With NBC Sports Watching, Rhinos Show They’re El Paso Strong
The question from Anson Carter pierced me.
I knew it was coming. After our pre-interview for the piece the former NHL pro-turned-NBC host is producing for NBC Sports, I knew.
It didn’t matter.
“What words come to mind when you think of August 3rd?”
Boil August 3rd down to a handful of words? What words on the cutting end of emotion don't come to mind?
Anger, pain, loss, conviction, dread, horror, revenge, and all of those before noon.
Then we learned why. Then we learned how many.
Rinse, repeat, multiply by 10.
I had to look away from Carter and stare at the rubber mats around the Events Center rink where his producer had set up shop.
I answered. My voice cracked.
Suddenly, I’m thinking about why those cameras were here. Why all the networks cameras were here.
It’s not the cameras or those behind them. A camera is one tool, an automatic weapon is another.
A mouth, another still.
The question is, what is the intent behind the tool?
The Rhinos’ exhibition games against the Mexican Junior National Team at the end of September had been a project of General Manager Corey Heon’s months before August 3rd and, to me, worthy of some measure of international attention on their own.
William Douglas, the NHL.com writer who pens "The Color of Hockey" blog, was coming to do exactly that in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Team Mexico assistant, Andrés de la Garma, has a solid reputation as a goaltender coach and the Rhinos are building a relationship with him, as well as the Mexican hockey federation.
But there’s no getting around 22 reasons why a national network was here doing a special on a Tier II junior hockey team from El Paso, TX.
Know what? F*** that.
I don’t mean NBC Sports, which is lending its considerable voice to showcase diversity in hockey and the Rhinos’ work in creating the exhibitions against Team Mexico.
Overnight, the two games had layers of meaning involuntarily dropped on them. Both teams bore the extra weight with pride and respect. NBC Sports came to tell that story.
I don't mean Anson Carter, one of hockey's few faces of color doing admirable work to showcase its others; nor Douglas, who Carter credits with the idea of covering the games and, according to the Rhinos, had been scheduled to come since July.
I mean that the El Paso Rhinos aren’t stuttering as they rep their city, and neither will I.
No one in El Paso went begging for those cameras. But if they're here, then El Paso deserves to have its story told, especially by those willing to share the good news about this city, rather than using their national spotlight to invent bad news.
Within hours of the tragedy, from blood drives to victims funds to its levelheadedness and heart, El Paso showed the world the content of its character.
I offered Carter something I found to be a telling contrast, between what one lost man thought might be his final grotesque expression and El Paso’s reflexive, spontaneous, creative response; a response that shines like the sun next to a dried pea.
By the afternoon of August 3rd, the killer’s hollow "manifesto” had been outed. His magnum opus, a 2,000-word screed posted on a website filled with bigots arrogant enough to believe they need to do something to make themselves matter more than other people based on the lie of their culture and skin color.
But then came the memorial.
Within a day, El Paso transformed the site where that man loosed race hate and violence into a place of love filled with art, music and color.
Along the fence next to the Walmart mariachis and praise bands alike broke into “Amor Eterno” over the aroma of votive candles, incense and flowers as those so inspired taped, tacked and propped everything from hastily-scrawled posters to original paintings.
Overnight, a place that would otherwise bear the scars of racism’s dumb bludgeon became a bouquet of human expression.
A place of worship.
A place of humility and loss in need of that worship.
All right next to the Hooters.
That, as I explained to Carter, is El Paso. A city with no emotional zoning laws.
Tell me that's not diversity and inclusion.
We spent around 15 minutes taping the interview. Heon and Rhinos head coach Cory Herman went even longer, all for a piece that was about four minutes long when it aired.
As choked up as I was, it was worse for Herman, who got so emotional he had to stop the interview and walk it off.
Before the game that night, Hermie told a few of us around the team he was worried he’d come off looking bad.
We all shook our heads with wry smiles.
No, Hermie, you look human.