Diffidence by Matthew Miranda

images-8I hate the dictionary.

I’m comfortable using the h-word because I feel you can only hate what you love(d), and I do love dictionaries. Did. They were once one of civilization’s great achievements, along with pant pockets, coitus, and back scratches. I suspect the colloquialism “the best thing since the dictionary” never caught on because it’s syllabically cumbersome. “The best thing since sliced bread” is three beats shorter, and alliterative to boot.

But “best thing since sliced bread” doesn’t cut it anymore. Humanity, like language and sandwich boundaries, evolves. We have wraps now. Paninis. Minor league ballparks serve burgers between donuts, and KFC, having decided that having thousands of mechanical arms ripping apart millions of chickens wasn’t enough of an affront to life, created a sandwich that uses two pieces of chicken instead of bread. Lots of people can’t digest gluten, anyway.

Speaking of anyway: dictionaries. Easy to love: hotbeds of info, some of it actually useful (“artless” is the Daniel Day-Lewis of words: always the right choice, yet rarely seen). Some of it’s not. Take the word ‘diffident.’ Here is first definition listed:

1.lacking confidence in one’s own ability, worth, or fitness; timid, shy.

Here’s the 2nd:

1.restrained or reserved in manner.

What the hell, dictionary? Define or get off the pot.

Definition 1 speaks to an absence of sentiment, something intangible; definition 2 speaks to an absence of movement or presence, which are tangible qualities. The Cowardly Lion lacked confidence in his own abilities. Batman is often restrained or reserved in his manner. One word works for both of them? Eww. No. Words are not one-size-fits-all.

Except for curse words. That’s why I like curse words. And I mean curse words in the traditional sense, so while they have become as reflexive as a bodily function for many people, I still have an affinity for the classics, e.g. “go to hell.” Stop and think about how funny that is. Someone is telling you to stop what you’re doing and make your way to eternal damnation. 
That’s comedy.

All of which leads me to Jay Cutler.

Jay Cutler is the QB of the Chicago Bears football squadron. A week ago, one win away from the Super Bowl, Cutler suffered a Grade 2 MCL tear in his knee. According to the Bears, the team’s medical staff examined Cutler and determined he could not continue playing in his condition. So they pulled him off the field in the 2nd half and the Bears lost. And then the fur started to fly.

Elayne Rapping, a remarkable media studies scholar (literally; I’m remarking on her right now, aren’t I?), once said that sports media is essentially the only acceptable social space where men can be gossips. It’s true: follow the news when a player is a free agent, or a team is looking to trade someone, and try not to get whiplash following all the unsubstantiated innuendo and catty judgmentality that cyclones around the story. The top 2 sports media websites in the U.S. both have whole sections devoted to gossip and speculation: CNNSI.com has a section called “Truth and Rumors,” which is as unbalanced between truth and rumors as “Hannity & Colmes” was between Hannity and his token left-wing gargoyle; “Truth and Rumors” is only called “Truth and Rumors” because if they called it “Rumors” it’d sound like an under-21 nightclub. And because CNNSI doesn’t want the people who work for T&R to start making googly-eyes at TMZ.com

ESPN.com, meanwhile, takes idiocy to whole new levels of audacity, offering readers the chance to subscribe to “ESPN Insider.” That’s right, why subject yourself to endless and 99%-of-the time inaccurate speculation when you can pay $$$ to feel secluded and elite while you subject yourself to endless and 99%-of-the-time inaccurate speculation!

Back to Cutler: before the game was even over, the “Twitterati” (I prefer “Twatterati”) had predictably roused themselves from their moo-cow state of sated sloth and attacked him for being soft. Mind you, most of the attacks came from NFL players…the same millionaire players who along with the billionaire NFL owners have been petitioned for years by retired players to please increase the medical benefits and pension plans for the people who spent decades building the league into the corporate behemoth it is today, pleas that have fallen on deaf ears; the same players who are suffering concussions and cognitive injuries at alarmingly accelerated rates.

Mark Schlereth, a former player and current TV analyst who looks like something out of Dick Tracy, criticized Cutler by pointing out how he, Mark Schlereth, had 20 knee operations during his time in the league. I’d like to see how manly Schlereth feels in the future when he can’t run around after his grandkids because of his 20 knee operations, but I suppose he can console himself by reflecting on what a man he is. Was.

Perhaps the strangest criticism of Cutler came from Matt Barnes, a basketball player who attended college for 4 years and wrote, “I can’t believe Jay Cutler hasn’t even TRYED to come back. This is to go to the Super Bowl. That’s crazy.” I didn’t capitalize Barnes’ misspelling to draw attention to it; that was all Matty B’s doing. It’s possible he’s a total grammar rebel and decided that with ee cummings having cornered the market on lowercase resistance, the only thing left to do was go uppercase. I doubt it, but anything’s possible.

For some reason, it was Barnes’ critique of Cutler that really stuck with me. I wasn’t sure why.

Was it the fact that calling someone out and misspelling while doing so seems to run along the “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” continuum? Perhaps.

Was it the fact that Matt Barnes was arrested before for domestic violence, and that a man who beats a woman is the biggest pussy of all, and pussies in glass houses have less business throwing stones than people do? Perhaps.

And then it hit me. What was so striking to me about Barnes’ hypocritical, ill-informed, and lazy attack on Cutler is how banal hypocrisy, ignorance and thoughtless speech have become in sports. Barnes doesn’t stand out because he does. He stands out because he doesn’t.

After the Steelers beat the Jets, ESPN’s Chris Berman and Tom Jackson waxed poetic on how the victory redeemed Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. I guess the new math is as long as the # of Super Bowls you’ve played in exceeds the # of girls you’ve sexually assaulted, you’re on the side of the angels.

When the Knicks played the Heat recently in NYC, TNT analyst and semantic butcher Reggie Miller pointed out how Spike Lee was wearing a Landry Fields jersey. Fields is a rookie who came to the Knicks as a longshot to make the team and who has emerged as one of their best players and one of the top rookies in the NBA this year, despite 38 people being drafted ahead of him. Miller fell head-over-heels for Spike’s basketball savvy, gushing, “This is why he’s a fan favorite in NY.” Spike Lee is not a fan favorite in NY. His fame as a Knick fan is based almost entirely on the night in 1994 when the Knicks were playing their most important game in 20 years and Lee single-handedly antagonized Reggie Miller from his courtside seat, leading to Miller putting on one of the greatest performances in playoff history. Spike wouldn’t stop bugging Miller, even with 19,762 equally “real” Knick fans screaming at him to shut his quack. A few years ago Spike wore Nate Robinson’s jersey; if you don’t know who Nate Robinson is, when the Knicks were at the lowest point in the history of their franchise he was a candidate for the Mount Rushmore of NY Knick shame, along with Isiah Thomas, James Dolan, and Stephon “You gettin’ in the van?” Marbury (special shout-out to Eddy Curry, who sexually harassed his limo driver before eating himself out of a career).

Later during that game, TNT had a microphone in the Heat huddle. Here was our chance, as the viewer, to be an “insider,” to witness the rarified air of an NBA huddle, to hear the secret language of X’s-and-O’s coachspeak. And here’s what we got from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: “All right, guys. We gotta get shots. We gotta play defense. And we gotta rebound.”


All I could feel was…diffident.

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