious, but at the end of the day he could always back it up with his performance.

Each of the people I mentioned above has won and lost on the international stage. Each of the people above has received calls that both did and did not go their way. Each of the people above has showed their ass and looked like a petulant spoiled child. However, the only person above who has been treated and then reported on in a grossly unfair way has been Serena Williams. When the men on the list above show out and act unprofessionally they are NEVER called out on it the way Serena is. They are called passionate, or people say they are hyper focused, or in the zone. When Serena does it she is called hysterical or people throw out the word Meltdown. Just look at the tone of many of the headlines that were used last night and earlier today.

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Granted, two of the above publications are owned by Rupert Murdoch and that fact alone means they really aren’t worthy of using as toilet paper, let alone reading the fact remains the same: No male professional sports figure in recent history has EVER been called self-obsessed, narcissistic, or having the “mother of all meltdowns,” which is especially disgusting considering the fact that Serena Williams almost died giving birth less than a year ago. The majority of the people who tweeted or commented or spoke negatively about Serena used one word that is so sexist and disrespectful that I can’t even understand why it is still in use in polite conversation: hysterical. Since I do teach history for a living, allow me to give you a history lesson on the sexist word hysterical.

The root word of hysterical is hysteria. Hysteria means ungovernable emotional excess. The origins of the word hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus and because of this, hysteria was used as a medical diagnosis almost exclusively for women and carried a variety of broad symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. This was used as a medical diagnosis starting in the Victorian era in England and was not discontinued until 1952. The term hysterical is almost exclusively used when a woman is upset or angry. With many incidents involving professional athletes, that term has been thrown around, but I have yet to find an instance when it was used with negative connotations towards a man.

In regards to Serena’s three penalties all I will say is this. The first penalty for coaching is ridiculous. The fact that coaching is not allowed is just plain dumb in the first place. The fact that a player can be penalized for the actions of their coach when a player did not even see the coach is wrong to me. I think the rule should be changed, but if the governing bodies of tennis are going to leave it in place than it needs to be routinely enforced across the board. There needs to be a judge watching each coach at every match and they need to call it each and every time they are playing. In regards to the second penalty, I have no problem with that. It is in the rules you cannot abuse your racket and Serena clearly abused the hell out of the racket. I take umbrage with this penalty more than any other penalty, and here is why.

By giving Serena a penalty for coaching, he is saying that Serena was trying to have an unfair advantage over her opponent during the match. Essentially Carlos Ramos (who has spared with both Venus Williams, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal in the past) called Serena Williams a cheater without using the word. The fact that an umpire can assault someone’s character in the middle of a championship match is bad enough; and for those of you wondering or skeptical looking at my assertion of assault of character, that is exactly what Ramos did. To call someone a cheater is to say that don’t have the grace, dignity, and class to win without an advantage. It implies the only way they got there was to lie and manipulate their way there.

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Serena Williams is the antithesis of what he has described when he called her a cheater. She is a woman who came back from the brink of death after giving birth to make it to two Grand Slam finals less than a year later. She is a women who agrees to multiple extra inconvenient drug tests each year so people will know she doesn’t cheat. She has fought racism and sexism in her sport long before standing up for injustice was a popular thing to do. Starting with Indian Wells and continuing with her fight for equal pay, Serena Williams has spent most of her professional life in the public fighting for what is right, even when she knows it will cost her in the court of public opinion. When Ilie Nastase made vile, racist comments about what color Serena’s biracial baby would be before she was born, Serena responded with class and grace by quoting Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise.” When John McEnroe has repeatedly made sexist comments about Serena Williams she simply and cooly replied by politely asking McEnroe to respect her and her privacy. Most recently, when the chairman of the French (a country with a huge racism problem) Open banned Serena’s cat suit, which she wore for medical reasons, because he said it did not respect them game, she responded by wearing a tutu to the US Open and posing playfully for photographers before the match.

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I have a news flash for the chairman of the French Open. People respect the game of Tennis BECAUSE of Serena Williams. Both McEnroe and Nastase were reknowned for the on-court behavior in their time. So was Andre Agassi. Currently, so is Nick Krygios. None of them ever received penalties back in their day that were as severe as Serena’s penalties were. None of them were accused of hormonal meltdown in the press. When the press still writes of all of those individuals there is a touch of longing nostalgia for the excitement they brought to the court- even if it was unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. However, because Serena is a strong confident black woman who stands up for herself in a white sport, she is demonized for it. It is high time this changes and changes quickly.

There is not a person alive today who has not at some point thought about how they want to be remembered after they are gone from their career or this world. Most of us hope we will be remembered fondly by our love ones. We hope we will be remembered for the contributions we made in our career fields. I personally hope I  will be remembered as someone who left this world better than he found it. When McEnroe, and Nastase, and Agassi, and countless other men in other sports are long gone they will all be remembered fondly. They will all be remembered as some of the greatest to ever hold a tennis racket, or club, or glove. When Jimbo Fisher is fired from Texas A&M several years from now, people will reminisce and say “remember that time ole Jimbo lost his cool on the officials when he played Clemson?” There will be a hint of positivity to the question. God knows if Serena had said the words that Jimbo Fisher clearly said to not one, but two referees last night, she would have been banned from tennis for life. And nobody referred to it as a meltdown. He simply, lost his cool. Or gave the refs a piece of his mind.

BJKSerena Williams will be remembered differently, but this time she won’t be remembered differently because of her race or because of her sex. She will be remembered differently because she is different. Serena Williams will be remembered differently because the respect she brought to the sport through her struggle to bring equality to the sport while she still kicked ass on the court at the same time. It is not always popular; Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova can attest to that. But King and Navratilova did not fight for gender equality and LGBTQ rights both in tennis and outside tennis. They fought so people like Serena and Venus wouldn’t have to. And when they weren’t completely successful, Venus and Serena continued the fight. Now it is personal for Serena Williams the tennis player – mom. The women who had already been a multi-hyphenate added the most important one to her title.

Serena Williams, in my opinion is the greatest athlete of our generation. Notice I did not say female athlete. I said greatest athlete. She has nothing to be ashamed about from last night. She was robbed and so was Naomi Osaka. Neither will be able to get the moment that Carlos Ramos stole from them back. All because he couldn’t take the tone with which a woman talked to him with. At the end of the day though, Serena Williams displayed grit, determination, strength, beauty, and class. She did us proud, but most importantly, she did her daughter proud. And that is all she should care about. Keep going, Serena! Number 24 is just around the corner. Immortality is yours for the taking!

-WB

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Demi’s Disease and America’s Apathy

Over the past few days I have watched the train wreck that has been Demi Lovato’s overdose; and let me be clear – when I say train wreck I mean the discussion of Demi Lovato’s private life with anyone outside her family, inner circle of friends, and the media. I have watched as shows like Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, and “reputable” news organizations like NBC and CNN have reported misinformation, untruths, and disgusting speculations. It is almost as if they are celebrating an earth-shattering event in the private life of someone for sport.

What has disheartened me more than the media’s ass backward’s commentary has been the comments from average Americans as the relate to both a celebrity struggling with addiction and as they relate to the disease that is addiction. It is 2018. Doctors and scientists have studied, investigated, and released reports ad nauseam. Just about every report or study has told us virtually the same thing – addiction is something we don’t fully understand, but we do know enough to state that it is a lifelong chronic disease that is very hard to beat. So all you Judge Judys shouting for people to stop being lazy, put the crack pipe down, and get off the couch so you can find a job can have several seat, pick up a book on addiction and educate yourselves.

I minored in sociology while I was in college. After the intro to sociology class I took at Clemson I had to take 5 more upper level sociology classes. I tell you this not to try and prove that I am an expert in the field because I am NOT. However, I am interested in the subject and that is what led me to choose 3 of those 5 classes on addiction and substance abuse issues. The professor who taught those three classes and the information I learned while studying the information changed my thoughts on addiction, mental health, treatment for substance abuse, and criminal justice involving drugs in this nation.

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Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world that she is an addict. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world numerous times what she does to stay sober. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world how hard it is to stay sober. Demi Lovato has bravely shared with the world that she has relapsed. We should get one thing very clear about that last sentence:

Demi Lovato is NOT a morally weak person or failure in life because she suffered a relapse!

What do addiction, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and high cholesterol all have in common? All of those chronic conditions has relapse rates that fall in between 40%-60% chance of having a relapse in the condition at least one time after diagnosis.¹ None of those other conditions carries the same stigma that addiction has. None of the people suffering from high cholesterol or asthma are looked at like degenerates or moral failures that those who are battling addiction do. It is wrong and unfair to label these people as weak and cast them out of society. They are not lepers and we have got to do more to first, change the conversation on addiction and second, help this people who are struggling get back on the road to recovery again.

Addiction affects 21 million adults in this country and another 2 million people between the ages of 13 and 17.² It does not discriminate and no racial group or economic bracket is more predisposed to suffer from addiction than any other group. This nation spends 442 BILLION dollars every year on drug abuse.³ Imagine where we would be as a country if we spent some of that money on effective treatment, education, and prevention of drug abuse instead of spending it on funerals and incarcerations. There would be many friends and family members of many American families that were still living their best lives.

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I care about this more than because it involves Demi Lovato. While I do consider myself a fan of her music her openness about her struggles with mental health and addiction are what I respect her for most.  On a personal note, I lost someone very close to me to a drug addiction. We went out on quite a few dates, but life brought us together at inconvenient times so it never progressed to much more at that time to us remaining Facebook friends. A year or two later we reconnected after drifting apart, but his addiction kept us apart. After it got worse than I had seen it in any of the previous instances I made the decision for my own mental health to break contact for some time. It was one of the most excruciatingly difficult decisions I have ever made, but at that time I could not watch this person  waste away and become this shell of the person I knew.

I didn’t here from them for a couple weeks. I just prayed everything was ok and they would get help. Then I got a facebook message. It came at 2:45 Thursday Night/Friday morning so I knew they were using. I sighed and went back to bed, but I didn’t sleep much the rest of that night. For the next six weeks I didn’t hear anything. Talking to a mutual friend of my friend who was fighting in a general conversation a comment was made about him that confused me. When I asked what he was talking about he told me that our friend died of an overdose several weeks back. I immediately googled and found the obituary. They died 2 days after that last Facebook message on Sunday morning.

It took all my strength not to throw up at the restaurant table we were sitting in. I had not even known. I didn’t get to go to the funeral. I never got to say goodbye. There are so many things I never got to say. Addiction does not just hurt the addict. The people who love someone living with addiction suffer as well. It changes relationships and can cause wounds that never heal. There will always be a part of me that is stuck on this. I still think about whether or not I made the right decision. I wonder what I could have done. There has to have been a way for me to help more.

Maybe if I had responded that night then Andrew would still be here. That I will never know. But I do know this: Staying sober and in recover is really fucking hard and If we don’t stop looking at people who are living with addiction as terrible failures and start treating them with the love, care, and compassion they need then we are going to lose more than my friend Andrew. And for the rest of my life, losing that one is more than enough.

-WB

If you are suffering with an addiction, please seek help! If you need help reach out and ask a friend or a loved one for help. I love you and will be there for you. So will your friends and family! Here are some resources local to the Greenville area if you need them! All you have to do is take the first step.


¹https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

²https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders

³https://www.usnews.com/news/at-the-edge/articles/2016-12-19/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-cost-taxpayers-442b-annually-new-surgeon-generals-report-finds

The Slander of a Sex Worker: How Stormy Became Salomé

By now the world is well versed in the sexcapades of our current President. Whether or not he cheated on Melania Trump with Stormy Daniels is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. We know he has cheated before – multiple times. Court records prove he cheated on Ivana Trump with Marla Maples while still married to Ivana and their have been a host of women who say they have been in relationships with Trump or have had affairs with Trump while he was legally married to all three wives. One would think that  would be enough to turn the general public that makes up Trump supporters – as well as the GOP – away from Trump, but this not just any President or just any other republican politician. Especially since they claim to be the party of family values.

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Salomé’s Dance. Painting by Gustave Moreau.

Any other republican politician this happened to would be on the receiving end of statements from officials distancing themselves from him, declining his endorsement, and denouncing the behavior. We would also see evangelicals and leaders from the religious right like Franklin Graham outraged at what is being read on our news programs each evening. Especially when our President openly admitted to grabbing people by the pussy.We would hear shouts of “Think of the Children!” But since this is the presidency of Donald Trump we do not get any of that. We instead hear the right offer Trump a mulligan for his past sins, and we hear nothing except the right’s pharisaical and two-faced attempts to turn Stormy Daniels into a modern day Salomé.

Allow me to explain. The story of Salomé is a long and twisted one. Emerging first as an unnamed figure in multiple Gospels of the Bible as a dancer for the Birthday celebrations of King Herod, Salomé and her legacy if she was indeed even a real person has been through many incantations and depictions. The metamorphosis from nameless dancer for King Herod to notorious seductress did not happen over night. Throughout time and throughout art, her image shifted as countless master painters (Titian, Caravaggio, and Gustave Moreau), playwrights (Oscar Wilde), and Hollywood variations (most notably Rita Hayworth in the classic film and Jessica Chastain in the Al Pacino update) on the person that Salomé was moved towards a more seductive and deadly portrayal of woman. God forbid a woman actually own her sexuality and the power that comes with it. That would be absolutely SCANDALOUS!

Salomé is perhaps most known and most infamous for the so-called dance of the seven veils. As a birthday present for the king she was brought forth and she danced with seven veils. The dance was supposedly so inspiring and so enchanting that Herod agreed to grant her anything she wanted. As a friend of King Herod’s wife, she followed the prodding of the Queen to ask for the execution of Saint John the Baptist- his head was given to her on a silver platter. While the title dance of the seven veils was the entire creation of Oscar Wilde, the story has scandalized the world since and turned Salome into a trope that has been used to define women in positions of sexual power into women of no moral standards. Below is the Jessica Chastain version of Salomé’s Seven Veils Dance in the 2013 film Wilde Salomé. The Second video is the Rita Hayworth 1953 version of Salomé – considered so scandalous at the time it took a year to get it released.

While I freely admit (and I am sure Stormy Daniels would agree with me) that Stormy Daniels is not the Virgin Mary, she does not deserve to be turned into a modern day Salomé who is after something or someone. Throughout this entire Trump – Stormy Daniels ordeal these few things have consistently stuck out in her favor:

  1. Stormy Daniels has not changed a major piece of her story  even once.
  2. Daniels is fully cooperating with federal investigators.
  3. Trump has changed his story or had to have the Presidential Press Secretary clarify aspects of his statements or other factual areas of the case.
  4. Daniels has offered to return the $130,000 payment.
  5. Daniels gains nothing from this ordeal other than her good name and reputation – and yes she still has a reputation.
  6. Trump is getting nervous.

Daniels gets no money for going on the morning news shows or for being interviewed by Anderson Cooper – news organizations do not pay for stories. As of right now, it seems to me that all Stormy Daniels is getting out of this is insults and death threats being thrown her way. All of these people hurling the insults at Stormy Daniels seem to focus on one thing: her career choice. As Daniels as now sued Trump for Defamation of Character, people have been quick to pile on just how little character that they think she has. Upon looking at the WYFF4 News Facebook page, the evidence is plainly stated. Below are a few screenshots of what people think in regards to the April 28, 2018 News Channel 4 Facebook post about Daniels’ suit against the President¹:

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The original artwork of Oscar Wilde’s play version of Salomé

The thing that sticks out to me first as I scroll through the comments is how most of the comments questioning whether or not Stormy Daniels has character overwhelmingly come from women- and this is what saddens me the most. The majority believe it inconceivable that someone like Stormy Daniels is capable of telling the truth. They seem to imply the support the president’s assertion that this is all for her to somehow make money off of. Never mind the fact the this president has consistently said some of the most vile, misogynistic, and disgusting things about women. Never mind the fact that this President has been proven to have lied or had this administration lie on his behalf MULTIPLE times. Never mind all that. Stormy Daniels screws people. Stormy Daniels makes money screwing people. Stormy Daniels is a slut and that means Stormy Daniels cannot possibly be defamed.

Humans (along with pigs, bonobo monkeys, dolphins,) are one of the only species of living animal that we know for certain has sex for pleasure. To put it simply, we have sex because we like the feeling that comes with it. Most people enjoy being naked becasue they feel there is something liberating that comes from it. Stormy Daniels found a way to make money off of doing something that feels good while being naked with somebody else. Sometimes multiple somebodies. Props to her. I tip my hat in her direction. Does that mean that Stormy Daniels is a terrible person? Does that mean she is immoral or not capable of contributing to our society? Absolutely Not.

Stormy Daniels is a grown ass woman. Allow me to say it one more time for the people in the back. She is a GROWN. ASS. WOMAN. As long as it is legal under the law, Stormy Daniels can screw whoever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants. Consensual sex between two (or more – if your into that) able-minded consenting adults has no baring on whether or not a person has character. We have got to get away from a society where sex is something that is taboo, immoral, and wrong. It has dangerous consequences. It teaches women that they shouldn’t enjoy sex and the power that can come with owning the sexuality in all its glory and it directly contributes to depression, shame,  and HIV/AIDS in the LGBTQ communities. Some All people like sex. Some women enjoy sex more than some men do. Some people like watching other people have sex in pornographic videos. That doesn’t make the people in the video or the watchers of the video bad people. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. The sex positive movement is growing, but we all need to embrace it more quickly – especially if we get upset over people starring in adult films.

The adult film industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It employs thousands of people across the country (mostly California, Nevada, New York, Florida, and surprisingly enough Atlanta, Georgia), both in front of and behind the camera. It brings in billions of dollars in online revenue and the adult entertainment industry conventions that happen across the country bring millions of dollars to the cities that they are held in. Porn is a multi-billion dollar business worth more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined, and the reason it is worth more than those three organizations is because people watch it. They buy it. They enjoy it. Do you call the cashier at Dunkin’ Donuts a jackass for selling you a donut and making you fat? I didn’t think so. So stop calling the porn star a slut for doing what you paid her to do and then feeling guilty or ashamed because you watched it.

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Rita Hayworth in 1953 for a Salomé still. The film was produced by Hayworth’s company specifically so she could star in the film. 

One of the people in the Facebook comments of the news page asked if there was any lower she could go. Since she apparently believes the lowest she can go is adult film star allow me to answer that question: Yes, Linda Jameison, there is lower she can go. There is nothing wrong with consenting adults having consensual sex. There is however something wrong with murderers, rapists, drug dealers, bigots, homophobes, racists, neo-nazis, and a host of other groups that spread hate and intolerance. As a teacher, I loathe cheaters of any kind because it is unfair to those who work hard and follow the rules. I also believe someone who lies is worse and lower than someone who makes no apologies about enjoying getting paid to have sex. Donald Trump has cheated on all three wives and it has been proven he has lied multiple times before and throughout his presidency. So suck on that lollipop of knowledge for a while, Linda. If you need some pointers, I suggest you watch some of Stormy Daniels work. I am sure she would be happy to give you some tips. But it will cost you. And there is nothing wrong with that.

-WB

Author’s Note:

¹Just so you can see the article for yourself and make sure I did not randomly pick the posts of people from other articles, if you scroll through WYFF4 article the title was “Trump Sued by Daniels for Defamation” on April 30, 2018. Also I debated about blurring out the names of individuals making the posts, but I decided it was unnecessary since they were posting them on a public page of a news organization’s social media website.

 

Stephen Hawking: A Life “To Infinity, and Beyond!”

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Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity over the Atlantic. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

If there ever was a man who lived a life that truly lived every day by the motto we all remember from our high school english classes “Carpe Diem.” that man was Stephen Hawking. Although I agree, Hawking did live his remarkable life by that motto, I feel like a more appropriate motto for Hawking would be one from our old Pixar friend Buzz Lightyear: “To Infinity and Beyond.” In my humble opinion, this is far more fitting of man man who sought to understand the universe and the world we live in – and defied that universe and world by continuing to survive in a world that deemed it impossible for him thrive, let alone survive.

I was saddened when I woke up to the news of the passing of Stephen Hawking earlier this week. I have always been someone who loves an underdog story and while he might not argue it himself, many of us would have put Hawking squarely in the underdog box. What surprised me the most about his passing, however, was definitely my students knowledge of his death at the age of 76. What would my students know about a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author of note when I am pretty sure most of them can’t even spell the word physicist?¹

I teach high school freshman (typically 14-15 year olds for those unfamiliar with the American public school system) and although the narrative that teenagers of that age are self-absorbed and only care about themselves is dangerously misinformed, pieces of that narrative ring true every now and then. I was confused as to how they would know about Stephen Hawking, someone who refused a knighthood from the British government over their funding (or lack thereof) in the late 1990s? The answer was so simple that I immediately wanted to punch myself for trying to knit with only one needle. I could almost hear Mr. Hawking’s distinct computer-generated voice saying “Bless your heart.”

My students are familiar with Stephen Hawking because, like millions of other people all over this country, they watch The Big Bang Theory. Even though you don’t need me to tell you (because if you watch CBS at all they tell you so often they must think we are deaf or dumb as a post and can’t remember) Big Bang is one of the highest rated comedies on television right now. It originally was about 4 scientist friends with an emphasis on 2 of the 4 (Leonard and Sheldon) and their interactions with the “dumb blonde” (Penny) who moves across the hall from the two scientists who are also roommates. My Papa loved The Big Bang Theory, a show he renamed Sheldon.

Although over the years the show has expanded to included more members (Bernadette, Amy Farrah Fowler, Stuart the Eeyore-like comic book store owner) the general premise has remained the same. One thing that has remained constant since the beginning has been the references to Hawking and his revered status in the physics community. Although Howard has playfully poked fun at the sound of Hawking’s “voice,” the high regard they show him on the show for his role in making physics “cool” to millions of people has been one of the few unbroken rules on the show. The episode where Sheldon,  who is not crazy, his mother had him tested – is one of most watched episodes of the entire series.

 

For those of you who do not watch The Big Bang Theory allow me to put the clip above into context for you. If Sheldon were a real person, this would go down as the most amazing/most embarrassing moment in his life. For Sheldon this is the celebrity he would most want to meet. If you still can’t comprehend or understand, here is a close list of alternatives of what it would be like:

  • Any of the Boliek Siblings meeting Beyoncé. Or Blue Ivy. Or Rumi. Or Sir. Or Solange. Or pretty much anyone associated with Beyoncé.
  • My dad meeting Ric Flair.
  • Every 20-something female in America meeting Megan Markle and secretly wishing they could club her over the head and trade places with her.
  • Most 10 year old boy (or girl) meeting Batman, Superman, or any of those other “super powered” mans that make up heroes.
  • Every 10 year old girl (or boy) breaking down meeting Wonder Woman.
  • Every gay in America feeling their oats over meeting whichever pop queen it is that slays them and gives them life.
  • Every Trump supporter getting to meet Vladimir Putin to tell him thank you over putting that current monstrosity in the White House.

Now that you have sufficient context as to understand the clip above, I’ll move on. Through his appearance on TBBT and other shows over the years, Hawking cemented what I think will end up being one of the most important pieces of the great legacy he leaves behind: to the delight of nerds everywhere, Hawking made science relevant and cool. After doing some research I now know there are several college courses that focus on the influence of TBBT. Thousands of science teachers across the country (shoutout to my friend Lisa Ms. Howell who has told me she is one them) have been able to use a primetime network sitcom in an actually productive way to help demonstrate a concept or principle. And to the chagrin of animal rights activists everywhere, millions of us who watch the show now can claim to know (although we still don’t probably understand fully) the equation below:

scrod

To those of you still confused allow me to put it in the terms you and I understand. That is the equation that goes along with the thought experiment most of us will collectively know as the paradox called “Schrodinger’s Cat. And TBBT fans everywhere let out a collective “Oh yeah! The possibly dead/possibly alive cat in the box!” For those who don’t watch the she show you can find a detailed explanation here. The author has no desire to pretend to know enough to teach the concept to you.

Putting the humor aside for a second, I want to focus on the lesser know side of Hawking’s life for a second: his earlier years. I myself had no knowledge of Hawking being born in an abled-body until I saw the movie The Theory of Everything. If you have yet to see it, I highly recommend it. It details the earlier years of years of Hawking’s graduate schooling and it includes his romantic relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife. If that is not enough to get you to see it maybe this will: it stars resident dreamboat Eddie Redmayne² as Stephen Hawking. For his performance of Hawking, Redmayne won a host of awards including an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

If you have not watched the trailer above, stop and do it. Towards the end of the trailer, Redmayne has a voiceover where he says a quote that Hawking gave in an interview around the same time his book A Brief History of Time. It is a quote that Hawking lived his life by, and now more than ever, one we would all do well to take to heart:

There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. Where the is life, there is hope.

While many of us would be curled up in the fetal position about being diagnosed in our 20’s with a rare form of early onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, but in America more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)³, Hawking never once let that stop him on his great quest to understand the relationship between space and time and how they fit together in our universe. Given just two years to live based on knowledge of the disease at that time, Hawking surpassed expectations by surviving for another four and a half decades. Racking up numerous accolades along the way, Hawking gave us research that has helped change the world, but more importantly he showed that people living with ALS – just like people living with countless other disease – are no less capable of living their full lives. All they need is to be given the chance.

If there every was a person worthy of The Today Show’s A Life Well Lived it would be Stephen Hawking. And although I have my own personal beliefs about what happens to us all eventually, I believe that as soon as Hawking crossed over, he had all the answers to the questions he searched so hard to answer. Mr. Hawking, you strove to go to infinity, and now you are beyond. I thank you for what you gave us, and I hope it is everything you thought it would be. And so much more.

 

¹ I include myself as one of those bad spellers. Physics is a hard word. Sue me.

² Although he is a resident dreamboat, I still have a bone to pick with Eddie Redmayne. Nobody should look that good, be a ginger, have cheekbones for days, AND be able to sing. Its just not fair.

³ ALS is a disease that millions across the US have been diagnosed with. Although there is currently no known cure, we are making great strides thanks to an increase in awareness (thank you ice bucket challenge) and great research being done across the globe. If you can spare a few dollars, why not donate to any of the numerous great organizations like The ALS Association, Project ALS, or The ALS Development Therapy Institute. All three organizations are leading the way on finding a cure for this disease. If research continues at the present rate, we should have a cure in our lifetimes.