Author: Daniel Sager

Leaders and followers

There’s two types of people in the world; people who run screen passes on every play in Madden, and people who aren’t steaming sacks of garbage.

I think I said that wrong.

Not to get too deep, but there really are two types of people in the world; leaders and followers.  From a very young age, my parents instilled this mentality into my everyday train of thinking, and I’ve grown up knowing the difference between what it takes to be a leader, and when people are followers.

Recently, I’ve been really pondering what exactly it means to be a leader.  If you’re like me, you probably always assumed “being a leader” and “being in leadership” are the same thing.  In a way, they are, because people who display the attributes often find themselves in positions of leadership.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Being a leader is a mentality, a passion, and inherent set of desires that pushes themselves and others to succeed.  Being “in leadership” is simply a title.

When I was 19, I started working in this small pizza restaurant in my small hometown.  It didn’t take long, but after a while I was promoted to a managerial position, which was awesome since I was only 19, but kind of intimidating because I was “in charge of” people older than me.

I’d never had a leadership position before, at least not where it mattered.  I was captain of my high school soccer team, but that’s an honor afforded to pretty much anyone provided you’re a senior and not riding the bench.

Up until this point, the only leadership positions I’d seen in practice were in the eight months I’d been working in this restaurant and the year before when I worked in a different restaurant.  I don’t want to speak for restaurant management across the board, but what I encountered at these first two places wasn’t exactly role model material.

You see, when I saw what it meant to be a leader in the professional world, it was kind of discouraging.  I saw grown adults yelling at other grown adults to complete tasks while they sat back.  At my very first job, the kitchen manager (who was a tremendously nice guy) was a buffet cook, who usually hung around the back and barked orders at people.  He wasn’t intentionally crass (he was from New Jersey, after all) but he had the look of a guy who was simply fulfilling a leadership position, not that of an actual leader.

At this other restaurant (the one where I was named manager) I thankfully was provided the blueprint of how exactly NOT be to a leader.  The owner’s wife and a 20-something year-old girl were my first superiors in this job.  Thanks to them and their awful customer service skills, miserable personalities, and questionable talent acquisition skills, I knew what I had to do to succeed in my new position; simply be myself.

I don’t want to be too self-indulgent, but if I list it on my resume and LinkedIn profile, I’m perfectly fine listing it here: I am a leader.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to do this alone, as I had the groundwork laid and examples provided by my mom and dad and then years of trial and error to figure out the best path to take.  Sure, I did things I thought were “cool” to help myself fit in; I listened to music I hated, watched television shows I didn’t like, hung out with people I wasn’t friends with, but by the time I was 17, I’d pretty much determined what it meant to be a leader.

So I think a 600-word introduction is probably a little redundant, but with that said here’s some advice to prospective leaders on how to become a leader yourself:

Compassion and Empathy

Truthfully, if you aren’t compassionate and empathetic, you’ve pretty much failed as a human being, but for a refresher, let’s go over the importance of displaying these factors.  For starters, you’ve probably heard the oft-used “I’m your boss, not your friend” quote when applied to leadership.  And personally, this is one of my favorite quotations of all time because of how utterly wrong I believe it to be.

You see, too often positions of leadership take the term “superior” way too far.  To some, leaders are the upper echelon of human capability, and anyone lesser is the scum of the earth.  Wearing a title and maker more money them someone may classify you as technically superior in an economic sense, but as far as humanity is concerned, equality rules.  In a business or professional setting, the ability to relate your co-workers, regardless of titles, displays humility, compassion, and kind-heartedness.  If you’re in a position of leadership, ask yourself if you’d rather answer to a cold, sociopathic dictator, or a warm, gentle friend who you can go to in a time of need.


Pretend for a moment you’re fighting in a battle.  You’re standing on the front lines, sword in hand, and ready to charge into combat.  It will be a difficult fight, perhaps even a futile effort, so morale is already at an all time low, and gets even worse when your commander, sitting on a horse near the safety of the back line, orders you to charge into battle while he waits.

Now pretend like you’re standing in the same position and your commander rides up to the front lines, dismounts his horse, and leads to charge into the battle.

Ask your, who do you want fighting by your side?

A leader isn’t the guy in bright colors, standing on the stern of the ship waiting to make ground, he’s down in the row house with his men pushing the boat onwards.

Being a leader has nothing to do with being in charge.  Titles, pay grade, and esteem are meaningless when it comes to displaying the mentality of a leader.  The guy who mowed Steve Jobs’ grass is more of a leader than Jobs because at least he didn’t steal ideas from his best friend and then discredit him.  Steve Nash has never won an NBA title, but he’s more of a leader than Kobe Bryant because he aimed to make everyone better (and actually passed the ball).

A leader will ensure everyone reaches the finish line, even if it requires going back and carrying the stragglers themselves.

Boss ≠ Leader

Being in charge isn’t the same as leading the charge.  A boss shouts commands and demands results.  A leader facilitates change and cultivates success.  At some point, changes will need made, and the acts of followers will need to be adjusted.  Where it’s an incorrect food order, a dropped pass, or a misaligned decimal points, mistakes happen.  Offering constructive criticism in the form of a passionate helping hand can go a long way in guiding someone through a successful process.  Likewise with the cultivation of success; breeding change and orchestrating positive objectives helps preferable results arise.

Stand up

Leaders, whether they like it or not, are the voices of followers.  If a culture of blame, negativity, and cold behavior arises from the leadership, how can the followers expect to learn anything?  Restaurants are the worst for this, because restaurant management tends to throw blame around like an oil fire (pun totally intended).  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you can undeniably attest to this fact.  When managers throw each other or employees under the bus, it establishes a culture.  Restaurants, for example, are infamous hotbeds of gossip and trash talking that rivals even the most sinister 10th grade lunch table.

Before I became a restaurant manager, the place where I worked had literally 10 employees.  10.  You would not believe the level of NBA-level smack talk that came out of this place.  WITH 10 PEOPLE.  And who was usually the one leading the charge?  My manager and the owner’s wife (who also talked a supreme amount of trash out each other).

When I became the manager, I put an end to this really quick.  The catty, sophomoric drama that plagued this tiny pizza store were eliminated because we established a culture of openness, accountability, and sharing.  We shared blame and took responsibility for our actions.  I’m not advocating being a great leader is about taking the fall for someone else, but when someone is being singled out and screamed at for a minor issue, sometimes it’s okay to jump in and say, “hey, we all messed up, yell at everyone.”  Which brings me to my last point:

Don’t overdo the emotions

I’ve been working since I was 18 years old.  I’m now 24, and for each of those years in between I’ve been employed by a restaurant.

If you were to ask me how many bouts of tears, screaming matches, or outbursts of vulgarity I’ve heard over the last six years, I would laugh in your face and tell you to bring a bigger calculator.

I don’t want to entirely besmirch restaurants, by the way, because I’ve worked with some amazing people with good hearts and great personalities.  I’ve also had some great managers.  But, I’ve also dealt with overly emotional co-workers, unless drama, ruthless finger-pointing, and hilarious micromanagement.

The point is, establishing an identity of chaos (like so many restaurants find themselves being with) is poison to employees of the organization.  This is true across the board whether you play sports, work at a doctor’s office, or work in construction.

I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the company of the fourth-string fullback, overdoing the emotion is a mistake for any organization.  Obviously, I’m not advocating being a drone, but I am saying achieving balance is okay.  There’s probably times where an emotional breakdown in the bathroom is advisable, just like laughing for 15 uninterrupted minutes at the “Deez Nuts” videos is play.  However, being to spring-loaded in your emotional response is seriously one of the worst mistakes you can make when it comes to being a leader.

If someone insults you, do you instantly want to cry?

If something goes wrong, is your first response to scream like a moron?

If you see someone in need of help, do you giggle like a child while you talk to them?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then I’m afraid I’ve got some troubling news; you’re going to have to fix a thing or two before you’re worthy of being considered a legitimate leader.

If (and yes, I realized this is the fifth consecutive line I’ve started with ‘if’) you learned anything by reading this, I hope it’s the difference between being a leader and being in leadership.  Being a follower is easy: All you have to do is wait for someone to tell you what’s up and you’re good to go.  Being in leadership is easy: Just wait until enough other people quit until you get promoted.

But, being a leader isn’t easy.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  It requires a commitment to an inherent set of values that push you to consistently strive for your personal best while also seeking to influence those around you.  Being a leader is a mentality and fortunately, can be learned.

Go out and see what changes you can make.  Be a leader.


A Four-Tiered Hierarchy for determining humanity’s awfulness

It’s a wonderful time to be alive.  Just think, as a society, we’ve survived a pair or World Wars, the Great Depression, Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Jimmy Carter’s toiling in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Y2K.  And that’s just in the last 100 years.  I’d say we are doing pretty well.

But, even as society evolves, it seems segments of our population lag behind.  Of course, this is to be expected, but sometimes this perceived lag begins to have actual, real world effects on the surrounding citizens, and I won’t stand for it!  This influx of horrible people needs to be addressed.

However, we are all brothers and sisters on this earth, so simply discounting another living, breathing specimen as a waste of oxygen is neither neighborly, nor does it maintain any semblance of politeness.  Thankfully, I’ve come up with a solution to deal with some of the world’s most awful segments of humanity, and the only way to do so is by placing people in appropriate tiers based on awfulness.  Awareness is our best defense.

Tier One: The Onlooker

Unless you’ve been entirely consumed by misery, you’re probably finding yourself looking at the above photo and thinking; “wait a minute, that’s just a sweet old lady.  There’s no way she’s inherently evil.”  In fact, I would be wont to agree with your rhetorical statement; Gladys, I’m sure, is a fine member of society and undoubtedly voted Republican.  But, I couldn’t find a better stock photo to suit my argument.

Let’s take a trip to hypothetical town:  You’re at the grocery store buying almonds, baby powder, and a Batman mask when all of a sudden a fellow shop patron parks his or her cart and their gluttonous person directly in the middle of the aisle.  You can’t pass them, and your very obvious nonverbal conveyance suggests you would prefer they move.  No dice.  This isn’t an isolated incident either.  Whether it’s a guy texting as his car idles at a green light or a woman standing too long at a sporting event, the utter disregard for the comfort or accessibility of their fellow human beings is staggering.

Of course, I realize inclusions in the Tier One category aren’t inherently awful.  Sure, they maintain absolutely no self-awareness and often place themselves (or others) in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations, so the Tier One participants, more than anything, are just annoying.

The Cure: Usually some sort of auditory disruption to return their wandering minds from dream land.  Whether it’s a quick “excuse me”, a light tap on the car honk, or a thunderous drop-kick to the coccyx, the onlooker usually just needs to be reminded they aren’t the only human beings inhabiting the planet and often move on to other things.

Tier Two: The braggart

In the realm of class hierarchy, there’s not many things worse than someone who has achieved great success and then mercilessly reminds everyone of how great they are.  Take the above subject, Richard Sherman, for example.  Mr. Sherman is unquestionably the best defensive back in the NFL, and he’s gotten there by being a tireless worker, a rigorous student of the game, and possessing a plethora of God-given ability.  And to top it all off, he recently became one of the richest players in the league.  For most, climbing the ladder of success to the very top, pausing, building another story and then putting a bell on top would be enough, but not for the braggart.  You see, for some, like Mr. Sherman here, success isn’t good enough: he wants to succeed AND make sure no one else can compete.

Listen, I’m 24-years old and understand the complexities of today’s job market.  Even in college I was unreasonably competitive with classmates because I knew someday Jeff might end up competing directly with me for a job.  Sorry about you and your family Jeff, but I need that job.  No hard feelings.  So, it’s not as if the braggart is being competitive.  How could they, when they’ve already ascended to the pinnacle?  Even Donald Trump, a man who competes in the most cut-throat industry in the world and is a roaring success is always quick to remind people of his humble beginnings.  You see, Mr. Trump wasn’t lucky like you and me.  When he graduated from the Ivy League college his dad put him through, he was only spotted $10 million to start a business.  $10 million!  Why don’t you just put him directly on the streets, Mr. Donald Trump’s father?  You monster.  But even in Trump’s tales of humble beginnings arise incessant bragging; he’s basically saying, “look what I once was, and look how awesome I’ve become. No one is like me.  I’ll spit on your breakfast.”

While success is awesome, (and I hope everyone I know finds it), maintaining some level of modesty once you’ve attained it is really the difference between being a good and not good person.  I haven’t talked to Gallup recently, but I can’t imagine public opinion of Sherman or Trump is too high, so maybe try to be like them from a success standpoint, but not a personality standpoint.

The Cure: With the braggart, it’s usually best to ignore them.  The cocky types love attention, and once that’s gone it’s like starving a flame of oxygen.  When there aren’t cameras in Richard Sherman’s face or Donald Trump forgets his Twitter password again, all seems quiet, so maybe take that advice to heart.

Tier Three: The internet troll

We’ve all seen it.  You go to your favorite cooking website to find a recipe for braised short ribs, and you decide to scroll down to check the comments to see if any fellow members of the braised short ribs community approves of this recipe.  After several inclusions regarding whatever short-ribbed trivial pursuits you may be seeking, you see it: “Bush caused 9/11 and Obama is gay.”  Clearly, this individual has no interest in acquiring knowledge of appropriate pork-based stovetop cuisine, and simply wants to portray his ill-aligning political ideologies to the recipe seeking world.

It’s even worse on YouTube.  I once saw a guy call a little girl the N-word on a video about a kitten.  It doesn’t make sense.  A few months ago, a particularly heartless individual posted some extraordinarily offensive comments about Dr. Martin Luther King on Twitter.  After he was called out, he continued on a tirade of moronic insults that made less sense as his conversation wore on.  He actually got so tired of his trolling he gave up.  But the internet trolls are everywhere; Facebook, Twitter,, every news site ever.  I can’t even click links on certain news sites anymore because I (foolishly) like to check the comments to see what the internet community thinks about a particular issue, and every single time there’s always several people who use comment boards for no other purpose than to incite controversy and just be all around terrible people.  Are you a Christian?  An internet troll with find a Christian site and spew atheistic hate speech.  Did you vote for President Obama?  A troll will seek you out to tell you some (usually racist) nonsense about how Obama (or Lucifer, as they say) is ruining America.  Do you like puppies?  “WELL TOO BAD, HERE’S A PICTURE OF KITTENS!” says the internet troll.  “Oh, that’s actually quite pleasant, I like cats,” you foolishly retort. *Instantly sends 100 photographs of a gazelle being torn apart by a lion*

You see, the internet troll isn’t necessarily a bad human being because they say outlandishly, intentionally offensive things.  In fact, it’s my opinion most people who troll the internet don’t actually hold the outrageously offensive opinions they portray online; they are simply trying to ignite an argument online.  An internet troll may love his mother, but he will say disgusting things about yours if it means you will engage him in a battle of words.  And this is why there’s a special, higher tier for internet trolls; baiting people into argument and intentionally trying to hurt feelings is sociopathic, borderline bipolar behavior.  Sure, some comments are so stupid it’s impossible to take them seriously, but a few years ago a girl named Nicki Catsouras was killed in a car accident when she wrecked her dad’s Porsche into a concrete embankment in California.  Somehow, photos of the utterly gruesome crash scene (seriously, don’t Google her name) found their way onto the internet, and some people actually emailed these photos to Nicki’s father.  That’s an entirely new realm of messed up.

The cure: Entire, total, complete ignorance.  To combat the internet troll, you can’t engage them, you can’t acknowledge them, and you can’t even click on their name.  If an internet troll gets any indication you are ready to fight back, then they’ve already won.  Literally the only way to fight back is by doing nothing; which in the end makes you an infinitely better human being for doing so.

Tier Four: the Idealist Extremist

Everyone has an opinion.  Its one of the most beautiful things about our society.  But isn’t it funny how sometimes the loudest opinions are the ones that are the most outlandish?

I was checking Twitter the other day when a sports journalist I follow asked if anyone could give her a recommendation of “American Sniper”; in my opinion, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a movie about Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL sniper who apparently has more confirmed kills than any US sniper in history.  Obviously, not everyone is going to enjoy the movie of the message, but one person replied to the journalist’s message by stating he felt the movie was propaganda.  I’ll stop there, because while I don’t agree with this opinion, per se, I do feel like he has a legitimate point and I cant totally understand why he feels that way.  However, he went on to call Chris Kyle a “mass murderer”, which really made me take a step back and think.  The act of murder, by definition, is the killing of another person without justification.  And even that term is loose because you can apparently shoot an unarmed teenager in Florida based on a bogus “neighborhood watch” and a shaky Castle Doctrine, but you can’t kill someone for, say, eating the rest of your ice cream.  Chris Kyle killed people during a war, which you might recognize as a situation in which the people he was shooting at were trying to kill him right back. Adam Lanza is a mass murderer.  Adolf Hitler was a mass murderer.  A guy who served three tours of duty in a war isn’t a mass murderer.  If this random Twitter user wants to live in a world where the United States military is entirely condemned for actions that allow him to speak his (“unpopular”) opinion, then his ideals seem a little flawed compared to the rest of society.

Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church are even worse.  Not only do they want a world without soliders, they want to ensure homosexuals, Democrats, Republicans, hip-hop listeners, professional lawnmower jugglers, freelance bass fishermen, Macy’s loss prevention specialists, and Ron Howard never set foot inside the pearly gates of heaven.  While all major religions have ideals in which they would prefer the world operate (including mine), it seems like everyone employs a “live and let live” attitude in terms of cultural tolerance.  And that’s awesome.  The Westboro Baptist Church is not awesome.  Who knows, maybe I’m misreading them.  Maybe they’re just the ultimate internet trolls.  But when you attend a fallen solider’s funeral bearing a picket sign stating “God loves Dead Soldiers” maybe you’ve entirely lost sight of your faith.

The WBC is entirely too easy to pick on, but different segments of society possess extremists who ruin everything for everyone.  Take feminism for example. (which should literally be a complete non-issue because we are in the 21st century, for God’s sake; treat everyone equally)  On both sides of the feminism spectrum you have groups who are either so in favor of feminism they hope for the extermination of the male species entirely while the other end possesses the mindless idiots saying “LOL make me a sandwich hurr durr derp.”  No wonder we are seriously still arguing about an issue which should’ve been resolved almost 100 years ago.  If you can look past an argument as stupid as determining if men and women should be treated differently, there’s plenty of other opportunities to see just how mindless some arguments have become.  Just when I thought politics was starting to gain a more moderate following, the racial tensions that have been plaguing the country over this past year have really enlightened me on just how far apart Democrats and Republicans really are.

The thing is, when everyone has their own version of “the perfect world” sometimes the needs of others tend to be phased out.  As much as I would love to live in a world that was perpetually 67 degrees fahrenheit and no one fought about politics I realize that’s not convenient to a pretty sizable subset of our society (looking at you, Michigan).  I don’t like to borrow quotes often, but I’ll use one from Donald Glover: he once said, (during a hilarious stand-up comedy special, and I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the two factors that make someone a good person is the presence of empathy and sympathy.  Since a lack of sympathy literally makes you a monster, empathy is more of a relevant area of focus, since it refers to your ability to see both sides of a scenario and understand the plight of someone else.  If you seriously can’t stand back, exit your dream word, and consider the feelings of a fellow human being, then you’ve totally failed your purpose.

The cure: I don’t care what religion you belong to, who you voted for, how much money you make, or how hot you junior prom date was (that’s seriously gross anyway, you’re like 30 now, you pedophile); always be a decent human being.  The second you lose sight of the feelings of another individual then it’s time to pack it in and maybe try this whole humanity thing from a different angle, because clearly something is off.  Remember; although you may have your own perfect version of the world, there’s another seven billion who might not be totally okay with you uprooting their situations.



I tend to keep things light and hilarious on this little creative corner of mine, but sometimes I think it’s really important to sometimes step back and really reevaluate life.

For me, this happened On May 2, 2015, one day before my first wedding anniversary.

I was finishing up a shift at work, a long double shift I had already put nearly 12 hours into, and was standing outside with two of my friends, talking about how much we hated our jobs while I watched them burn a pair of cigarettes; a much deserved treat for my great co-workers.  One of the girls came outside with a hurried expression on her face.

“Dan, someone’s on line one for you, it sounds like they’re crying,” she said.

Of course, this isn’t exactly the message you want to be greeted with as you are finishing up a long shift and looking forward to some down time at home.  My mind, obviously, raced.  I knew Haley’s parents had been visiting and had just left, so my first thought was a car accident.  But it was nearly 9:30 on a Saturday night, and my brother is a bit of a social animal when it comes to the bar scene, so my mind thought of him.  I thought of Haley, my parents, her parents, my cats, even my friends.  My legs burned as I jogged to the phone.

As I answered the call, a heavy-breathing Haley informed me my apartment building was on fire, she had escaped with one of my cats, Ace, but Pearl, the younger cat, was lost.  I screeched out of the parking lot and flew home as several firetrucks passed me on my route home.  I nearly kept pace, the smell of burning rubber hitting my face as I trailed the flashing lights.

I arrived to a chaotic scene of hundreds of displaced residents and frantic emergency responders.  I found Haley.  Her face was covered in soot.  She needed to get the hospital.

I ran around the building, seeing flames burning a unit on the fourth floor.  I know the man who lived there.  A little slow, but typically unassuming and gentle.  On a balcony next to the unit, a hysterical older woman pleaded for firefighters to rescue her.  I could feel the flames coming from the building.  The smell of ozone burned my lungs.

I informed a firefighter one of my cats was still trapped in the building, only two doors down from the source of the blaze.  He told me he would do what he could.  I felt selfish asking, as I saw dozens of residents covered in black, coughing, and crying.

Haley needed to get the hospital.  She had exited the building through the same floor the fire started, fighting a corridor of heavy smoke.  She blamed herself for allowing Pearl to escape.  She’s a hero for saving even one of our cats.

I flew to the hospital, not worried about repercussions of a speeding ticket considering every officer in a 10 mile radius had been dispatched to the fire.  We arrived at the hospital, got her hooked up to some machines, and she was good as new.  Thank god.

As the reality of Pearl being lost began to set in, I was thankful Haley was totally fine, but I began to ponder what happened next.  The news wasn’t keeping us updated, with details sparse and even loss coverage.  I was assuming the flame had been extinguished, and there were no injuries reported.  It could’ve been a lot worse.  It was 1 a.m. when we left the hospital.

I returned to the scene, where I talked with firefighters and police, seeking details and asking about Pearl.  I could see into my fourth floor apartment from the parking lot, only slightly, but enough to see the white in my apartment.

I assumed the fire would be within the realm of control, but I feared smoke damage would have ruined what was left of my personal belongings.  My computer, containing nearly every aspect of my life, was still in the unit, as was my television, guitars, clothes, and Playstation.  None of it matter.  I prayed for Pearl to be safe.  I didn’t care if I lost everything else, I just wanted to find her.

Haley and I checked into a hotel around 3 a.m.  Some cruddy extended stay hotel where I assume the transients and drug dealers dwell.  The guy at the front desk couldn’t be nicer.  He was the first sign of things starting to turn.

Ace had been locked in a pet taxi for nearly six hours by now. The poor guy hadn’t eaten, pooped, or had any water in longer.  We tried to calm him down, a gesture he quickly acknowledged with a purr and soft meow.

Around 3:30 a.m., I drove back to the building.  Emergency crews had mostly dispersed and the only ones on hand were the Red Cross and a couple of crews helping people.  I must’ve looked exhausted.  I sheepishly asked several firefighters if they had found a small black cat with a purple collar.  Nothing.  I was, however, admitted to my room to access the damage.  As I arrived at my hallway, black soot and smoked had stained nearly all the walls in a dark, dusty black.  I was already expecting the worst as I unlocked my door, only to find, surprising, everything reasonably intact.  There was a fine layer of soot on everything, but the television was still on, the lights were on, and everything was running.

I searched for Pearl, the firefighter who accompanied me to the room joined the search as well.  No luck.  I grabbed some clothes, my laptop, Haley’s phone, some medicine, and some toiletries.  I took one last look for Pearl as I shut the door on my dark, smoky apartment

I went to bed around 5 a.m.  I woke around 8, laying in bed just staring at the ceiling, the reality of Pearl being gone forever started to set in.  I’ve remembered shows like “The First 48” which make it clear the odds of finding a human after two days is nearly impossible; what chance would a cat have?  My vet’s office has a reminder that 75% of lost animals without a collar name-tag stay lost forever.  Before too long, my phone read 11 a.m.

We dressed and headed back to the apartment to get a better look at the damage in the daylight.  We had called the apartment’s office to see if they found a small black cat with a purple collar.  Nothing.

The building, just 12 hours earlier bustling with 20 fire departments worth of uniformed firefighter, was now an eerily silent ghost town.  Few residents wandered around the building in a daze.  Cleaning trucks were parked in the spots, beginning to correct the damage from the burn the night before.

I entered the building and climbed the two flights of stairs to my floor.  Still just as lack as I remember.  Broken glass covered the floor from a fire extinguisher.  I checked the laundry room for Pearl, praying she survived.  Nothing.

As I entered the room, I noticed it looked nearly exactly the same in the light as I’d left it just over 24 hours earlier.  The smell was bad, but the window to my balcony was open.  I walked out and peeked over the edge.  As I headed back inside, Haley and I were about to set up her computer to print fliers of Pearl, so hopefully anyone who found her would give us a call.  It was  a desperate, last-ditch effort.

I entered our bedroom to check under the bed (her favorite spot) to see if she was hiding.  Nope.  I grabbed my gym bag and began to solemnly fill it with clothes and toiletries I missed from the night before.  I tossed my sunglasses onto our unmade bed.

I heard a faint jingle.

I stopped for a minute, frozen in silence, hoping to hear the noise again.  I looked at the bed where my glasses had fallen.  A big lump at the bottom left behind from the pillow Haley keep under her back at night.  I rested my hand on the pillow.

And the pillow moved.

My head began to burn.  I ripped the comforter and sheets off the bed where I found a tiny, big-eyed black cat with a purple collar.

“Oh my god!” I yelled.  Haley, in the other room, heard me and both she and her parents asked me what was going on.  I repeated the phrase several times, in utter disbelief as her glowing greenish-yellow eyes peered back at my from under her shelter.

I couldn’t believe it.  At some point, Haley said Pearl had escaped through her book-bag as she exited the building, unsure of where exactly she has gone.  Pearl has raced back to our apartment through the billowing smoke, jumped into our bed and hid under the covers, likely saving her life.  She remained there, despite the open doors and windows, until we found her the next morning.

This was May 3, 2015, my first wedding anniversary.

What hours earlier had been one of the worst nights of my life became a memory of joy and jubilation as my small, half human, half-cat family had been reunited.  I haven’t been this happy since this day exactly one year ago.

PS.  Pearl was the last animal unaccounted for in the apartment records.  Every animal involved in the fire survived.

Four small details in media which would’ve drastically altered our childhood

The consumption of media, at any age, is a direct reflection of an individual’s respective interests, while the effects demonstrated by what we watch can be exhibited in a variety of ways.  Sure, for every parent who claims Doom made their son shoot a school full of students there’s another who claims days spent watching Barney taught their kids the alphabet.

In today’s age, more than ever, it seems, young people are judged by the media they consume.  In my day (it’s weird I can say that now), various forms of home entertainment were much different than they were today.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these “the 90’s were the greatest time ever” nostalgists, but when I’m playing Madden on a 50 inch television it makes me think back to the days when my friends and I played split-screen Goldeneye on a 14-inch screen with bad color quality.

That being said, my childhood was a pretty awesome time to be alive.  In the mid to late-90’s when I started to get the hang of what media I liked and journalists could actually find jobs, the internet was taking off in a way exposure to different ideas was everywhere.  The cartoons were the best, the video games were the best and the movies were the best, although it’s entirely possible I only think this because I was eight years-old at the time, and I guess it’s possible How to Train Your Dragon really is better than Land Before Time (however unlikely).  So, here are four instances in which media that had a profound impact on my life could’ve been much different had the creators taken a different route.

4. Pokemon – The Elite Four gain access to Max Revives

To this very day, the Pokemon games are still enjoyable to me.  At 24 years-old, Pokemon has been the one constant media in my life, and it will probably remain that way because of it’s nostalgic effect, transcent appeal and…who am I kidding.  Pokemon is really, really fun, and I don’t have to defend my love.  To this day, I remember the summer night at my house when my mom returned from Wal-Mart with a Pokemon Blue game for me, and a Pokemon Red game for my brother.  Thankfully, she bought batteries too, or I would’ve been screwed because I had been engaged in a marathon session of Dr. Mario on my green Gameboy Color.  That night, I played for hours.  At first, I liked Pokemon because my friends were collecting the cards and I thought they looked cool, and the Pokemon anime became a mainstay in the Saturday morning cartoon rotation in the Sager household, but when I first played the game, it seriously changed my perspective.  Of course, the complexities of the Pokemon universe aren’t entirely complicated; you walk around conquering the land with creatures called Pokemon as you seek to become the very best (like no one ever was, da da da) and, most importantly, take down a multinational Pokemon mafia run by a billionaire owner despite the fact you embark on your journey as a fresh-faced 10 year-old.  But, more than anything, the game was about conquering the Elite Four to become the Pokemon League champion.

The Elite Four, not to be confused with the Fab 5, Marvelous 3 or the Gruesome Twosome, was a collection of the four best trainers in the Pokemon land.  Each had five of the strongest monsters you could hope to face, and each was progressively harder than the next.  You weren’t able to fully heal your Pokemon between each fight, so unless you had plenty of potions on hand, it could’ve been tricky.  In fact, beating the Elite Four at my school was a legitimate bragging right, because these were the days before the GTS made it possible to acquire a level 85 Mewtwo before setting foot in the first gym.  Anyway, what made the Elite Four most frustrating was their proclivity for using “Full Restores”; an item which fully restores (duh) a Pokemon’s hit points while also eliminating any harmful status conditions.  And boy, were they a doozy.  Often, you would be down to your opponents final Pokemon, his creature would only have several hit points left, but would whip out a full restore before you could deliver the finishing blow.  This happening is how most eight year-olds learned to swear.

Fortunately, though, as bad as the Full Restores sucked, they were nothing compared to what could’ve been; the Max Revive.  The Max Revive couldn’t be purchased in the Pokemon Marts, and there were maybe 10 or so hidden around the game for the player to find.  Max Revives were a relatively rare item, and for good reason; not only did they revive your fainted Pokemon, they restored your creature will full health.  Thankfully, the Elite Four didn’t have the ability to use these

So what could’ve changed?

Everything.  It was bad enough nearly taking your opponent out only to see him use a Full Restore and make all your hard work for nothing.  But, at least if you were able to make a Pokemon faint, they were dealt with.  If Max Revives were usable by members of the Elite Four, the battles would’ve been nearly unwinnable.  It was bad enough dealing with Lance towards the end; can you imagine if he brought his fainted Dragonite back to life after you defeated it, but this time, you had to do so without your Articuno because his OTHER Dragonite ruined your life?  It would’ve been madness, and also taught every 10 year-old a very important lesson: life sucks, nothing is fair, and you’re going to die someday.

3.  Home Alone – What if the bandits were actually good criminals?

Home Alone is one of the quintessential, coming of age movies that’s sort of a right of passage of childhood.  It tells the story of a particularly sadistic, but resourceful young lad named Kevin who is abandoned by arguably the worst family in cinematic history while the two most adorably incompetent home invaders this side of O.J. Simpson fail to fulfill their potential as the “Wet Bandits”.  Like Pokemon, I still heavily involve myself in Home Alone, and not a Christmas has gone by where I haven’t viewed Home Alone at some point during the holiday season.  While the movie itself is less about Christmas and more of a how-to guide for campy aggravated assault, something about it still gets me in the spirit.  And it’s hard to argue with the ending; Kevin defeats the bandits, reunited his creepy neighbor with his family and most important, sees his family make it home in time for Christmas.  What a story!

Of course, this movie teaches one of the most ridiculous lessons of all time; as long as you make it home by the holidays to find your abandoned son decidedly not murdered, then it really was a great Christmas after all.

However, the McCallisters dodged a tremendous bullet by birthing an Asperger-y wunderkind with a disturbing knowledge in the craft of violent Rude Goldberg apparatuses.  Seriously, in the span of one 90’s montage, Kevin turned his home into the most fortified structure in the eastern United States.  In fact, the time spent rigging a flamethrower to his doorway, covering his basement steps with tar and constructing a low-tech paint can pendulum could have been used by calling the police or telling neighbors, “Hey, my parents left me here, and these two guys casing my house earlier might come back tonight to murder me, so maybe check on me at some point tonight.”  Kevin did precisely nothing responsible, instead opting to orchestrate the zaniest of near-murder of all time, rightfully assuming the robbers would be morons.

Enter Harry and Marv, the aforementioned morons.  Despite being a fairly notorious crime duo (they were called the ‘Wet Bandits’, after all) they failed to defeat a diminutive eight year-old boy.

But what if they weren’t totally stupid?

You see, Kevin’s entire plan revolved around the robbers doing exactly what he assumed they would do.  In fact, the first two places Harry and Marv tried to enter were the front and back door.  My experience in breaking and entering is extremely limited, but it would seem to me like walking into a major entryway and announcing your presence is a pretty un-criminal approach.  Harry and Marv cased the house earlier, they knew Kevin was home alone, and they pretty much had blueprints of the layout of the house.  If they would’ve gently cracked a window and plastered Kevin’s brains all over the kitchen while his head was turned, they could’ve robbed the entire house without anyone knowing because Kevin didn’t tell ANYONE he was still home.  So, Harry and Marv would’ve made off with a huge sack of loot, probably not been caught, and the McCallisters would have one messy situation to arrive to when they got home.

2. Spongebob Squarepants – We subconsciously became more accepting of homosexuality

Spongebob Squarepants is a lot of things, but for the sake of this article I will say this; it’s a darn good television show and its one of the longest-running programs in cable history.  It appeals to both children and adults, it teaches good lessons (usually), and it becomes progressively more hilarious the older you get.  But, unlike Pokemon and Home Alone, which I speculated on things which didn’t happen, Spongebob is important for something that it actually portrayed, but we likely never realized.

It’s no secret Patrick and Spongebob’s rampant bromance sometimes wanders into “questionable” territory.  They’ve done an episode where they played dual dads to a baby clam, they routinely cross-dress, and their friend Sandy the squirrel emasculate s them both on a regular basis.  In fact, some critics of the show have openly stated Patrick and Spongebob aren’t friends at all, but closeted gay lovers.  What?  No, that’s ridiculous.  That’s not what’s happening at all.

Spongebob began to reach the height of its popularity not long after 9/11.  Between 2001 and 2003, Spongebob approached a Simpsons level of viewership while being thrust into mainstream popular culture.  In 2001, I was in fifth grade and Spongebob was my favorite show.  In fact, Spongebob usually caters to a 7-13 audience (technically) although outliers exist.  Interestingly, people my age probably remember watching Spongebob all the time.  People in my age group, also, more than perhaps any other demographic, have become more accepting of alternative lifestyles, including homosexuality, in the last decade.  Oh yes, I’m going there…

So was Spongebob shooting subliminal messages into our heads, and if so, were we aware?

It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s definitely an interesting parallel.  At the time, most viewers of the Spongebob episode where Patrick and Spongebob both played the dad likely didn’t even think twice about a nonverbal social commentary, and likely laughed about the growing stack of clam poop while mindlessly guzzling a soda or eating Hot Pockets.  So, is it possible, repeatedly seeing this message perhaps desensitized, dare I say, normalized the idea of homosexuality in our young minds, so when we grew old enough to form our own opinions about social issues we just said, “no, that’s cool with us.”  Well played, Mr. Squarepants.

1.  Michael Jordan – Constant media bombardment might have saved his career.

For a lot of people my age, especially those younger than me, Michael Jordan is more of a brand, and idea, if you will.  Sure, I’m aware he played basketball when I was a kid, and I even remember hearing his name on television all the time when I was younger.  Space Jam is one of my favorite movies and I don’t think I’ll ever see another athlete as dominant as Jordan in my lifetime.  He won six NBA titles, five MVP trophies and billions of dollars in endorsements.  He also retired from the NBA after his third championship to pursue a baseball career.

You see, Jordan’s late father’s dream was for his son to play professional baseball, which is kind of selfish when your son is already the greatest basketball player to ever live.  But, after his father’s murder in 1993, Jordan decided to retire from the NBA to chase his fathers dreams; leaving media, swaths of fans, and the Chicago Bulls front office utterly stunned.

He signed with a minor league team and quickly became was most minor league baseball players become; marginally talented, exhausted, and overwhelmed.  Add into the mix Jordan’s stature as one of the country’s premier athletes and you had minor league stadiums selling tens of thousands of tickets to see the career .200 hitter attempt to finally put the ball in play.  Yeah, Jordan wasn’t very good.  Some dream, pops.

The media had a field day.  They bombarded Jordan with coverage, asking him questions about why he sucked so much and constantly reminded him the Bulls were getting spanked by the rest of the NBA.  Eventually, Jordan returned to secure three additional titles, and Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets got a firsthand lesson in “savoring the moment.”

But what if the media just allowed Jordan to fade away?

Now, this isn’t to say Jordan wouldn’t have returned without the media heckling him; he was already a three-time champion and, for all intents and purposes, had nothing left to prove in the NBA.  He could’ve have lived the remainder of his days playing minor league baseball in relative obscurity while some other team tries to top the Bulls.  Sure, Jordan still would’ve been a potential Hall of Fame candidate and might have even had a jersey retirement ceremony, but the three additional titles Jordan won once he returned to the NBA made him into a cultural icon.  His six titles transformed him into a brand; a money generating machine with a pretty black face and a billion dollar earning potential.  Without Michael Jordan returning to the NBA, millions of 20-24 year olds wouldn’t know the answer to the question “who is the greatest basketball player you’ve ever seen?”

The Seven Worst (or best, I guess) Villains of All-Time

Villainy is interesting because the sheer definition, essentially, is entirely subjective.  Sure, we tend to think there’s a fine line between good and bad, but if there’s anything Team Rocket from Pokemon taught me, it’s that sometimes even the most evil plans sometimes look good on the other end.  But, sometimes, being a bad guy is something so obvious, so ridiculous almost ll sides can agree that the opposition is kind of a jerk.  Here are the seven most notorious bad guys of all time.

7.  The Confederacy 

Back in the 1850’s, the central debate in the United States wasn’t centralized on whether you would want to have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning as your quarterback, it was in regards to the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles were kind of like Peyton Manning; beloved in the South, seemingly effective on paper, and delivered favorable results for the most part.  The Constitution, on the other hand, was like Tom Brady; handsome, All-American, and most importantly, it produced results when things mattered.  And also the Articles were ratified 60 years earlier and effectively didn’t matter anymore.  So I guess the Civil War would kind of be like angry Jets fans wanted to re-sign Joe Namath so New York could finally defeat the Patriots.

I’m getting off track.  The Civil War began mostly because the South wanted more rights granted to the States (to own people), which is something the Articles granted.  The North, on the other hand, said “naw” and were plenty content with the Constitution and the Federal government swinging the big stick.  Well, that little slavery thing I foreshadowed earlier was apparently a pretty big deal to Southerners whose economy was reliant almost entirely on agriculture, which slavery aided in booming.  The Confederacy really wanted to secede from the Union and form their own, backwards, slave-owning sovereign state, but the Union wasn’t interested in allowing that to happen, so both sides went to war.  The South stood little chance of winning the war, but that didn’t stop them from allowing children as young as 12 to enter battles and force their slaves to fight on their side, meaning they were effectively forcing people to fight for their own enslavement, which is probably the most messed up thing I can think of.  Thankfully, the North curb-stomped the South so hard their citizens still proudly fly Confederate flags to this day and are consistently stuck 30 years in the past.  At least they have college football.

6. Ivan IV

As a 14th century ruler or conqueror, you have to really drop the ball and make some enemies for your official title to be “Ivan the Terrible”, but that fact sure didn’t curb the determination of Ivan IV, the first czar of Russia.  For perspective, Josef Stalin was also a prominent ruler on Russian soil (Soviet during his time), and he was responsible for the deaths of over 10 million people (by moderate estimates), and even he is just remembered as “Josef Stalin” and not “Josef the Mean” or Josef the of Question Moral Standards”.

But, Ivan was a pretty effective conqueror.  In fact, the only reason Russia transformed into an international power can be attributed to Ivan’s reign in the 14th century when he conquered nearly all of what is now present day Russia and he transformed the previously awful, cold slab of land into a multicultural, centralized hub that was still cold and awful.  So, his villainy is probably related to the millions of people he probably murdered to acquire his empire?  Not at all!  It’s because he murdered both his son and possibly some other prominent nobles!

You see, Ivan was thought to be somewhat mentally ill and was extremely prone to violent outbursts.  This is alarming from your ruler.  He beat his daughter-in-law so viciously she suffered a miscarriage and during an argument with the aforementioned son, Ivan struck him in the dome with a pointed spear, killing him almost instantly.  So, yeah, despite committing filicide and pillaging his way through a billion square miles of formerly not Russia, Ivan is still actually reasonably highly regarded amongst the Russian people, which in it’s own right is enough to qualify him as a villain.

5. Samuel Norton

Samuel Norton is not a real person, but his evil is undeniable.  In “The Shawshank Redemption”, Norton served as the God-loving, discipline enacting warden of Shawshank Prison, where he was responsible for the rehabilitation of hundreds of inmates.  Most disturbingly, Norton began the film as seemingly one of the good guys.  He seemed to display empathy, willingness to help, and he allowed Andy Dufresne to build a library in the prison’s basement.  What a good guy!

Welp, not really.  You see, Norton took a real liking to Andy because of his background as a banker, so he employed Andy’s services to launder money he received from a series of shady off-site labor deals.  Oh, did I say employ?  What I really meant is he used Andy as an indentured servant to orchastrate his schemes, which basically involved undercutting labor contractors by offering his prisoners as temporary employees.  I’ll save the economics, but by providing a service which costs less money, it appeared as if Norton’s scheme was legal on the surface because it saves local governments money on paying for service and also provided inmates with valuable work experience.  But, Norton could pocket literally every dime he made from the expenditure, which was illegal, in addition to being criminally immoral.  So not only was he using slave labor to make money, he was using slave labor to secure and protect his earnings.  Eventually, Dufresne threatened to abandon the scheme after Norton denied to support a re-trial (Andy was innocent, after all) and threw him in solitary confinement.  There, he ordered the murder of a young man Andy was mentoring and threatened to destroy the library, burn the books, and dance around the fire like Injuns.  In the end, as Andy escaped prison and Norton’s scheme unraveled, instead of facing the music, he blew his brains out before the police could arrest him.

4.  2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In one of the most unbelievable sentences of all time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have actually won a Super Bowl.  It happened back in 2002 and was the result of one of the greatest defensive units of all time.  In an equally unbelievable sentence, the Bucs destroyed the Raiders (seriously) by intercepting NFL MVP Rich Gannon (I wish I was kidding) five times in the game.

But, like most really good teams, the Bucs were totally unlikable.  Of course, most of this animosity began and ended with All-Pro DT Warren Sapp, who many people under the age of 18 probably recognize only as “that fat guy on NFL Network who moonlights as a professional hooker beater”.  If you thought Sapp loved beating up ladies of the night, you should’ve seen what he used to do to guys on the field.  He was a monster.  In fact, he’s so tough and monstrous, he almost got in a fight with a 60-year old Mike Sherman.  In a game against the Packers, Sapp blind-sided Packers linemen Chad Clifton on an interception return on broke his pelvis.  The hit was technically “legal” at the time, but it was certainly unwarranted and dirty.  Sherman took offense to the hit, and Sapp calmly responded by asking a man who qualified for the senior discount at Golden Corral if he wanted to rumble right there on the field.  John Lynch, another member of the Bucs historically good defense is notorious for using the crown of his helmet to lead tackles and Monty Kiffin, the defensive coordinator, is the father of world-class scumbag Lane Kiffin, who thrice bounced on coaching positions to go find better ones.  And the Bucs also had Keyshawn Johnson on their roster and he is seriously as likable as the Mexican version of dysentery.

The Buccaneers were the typical trash-talking, hard-hitting, high-flying defensive unit that basically fielded 11 Richard Shermans.  And most frustrating of all?  They were nearly unstoppable that season.  Except for a Week 16 game against the Steelers! Whooooo.

3. Magneto

Magneto, a popular supervillain from X-Men lore, is one of the greatest villains of all time.  He possesses the ability to manipulate metal with his mind, which pretty much makes him an indestructible force of awesomeness in the 21st century world.  Interestingly, Magneto didn’t serve as an “evil” entity; he was simply a villain because he didn’t agree with the whims of the good guys.  You see, the X-Men series involves a lot of perspective.  The good guys in X-Men fight for the good of the world and protecting the humans that sometimes aren’t accepting of their mutant powers.  Magneto and the “bad” guys pretty much just don’t care about non-mutants, and usually focus on pushing his own agenda.  In fact, each of the X-Men movies involved humans doing something to “fix” the mutants.  In this sense, Magmeto wasn’t trying to take over the world or kill everything in existence; he just really wanted humans to let him live his life, which makes him less “dangerous, rogue militant” and more “Starbucks drinking protester.”

Most interestingly of all, Magneto possesses an immense respect for what is both his oldest friend and great enemy, Professor Xavier.  Despite possessing a device which both blocks Professor X’s power and the ability to destroy the wheelchair bound old man with a mailbox (if he wanted to), he never does, and often opts for a more civil rivalry.  This is what makes Magneto among the best villains; he possesses the ability to take over the world, but he pretty much chooses not to because he respects his old buddy so much.  This degree of self-control displayed by Magneto makes him a pretty good candidate for most likable villain.

2. Dick Cheney

Political ideologies aside, Dick Cheney is not a good dude.  This is because he shot his friend with a shotgun.

In 2006, Cheney and a group of pals went on a hunting trip.  One of the participants, 78-year old attorney Harry Wittington apparently looked almost identical to a quail, because Dick Cheney just pretty much shot him.  Wittington was hit with birdshot in his chest and cheek, but fortunately, didn’t die.  Unfortunately, he did almost die after suffering a heart attack three days later, but ultimately pulled through, after doctors decided they would just leave 30 pellets in his body.

Cheney, of course, claimed the shooting was an accident and acknowledged he and Wittington were good friends.  Wittington, on the other hand, claimed he and the Vice President were more like acquaintances, but did acknowledge the shooting was an accident.  Naturally, Wittington was left with little choice in regards to placing fault for the incident, mostly because Cheney was still the Vice President, a position in which he was considered one of the most powerful of all time.  This was 2006, so Cheney still had plenty of Vice Presidenting to do, so the incident was more of less swept under the rug and forgotten.  It was so forgotten, in fact, the Cheney neglected to ever apologize to Wittington for shooting him in the face with a gun.

1.  The Ski Free Monster

I’ve chronicled a lot of villainy on this list, and each inclusion is deserved of their placement.  However, one thing the previous six entries share is the fact that they’re relatively easy to defeat.  The Confederate Army was crushed by the North, Tampa Bay went right back to being Tampa Bay and Dick Cheney is always one cheeseburger away from congestive heart failure.  The Ski Free Monster, however, is invincible.

Anyone familiar with earlier versions of Windows, like 95 or 98, probably remember an old, 8-bit game that came pre-installed in the computer called “Ski Free”.  Ski Free was a fun game because it provided a nearly limitless run of snow, trees, and mini ski jumps in which a player could kill some free time.  It was mildly entertaining, but the frustration lie in the major enemy.

You see, there was no way to “win” Ski Free.  Most people would run into a tree after a while and die, which was fine, but theoretically you could’ve played Ski Free indefinitely.  But you couldn’t.

Once you had reached a certain point in the game, no matter how well you were doing, and creature emerged from the woods at warp speed and devoured your character is one hearty gulp.  There is no way to defeat the Ski Free Monster, as he serves as nothing more than a nonverbal reminder of all of our mortality.  That’s a harsh dose of reality to gulp down at age 8, especially when all you’re doing is trying to kill time at your grandparent’s house.  The Ski Free Monster, for all intents and purposes, was an invincible, all powerful entity who simply could not be stopped, nor his insatiable hunger for human flesh be quenched.

The Top Five Criminals in Professional Sports

Full disclaimer, this entire article might come off as relatively tasteless in light on the recent Aaron Hernandez announcement, but when you’re convicted of first-degree murder, your right to not be ridiculed is gone.  Additionally, the article is meant for satirical purposes, and I’m knowingly using the term “criminal” very loosely.  Although not everyone I’m about to mention was convicted for their crime, I’m simple using the term “criminal” to refer to their involvement in such proceedings, and by no means intend for this article to be libelous, obtuse or offensive (maybe the last one.)

Aaron Hernandez was proven to be what many suspected him of being for the past two years; a murderer.  In 2013, he signed a $40 million contract extension with the New England Patriots, but then shot and killed his friend Odin Lloyd months later.  In the span of only a few months, he went from a promising, young superstar to another occupant of a Massachusetts prison cell.  And all this got me thinking, “Gee, I bet there’s some other high-profile athletes who stupidly committed terrible crimes.”  Sure enough, there’s enough entries on the list of criminals moonlighting as professional athletes to fill out an entire intramural prison rugby team.  Here are five more guys who couldn’t figure out how to just accept their comfortable lives without committing a crime.

5. Rae Carruth

The Carolina Panthers used their first round draft selection in 1997 to pick Rae Carruth, an undersized, but talented wide receiver from the University of Colorado who posted respectable numbers in his rookie season and was a member of the NFL’s all-rookie team.  Carruth also really hated children, which was problematic because he couldn’t seem to stop having them.  His sophomore year at Colorado, he impregnated his girlfriend, only to entirely neglect her and the child until she ultimately sued him for child support.  But, with a budding career as a professional football player, the $2,700 a month payments would be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, he went ahead and knocked up Cherica Adams in 1999.  While this may not seem like the end of the world for reasonable adult human beings, it was apparently enough to set Carruth over the edge.

You see, Carruth really wanted Adams to have an abortion.  She, obviously, was against doing so, so Carruth jumped to the next logical step; he would hire some goons to stage a drug deal gone bad and make sure she was killed in the crossfire.  On November 16, 1999, this set of circumstances played out.  Adams was leaving a location near Carruth’s home when he decided to park his car directly in front of her’s, while another car pulled up on her passenger side and opened fire.  Carruth then fled the scene, but was captured across state lines hiding in the trunk of his car, surrounded by candy bars and bottles of his own pee.  This is what investigators refer to as “suspicious activity”.  Tragically, Adams succumbed to her gunshot wounds and the baby, delivered via emergency cesarean, suffered permanent brain damage.  Carruth hilariously contended the shooting was “just a coincidence”, to which the prosecuting attorney probably sarcastically said, “Well, okay then Rae, let’s just call it a day and pack it in.”  Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and is currently serving his sentence in North Carolina.  He is expected to be released in 2018.

4. Oscar Pistorius

Sticking with the decidedly  gloomy theme of murdering your significant other, Oscar Pistorius, affectionately referred to as “Blade Runner” because of his noticeable lack of legs, shot and killed his girlfriend in South Africa in 2013.  Really, the whole scenario unfolded like a Greek tragedy: In 2012, during the Olympic Games in London, Pistorius, who is a double-amputee, became a symbol of hope and courage for the millions of people watching the Games as he became the first Paralympian to ever compete in the actual Olympics.  He didn’t win any events, or really even come close, but still, it’s truthfully an amazing, inspiring story.  Pistorius landed deals with major sponsors and became an international symbol of greatness, and if he would’ve just rode off into the sunset after the 2012 games he would’ve been remembered as one of the greatest Olympic heroes of all-time.

Unfortunately, none of that happened.  Instead, on Valentine’s Day in 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in their Pretoria home.  Pistorius claims to have mistaken her for an intruder, which is odd given the relative level of intrusions on Valentine’s Day are usually welcome (tee hee) and the fact that Pistorius, despite being a double-amputee, is a world-class athlete.  If you broke into LeBron James’ home tonight, he would pop your skull like a cranberry with his bare hands before the police even had time to load up the cruisers.  He apparently shot Steenkamp through their bathroom door, which further complicates the issue and also points to knocking was not a common courtesy in South African culture.  In the end, Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide which is the pretentious, fancy South African term for manslaughter.  Pistorius received a five-year sentence and is currently trying to get a prison basketball team together.

3.  Dany Heatley

What’s awesome about the United States criminal system is the punishment usually fits the crime.  And even when someone, like, say, a professional athlete chooses to break the law, their teams respond accordingly and release said criminal/player.  Michael Vick and Ray Rice were immediately dismissed from their respective franchises for “brush-ups” (if you will) with the law while Gilbert Arenas was released by his Washington Wizards team before charges stemming from a concealed weapons issue were even officially levied.  This fact is actually pretty refreshing; if you mess up, you’re out of a job.  Unless, of course, you’re Dany Heatley.  Unlike Carruth and Pistorius, who are currently rotting away in prison, Heatley is still in the NHL’s system, and even played in several game this past season.  Heatley, unlike Carruth and Pistorius didn’t shoot anyone.  No, he’s not a monster.  All he did was travel nearly three times the posted speed limit in his new Ferrari, wreck, and kill his best friend in the process.

In 2003, Heatley and teammate Dan Snyder were traveling nearly 85 miles per hour in a 35 zone when Heatley lost control of his Ferrari and crashed.  Both were ejected from the vehicle, with Snyder taking the brunt of the damage.  He needed immediate surgery to repair his skull and was placed in a medically induced coma.  Unfortunately, he died six days after the crash.  Heatley was then taken to court, tried, and felt the full-force of the legal system.  Just kidding.  In fact, precisely none of that happened.  You see, Heatley, in addition to being a terrible driver, was a really good hockey player.  In 2003, he was still only in his third year in the league after being a second overall draft pick years earlier.  The best of his career was still to come, and neither the judge nor Snyder’s grieving parents felt words like “jail”, “vehicular homicide” or “criminal negligence” meant much of anything, especially when there’s hockey to be played!  Heatley was literally given a slap on the wrist, as he avoided a potential 15-year jail sentence in lieu of probation, community service, and, no kidding, a speeding ticket.  But, with memories of the accident behind him and throngs of Atlanta fans (his current team) supporting him despite his horrible lapse in judgement, Heatley would go on to heroically request a trade and transform the Ottawa Senators into a powerhouse while the Thrashers made the playoffs only once in their 11 year history and were so awful someone else bought them and moved them to Canada.  No one in Atlanta has yet to notice.

2. O.J. Simpson

Yeah, this is probably the one everyone saw coming.

O.J. Simpson is one of the greatest running backs of all time.  If rushing yards were nickels then O.J. would have a whole bunch of nickels.  Well after his playing career was over, O.J. had returned home to Southern California to enjoy retirement and filming the occasional Police Academy movie when he decided it was a good idea to murder his wife, Nicole Brown.  One ridiculous, time consuming, and hysterical media circus trial later O.J. was found…not guilty?  Hmm, that’s strange.  Simpson, even today, is almost universally considered to be the prime suspect in that murder case.  Fortunately for O.J. Simpson, his defense team was like the 1996 Bulls and Johnny Cochran was the Michael Jordan.  They hit a total home run and cleared O.J. of murder charges.

Although literally the entire world hated him, Simpson could’ve taken a cue from any person who had just received a literal Get Out of Jail Free card and retire to Bermuda or live like a recluse Bruce Wayne for the remainder of his days.  Hey, it beats prison.

But, for some reason, Simpson would not go away.  The straw that finally broke the karma camel’s back happened in 2007.  Simpson was accused to armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas.  This is not good, seeing as O.J., despite his not guilty ruling, was more or less condemned to unofficial probation to the remainder of his life.  Worth noting, Simpson’s “not guilty” ruling is decidedly not the same as “innocent” and there wasn’t a judge in this country who wasn’t salivating at the idea of putting O.J. away.  Simpson was convicted of several felony charges and sentenced to 33 years in prison, which, at this point, could be the remainder of his life.  On a hilarious side note, the armed robbery that nailed Simpson to the wall was committed because he wanted to steal back some of his old memorabilia he previously sold.  O.J. Simpson understood neither karma nor irony, both of which came back to be his bane.  So if O.J., the most notorious athlete/criminal of all time isn’t worthy of the number one slot, then who is?

1. Sam Hurd

Sam Hurd was an utterly unremarkable wide receiver who spent his brief career with the Bears and Cowboys.  Hurd was also living in a real-life Breaking Bad universe.

You see, where everyone else on their list made their living as an athlete and supplemented their careers by just dabbling in crime, Hurd was the opposite; the NFL was just his side job.  According to court documents involving his case, Hurd was a relatively high-level cocaine dealer.  He was said to have connections with a large network in California and met with Cartel representatives on several occasions.  The Cartel are the dudes who enjoy sawing off people’s heads and displaying them in public, so Hurd’s desire to work with them is slightly disturbing.  You also might recognize all of these as attributes of an interstate drug network, in which case congratulations on your observation!

By all accounts, Hurd made a lot more money moving coke and weed than he ever did playing professional football.  He certainly didn’t have cancer or a lovable like Walter White had, but his journey was strikingly similar.  In 2011, Hurd was taken into custody after a lengthy investigation into his activities, but since he was one of the most profitable cocaine dealers in Chicago (not great for a job resume) he had no trouble posting bail, after he (obviously) entered a not guilty plea.  And he just might have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that rotten drug habit.

Like a chubby teenager at McDonald’s, Hurd enjoyed his product.  In 2012, while awaiting his trial to determine if he would potentially spend his life in jail for his involvement in drugs, he went ahead and involved himself in some drugs.  He failed two drugs tests in consecutive months in 2012 and was jailed indefinitely, at which point he figured he might as well totally give up and changed his plea to guilty.  In hindsight, he got of extremely easy, as he was slapped with a 15 year sentence, which is remarkable considering he could’ve potentially been handed a life term.  For his sakes, hopefully he’s kicked that nasty drug habit in prison, although there’s sure to be plenty of Cartel for him to reacquaint himself with.

Boys will be boys

The United States scored a pretty significant victory this week when a jury convicted Chechnyan terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on 30 charges stemming from his role in the Boston Marathon Bombing in April 2013.  Of the charges, 17 carry the death penalty, and the same jury which convicted Tsarnaev will decide whether the 21-year old will spend the rest of his life in prison or die by lethal injection.

Tsarneav’s older brother (and probable mastermind of the attacks) Tammerlan was killed in a shootout with police several hours after the bombing occurred in a residential neighborhood in Boston, so Dzhokhar is the sole representative of the attack left alive to feel the brunt of the judicial process.  Fortunately for the younger Tsarneav, his loving mother, who still lives in Russia, believes both of her sons are innocent, and the “real” terrorist in the case is the American public.  While the prospect of the American society coming together to kill three people and wound another 200 at one of the country’s most prestigious sporting events is a shaky suggestion, it also points to a much more insidious notion…

You see, mama Tsarneav, displays one of the most commonly held, but tough to shake beliefs in existence.  A believe that pulls you in and refuses to let go, no matter how off-base it may seem.  Nope, I’m not talking about radical Islam; I’m talking about maternal denial.

Consider a change of scenery: A women signs her aggressively unathletic child up for football.  The child hates football, but the mother continues to bring him to practice, and eventually he just kind of adapts to the football culture.  So when he gets fed up and wants to quit, the mother goes and yells at the coach for not catering to her child’s needs.  Dzhokhar Tsarneav is the unathletic, pudgy football player.

Mothers have a way of always assuming the best of their children, and this is fair.  But, at a certain point this maternal coddling begins to become detrimental.

What if this aggressively unathletic child went on to act in the school play?  And his mother showed up to the rehearsal every day and told the kid he was awesome even though his singing was flat and he pooped his pants twice?  When the director asks him to clean up after himself the mother freaks out and claims the world is against her son and his loose stools.  Isn’t this sort of starting to border on insane?

Tsarneav is a terrorist.  Timothy McVeigh had a much high body count in his attack on Oklahoma City in 1995, but even he comes off as downright likable when judged against Tsarneav, who is unlikable even by domestic terrorist standards.  Not only did he ludicrously plead not guilty to his crimes, his spineless defense team is trying to pin the entirety of the crime on his deceased older brother.  Granted, they probably have a point, but Tsarneav was 19 years-old when the attack occurred, certainly old enough to ignore his insane older brother.

The mother, however, took the lunacy one step further by declaring both of her sons “totally innocent”, even the one who was killed in a police shootout because he was shooting at police.  The utter deniability of her referring to her son as “the best of the best” spits in the face of mothers everywhere.

My parents made it very clear that is I messed up, I would deal with the consequences.  I think they were mostly referring to things like breaking a neighbors window and then having to apologize, but I assume more severe crimes applied as well.  I’m not saying parents should call the police on a four-year old because he accidentally swiped a candy bar from Sheetz, but I think maybe it’s time to admit some fault when your son is responsible for the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

It’s messed up to say, but I can even forgive the radical undertones of her frame of mind; we hear about “Death to America” stuff all the time, so that fact isn’t really disturbing.  It’s the fact that she’s so willing to write this situation off as her son being an innocent victim that really bothers me.