Go Ahead, Call Him Shirley

Events of the last few days have caused me to think about blogging, blawging, and shooting my mouth off. There are always consequences in doing one or more of the aforementioned three things. Sometimes the consequences are personal, and sometimes they are professional. Either way, there are consequences for pretty much every action we take–we just don’t notice most of them.

A friend of mine faced consequences for his words. His name is Paul Shirley, and he grew-up in my community in Kansas. I remember both he and his brother, Matt. Although, it has been 20 years since I’ve seen either in person. Paul is two years younger than me, if memory serves me correctly.

Luckily, I was able to follow Paul, even from my college dorm in New York. He grew many inches in high school before settling at 6’10” and walked onto the basketball team at Iowa State University. There, he became a 3-year starting power forward for some of the most successful ISU basketball teams in school history. In the end, he became a 2nd Team Academic All-American and finished with two consecutive Big 12 titles. Paul experienced success in almost everything he did, except rowing. Paul sucks at rowing.

He went undrafted after college, but landed in the NBA where he was a solid roleplayer for the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, and Atlanta Hawks. Eventually, he ended his career playing for several European professional teams.

While length of bone and coordination helped him to succeed in sport, his true gift is writing. I know. I’ve been reading his blog posts and articles for many years. He started writing while still playing in the NBA, and this morphed into a gig as a “freelance blogger” for ESPN. His column, “My So-Called Career: Paul Shirley’s Basketball Journal,” traced his movement from team to team and city to city. Just looking for someone to pass him the damn ball.

Eventually, he published a book, Can I Keep My Jersey: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond. An enjoyable read, it follows his odyssey through 11 teams in professonal basketball. The book, coupled with his ESPN column, signified a sharp upward path for his writing career.

Then, everything ended with the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Paul wrote a post at the collaborative blog, the Flip Collective, on his views on the outpouring of support/requests for support from Haiti. The post is direct, controversial, and harsh. It talks about showing restraint as humans and accountability in charitable giving. It places much of the blame for Haiti’s suffering upon the choices of the Haitian people. It states openly what a lot of people were thinking, and what many others didn’t want to acknowledge.

He was vilified for it. He was cursed, demonized, and threatened as a result of his writing. Anonymous commenters peppered the blogosphere to cast arrows at him. A few days later, ESPN “fired” him as a freelance blogger for ESPN.com. In the eyes of mass media markets, he was poison.

I understand his post. I also understand the arguments against it. The purpose of my post is not to discuss its merits. Instead, I want to discuss his ownership of it.

Paul never backed-down. To this day, his post remains for public consumption. Nothing was removed or edited. He did respond, but only to affirm responsibility for his words. It showed guts, even in the face of public outcry and cyberflogging. That’s a rare commodity these days. He knew there were consequences for actions, and he accepted them as a reality of life. He accepted every strike from the lashing.

Oh, by the way, he never sued anybody about it, either.

Paul didn’t publish his post under a pseudonym or the name Anonymous. He published it as “Paul Shirley.” Most of the responses, on the other hand, came from people named YouSuckShirley, RubberChicken, or Anonymous. To think, I once thought Frank Zappa strange for going with Dweezil and Moon Unit.

Paul continues to blog at Flip Collective, along with his brother, Matt. As far as I can tell, he travels a lot and enjoys life. He blogs about his observations on everything from music to to politics to travel (and even basketball, sometimes). All of the Haiti stuff is now utterly 2010, and the water has flowed under the bridge. The debates ended (except now that some asshole attorney who went to his high school opened old wounds).

Fear is an ugly thing. It causes us to pause. It makes us hesitate. It forces retractions and deletions. It mutes our sensibilities and ability to communicate the same. Through fear, we stop taking chances. The only shots we take are the easy ones, and soon we forget the big brass ring and settle for the plastic ones within easy grasp. Sometimes, the fear is of losing one’s online brand (whatever the hell that is). Others, it is losing friends. Most often, it is a fear of losing the green stuff from their wallet.

It motivates people to change their name to Anonymous, or RubberChicken. Even worse, it causes people and entities with listeners and clout to turn away, choosing to face safer topics–things without risk. They choose a limp existence.

It’s a damn shame. Cause that ain’t living, man.

Paul continues to blog with aplomb. He is fearless, and everything he writes is unabashedly attributed to “Paul Shirley.” He’s never done otherwise.

Do the world, your country, and your clients a huge favor. Be fearless, too.