Opinion | Neil Young, John Groce, and Richard Sherman: A Few Words on Emotion and Honoring Your Spirit

Photo by Joe Bryksa of the Winnipeg Free Press

This past Saturday, I traveled to Champaign, Illinois with my brother to catch the Illinois/Michigan State college basketball game, a contest that featured head coach John Groce and the Fighting Illini not quite having enough to really threaten the Spartans. It was slightly disappointing for me, only because Michigan State was without one of its best players, but really, from the third row it was clear: When the rubber met the road, Illinois was just not as good.

A bit of controversy happened near the end of the game when Groce lost his temper and threw his suit jacket toward the bench, which resulted in a technical foul. I read a few messages from Illini fans claiming his act has become tired and/or childish, and that he should act his age. Of course, most of these fans use John Wooden as an example of how a coach should act on a bench — which is basically sit down, relax, and let the players play. But John Groce is not John Wooden. He’s John Groce, and I’m sure he’s prepared to face any consequence resulting from his behavior. He’s an adult. Let him coach the way he wants.

An then there was Sunday, when the world witnessed Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks make an iconic play to basically send his team to the Super Bowl in two weeks vs. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Of course, Sherman failed the post game interview, declaring himself the “best corner in the game,” which was off-putting because A) almost everyone already knows that and B) it showed zero class.

However, in the heat of the moment, I sort of get it. Although I’ve never played on that level, I once had some success playing soccer, and I can only imagine what kind of high Sherman was feeling after his big play, in a game of that magnitude. And then, of course, a microphone was shoved into his face with a reporter asking about his thoughts.

He made a mistake by not being able to control his emotions, but that doesn’t make him a thug. The only thing that separates him from, say, Michael Jordan, who was a huge trash talker, and who was rumored to tell 5′ 3″ Muggsy Bogues to “shoot it you fucking midget” on the court, is that Sherman was mouthing off in a microphone in front of millions of viewers. For how smart Sherman is said to be, I don’t recall Jordan ever doing that.

Still, we all screw up. And 10 seconds does not make anyone anything they’re not.

Which leads me to Neil Young. He is my musical hero for many reasons, but perhaps the most prevalent is his ability, at age 68, to stay relevant by writing and releasing new, quality music. It’s his adamant refusal to become an oldies act. It’s his spontaneous need to speak his mind about anything he wants.

Of course, at times, this gets him into hot water, as it has this past week as he toured his homeland of Canada in support of Honor the Treaties, and as Young himself wrote on his Facebook page, “to bring awareness that First Nations Treaties must be honoured if tar sands expansion is to take place, not to attack the oil industry.”

This is a complicated issue, sure, but it has also raised a secondary question, which Young talks about in the clip below: Should musicians stay out of politics? Here’s what Young had to say.

I’ve thought about this a lot — specifically, what is a musician’s job? If it’s to follow his or her muse and to write about what is important to him or her, then of course politics should be fair game. If art has no boundaries, then Young singing, writing, or speaking about politics, which he has been doing for 30+ years (as he mentions in the clip above), should not come as a surprise when he still does it.

I’ve heard the argument recently that if someone buys a ticket to see an artist perform his or her music, then it’s expected that the musician not speak about politics or anything controversial. I disagree, and if anything, we should want artists to wander into dangerous territory with their art, even if we strongly disagree with the opinions being brought to light.

Welcome discussion. Admit when you’re wrong. And then, at some point, move on.

But never, ever remain silent.

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