Rozner: In times of unrest, words matter more than ever

  • Workers board up windows at a store Tuesday in Cicero after unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

    Workers board up windows at a store Tuesday in Cicero after unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Associated Press

Updated 6/2/2020 6:29 PM

I don't remember a lot about my grandfather.

He died when I was young, so the memories are mostly of the stories he told, of having a farm not terribly far from Kiev, of having to abandon his life in a country that didn't want his type there, of fleeing the pogroms in fear of his life and for the safety of his family.


He spoke of always looking over his shoulder, even when living in a Chicago neighborhood 50 years later, still wondering if those soldiers or police would show up under cover of darkness and finish the job they started, to further pillage, rape and murder.

That is fear you never entirely recover from and if my grandfather were alive I think he would see today's protests -- the peaceful protests -- and nod his head in understanding.

And yet, my gramps did not hate. He grew to love baseball in this country and refused to despise the New York Mets, even after what they did to his Cubs in 1969. He didn't dislike the White Sox and took his son to games on both sides of town.

He also taught his son, my father, that you can choose to love or hate, that you are born to love and must be taught to hate, that such ideology begins at home.

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That's the home I grew up in, one in which it was drilled into us that you treat people the way you want to be treated, that if you treat people well you need not have regret, and that you judge people by how they treat you, not by any other measure.

The rest of it, as my grandfather would say, was chazerai.

So that's all I know. Change begins at home, where you learn as children and where you teach your children.

Nothing I say publicly about it matters, just as nothing the grandstanding politicians, celebrities and journalists say about it matters.

You want to stake your hopes on a hypocritical NBA coach who refused to back Hong Kong protesters begging for simple human rights because there were shoe deals at stake and NBA money on the line, but now says the opposite when it's right here at home and there are political points to score?


Words matter. Of course they matter. They matter at home first and foremost. It begins at home and it begins with children. Ask yourself what you were taught. Ask yourself what you have taught, or will teach, your children and grandchildren.


How did that cop in Minnesota learn to hate George Floyd as he did, to have murder in his heart? Why are 99 percent of cops honest and hardworking men and women willing to risk their lives to protect us every day?

That 99 percent did not earn bricks to the head, being shot at or having feces thrown in their faces. Nor did store owners deserve to lose a lifetime's work to looting criminals. That has nothing to do with protest.

We are not born to hate. That is something a human must learn.

There are good and bad people in every profession, including journalism. We are susceptible just as are all others to ignoring our own biases, unwilling to look deep and examine our own hearts.

I confess here that I keep my hand on my wallet whenever there's a politician in the room from either side of the aisle, as I believe very few of them care about anything except maintaining power and controlling our dollars.

I confess that I harbor anger in my heart for the jockey who filed an objection and cost me a pick-5 at the Breeders' Cup a few years ago.

I confess that I will never forgive the referee who called a penalty behind the play when we had a 3-on-1 in overtime of a beer-league playoff game a decade ago, a game we ultimately lost.

I confess that I curse at greenskeepers who find joy in miserable pin placements.

And at the same time I have forgiven the Vancouver faithful who wanted to burn me in effigy during the 2011 NHL playoffs, as even some of them remembered that I once helped provide context to the Todd Bertuzzi incident.

Proof that we are all complicated beings.

Unlike most who will weigh in on this, I don't pretend to know what to do next, to solve all that ails us as a country. I do know that I can continue the dialogue in my home and keep my own backyard clean from hate.

At the same time, I offer the words of Jay Billington Bulworth, who suggested that, "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction."

Had he lived to see that movie, I think my grandfather would have agreed.

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