24 August 2016

They're So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

If you have ever taught a remedial class, you know that none of the students in them are happy.  I can't blame them, for a number of reasons.  What used to bother me, though, was that they sometimes directed their hostility--usually in passive-aggressive ways, but sometimes more covertly--toward me, even though, as I would point out, I was doing everything I could to keep them from repeating the class.

One day, in one of those classes, a student remarked that he'd seen me riding my bicycle on the way to class.  "How do you do it?" he wondered.

"I get on my bike and pedal," I said, somewhat impudently.

Another student, in the rear of the class, chimed in, "I'm going to run you over."

I stepped out of the room and summoned a campus security officer.  (This was before cell phones were widespread.)  I told the officer what happened.  "He had no business saying that to you," he declared.  Then he came to escort the student out of the room.

"I didn't mean it!  I was only kidding!," the student squealed.  The officer took him away, and I never saw or heard from him again.

Nearly two decades have passed since that incident.  Apparently, some things haven't changed:  Some guys (Sorry: It is usually dudes who engage in such behavior!) still think it's a joke to talk about putting cyclists' lives in danger--or, worse, actually doing it.  Some even think it's funny, or simply their "right" to kill cyclists for taking up "their" roadway.

Even when I was more of a fan than I am now, I used to watch many sports events--especially NFL games--with the sound turned off.  Most sports have their share of television announcers and commentators who were star performers in their day but have never grown up.  It always seemed to me that American football commentators in particular had the need to pepper their chatter with the kind of "humor" that only frat boys of all ages find funny.

Just within the past two days, two such commentators openly expressed their contempt for cyclists.  One actually engaged in behavior that could have maimed or killed a rider--or a jogger or a mother or father pushing a stroller--while the other, who wears his "Christianity" on his sleeve, said that he wants to kill cyclists.

First, to the one who was reckless:  

NFL writer Peter King sent this tweet of his car speeding through a bike lane.  "I told driver Jenny Vrentas to get to Qualcomm as fast as she could," captioned the photo. 

That he thought he was being funny makes sense, I guess, when you realize that he writes for Sports Illustrated, a rag that, as Bike Snob NYC points out, keeps itself in business by publishing a soft-core porn issue every year.  I admit that a long time ago, I actually used to read SI (Someone gave me a gift subscription.  I swear!).  Then again, I also used to read Mad Magazine.  Point is, my tastes grew up (or, at least, I like to believe so)--and, to be fair, I made a major life-change.  Sometimes I think SI's readership never graduated from their junior high-school locker rooms.  So of course they would think endangering cyclists (After all, if you don't have a motor, you're not a man) is just good fun.

Speaking of locker rooms:  Heath Evans played in the NFL for ten seasons.  It's fair to assume that he took a pretty fair number of hits.  So, perhaps, we could chalk up occasional incoherence or silliness on his part to a concussion or some other injury his own helmet couldn't prevent---and, perhaps, another player's helmet caused.  But even the most brain-damaged of former players doesn't casually talk about killing people.  

Apparently, Evans is in another category.  

If there is anything amusing about that tweet, it's that he used the word "Respectfully" before declaring his wish to hit cyclists with his car.  Maybe he is brain-damaged.  Or maybe he was one of those "student-athletes" who went to college on a football scholarship and took classes in tackling and trash-talking for his major, whatever it was.

(I think now of the coach who said of one of his players:  "He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'fear'.  In fact, I just saw his grades, and he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words.")

Now, if he couldn't see the incongruity of his word choice, it's understandable that he could profess to be a Christian, or adherent of any other faith that instructs its followers to do unto others as they would do unto themselves, or to love their enemies.  Lots of other people have the same gap in their cognition:  Countless kings and generals have led their minions into war "in the name of God."

(Interesting that the NFL has so many players who are adamant about their faith.  Why is it that the most violent sports have the most doggedly religious players?)

Anyway, both King and Heath have gotten a lot of backlash on the Twittersphere.  But neither seems in danger of losing his job, or anything else that matters to him.  As long as guys like them can get away with, essentially, pinning targets to cyclists' backs, building all the bike lanes in the world isn't going to make us any safer.

N.B.:  Thanks to Alan Snel of Bicycle Stories and the inimitable Bike Snob NYC for their reporting on King and Heath.


  1. I don't follow football (can't stay awake long enough to follow it) so I don't have the foggiest notion who Mr Evans is. He strikes me as being just another dim witted man-boy meat sack with a big mouth. Guys like him probably got out of college with a degree in under water basket weaving so why should we listen to a damn thing he has to say. It's a bit like asking the village idiot how to tune your carburetor. You'll get an answer but it will be meaningless. If he should hit one of those uppity cyclists he may find that cyclist now owns his ass.

  2. Lots of food for thought here. Last week in Chicago, a young woman was run down in a bike lane by a semi. It was the second such occurrence this summer, and just another of far too many fatalities in this area and this country. As with too many news reports these days, the comment section was full of screeds by "people" expressing opinions similar to Mr.Evans. It's nauseating. i don't understand why news sites even have (apparently) unmoderated comment sections. It isn't Free Speech, it's hate speech and it's intimidation and it's incitement. What if anything can we as cyclists do about homicidal morons other than staying off the roads? i'm not about to give up riding, but the thought that the next driver i hear coming up behind me may be aiming for me gives me the willies. More and more i hear myself asking, "Just what the hell is WRONG with people?"

    1. Hate speech masquerading as Free Speech...

      It is part of the great polarization that has taken over American culture in the last couple of decades or so. You don't discuss any more, you take sides. Black vs. white, pro sexual minorities freedoms vs. fundamentalist, liberal vs. conservative, pro- or anti- firearms, science vs, religion, car driver vs. cyclist. I watch this universalising cultural rift shaking the country apart here from the outside and shed a tear.

      I worked part time to put myself through collage in the 60's. At work we had an ad hoc debating society that functioned during lunch hours. We always debated religion. There were two Baptists, a Roman Catholic, a Mormon, a fallen Mormon, a moderate atheist/agnostic and a real total atheist. Nobody ever got angry or raised their voice. It went on for a couple of years. Would this be possible or even thinkable in today's America?

      The great polarization is a new thing and I don't like it one bit.


  3. Philip--Wouldn't be rich (pardon the pun) if one of us "uppity cyclists" owned Evans' ass?

    Mike--When I read your comment, I started to realize that the anti-bike screeds are a form of terrorism: Those who hate us want to intimate us out of doing what we would normally do, i.e., cycling to work, school, the store--or simply for fun.

    Leo--Sad to say, that polarization has taken root in what is supposed to be a bastion of free thought: the academic world. People in it feel under seige from the yahoos, so they develop the same "us vs. them" mentality you describe. I think it can only lead to more of the same.