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Adventures in Off-Sports Subjects: Rick Reilly, Colin Kaepernick, and Adoption

What could possibly get me so stirred up to write and post an article about Colin Kaepernick and adoption considering neither has much to do with Big Ten Basketball or football? A Rick Reilly article of course. The following is a personal account of adoption, the realities of decision making, and why Rick Reilly really outdid himself this time.


Before I begin, let me try to get all of the Rick Reilly hate out of my system. I mean honestly, for the most part we can agree that he has run his course as a legitimate voice in sportswriting and that his sunset career basically attempts to create controversy, drum up sentimentalism, and more or less bloviate on a cornucopia of old storylines and rehashed superiority-complexes of a career that spans multiple generations. Furthermore, we can also point out that his new goal of being a fill-in 'Voice of the Fan' blogger for the letters has grown old. Nonetheless, he is a page-click god and for that we begin today's adventure in off-sports subjects -- one that especially hits close to home for me -- adoption.

Two days ago, Reilly posted an article titled, "A Call Kaepernick Should Make," (Note, unless you feel like you need context for this rant, please feel no need to give Reilly your click. He does not deserve it. I'm mostly linking because I should always link to source material.) in which he argues that because his adopted daughter grew so much through meeting her birth mother, Colin should reach out and talk to his birth mother. Let's ignore the fact that this oversimplifying of the subject should be infuriating enough. What really gets me is his whole shtick of 'Father Knows Best' meets 'moral superiority to the nth degree'. Who is Rick Reilly that he knows what Colin is feeling? A father of an adopted daughter? Lest you all point out that it is a generally good story and that he is not a complete ignoramus when it comes to the subject, in that - as pointed out - he does have an adopted daughter, might I provide a few points from my own personal life as this is something that kind of matters to me.

Most of you have read a comment here or there about me being adopted. As the story goes, I was born in Seoul, South Korea in December of '84 and was left on a neighbor's doorstep with a blanket and a note saying my date of birth. When people say, "I was born in this or that hospital," and then turn to ask me, I just laugh because I was most likely not born in a hospital. That's totally cool, though. Four months after that I was adopted into the most loving family whom I see as nothing more than mom, dad, sister, and brother. Blood means very little to me in that I know who my family is. Seriously, I have never thought of my parents as anything other than my real parents and the same goes for my siblings. The thing is, I am lucky, though. I was born a world away. This is one of the first important distinctions in this discussion that Reilly so quickly ignores.

Look, I appreciate my birth mother, but outside of that note and some addresses of a Sheriff's office in Seoul, I have very little chance of meeting her. Even more importantly, I am not so sure I feel the desire or need to. See, every adopted child I have met, both as adults and as children, have a moment where they have to cope with being different than their family. Sure, we are all the same, but at some existential level we are just a little bit different -- just a little off. Some people internalize it, use it as a passion to never let anyone down enough to ever be let go of again (a fear of rejection, fear of failure, etc.), while others just brush it off as nothing more than a step in their development and grow from there. More importantly, most every adopted child I have met can point to a time where they stopped, thought about it for a while and made that decision on how they feel about the whole situation. It is unique to each person, and something that Reilly ignores -- it is a decision that should be made by the individual, not by some almighty groupthink of what is healthy or normal.

Personally, I have always believed that I am fortunate to be adopted. From what I have ascertained about early '80s Korea, an illegitimate birth was not exactly looked kindly upon and being adopted into America has certainly been one of the better situations a person can ask for. In fact, for the most part, I am a highly functioning American with the (obviously better) looks of a Korean. It is and was a good deal, and there is a strong argument that my life has been enriched for the better. As such, I do not doubt for a moment that it was one of the most difficult things for my birth mother to wrap a newborn child in a blanket and walk away. Nonetheless, does that mean I am totally cool with it? That is a much more difficult question and one that I answer differently depending on the range of emotions I deal with at that point in time.

This is not meant as a slight to my parents. Believe me when I say this, I have had the best family structure a person could ask for. My parents are loving, encouraging, and enriching, and they prepared me to be successful in life. Without them, I would have very little in life and their love as parents never delineating between biological and adoptive, is the foundation to my life. However, I remember vividly asking who my real mom was when I was only four years old and the lightning was crashing. It's normal. Of course, to get over it, sometimes you just move on, and for me to not really be able to know who my birth parents are/were, is almost a blessing. Not being able to really deal with the question is sometimes easier than knowing you have to.

This brings me back to Reilly and where this all started. Reilly's arrogance and outright ambivalence to Colin Kaepernick's feelings are everything that is wrong with sports journalism. I know that we all make comments about on-the-field play and that is open game. Fans want to talk about talent and in a game about what you are capable of, it's all fair game. If Bauserman throws seventeen balls into the stands, you better believe we will call him on it. If T.Mart throws seven interceptions because it looks like he's closing his eyes and chucking it, he is fair game for criticism. Where that line is drawn is when people like Reilly bring out this moral high ground in discussion of how Colin should feel. Look, I get that his daughter benefited, but she also didn't grow up knowing that there was a woman who was tangible and readily available.

Let me be clear, there are some hero complexes in adoption that have been documented and when you 'rescue' a child from another country, the child feels fortunate to be here. Without diving into the notion of American Exceptionalism and the reality that this is not applicable across most adoptions, I will point out that to make this a trivial discussion based on emotion (as Reilly seems to be doing) ignores the fact that this was a specifically different situation. Colin's parents knew his birthmom. She was tangible. She was always near him if he wanted to discover more. I did not live in that situation, but I know people who have and it is significantly more difficult to deal with. In Reilly's daughter's situation, and mine, I always felt like the situation was untenable in another country. It was like Moses in the basket, and the rich Pharaoh's daughter were my parents. In this case, however, Colin had to deal with knowing that his birth mom was always around the corner.

Of course, this discounts the fact that Colin has had an extremely close relationship with his parents as well. He is a young guy, younger than me, and probably has spent a lot of hours thinking about that moment when his birth mom allowed his parents to become his parents. It is not unhealthy for him to decide that he does not want to make a confusion in his psyche on that notion. In fact, it is almost more healthy that he understands his personal needs. For him, it sounds like he moved on and for Reilly to even suggest that his decisions are wrong is so infuriating that I would even write a comment -- if comments on Reilly's columns were even allowed. Nonetheless, as a sportswriter, Reilly confused his job for his personal ability to be the moral arbiter in how Colin deals with a complex issue -- one that has more nuances for the actual adopted child than any one person can imagine.

All this to say, Rick Reilly's righteous indignation of Colin Kaepernick's decision to not get in touch with his birthmom along with the asinine assumption that he is doing it either out of blind loyalty to parents who understand or bratty behavior of a kid who just doesn't get it is one of the most abhorrent things that Reilly has done. This is not an issue where you can guilt Colin because he is in the limelight and try and pry into a decision he does not feel comfortable with. Every adopted person has the internal dialogue on whether or not he or she should reach out to their birth parents. It is not an easy one and sometimes -- many times -- it has volatile and long reaching results to existing relationships. It's messy and confusing, and very often it complicates matters beyond what any one person can predict. The bottom line is there are no easy answers and I for one cannot imagine being able to tell another person what is right here.

When it is all said and done, Reilly has the 'right' to talk about Colin. In fact, he can even talk about the adoption story and the dynamics that it brings into his life, but he is doing a disservice to himself, to ESPN, and to both his and every adopted child out there when he confuses the topic for something trivial like who can hit a golf ball further in a rainstorm. As sportswriters and bloggers, fans and the commenting public, and even as legitimate journalists, we all have the right to a story. It does not, however, give us the right to tell someone how to make their own decisions, especially when it has to do with a topic this complex and diverse. I think deep down Reilly was trying to help Colin, but the only way he could have done that is if he would have just left it at, "Colin, it's your call buddy." After all, it really is his call.