Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rudeness and Racism At The Cal / Stanford "Big Game" Guardsman Luncheon

I struggled over writing this, and elected to do so only to effectively release the anger from my experience. So, I'm going to let the chips fall where they may.

Some people not of color (and a few of color) have this idea that society is color blind and that racism is something of the past. For them, to mention the problem is a terrible thing. Well, that's too bad. The only way to really eliminate racism is to point out every example of it, and make sure it does not happen again.

I attended my fourth, sixth, seventh --- geez, I lost count -- "Big Game" Guardsman Luncheon held at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco yesterday. For those of you who don't know this, the Big Game is the annual gridiron battle between the football teams of the University of California and Stanford University. The "Big Game" is known for "The Play" -- the famous 1982 kickoff return that pushed Cal over Stanford 25 - 20.

The Guardsman Luncheon is supposed to be a fun event where Cal and Stanford Alumns reconnect with each other. Excited to go, I purchased a ticket and was assigned to Table 49. Prior to that, I was greeted by a really nice woman who gleefully shared her glass of wine with me. Oh, yes, she was an Old Blue -- what Cal Alumns are called -- but she wasn't old. So, I felt like I was off to a good start.

Pay attention, cause I'm going to tell it like it was.

I introduced myself to my table-matess and at down for a bit, then upon recognizing my friend, Ad Agency Exec Marc Corsi, I went over to chat with him for a bit. Afterward, I returned to my table and there was a nice looking blond lady that was about to sit next to me. It was a circular table full of men -- all white except me. So, as I sat down, I noticed this tallish, graying man pull the lady over one chair away from me. Because it was so abrupt, I instantly looked up and thought to myself "That's weird. This isn't going to be one of those days, right..."

Just as I completed that sentence in my head, the graying white guy gets up and asks the lady to switch seats with him. I figured out as I was watching this -- and because the lady used the term "Dad" -- that he was her father. So, I figured he was being "protective" but once I figured out that she was actually sitting next to "Dad" and some other white guy she didn't know, I thought "this is going to be one of those days."

Through all this, I said nothing, but I could feel my face contort. Undoubtely it was noticeable to the "Dad," because he looked at me and stuck out his hand to introduce himself, then started peppering me the first of what would be a set of annoying questions. Remember, this is a CAL / STANFORD event and we're sitting at one of the Cal tables.

Question One: "Where did you go to school"
My Answer: "I went to Cal"

Then sports agent Steve Baker showed up, and I -- strangely enough -- was going to call him as I'd not talked to him for about a year almost. We know a lot of the same people and I hit it off with his kids when I met them at a Fleet Week Party hosted by my friend Beth last year. But Steve was in a weird mood. I wanted to -- you know -- talk and catch up. But he said "I want to hear this guy talk."

The "guy" he was referring to was Bob Sarlatte, a local media announcer and actor who's the MC at every one of these lunches. He's also the MC at the Fox Sports Luncheon. Now, I figure Steve's heard Bob tons of times, and I wanted to share with him what happened to me over the time we were out of touch -- passing of Dad and Stepdad, etc. Not a long talk -- just something that would have taken a couple of minutes and when you're talking with a friend they will take that time, regardless. Not Steve.

I started with a few sentences about my Dad passing a month ago, and Steve shut me down again. So, I told him that wasn't nice at all. But what got me was Steve had no problem talking to the graying white guy -- who he didn't know until then -- and as Sarlatte was talking. So, between the two of them, I figured I was beneath a cloud of evil. That's how it felt. Then Steve got up to talk to someone at another table, and the graying white dude asked more dumb questions of me.

Question Two: So what was your degree in?
My Answer: I got my master's degree.

Question Three: In what? MBA?
My Answer: Masters of City Planning
His response: Oh!

Question Four: So this was at Cal?
My Answer: Yes

Question Five: Is this your first lunch?
My Answer: No. I've attended several. I sat on the Cal Alumni Board for three years and the Awards Committee for three years after that. So, I'm kind of tied in.

Question Six: What do you do?
My Answer: I'm CEO of Sports Business Simulations.

If you have the view that this was in rapid fire succession, you're right. I went on to talk about SBS for a bit, and then he asked me...

Question Seven: So is he (Steve Baker) your agent? Did you play a sport?
My answer: No, he's a friend of mine, though I'm pissed with him right now...

Then Steve returned to his seat next to me. By this time, I was so livid I said nothing to either one of them. What caused my anger to simmer was that Baker kept his back toward me, and restarted his conversing with the graying white guy.

Oh, I forgot to mention that during the questioning, I tried to get the "guy's" mind off my "resume" by mentioning that I went to The Stones Concert the night before. He said "Great. My Daughter went to the U2 Concert," two which I asked how she liked it, and she gave a thumbs up. But then he immediately started on Question Five above. Geez.

At any rate, as Baker's back was in my face, I started scanning for an open table seat to relocate to. For a second, I thought "I guess I don't know anyone" and started to feel sorry for myself. But I was proven wrong in the next second, because I saw the back of the head of my long time friend Brian Fitzpatrick, so I went over to surprise him.

After returning to my seat I think Steve realized how much I was really "P.Oed" -- at least I hope so. He returned his back to a position pointed away from my face. If he didn't get that I was upset then, he will now.

Eventually, I left with B-Fitz, and his friend Gary, but not before we had a great conversation about Cal football, T.O., and other matters with my friend sports columnist Glenn Dickey.

I'd pretty much distanced myself from Table 49 by then.

A word to people: if you see somone who's black and male at a function like this, don't be rude or nervous with the person. Just relax. To do otherwise is racist. What good does anyone get from such treatment? None!

Personally, I'd like to see more African Americans at these Cal Alumni luncheons, but if my experience is any indication, I would understand if we don't come back. All it takes is one bad apple. An experience like the one with the greying white guy effectively diminishes the positive energy -- and wine -- shared by the nice lady when I walked in, and thank God Brian, Gary, and Glenn saved me.

Oh, I forgot to point out that the lady was white, too.

She was so nice to me, I didn't think about it -- see my point?

"Urbantic": A Great New Community Website To Learn About Places and People

My friend Michael Bean, who's firm Forio Business Simulations hosts the Sports Business Simulations website, has developed an exciting new website called "Urbantic." It's at

The idea behind Urbantic is very simple: to allow people to learn about places and people. It's kind of a cross between community sites like Ryze and Friendster and your common restaurant or city review website. All you do is set up a profile and type in comments about your favorite places. You wil then see a list of other favorite places posted by others than are nearby. You can also see who's going to those places. In other words, anyone who may have made a comment about that place will be added to a list associated with that venue.

"Places" can be neighborhoods, bus stops, transit statiions, bars, name it. It's a pretty habit forming device. Check it out. I think it's going to become a very huge place to be online.