Sunday, December 21, 2008

'Cross Nationals Part IIb: The Thug Life + an Anti Heckling PSA

Like I said yesterday, you just can't go letting a bunch of white people get together in a large group, shit always jumps off.

By now everyone has heard about the brawl between a couple of drunken hecklers and Jon Page's brother-in-law that took place while JP was being interviewed post race. So why am I taking it up here? Well, because I was standing there when it happened. So, here's my bird's eye view account.

So Justin Lindine and I were making our way back to the car from the staging area and were slow rolling along on our bikes, stopping to chat with people here and there. We were standing behind the Verge trailer where there were a couple of dozen bikes laid out on the ground all waiting to be packed up for shipping back East, including all or most of the Richard Sachs team bikes.

I didn't hear any of the conversation leading up to the fight, and I had no idea who was involved or the fact that there was heckling going on or anything like that. All I saw was two guys on one side, another guy and a woman on the other, angry faces, quasi tough guy posturing, and then the bigger of the two hecklers pushed Page's brother in law, he pushed back, then little chubby troll dude (Heckler #2) in work coveralls shoved, they sprawled onto the bikes, chubby troll was the first to run away, etc. Pathetic.

The thing is, though--and this is what I haven't read anywhere else--from my perspective, yes Page's brother-in-law was pushed first, but he not only pushed back, he also stomped hell all over Richard's bikes, and the others lying about as if they weren't even there. All three of them did.

I know what it feels like to take a punch, and I know the moment of primal rage, the urge toward self defense and pure, simple ego that surfaces in that instant. I know it doesn't always feel manful to walk away, sometimes it feels dishonest, unrealistic, not true-to-self. And sometimes it is, genuinely, righteous. And I know that, as Myerson eloquently described on his blog last night, sometimes, if you're a real badass, you walk away.

There was nobody in the right from where I was standing. The problem was not who pushed whom, the problem was the over-arching discourse under which these individuals define themselves and set parameters for their behavior. There is a sense of all too common, petty, middle-American entitlement at work here that folks imagine gives them the "right" to heckle, to play their car stereo loud outside my window, to stick a confederate flag on their truck window. "Dammit this is America and I have the right"... no, jackass, you have responsibilities first, rights after. The first amendment to the constitution was designed to protect us against being stripped of the right to resist. In no way was it intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as being, a preemptive weapon or verbal billy club available to individuals with which to mark their social territory.

I read yesterday on one of the cycling websites, CX Magazine, I think, that one of the two hecklers was grousing about having to pay more than "his share" of the damages. And I shake my head. He should be writing a formal letter of apology to USAC and the event promoter and explaining to as many junior racers as possible why what he did was selfish and wrongheaded.

And for all three of them, at the point that the first guy landed on a bike, they should have woken up a little. You know the saying, your right to swing your arms stops at the end of my nose. Once the private property of innocent third parties was involved, these Baby-Hueys should had the restraint to minimize the damage to the bikes and move the hell on. Instead they stomped all over the place like a gang of Tolkein's mountain trolls playing whack-a-mole with their feet. And the shit heel who started the heckling wants to quibble about his "share" of the damage? Words fail me.

The funny part was that after the fracas was over, I rolled past Chubby Overalls Troll, whom you will remember as Heckler #2, and the tallest and thinnest of the three guys (Page's in-law, I think. Could be wrong) and I said, to Heckler #2 "pathetic, you're an embarrassment". He walked away, but the other guy took offense and got in my face. "What was I supposed to do?" he said. I told him he was supposed to be the better man and walk away. I told him he should have been thinking about where he was, the presence of kids, event sponsors, the media, the police, and that all of that should have been more important than defending his manhood. I do feel for the guy, he did get pushed, that sucks and he was right to tell the hecklers to quit it. Maybe he was the wrong guy to tell off, but it all reminded me of junior high when the teacher doesn't care who started the fight: the assumption is you were both wrong, and you both get punished. And yeah, sometimes that's unfair but you know what? Not usually. At times in my life when I have been making bad choices, I have had to worry about getting punched. When I'm making good, socially responsible choices about the way I carry myself? Not so much.

On heckling: stop it. This seems to be the issue of the season. I have read about it on several blogs, and had many conversations with friends. More than once I have heard people speculate that, like the surge in interest in "Alternative" music after Nirvana's "Nevermind" came out, and the jocks and kids just looking for a fight found out about mosh pits, and the genuinely other-than-mainstream music scene began it's true death roll, 'cross might just crush itself under its own success and popularity.

But really, let's keep this simple up front: saying mean stuff isn't nice.

There isn't so much positive energy flowing around the universe these days that we can afford to piss on the genuinely large and meaningful emotions we manufacture for ourselves by the racing of bicycles. We do it to feel good about ourselves. So why knock that down a peg? I have been a part of a lot of communities in my life: As a musician I've been a part of everything from what was left of the hardcore/punk scene in the early 90's to the New England contra dance and old time scene, as well as the Jazz world. I've played tournament chess, obsessively, and had all sorts of eccentric hobbies. One of the things I think is really inspiring about bike racing is that in order to be any good at it, you have to be reasonably positive and take pretty good care of yourself. Honestly, compared to other circles I've traveled in, the most maladjusted bike racer is still not nearly as misanthropic as your average chess player, believe me.

There's nothing clever or smart about being too cool to care. Particularly about something you spend large amounts of time, money and natural resources to pursue. If you're going to travel to another state, or even just across town, and spend your day at a bike race, and then hang out and watch the elite race, why not act like you care? Show some respect and learn something. Why not support the guys that are still doing hill repeats and motorpacing on the road in December? Why not appreciate that the best 'cross racers in the country--to say nothing of the Europeans--are so much better than the rest of us it almost isn't the same sport? When I was about 13 I thought affecting an air of jadedness and been-there-done-thatitude would gain me entry to the Cool Kids Club. I soon realized that the real Cool Kids--the ones I actually began to look up to then, or do today--are the ones who claim their space in the communities and experiences that matter to them, work to make them better, and ignore the haters and naysayers.

Trebon may not be the most outwardly friendly guy on the circuit but you know what? He's a professional athlete and how many people do you know who are as good at what they do as he is at 'cross? If he wants to be serious, he's allowed. He doesn't owe anyone a beer hand-up. And why heckle Page? It probably stings enough not to be the best in the U.S. anymore, and he seems able to be pretty gracious about it. But man, who has done more to put U.S. 'cross on the map than him?

I guess we each have to make a choice about what kind of community we want to have. And understanding that our individual choices matter and affect the world beyond the ends of our respective noses is already a long way toward taking responsibility for "our share" of our community.



  1. Did you know Baker is allegedly a high-level chess player? Explains a lot...

  2. That is hilarious...remind me to tell you some stories. Bad sportsmanship isn't even the right term.

  3. nice write up, well said. agreed too that heckling beyond friends has no value.

  4. very well done.


  5. Great post. I LOVE the middle-american entitlement sentiment - dead on. That has to be the ugliest behavior.

  6. Best non biased write up I've seen of the whole mess. Your right in pointing out only one of the 3 has been singled out when all 3 were involved. You didn't see the other two's personal info plastered all over the net. I guess the mob mentality took over where the fight left off. Truelly one of the lowest days/following week in the sports history.

  7. Nathan,
    Great post, I second just about everything. I am pretty pumped to have found your blog. have a great holiday!

  8. Glad you found it as well, Ben. And thanks everyone for your supportive comments!

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Full disclosure, the short fat guy and the tall skinny guy are both friends of mine. And I was in attendance for the race but not the fun stuff afterwords, just my luck.

    Im shocked at the attention this has gotten.

    Should it be assumed that everyone who has vilified my friends over the last week (for a shoving match for gods sake) has never done anything wrong? Never done something they regret?

    This is not a free speech issue.

    This is not a rights and responsibility issue.

    Verbal billy club? Seriously, if you think what they said to Page was so dramatic I would invite you to any youth soccer match on any weekend in any city of your choosing.

    Claims for damage. I am all for personal responsibility but this is just ridiculous. I think I read somewhere that Ricard would like to repaint several bikes? Not positive of this but again I would argue that might be a little over the top. I think Richard is trying to take advantage, and that's worse than pathetic. Ive seems pictures of these bikes before the guys in non metallic-chain mail jump suits landed on them and they were less than pristine.

    Not sure where you are going with the to cool to care or show your support for intervals in December rant but where ever your going its lame. Lame because the two trolls you rip are both Category 1 racers who do more for our local cycling community in one month than you do in a year.

    And finally this, your pseudo intellectual rambling is tedious. Your writing is impressive even if you do contradict yourself repeatedly, maybe chop it down a few words so you don't lose your train of thought, just a suggestion.

    OOPS! Now I mean finally, someone once told me its not what happens to you that defines you, its how you deal with what happens to you.

    Seems like we all got that one wrong.

  11. Why did you delete Gunga's comment? Everyone makes mistakes and we should all remember that. If none of you has ever done anything wrong than continue to ride your "high horse". If you have made a mistake before than remember that when judging someone else and their actions and just hope they learn from it as we all learned from mistakes we made in the past.

  12. Tedious or not, nobody asked you to read it. Sure, I go on, and your points are all well taken.

    But people know us as we present ourselves. Right? So if we act like yahoos who have no respect for our sport, that's how we'll be perceived. Not only did it escalate once, the whole dispute wandered toward the parking lot and erupted again.

    And not for nothing, I don't know you, or the two guys involved, and you don't know me. Don't presume to know what I do for my cycling community. And as for what they do, if their behavior is offensive to lots of people, alienates a community or a race promoter, or breaks someone else's bike, then whatever else they did isn't really what's defining them in that instance, is it? Sorry I'm an asshole right now, but ask anyone, I'm really a nice guy... ? Doesn't really work.

    For what it's worth, my rant on heckling was intended to be separate from the other, though related. Heckling at 'cross races has been a big issue this year and a lot of people are talking about it. And it does lead to unpleasantness, as seen here.

    Have I ever done anything wrong? Publicly? Yes. And been held accountable for it. Like you're holding me accountable now for a post you don't like. Fair enough. But making a scene at nationals and generally acting like an idiot affects the wider cycling community, and people ought to be held accountable for that, too. Ne c'est pas?

    Anyway, I'm done with the whole thing. Honestly I didn't expect this all to garner as much attention as it has, maybe that was shortsighted. It is the off season though, and we all know what the excess testosterone and less training volume leads too. Internet fights!! So, none of that.

  13. Gunga deleted his own comment. That's what "removed by its author" means. Unless it was highly abusive or excessively profane, I wouldn't censor someone. I'm not unaware that my stance may be a bit controversial and people are free to respond.

    And what's with the ever-done-anything-wrong bit anyway, guys?

    It seems like a bigger problem that these two are unwilling, apparently, to admit that their behavior had an effect on an otherwise positive experience for many people. I don't think that telling the world to deal with it or go to hell is much of a way to express remorse.

    Bikes were damaged, wheels were damaged, and not for nothing but do you think that having our own brand of soccer hooligans is a good sell to potential race promoters or venues?


  14. Seriously, if you think what they said to Page was so dramatic I would invite you to any youth soccer match on any weekend in any city of your choosing.

    IMO it's not what they said, it's when.

    Baseball fans say truly horrible shit to oufielders -- who can clearly hear them -- every game, but no one stands up in the middle of a press conference to tell Manny his mother's a whore.

    Even if she is.

  15. My bad on the removed by author thing and even though I know what it means I appreciate you helping me out.

    My problem is you say people should be respectful and nice to others and then you call Jim a "chubby troll". That is not nice and he is actually in very good shape. It must have been the layers. He is troll-sized however and has asked God for help on that one several times and I guess he is too busy to help him.

    Merry Christmas.

  16. OK, you know what? Fair enough, not nice on my part to call names. I suppose it's all too easy to vilify and take things too far, and you're right, my choice of language wasn't cool, so, sorry. No need for the sarcasm either, I suppose, so sorry about that, too.

    The apparent lack of remorse and sense of entitlement to have their say/make a scene etc that I saw didn't make either of these two seem particularly sympathetic to me. Hence it is easy for me to characterize them one dimensionally, such was my experience of them. Mea culpa.

    Honestly if I owe anyone an apology, I think it's JP's brother-in-law who I mistakenly identify as being the guy I talked to after the race. Apparently it wasn't.

    And not for nothing, but apparently these incidents do make ripples, right? I mean, here we are, swimming in the ripples. So my point all along has been that people ought to be aware of the kinds of ripples they are making.

    I chose to post about this because it happened in a somewhat out of way corner of the venue, behind the trailer, and not a lot of people saw it. A lot of speculation about who was in the right/wrong was flying around, so, with some encouragement from various folks who were there or involved, I decided to report on it.

    I may talk to much for Hogan's tastes, but a community needs its town criers as much as it needs its reticent types, so here's a discussion where we get to think about how we want to represent/take care of our 'cross community.

    Not such a bad thing, really.

    Merry Christmas back at you,


  17. In defense of heckling....
    So I consider myself a heckler, and I feel that I need to at least offer a few words in it's defense.
    For me, "heckling" involves shouting ridiculous things to try and get a surprised reaction or a laugh out of a rider. Sometimes that means saying mean-sounding things to someone if I know them and think they will appreciate it. Sometimes it means shouting things that are an attempt to be funny but may not make any sense, and sometimes it means telling people to go faster when they are 3 minutes off the front.
    Maybe it's a definition problem, maybe what I consider heckling, but saying derogatory things to someone after the race is over while they are trying to do an interview is not heckling, it falls into what I consider "general deuchbaggery" and should be addressed as such.


  18. Richard Sachs told me his browser wouldn't click through a comment
    he wanted to add, so he emailed it to me so i could paste it in
    in its entirety. here is:

    "Claims for damage. I am all for personal responsibility but this is just ridiculous. I think I read somewhere that Ricard would like to repaint several bikes? Not positive of this but again I would argue that might be a little over the top. I think Richard is trying to take advantage, and that's worse than pathetic. Ive seems pictures of these bikes before the guys in non metallic-chain mail jump suits landed on them and they were less than pristine."

    there is way too much to deal with regarding the incident that took place at the natz. i have never made any comments about who started what and/or whose chin hit which fist first. i wasn't there atmo. actually, i don't even care who instigated the physical stuff. i am a jon page fan and disagree with the heckling aspect, but that's between the hecklers and page to take up. i wasn't there. if jp's family threw the first haymaker, then the other two cats would have been within their legal rights to press charges. and vice versa. no one pressed charges.

    for my part, i did a cursory walk through at the verge truck prolly 30-40 minutes after it all happened. contrary to some message boards threads i have seen, the bicycles wern't carelessly put on the ground to trip people up; vergesport was in the process of taking some several dozen bicycles back east for many of the teams it sponsors. regarding the quote i pasted in here, i never said what i was going to do, or charge for, or anything like that. and i also refused to spend another minute at the venue to play insurance claims adjuster, so we left immediately.

    there's way too much conjecture and speculation going on about this. i don't know the players. i don't condone the heckling. i don't go to sat a.m. soccer games. and i don't think anything was solved or helped by having it escalate into a shoving match. that my team's personal property that includes parts supplied by 8-10 different industry firms was damaged does concern me. this is hardly an issue of "scratched paint". as a matter of fact it's not about paint at all. i think it's within my rights to be made whole - that, an insurance term, for lack of a better word. i'll make those determinations in a week or so.

    again, when the bicycles get back to me, i will deal with the damage(s) and condition, and atmo anyone who was involved with causing it will be part of what happens next. it's not a missouri thing and it's not a minnesota thing.

    thanks for reading.