If We Have A National Embarrassment, It Isn’t Simone Biles

“Selfish, Childish National Embarrassment…”

Those are the words Texas Deputy Attorney General, Aaron Reitz, used to describe Simone Biles following her self-removal from the Olympic team gymnastics all-around competition earlier this week. To his credit, Mr. Reitz felt impressed to remove his tweet where he expressed this opinion and later issued a very significant apology.

But seriously, what is it about our society that Mr. Reitz felt the unabashed freedom to say that in the first place? I mean, I understand that we in America have Freedom of Speech. But I have also been taught that where much is given, much is expected. And so I ask, when are we going to start expecting more of ourselves with regard to our speech freedoms?

Now some might argue I am speaking in favor of Cancel Culture. I’m not. I’m speaking in favor of growing up. I’m speaking in favor of being human. I’m speaking in favor of exhibiting Christlike behavior in a country that claims to be majority Christian.

Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the worldwide religion that is athletics. And I am more than aware of our belief as human beings that we somehow have the right to rain down abuse on those who participate in athletics. It goes back centuries. But does that make it right?

“Well, they make millions of dollars for what they are doing.”

So?

I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t understand how someone else’s success give us the right to say hateful, hurtful, or vicious things about them. I have a friend who is doing very well financially. Does his success mean that I should now feel the right to get on social media and blast him personally if some aspect of his business doesn’t perform to my satisfaction? Of course not. But athletes are different right?

“They should just shut up and play sports. I don’t want to hear their political crap.”

Says the guy whose previous 15 social media posts are hateful, politically motivated, and generally truth impaired.

Athletes have a right to speak up just like anyone else separate from what they do for a living. If they bring it into the arena, every person has a right to turn off the broadcast. But do we really need to turn everything we disagree with into another reason to be ugly to our fellow human beings?

“Well, they were being ugly first.”

So?

I’m pretty sure when I read the Bible it didn’t say, “If thine enemy offends thee, get on social media and take that (expletive) (expletive) down. And watch those likes roll in, baby.”

I don’t know Simone Biles. What I do know about her is that she has dedicated more of her life at 24 years old to gymnastics than I have dedicated to any one thing at 48. She has represented our nation at the highest levels of her sport and come away victorious more than any other person in history. So if she feels like her health might be at risk if she continues, I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt. Because if she goes forward and injures herself in a way that will inhibit her the rest of her life, I get to turn off the TV and say, “Well, that’s a shame.” Simone? Not so much.

Am I contributing to our nation becoming softer? I don’t know. I don’t care.

But it does seem to me that our world is turning into a place where being kind to someone we don’t know might be the most difficult thing a person can do. It’s easy to be hateful. It’s easy to be a jerk. Especially from behind a keyboard. Showing compassion? Apparently, that takes guts.

So that’s why today I will commend Simone Biles. I’m glad she showed us a different path forward for someone who is struggling with mental issues or mental illness. It’s been far too long in coming.

But in that same spirit, I will also offer this to Mr. Aaron Reitz. Thank you, sir, for your apology. We all say and do stupid things and it was good of you to recognize that your tweet regarding Simone Biles fit into that category. I hope you will take this experience and think twice before spewing hatred ignorantly. As someone who has done the same thing, I can testify that showing restraint and kindness is the better way to go.

Recreation and the War Against Stagnancy

When I decided to run for my local town council, I never once considered that I was taking on the moniker of Politician. To my way of thinking, I wasn’t a politician because I had no ulterior motive. I wasn’t the front man for a large nameless organization lurking in the proverbial shadows. I wasn’t running to represent the high-minded ideologies of a political party. I was running because I wanted to be a part of making my town better.

Not that I thought my town was bad. It wasn’t. I just believed there were things that could be done to improve it. In fact, some of those things were already starting to take shape as Thatcher had just completed a splash pad park that was proving quite popular with not only Thatcher residents, but also residents from neighboring communities that stretched from Fort Thomas to Duncan and Morenci.

But to my idealistic mind, I was running because I believed a new splash pad park should be just the beginning. I wanted to ensure that in no way would a small park that provides a decent respite from the summer sun for small kids be the culmination of our focus on recreation and amenities that the Town of Thatcher could provide to its citizens. I believed—and still believe—that we should think bigger.

Over the last six years, others with views similar to mine have joined the Thatcher Town Council and as a result, a new soccer field/amphitheater complex is taking shape at the intersection of 8th Street and Reay Lane. When fully completed, this new complex will have the potential to be a major draw not only for residents of Thatcher and neighboring communities, but also for much of Southeastern Arizona and beyond.

Now, I understand that parks aren’t everything. I realize that they generate no revenue. I realize that they require significant funds to be spent annually for their upkeep. But on the other hand, I also understand what parks say about communities in which they are found. I understand what a small greenbelt or a full-size soccer complex can say to the family of a young professional looking to relocate or a recently retired couple looking for a winter home. I understand that a well-kept park system speaks to a community’s pride in itself. And I understand that once a community’s pride in itself is stoked, more often than not, greater things are on the horizon.

As evidence of this, I point to some of the changes we’ve seen in Thatcher over the last three years. Red Lamp Mobile Home Park has been cleared out to make room for revenue generating businesses along our main commercial thoroughfare. A proud bronze eagle sits atop a beautifully decorated monument in the middle of a totally revamped Church Street—a street that now boasts pavement that stretches from curb to curb and provides for parking and a bike lane on either side of the street. Striking new welcome signs framed by newly planted trees greet visitors on either side of town, informing them of their arrival in Thatcher.   

To me, all of this is positive change. It is evidence of a growing community.

Now I understand that some may question whether growth in our community is actually a positive thing. I think that’s a fair question. Those of us living in rural America generally do so because we enjoy the many benefits that come from a slower pace of life. But my answer to that would be that no community truly stays the same. A town’s identity is always somewhat fluid, and often if you are not growing, you are stagnating. And I would further argue that stagnation is the first step toward a town’s eventual demise.

Which brings me to the subject of a community recreation center. Currently the Town of Thatcher—in partnership with the Town of Pima, Graham County and Eastern Arizona College—has been investigating the possibility of building a recreation center that would house: athletic courts that could be used for basketball, volleyball, pickleball, and more; an indoor pool complex that could possibly include a warm water leisure pool, a cool water lap pool and a hot water wellness pool as well as a water recreation area for families; possible indoor racquetball courts; an indoor walking/jogging track; an Aerobic/High Fitness studio; and an ADA compliant wellness area that could possibly replace the current EAC Wellness Center.

The reason for exploring these possibilities is simple: each of these amenities are vital to the growth and sustainability of the Town of Thatcher as well as every community in the Gila Valley. In order to continue providing volleyball and basketball leagues for both youth and adults, Thatcher desperately needs more court space. Barring a major renovation, or complete replacement, the pool at EAC has a very few short years left. And should it go, Thatcher swim team, aquatic classes at EAC, seasonal lap swimming at the college, and a public pool facility in Thatcher all go with it. Additionally, in a world where year-round swimming is developing into a near-required amenity for both young professional families and mobile retirees alike, it is becoming more apparent each day that no such aquatic facility exists in the Gila Valley.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit and tour recreation centers like the one we hope to build in Thatcher. Each facility visited was a beautiful centerpiece for its community. And more importantly, each facility I visited was full. Full of individuals playing pickleball; full of young families enjoying a morning swim; full of high school volleyball players taking part in a summer camp; full of children receiving swimming lesson; in short, full of people who are busy living in a vibrant, thriving community.

Additionally, in each facility I and my fellow team members visited, we discovered the same two truths. The communities we were in are similar in size to the population base of the Gila Valley. And secondly, each of those communities are experiencing positive economic growth. I believe Thatcher, AZ is a special place. I believe the entire Gila Valley is special. But I also recognize that our valley is at a crossroad. And it is the same crossroad that faces every rural community in America: Grow or Stagnate. I believe working together as a community to build a recreation center that has the potential to meet so many needs for our citizens, as well as provide economic stimulus for our area, is one essential key to establishing the Gila Valley’s position on the road that leads to growth and continued prosperity. I invite all those in my community who agree, to take the opportunity in coming months to get involved in this process and help transform this desired possibility into a reality.