Dear Paul George,
You have a year to get it together.
That is, your body as well as your reputation with Indiana Pacers fans.
That’s a bit blunt, and it might seem a bit unusual for someone you probably don’t remember writing you an open letter. Please understand it’s part of the job at PacersPress.com to provide perspective whenever possible in addition to covering the team this upcoming NBA season.
While we’re still a few weeks away from media day and your team getting busy with exhibition games, this seemed the ideal time to share some thoughts on your recent Twitter comments about the Ray Rice situation, and more importantly, your image.
You’re a rising star and just 24 years of age. What you need to realize is that everything you say and do reflects on you as a public figure. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s kind of an important time right now, you out for the year with that broken right leg and the Pacers trying to put together a competitive team in your absence.
Your team needs all the help it can get with the fan base. There are diehard Pacers fans, but not enough of them who will tolerate insensitive public behavior. Your tweets supporting Ray Rice and suggesting there was nothing wrong with him hitting his then-fiancee if she didn’t have a problem with it were objectionable to say the least.
While freedom of speech is a part of our way of life, commentary on such sensitive issues is unnecessary unless someone can offer something in the way of insight. So now this gets a bit personal.
I’ve seen domestic violence up close. I lived with it growing up. I know what it’s like to see your mother smacked around, wondering where the next wound is going to show up. One morning, everything is fine. The next, you’re washing dishes and asking why your mother has a gash on the top of her head, and she’s not giving you an answer.
I’ve hidden beer from an angry alcoholic, and the only reason I didn’t get beaten senseless was because my mother saved me, and made me show the monster where his beer was stashed. I know what it’s like to be a young man who goes to bed in fear, wondering when the next incident was going to play itself out, planning where to hide in advance so I couldn’t be a victim.
In later years, as a teenager growing stronger while working out with the football team, I became more of a threat to the man who knocked my mother around. I’d wake up sometimes and see him standing at the end of my bed, threatening to kill me. The threats were continual. One time, after he threatened to kill me again, I finally stood up to him. Because I wouldn’t agree with him that my mother was every possible profane name in the book, he left me on the side of a road in Toledo, Ohio.
I wasn’t afraid. I was too angry and filled with rage to be scared of what might happen to me. I accepted the challenge of walking some 20 miles home, and not in any hurry given the circumstances of life there.
The stronger I got, the more I wanted to fight back. And the crazy thing is, my mother threw me out of the house rather than see me exact revenge. That’s why I lived with friends’ families for much of my high school years. So many years, I just wanted to beat that man until I saw blood.
I’m 49 now and not crying about the past. You adapt, overcome and get rid of the chip on the shoulder in later years. But please understand domestic violence is a serious problem in this country. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s never acceptable to strike a woman, regardless of the circumstance.
If you don’t believe me, perhaps you can take some of your down time while on the mend and visit a battered women’s shelter. Or talk to victims of domestic violence. When doing so, don’t just listen to what they have to say, pay particular attention to how they receive you, how some of them are wary, nervous, not trusting. That’s what someone has done to them. Their monsters have made them live in fear.
So many people in this country have had it worse than me. Some victims pay with their lives. I was lucky. I was just a kid. Rage was channeled into drive and determination to make something of myself. I never thought I’d spill my guts about it in an open letter, but if what happened can offer some perspective and assistance, it’s worth it.
For the record, we've chatted several times while I was with The Indianapolis Star in recent years. You've been approachable and your candor refreshingly honest. You handled yourself well when meeting with the media in your first press conference since suffering that gruesome leg injury in August.
I’ve remarked to Pacers’ personnel about your affable persona. And that’s probably the only reason these thoughts are shared now, because you’re a good person, just young and ignorant about the big picture, about how what you say and do can affect everyone who admires you and follows your every step.
Fans can be incredibly loyal and supportive, and those who show up at the games will want to cheer for the Pacers, and you, if you can show some maturity and growth in the next year before you return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
You’ve got a ton of talent, and this team needs a leader, someone who exemplifies character on and off the floor. I’m looking forward to seeing you return, and am pulling for you.
And I’m not just talking about basketball.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.