What a Week It Has Been

Most of the time changes happens slowly. It’s only by looking back at a long stretch of time and reflecting that we recognize substantial differences in our reality. However, there are some weeks, like these past two, when so much seems to happen all at once.

After an outrageous and distinctly American act of terrorism, huge momentum has emerged to remove symbols of treachery and hatred from prominent places in the South. The highest court in the land affirmed President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, ensuring millions continued access to affordable healthcare. And, as the best sequel since Godfather Part II, the same court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Much of what this means for our country and the legacy of President Obama remains to be understood. But, if anything, it should put to rest forever any ideas that his presidency has been a minor one. Quite the opposite is the case. For too long, too many have been quick to think that the president has failed to deliver. He promised change they say, but too much remains the same. This, quite simply, ignores objective reality. It’s one thing to disagree with what he’s done; it’s lunacy to suggest that he hasn’t done much. That has never been more obvious in any week during his presidency as this one.

Yet for all his tangible actions while in office, his greatest achievement is and always will be the fact of his election. He is, and always will be, the first black president this nation has ever known. That fact is inescapable and never more apparent than it was on Friday when he delivered the eulogy for the slain Reverend Clementa Pinckney. He spoke as only he could. In his oration, he articulated the astonishing and gut-wrenching flaws of our country, baked into it from the founding. But his words did far more than that. They went above and beyond the filler text politicians and leaders too often mumble to pay lip-service to the “conversation about race.” They were real. They were personal. They spoke to his own experience, to the experience of his audience. They lamented the dead. He made us remember what we too often forget and ignore or never even learned. He helped us decipher a small section of the American story, with tales of the past and present. As one of our greatest once wrote, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

Our president has failed in countless ways, but Friday he was there for all of us, carrying the light onward. Leading us with grace and song.

More reactions from James FallowsDavid Remnick, and Greg Howard.

The NFL Stinks Sometimes

The New Orleans Saints inked tight end Jimmy Graham to a four-year, $40 million deal ($21m guaranteed) yesterday. It’s the largest ever given to a tight end, surpassing the deal former Iowa Hawkeye Dallas Clark signed with the Colts in 2008.

I’ve never really liked Graham, but he deserved to get paid. In the past three years, no one has caught more TDs than his 36. In addition, he’s averaged 90 receptions and 1,169 yards per year over that span. But the signing, and its preceding ordeal, begs the question: why does the position someone plays matter when negotiating a contract? Despite the fact that Graham puts up numbers that exceed the output of almost every wide receiver in the league, why does he get paid less simply because he’s a tight end? Currently, seven receivers are slotted to make as much or more this season in average salary. That list includes dominating players like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, but also Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, and Dwayne Bowe. In neither pro basketball nor pro baseball is it the case that player is ineligible for more money because of his position. I’m sure someone much better versed in the business of the NFL than I could come up with explanations for why this exists, but this sounds like one of those times where the myriad, logical-in-a-vacuum justifications obscure the bigger picture, which is this: Jimmy Graham is one of the top five ballcatchers in the NFL, and he should be eligible to be paid as such. Even more broadly, players should get paid according to what a team is willing to pay them based on their ability to win games, draw fans, and make the team money. Whatever position they may happen to play should have nothing to do with that calculus.

It’s essential to note that rigid, positional distinctions are only relevant by rule to salary negotiations with franchise-tagged players (such as Graham), but the cultural distinctions exist just as well. Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez has written on the subject, making a similar point.

It’s hard to get too worked up over a guy who’s “only” making $10 million a year, but NFL players face very real financial and physical issues after retirement. The stories about head injuries are only going to get worse. Worries of declining youth participation in football are not unfounded, President Obama even made that point. It might be wise for the league to step up the way it cares for its players and make a clear statement to any future employees that they will be dealt with reasonably. It would also be the right thing to do.

“The Definitive Take on Obama’s Second Term” by David Bromwich

The latest attempt to write history as it’s happening comes from The London Review of Books. It’s hard to know what to make of it. As observers and thinkers we naturally make connections and see patterns in events. We form these into narratives and this is how we understand. But when do we start manufacturing our narratives and imposing our own order onto chaos? At what point are things too complicated to make sense of and best left undefined until hindsight grants us 20/20?

David Bromwich is an English professor at Yale University, the author of a book about British political philosopher Edmund Burke, and has a long history of political commentary at various highbrow publications. While impressive, absent from this resume is any hands-on front line work in the business of politics. This makes one wonder just how much weight to give some of his claims about Obama’s presidential style. As he says: Continue reading