A Champion Of Minorities And Enemy Of Racism, Jeff Would Have Been A Loud Voice In Today’s Warped World

26 Jul

“Well, you know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people, and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

–Tim Hardaway, Sr., on Dan Le Batard’s radio show, WAXY-AM Miami, February 14, 2007

 

Tim hardaway text

DSC03169

Rich response to hardaway email

 

Within the span of a few weeks this spring, a former Ku Klux Klan leader driving through Overland Park, Kansas decided to dedicate a Sunday to shooting Jews and then indiscriminately shot three Christians to death, Donald Sterling told his girlfriend he didn’t want her to bring African Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games, and scores of people became outraged when football player Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend in front of a national television audience after being drafted by the Rams. Jeff would have been disgusted with the fact that such things are still happening in 2014, and I have no doubt that he would have taken the opportunity that these events presented to become a loud voice against racism and homophobia, as well as a champion of minorities everywhere.

I first witnessed Jeff’s abhorrence of racism when he chose his senior history thesis topic in the Fall of 2008 at Middlebury. It didn’t take him long to decide that he wanted to write about the 1960s Civil Rights movement with a specific focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach of non-violent resistance. I am a student of 1960s history myself, and I have amassed a large collection of films and DVDs containing old news broadcasts from that time, many of which covered King’s movement. Once I knew what Jeff was considering, I offered to let him utilize my collection if he thought it could be helpful to him, and he readily accepted that offer:

Jeff Civil Rights 1

Jeff civil rights 2

jeff civil rights 3

Jeff unique angle email

Jeff ghetto riots email

It was not a coincidence that Jeff chose to write his thesis on civil rights at a time when Barack Obama was poised to become our nation’s first African American President. There were many reasons why Jeff was a huge Obama supporter, not the least of which was the fact that he loathed George W. Bush and was embarrassed that our country elected him twice. As much as anything, though, Jeff was excited because he felt that an Obama victory would signal that the United States had turned a corner in terms of racial equality, especially since the election of an African American President would have been unthinkable even a decade earlier.

I found it interesting that Jeff chose Election Day in 2008 to send me the document he called “About Me”, a one page personal statement that I posted here on April 13th, 2013 (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/about-me-by-jeffrey-klein/). Not surprisingly, Jeff opened this statement by writing about his senior thesis topic:

I am currently a senior at Middlebury College with a major in history and minor in economics. I am in the process of writing a 50-page thesis on the civil rights movement. That period is the period in American history that fascinates me the most, as it exemplifies a time where courageous African Americans withstood threats and intimidation in order to form a unified movement to ensure their equality under the law and in American society. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the person I admire most within the movement, as he was steadfast in his insistence on nonviolent protest, even as white Americans consistently brutalized and physically beat members of the African-American community.”

Jeff was appalled, though, that even months after Obama’s victory, blatant acts of racism continued to occur in this country, and many were targeted toward the new President. On July 30th, 2009, Jeff sent the following email containing the latest disgraceful example and made it clear how he felt about it:

jeff obama slur email

He wanted Palin to win the 2012 nomination, of course, because he felt that she was a weak candidate who would maximize Obama’s chances of scoring another blowout election victory. In July of 2009, Jeff clearly expected to be here in 2012 for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Jeff was also a strong advocate for women’s issues and was extremely proud of Carey’s work on the Board of Directors of Hope’s Door, an organization that seeks to end all forms of domestic violence.

Given Jeff’s love for sports, it is not surprising that his support for women extended all the way into the sports world. I was surprised and proud when in May 2010, Jeff told me that he wanted to write a blog post on his Talkin’ Sports blog in support of the WNBA, the women’s basketball league whose popularity paled in comparison to that of the NBA. Jeff was apprehensive to write on a league about which he knew relatively little. However, he was inspired by the excitement that WNBA games could generate despite playing in the shadows of their male counterparts. And he was apparently also inspired by a woman named Elissa, to whom he dedicated the post.

Jeff Dedication to Elissa

When I saw how Jeff opened this post, it was immediately clear to me that his support of the WNBA was consistent with and inextricably tied to his worldview and overarching support of what he always called “the little guy”. Jeff began his post by writing:

Many people probably think of the WNBA as the NBA’s unpopular kid sister.”

He spent the rest of the opening paragraph enumerating all the ways in which the WNBA got the short end of the stick as compared to the NBA—fewer teams, a shorter season, fewer playoff games and the unfairness of having to play during the summer when, according to Jeff, “most people are out at the ballpark taking in a baseball game or on the beach getting their tans.” He then strongly defended the women’s game by writing:

Jeff WNBA Blog Post

This paragraph was so Jeff. He was a man of the people, a champion of minorities and underdogs. He despised unfairness and inequity. Reading this reminded me of what he once wrote in his J.K. Rolling column in The Middlebury Campus in 2007, and although that was a sports column about March Madness, his words typified his general worldview:

“Rooting for the underdogs is a lot more fun than rooting for the favorites. It’s the whole idea of the little guy rising to the occasion and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to emerge victorious.”

This is partially why Jeff so admired Martin Luther King. The theme song of King’s movement was “We Shall Overcome”, which totally resonated with Jeff given his desire to see people overcome insurmountable odds.

In his last speech on the day before he died, in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968, King said:

Like anybody, I’d like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

The very next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet.

King’s point is obviously that what you do in the time you have is more important than how long you live, notwithstanding most people’s desire to maximize their lifespan. And though I am certainly not saying that Jeff did God’s will in his 23 ½ years on earth, I am saying that he made an impact. He did that with his kindness toward everyone he ever met, his passion for the things he considered important, and his willingness to stand up for what he believed in. He voiced his opinions strongly and coherently and was willing to debate anyone at any time.

On March 8th, 1965, King gave a speech in Selma, Alabama, and his words that night get to the crux of what this post is all about. The civil rights leader who Jeff admired the most, a man who like Jeff, would die a premature death, said:

“And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be.  Some great truth stands before the door of his life—some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right and that which is just.  And he refuses to stand up because he wants to live a little longer and he’s afraid his home will get bombed, and he’s afraid that he will lose his job, and he’s afraid that he will get shot and beat down by state troopers.  He may go on and live until he’s 80.

He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80, and the cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died… A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

Jeff never once refused to take a stand for that which he believed was true, and thus, as King so poignantly said, his spirit never died. And though many of Jeff’s causes were trivial compared to those of Dr. King, the fact remains that he spoke up and took a stand whenever he witnessed an injustice, whether it occurred in sports, politics, or in society at large. By that measure, Jeff lived just as long as many people who are in their 80’s. I take a great deal of comfort from this, and I am inspired by it.

Jeff was born to write, and with 20/20 hindsight, it is easy to see that all the misguided flirtations with possibly applying to law school were a waste of his time and energy. Had he pursued journalism as a career, I believe his unequaled passion and natural talent would have separated him from the pack, and he would have been a loud voice in today’s turbulent world.  I’ve never seen anything quite like Jeff’s strength of spirit, and when he latched onto a cause, it was difficult to not jump on the bandwagon with him. The world suffers for not having him a part of it anymore. He could have done so much.

Jeff vigorously argued his belief that NBA playoff games were rigged by referees in favor of the league’s favored teams, he called for the adoption of instant replay in baseball years before it happened in 2014, he railed against Bud Selig’s refusal to overturn the call that robbed Andres Galarraga of a perfect game in 2010, he defended the nascent women’s basketball league as being capable of generating the same level of excitement as the NBA does, he wrote about civil rights because he was appalled by the way African Americans have been treated in our country, and he dedicated the majority of his time and passion in the fall of 2008 to ensuring that every single person he knew understood how crucial it was for Barack Obama to be elected President.

He wrote passionately about these things in his high school and college newspapers and in the blog he created afterward, and he enthusiastically debated them at parties, bars, family gatherings and any other forum he could find. Whether you agreed with Jeff or not, he was an articulate and compelling force who could not be ignored. And that is why, if he had fought through his issues and stayed with us, I have absolutely no doubt that he would have found a way to be a leading voice in our nation, advocating for a multitude of worthy causes and railing against injustice. He would have been one of Donald Sterling’s greatest nightmares.

When Jeff died, my spirit died along with him. It appeared as if I would end up as the kind of person King spoke about—someone whose spirit died well before his breathing ceased. But the death of my spirit was temporary. Surrounded by love from a special wife and two precious boys, and inspired by memories of the passion with which Jeff lived, my spirit slowly but steadily came back to life.

How could it not?

I have watched Carey’s efforts toward the prevention of domestic violence, as well as her outstanding work as an EMT. I have watched Drew passionately pursue his love of coaching as he works with children in helping develop their basketball skills. And he is now pursuing his personal training certification so he can work with and motivate those who are committed to becoming fit. I have watched Brett create his own sports blog and pursue his passion for writing and a potential career in the media industry. And I think about Jeff and everything discussed in this post.

And so with my family as inspiration, my spirit is alive, and I will work hard to advance the causes of suicide awareness and prevention, and I will continue to devote myself to mentoring and motivating as many young people as possible to pursue their dreams without creating artificial deadlines. And I intend to aggressively work to convince the New York Bridge Authority to build safety nets at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Finding avenues through which to pursue these issues more broadly, and to do so with a passion that would make Jeff proud, would be another way for me to honor the legacy of the young man who was such an impact player during his short yet inspiring life.

–Rich Klein

Advertisements

One Response to “A Champion Of Minorities And Enemy Of Racism, Jeff Would Have Been A Loud Voice In Today’s Warped World”

  1. susan campbell July 26, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for this. I have been following your blog after I lost my brother to suicide on December 4. Your words remind me that wonderful fathers like you (and mine) can and do lose their children to suicide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: