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Everyone knows that words, written or spoken, can have tremendous power. But when they are written or spoken extremely well — clearly, forcefully, straightforwardly — their impact is particularly magnified.

That’s what we witnessed today with release of the whistle-blower’s complaint.

When I turned on the TV this morning, the first thing I saw was Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, being quizzed by members of U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee.

It was all political noise, with the Democrats trying to get him to say one thing and the Republicans trying to get him to say another.

…For me, it was time to go straight to the document, which I did.

And it is amazing.

Whoever the whistle-blower is, he or she (for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use “he” from here on out) is 1) a veteran in the intelligence realm; 2) steeped in knowledge of intelligence agency rules and procedures; 3) very courageous; 4) a hell of a writer.

It’s no wonder that, as The New York Times reported earlier today, part of the Republican strategy will be to focus on the reconstructed transcript of the Donald Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky phone call, not on the whistle-blower’s account.

If enough people read and absorb the whistle-blower’s complaint, it could easily end up turning enough voters against Trump to cost him re-election. (If impeached by the House of Representatives, it appears he would not be “convicted” by two-thirds of U.S. senators.)

The letter — addressed to Schiff and U.S. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, consists of seven crystal-clear pages, with a dozen detailed and helpful footnotes.

(Very craftily, in one footnote, the writer preemptively moves to deter his supervisors from categorizing his complaint as “classified,” which would make it more difficult to get it into the public realm. The complaint should be “unclassified,” he says, because, “There is ample open-source information about the efforts I describe below.”)

If you’re a student of the King’s English or just enjoy persuasive writing, this letter is worth taking a closer look at…Come along, if you will.

…As far as I can tell, the letter does not have one grammatical error. It is cohesive and extraordinarily well organized. Every word, whether part of the text or the footnotes, helps advance the writer’s devastating charge, set forth in these words in Paragraph Two:

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

That sentence rivets the reader’s focus. The word “official” lets you know this is someone who knows what he (or she) is talking about. That the information comes from “multiple…officials” lends credence to its factuality.

And then the cudgel: “The President…is using the power of his office to solicit interference…”

** But the writer realizes he has to make the case for his credibility. So he says…

“Over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort. The information provided herein was relayed to me in the course of official interagency business. It is routine for U.S. officials with responsibility for a particular regional or functional portfolio to share such information with one another in order to inform policymaking and analysis.”

(Apparently, about a dozen people were listening in on the conversation at one place or another, amplifying Trump’s lunacy and audacity.)

** Having stated his charge at the outset, the whistle-blower tells his readers why they should care…

“I am…concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

** Then, like a salesman unlatching his briefcase to display his products, the writer launches into a four-point examination of what has come to his attention.

Point 1: The July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky

Point 2: “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call”

Point 3: “Ongoing concerns”

Point 4: Circumstances leading up to the call

In persuasive writing and reporting, you always want to give as much detail as possible. The whistle-blower does that very effectively when addressing the efforts that were made to shield records related to the call.

He says…

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.

“Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”

All that is very damning and goes directly to an overarching point the writer made earlier: “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”

Toward the end of the letter, the whistle-blower reveals that not only did Trump try to shake down Zelensky in the phone call but that, earlier, Ukrainian leaders had been told a phone call between Trump and Zelensky depended on whether Zelensky showed willingness to “play ball” regarding the effort led by Trump to uncover dirt on Joe Biden.

…It’s a very nasty and “deeply disturbing” (to cop a term many Democrats are using) business. But the whistle-blower lays it out in a spectacularly beautiful body of words.

 

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The Wall Street Journal broke the story last Friday. Congratulations to WSJ. From there, the whistle blower story has spawned a flood of outstanding journalism. Here’s a sampling…

Wehner

Peter Wehner, The Atlantic, on President Trump’s “disordered personality”

Donald Trump’s disordered personality — his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving — has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogyny, predatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for his country, mocking a reporter with a disability and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

Nakashima

Greg Miller, Josh Dawey, Paul Sonne and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, on Rudy Giuliani’s pivotal role

The former New York mayor appears to have seen (Volodymyr) Zelensky, a political neophyte elected president of Ukraine in April and sworn in in May, as a potential ally on two political fronts: punishing those Giuliani suspected of playing a role in exposing the Ukraine-related corruption of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and delivering political ammunition against Biden.

After the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, Giuliani turned his attention to Ukraine, officials said, and soon began pushing for personnel changes at the embassy while seeking meetings with Zelensky subordinates. He also had his own emissaries in Ukraine who were meeting with officials, setting up meetings for him and sending back information that he could circulate in the United States.

Baker

Peter Baker, The New York Times, on the inevitability of impeachment

(T)he only real surprise was how long it took to get here. Mr. Trump’s critics began discussing impeachment within days of his election because of various ethical issues and Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. By last year’s midterm election, Mr. Trump repeatedly raised impeachment on the campaign trail, warning that Democrats would come after him if they won the House.

…The beginning of the long-anticipated showdown arrived when Mr. Trump was in New York for the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, creating a surreal split-screen spectacle as the president sought to play global statesman while fending off his enemies back in Washington. One moment, he talked of war and peace and trade with premiers and potentates. The next, he engaged in a rear-guard struggle to save his presidency.

Mr. Trump gave a desultory speech and shuffled between meetings with leaders from Britain, India and Iraq while privately consulting with aides about his next move against the House. Shortly before heading into a lunch with the United Nations secretary general, he decided to release a transcript of his July telephone call with the president of Ukraine that is central to the allegations against him. In effect, he was pushing his chips into the middle of the table, gambling that the document would prove ambiguous enough to undercut the Democratic case against him.

Leonhardt

Dave Leonhardt, The New York Times, on why he changed his mind and concluded the House of Representatives should initiate impeachment proceedings

Starting an impeachment inquiry is the proper move because of both what’s changed and what hasn’t. What has changed? In his dealings with Ukraine, the president committed a new and clearly understandable constitutional high crime: He put his own interests above the national interest by pressuring a foreign country to damage a political rival. He evidently misused taxpayer money in the process. He has shown he’s willing to do almost anything to win re-election.

What hasn’t changed? Trump is unfit for office. He has repeatedly violated his oath of office, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He has weakened America’s national security. He has used the presidency for personal enrichment. He has broken the law more than once. He has tried to undermine American democracy.

Trump has handed Democrats a new opportunity to persuade the country that his presidency needs to end, on Jan. 20, 2021, if not sooner.

**

Reporters covering the White House are working their asses off — and writing stories they will show to their grandchildren some day.

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Everyone knows the song “Different Drum” launched Lina Rdonstadt’s career.

I was thinking about it when I wrote Sunday’s blog, about seeing Ronstadt perform twice at Memorial Hall in the mid-’70s. She didn’t sing “Different Drum” at either concert, having moved on to a solo career, with fresher songs that went even higher on the charts. But it was “Different Drum” that initially drew people’s attention to Ronstadt, and one such person was blog reader Marsha Campbell, who contributed this comment below Sunday’s blog post…

“My roommate and I drove to Denver in 1969 just to hear her sing Different Drum at some truly small dive bar! She was awesome!”

…That got me thinking more about “Different Drum” and how it lit the fuse on Ronstadt’s monstrously big musical career.

So, I did a little digging. The song is credited, of course, to “The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt.” What I turned up, though, was both surprising and intriguing. For one thing, none of the other members of The Stone Poneys was involved in the recording of “Different Drum.” Furthermore, if you listen to an earlier, live version of the song as performed by Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys, you can easily see why the Poneys were cut out of the recording that became a hit.

Fortunately, an early rendition of the song has survived. It is in the movie “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” and it is on YouTube.

Here it is…

The song was written by Michael Nesmith, who went on to become a member of The Monkees. In this performance, which might have been at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, the band consists of two acoustic guitars, a bass guitar and drums.

Together, the instrumentalists sound about as bad as any garage band ever has. The performance is downright rinky-dink. Ronstadt’s voice is the only redeeming feature. It would have sounded a lot better if someone had started Ronstadt with a pitch-pipe and let her do the song without accompaniment.

As one YouTube commenter noted, “The fact she wasn’t held back by this terrible band is a testament (to) her incredible voice and stage presence.”

But a 31-year-old producer named Nick Venet — who signed The Beach Boys, Lou Rawls, Glen Campbell and other hit makers to Capitol Records — sniffed the makings of a hit.

The arrangement he produced was full bodied and professional, thanks, in part to strings and an ear-catching harpsichord. The arranger was Jimmy Bond, who also played bass. Another player on the hit version was Eagles co-founder Bernie Leadon, who was on guitar.

Wikipedia says The Stone Poneys had intended to record an “acoustic ballad version” of the song, but Venet “opted for a more complex instrumental approach.”

Wiki goes on to say Ronstadt later said she was surprised and “completely confused” by the altered approach to the song and that even years later she had a “lack of confidence” in her performance. In the movie, “The Sound of My Voice,” we learn she straight out didn’t like the orchestral version but went ahead and recorded it anyway.

Thank God she did. The single was released in 1967 and rose to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

And Linda Ronstadt was on her way, without The Stone Poneys.

Here’s the hit version…

 

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I went to see the Linda Ronstadt movie — “The Sound of My Voice” — yesterday, and it made me extremely grateful that I had recognized, when I was young, what a singular talent she was.

I saw her twice in the mid-’70s, both times at Memorial Hall in KCK. I believe the first time was shortly after the 1974 release of the album “Heart Like a Wheel,” which featured such blockbuster songs like “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved” and my all-time Ronstadt favorite “Willin’,” written by the musician who founded the band Little Feat, Lowell George.

One of the things that made Ronstadt so special was the power and intimacy of her voice. The power flowed naturally, and the intimacy owed a lot to the humble, straightaway manner in which she performed. She couldn’t dance a lick and didn’t try to. She just held the mic close to her mouth, and with head tilted up, sometimes closed her eyes and let the sound pour out of her soul…I felt like she was singing to me.

Another factor in the intimacy was that she often performed in smaller venues, like Memorial Hall, which seats about 3,500. It comes out in the movie that she didn’t like the big arenas, partly because many are like echo chambers and also, I imagine, because they work against intimacy.

I remember the first trip to Memorial Hall better than the second, but both nights are a bit hazy because, first, it was long ago and, second, I and the guy I went with (both times, I believe) had smoked marijuana before setting out.

For the first concert, I had never been to Memorial Hall and didn’t know what the building looked like. I was driving my 1971 VW Super Beetle, and when we got on Seventh Street, by the civic complex, we were in a lot of traffic. Spotting a police or security officer standing next to a building, I told my buddy, “Go ask that guy where it is.” He jumped out, returned a minute later and said, “This is it.” Our destination was right in front of us.

The next challenge was finding a parking spot. All street spaces in the area were taken, of course, so I pulled into the brightly lighted lower level of a tall building almost directly across from the hall. To my amazement, the lot was virtually empty, and no one was monitoring the place. I parked and we crossed the street and entered the hall.

I had bought seats in advance — undoubtedly at Capers Corner on Mission Road (the guys that worked there were on the fringe of show business, you know) — and when we got inside we discovered our seats were in the last row of the lower level, stage left. The seats were close enough to the stage, no problem there, but a big stage light was situated right next to me. It was irritating at first, but shortly after Ronstadt took the stage, I got lost in the music.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, KCK

Still heavily affected by the marijuana, however, I was confused by the scene on the stage. The band members were spread apart, and one — might have been the steel guitar player — seemed to be a good distance off to one side. Every once in a while he would be illuminated, and I was under the impression he was playing pinball. I kept thinking, “Why is a guy playing pinball on stage, during the concert?”

As the concert went on, both my head and my perception of the stage activity cleared up.

The trance that the music had put me in did not let up, however, until the concert had ended. Trudging out of the hall with 3,500 other people was a harsh return to reality.

My buddy and I went crossed Seventh Street, back into the still brightly lighted, underground parking lot. I looked around and saw a dozen or so police cars — which had not been there before — parked for the night. Then I realized what I had done: I had parked in the City Hall garage. It was still unattended, and, fortunately, the windshield of my VW was ticket free.

With that, we headed back to Kansas City, MO.

**

Now, here’s that great song, Willin’, sung just about the way Ronstadt sang it that memorable night in Memorial Hall, about 45 years ago.

 

 

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Observers of Jackson County government have long suspected that a significant amount of revenue from the county’s COMBAT sales tax has been spent on things not related to the organization’s missions of fighting drug use and drug-related crime.

With Wednesday’s release of a report by a national accounting firm, the proof is in. It shows that two county executives — the current one and the one in prison, as well as the current prosecutor — have fished in the waters of the $20-million-a-year revenue stream to pay salaries and buy items not related to fighting drug-related crime.

Among other things, funds from the COMBAT (Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax) program have gone toward…

:: Buying an SUV for County Executive Frank White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford.

:: White’s salary of at least $145,000 a year.

:: A home giveaway program that former (and now-imprisoned) County Executive Mike Sanders sponsored each year.

:: Buying furniture for Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office.

:: Putting on the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

:: Repairs at the courthouses in Kansas City and Independence and the Jackson County Detention Center.

(Regarding the last point, I’d like to know what repairs COMBAT money went toward at the downtown courthouse because the place is a certifiable dump. If you doubt what I say, just go down there some day and step in the front door and take a look at the dingy, dimly lighted lobby.)

As bad as the contents of this report are, it does hold out hope for improvement. For one thing, now that the scum has risen to the surface, the County Legislature can begin holding the county executive, the prosecutor, program administrators and others who have access to COMBAT money to stricter account.

Also, even though Baker misappropriated some COMBAT money (office furniture), it is good news that her office now has control over the money. The Legislature, which for good reason does not have an iota of trust in Frank White, stripped that power away from the county executive’s office a year or two ago.

To her credit, Baker requested the accounting-firm review, even though she had to know it would show her hands were not altogether clean. (At the same time, she didn’t have much of a choice because the county’s legislative auditor had earlier uncovered significant problems.)

**

The political upshot of this is that voters probably will hold White responsible.

Voters first approved the quarter-cent COMBAT sales tax in 1989, and they have overwhelmingly voted to renew it several times, including in November 2016. It does not come up for renewal again until 2027, by which time this report will be long forgotten and voters will likely vote to renew it again.

White, on the other hand, would come up for re-election in 2022, if he chooses to seek run again. This latest gambol in the mud — combined with the assessment brouhaha, the falling-apart jail and his notorious propensity for keeping public business under wraps — may well cost him his job.

It appears to me almost any good Democratic candidate would have an excellent chance to wrest the Democratic nomination from him in three years. If he ran and survived the primary, however, he would be heavily favored to beat any Republican challenger. Jackson County, after all, remains a Democratic stronghold.

At this point, I have my doubts that White will run again. Since he got re-elected, the news has been all bad, and he has alienated tens of thousands of voters. It’s hard to tell what goes through politicians’ mind, however. More than a few delude themselves and think the public will continue to embrace them regardless of what they do.

White, with the cheers from his days as a Major League all-star still echoing in his head, might just think he can pull out a win in the bottom of the ninth.

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I’m sure Michael Ryan, who joined The Kansas city Star’s editorial board in June, had only good intentions when he wrote an Op-Ed column titled “This JoCo church proves the power of community,” which ran in Sunday’s paper.

But nobody must have told Ryan, a Kansas City area native who is now back, about the lingering smell emanating from the church he wrote about — St. Ann Catholic Church, 73rd and Mission Road, Prairie Village. And Ryan certainly didn’t do any homework regarding the church he and his family belonged to when he was growing up.

His column was nominally about the clergy sexual-abuse scandal that has enveloped and diminished the Catholic Church the last couple of decades. Ryan wrote that he was watching the “still-roiling” scandal with a mixture of despair and gratitude — despair being his feeling about the pain the victims have endured and gratitude “for having been kept safe by whim or fate” when he was young.

He talked nostalgically about going back to St. Ann for the wake of a classmate’s father, and he waxed poetic about his trip down memory lane…

“So many years and so many roads later, I felt a renewed sense of belonging walking into my childhood church to comfort an elementary school classmate. I didn’t recognize anyone else there. Remarkably, I didn’t need to. I felt right at home.”

…I wonder if he noticed the new $8.5 million chapel facing Mission Road?

Surely, somebody on The Star’s editorial page remembers that chapel was built partly with significant funding from a group of parishioners who made millions on the backs of poor people who either borrowed from, or were fleeced by, payday loan operations run by those particular parishioners.

The chapel built partly with payday-loan revenue

It’s worth repeating part of this story, which I’ve written about before…Worth repeating because it’s not fair or honest to let Ryan’s idealized portrayal stand.

When then-pastor Rev. Keith Lunsford launched the capital campaign to finance the chapel several years ago, the group of early “lead givers” included at least five parishioners who were in the payday lending business: Tim Coppinger, Vince Hodes, Frampton T. (Ted) Rowland III and Stephen and Julie Zanone.

The Federal Trade Commission eventually shot down those payday lending operations and froze the assets of one or more of the individuals. Although none was ever charged with a crime, their reputations and personal finances were badly damaged. Coppinger and his wife, for example, sold their house in Mission Hills. (I think they moved to Leawood, so they obviously didn’t end up on skid row.)

The worst outcome was for Ted Rowland, who committed suicide in October 2016 at age 52.

In addition, when the story was making headlines, Lunsford took a medical leave of absence and, to the best of my knowledge, never resumed his duties as St. Ann’s pastor.

To the chagrin of many people, including some parishioners, Lunsford did not return any of the dirty money the payday lenders had contributed.

(In a Facebook post, a woman named Anne Pritchett wrote: “I went to St. Ann and my parents were members for 50 years. When I was a student there in the ’60s, we were known for our outreach to the poor. We collected food, we held school-wide fundraisers for the poor and we worked at the food kitchen in WyCo. To see this church now benefit from modern-day loan sharks is both disappointing and shameful.”)

Unlike St. Ann’s, another Catholic institution, St. Teresa’s Academy, took the high road when it came to a payday-loan windfall.

St. Teresa’s had conducted a capital campaign to build an athletic field and track, and Tim Coppinger was a major contributor. But after the payday-loan scandal broke, Nan Bone, then president of St. Teresa’s, summoned members of the Coppinger family and returned the money they had given for “The Coppinger Family Track.”

…So, when The Star and Michael Ryan say that St. Ann’s “proves the power of community,” I see it much differently. When I pass 73rd and Mission Road, I see a church that refused to stand up to greed and failed to return ill-gotten gains. For the integrity of the congregation, I hope Tim Coppinger, Vince Hodes and the Zanones are at least no longer in the pews.

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So, what’s been going on in and around Kansas City these days?

Oh, not much. Just…

:: Two guys getting gunned down by a guy who apparently chased them in a pickup truck while pulling a riding lawn mower on a trailer

:: Four teenagers and a 20-year-old luring a drug seller to location in Belton and fatally shooting him after giving him phony money

:: The Kansas City Chiefs giving domestic- and likely-child-abusing wide receiver Tyreek Hill a $54-million contract

Let’s take a closer look:

Lawn Mower Cowboy

We see a lot of inexplicable violence in and around the city, but an incident that took place Tuesday in southeast Kansas City has to rank as one of the most incomprehensible crimes in recent years.

Apparently it started with an argument at a gas station or convenience store between two guys in a black Mustang and one or more men in a Dodge Ram pickup pulling a trailer with a riding lawnmower and perhaps other maintenance equipment.

The lawn guy couldn’t let the beef go and gave chase in his pickup after the guys in the Mustang left the store or station. After pursuing the Mustang a few blocks, the lawn guy opened fire near 79th Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard and hit both occupants of the Mustang.

Both died — 21-year-old Jalen Stevens and 20-year-old Makih Briggs.

Here’s a freeze frame from video taken of the truck…If this truck looks like one your lawn guy drives, I suggest you 1) call the cops and 2) get a new mowing company.

Funny money but no laughing matter

Five people, including four teenagers, have been charged in the shooting death of 25-year-old Timothy Hunter Wednesday night in Belton.

Charged with second-degree murder (they should also be charged with being imbeciles) are Crishon Marquese Willis, 19, of Grandview; Makayla Marie Davis, 18, of Grandview; Shane M. Pierce, 20, of Kansas City; Alea Marie Campbell, 18, of Belton, and Andre Alonzo McKinney III, 18, of Kansas City.

Seems that those five idiots set up a marijuana buy from Hunter, even though he was known to carry a gun.

When they met up with Hunter, they gave him $100 in realistic-looking “prop money.” According to The Kansas City Star, the driver of the car in which the teens and Pierce were riding tried to speed away before Hunter realized the money was counterfeit. One problem: The car was in reverse and lurched backwards. Unfortunately, that gave Hunter time to step in front of the car as it moved forward, toward him. Hunter moved out of the way, but somebody inside the car fired a single shot that hit Hunter in the chest.

Just like that, what could have been a keystone cops incident — minus the guns — turned out to be a murder case, with one person dead and one or more of the assailants’ lives probably ruined.

The $54-million man

It’s a virtual certainty that either Chiefs’ wide receiver Tyreek Hill or his former fiancee, Crystal Espinal, seriously abused their young son at some point during the off season. Unfortunately, investigators could not establish who did what, and no charges were filed.

Hill is now not only back on the team but the Chiefs last week gave him a three-year contract extension worth $54 million. He promptly got hurt and is now out for at least several weeks. Even if he never plays another game, he’s in line to get at least $35 million in guaranteed money.

I don’t watch the Chiefs any longer, but I’m glad they’ve got Patrick Mahomes and that they are once again winning a lot more games than they’re losing. What I don’t understand is how anyone could enthusiastically cheer for Tyreek Hill, regardless of how many touchdowns he scores.

I’ve written before that the danger of permanent brain damage has turned me away from football. Another thing that troubles me is seeing so many more of these bad actors, like Hill, in pro football than in pro basketball, soccer or baseball.

I think we need to hold this question up to what remains of our civilized society: Is this a good sport to send our children and grandchildren into?

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