Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Basketball Strangler: The Aftermath

(Before reading this entry, you should probably read my post from 11/07/09 for context.  The Basketball Strangler: Part One)

In the summertime I work at a Christian retreat center as the director of music and worship.  The conference grounds are located on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan.  Each week of the summer season features a different bible teacher, and families from all over the country go there to spend their vacation.  It's truly a wonderful place to work and to visit.

During our first summer working there, one of our featured speakers was a pastor of a prominent megachurch located near Chicago.  He was a gifted and passionate communicator and his love for God and for the Scriptures was infectious.  My parents were visiting at the time and my mom, who is sometimes difficult to impress, liked him very much.  His first message was on Sunday morning and he shared a bit of his story with us.

He'd grown up in northeast Ohio and was a basketball player in high school.  He went on to play in college at Bowling Green, where he met his current wife.  The inspiring part of his story was how his life had been radically changed after he became a follower of Jesus at age 27.  He eventually left the corporate world to pursue Christian pastoral work.  I grew up in Northeast Ohio myself, so I approached him after the service to talk about our common roots.  This is how our conversation went as best as I can remember it:

"Thank you for your message," I said.

"You're welcome.  Thanks for your music," he replied.

"So you grew up in Northeast Ohio.  I did too.  Are you a Tribe fan?"  I asked.

"Absolutely.  They're playing great ball right now.  It's hard because everyone at my church asks me why I'm not a Cubs fan.  I always say, 'Same difference!' "

"So what town in northeast Ohio did you grow up in?" I asked.


Suddenly the hair stood up on the back of my neck.  Something began to not-so-gently gnaw at my brain as I talked to him.  "And you played basketball right?  What year did you graduate from high school?" I asked.

"1982,"  he said.

I was suddenly queasy, sort of like when you see a picture of an old girlfriend.  "My older brother graduated in 1982, and he also played basketball," I said.

"Oh yeah?  What high school did he go to?"

"Cardinal.  Cardinal Huskies." I said.

A moment passed as he looked at me.  A confused expression came across his face as he desperately searched his brain trying to put the pieces together of what I was already beginning to realize.  I just waited.

"What high school did you say your brother went to again?" he asked.

"You're that guy!  You're him!"  I exclaimed.

His eyes grew huge as it all clicked and he realized what I was talking about.  He threw up his hands.  "I didn't do anything!" he said adamantly.  "For years everyone has blamed me for what happened, but I didn't do anything!"

"Whatever!  I was there that night!"  I said.  "It's one of my most vivid memories!  I can't believe it.  After all these years to actually meet you in person.  My dad is gonna crap.  My family has talked about that night often."

We both started laughing because of the absurdity of it all.  He laughed even harder when I told him that my parents were visiting that week.  I brought my dad over to talk to Ron and they had a great time reliving that night.  My mom, on the other hand, was not at all amused by the improbable revelation.  Once she found out who this guy was, her anger from that night at the basketball game resurfaced.  After the service we all went to the Sweet Shop and had ice cream together.  Everyone had a great time laughing and getting to know each other.  Everyone except my mom, who spent the entire time giving Ron her evil eye.

The situation was aggravated the next morning when Ron shared his side of the story with the 250 or so people gathered for the morning service.  According to him, he never intentionally kicked Cardinal's player.  His recollection is that after he was shoved to the floor, he inadvertently stepped on Robert's balls as he tried to stand up.  He freely admits that he was an arrogant and cocky player, but that he never viciously kicked him.  He said that he doesn't have much recollection of what happened during the melee after he got tackled.  That's probably because his forehead was bashed into the hardwood floor.

This really pissed my mom off because she felt like he was using the situation to elevate himself, and she questioned his contrite humility about the whole thing.  She may very well be right in thinking that.  To further complicate events, Ron said he had actual video evidence to corroborate his version of what happened.  I was honestly skeptical of this until several months later I received an email from Ron containing a link to a youtube video of the game.  Ron had a VHS copy of the game film from that night, and a friend of his converted the video and posted it on youtube.  I must say that watching it the first time gave me chills because I can actually see myself, my brother and my parents in the video.  Talk about deja vu.  It's quite compelling. 

Before I share the link to the video, I want to say something about this whole situation.  Before I became a follower of Jesus I was a real bastard.  In the years before my conversion I alienated a lot of people because of my bad choices and selfish lifestyle.  I've grown accustomed to people from my past refusing to believe that I've changed and that I'm any different from the person they remember.  I think it's part of the consequences we pay for living a life rejecting Jesus.  But I am an adamant believer that ANYONE can have a changed life because NO ONE is beyond the reach of the grace of God.  I also believe that we can rehearse and replay old events so often that we block out the feasibility that someone who's hurt us in the past could possibly be different.  I probably won't run into Ron Z***** again, but seeing his changed life now reminds me of how much grace there is in a relationship with Christ.  It shows me how much good God has in store for me if I can only trust Him.

It's unfortunate (or perhaps providential) that the video doesn't show the exact moment of the alleged kick in the balls.  The camera followed the action of the play, and the incident happens just out of the camera's view.  The players on both teams and the referees all had their backs to Ron and Robert.  The only people who could've clearly witnessed the incident are the Cardinal fans in the bleachers.  From the tape you see a man immediately stand up and yell at Z***** while he's pointing to Robert's genitals.  And within seconds the fit hits the shan.  (Read Part One of Basketball Strangler).

If I had to draw a conclusion, I would say that Ron Z***** did give him a shot in the crotch.  Maybe Ron got what he deserved (and maybe Robert did too).  Who knows?  But it sure is fun to talk about. 

Watch the video and you make the call. 

More later . . .


Ron said...

Charley, I think there are two lessons to the strangler event, which I remember hearing about when I was in college. One, Jesus forgives, no matter what the circumstances. Two, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool Mom who is, this case, Carol Sommers.

Jim Pf said...

Man I miss you charley! this is great stuff.

RF said...

In the years before my conversion I alienated a lot of people because of my bad choices and selfish lifestyle. I've grown accustomed to people from my past refusing to believe that I've changed and that I'm any different from the person they remember.

That's true of many of us. Granting forgiveness is often much more difficult than asking for it. Perhaps someday your mother might be convinced.

zapfan said...

*the person who claims to leave a comment as not ron

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