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A meditation on Mike Adams and muggings

As I wonder whether I probably jinxed Mike Adams I contemplated my encounter with a gun.

Jared Wickerham

It happened a couple of hours before that incident early Saturday morning on the South Side. I was up late working on completing the Weekend Checkdown. Then I wrote a statement that many will immediately recognize as totally irresponsible:

And perhaps the most important story of all, no injury report this week.

Two hours later Mike Adams has a gun pointed in his face and gets stabbed. So I promise you that from this day forward if no injuries are suffered by the Steelers during any particular week you won't be hearing about it from me. I'll report every broken bone, ligament sprain, concussion, hang nail and root canal, but no more of this healthy living. Its bad for the prospects of the team.

Now about the matter of what Adams should or should not have done once he was in the soup. I have an opinion on that, I was mugged once.

First let me establish that I am originally from Pittsburgh. That statement demands some clarification. Folks with Western Pennsylvania ties have been known to take some liberties with their origins. I have on occasion encountered someone from the area who will identify themselves as being from 'Pittsburgh'.

"Oh, what part?"




I exaggerate slightly. And I understand. If you're interacting with someone who isn't from that area how do you explain to them that you hail from Mars or California? But I'm from Pittsburgh, the actual town; technically speaking Lincoln-Lemington, but practically speaking Homewood-Brushton.

Given the culture of the city I think its common sense to realize that Pittsburgh was always something of a tough town. I know that through my adolescence I expended a lot of creative energy figuring out how I could get through the day without getting my ass kicked. I had a personal tormentor. I don't know what I did to earn his special attention, but avoiding him was something I needed to do at all cost. He was a big, strong, extremely violent young man, several years older than me and sooner or later someone (me) was going to get really hurt. One day they took him to prison for doing something heinous. I'm sure that there is some thoroughly complex set of sociological factors that explained him but I didn't have those details. I can tell you that once incarcerated they gave him drugs to 'pacify' him. Beyond that I didn't know much. It was a good day because it greatly enhanced the chances that I would survive long enough to share this story with you. Generally speaking I managed to navigate Pittsburgh pretty well.

I then went to college in Philadelphia. Philly was a different animal. At the time it had earned the title as being the murder capital of the country due in large measure to a gang culture that had gone completely off the rails. I was attending Temple University and anyone with any familiarity with the city understood that it meant that we were sitting right at ground zero in terms of the pathology.

The second day I was in town I was reading a news account in the Daily News about an incident that involved the 17th Street and Daulphin gang. They invaded a neighboring gang's territory to avenge an earlier attack on their own. One of the 17th and Daulphin crew a 17 year old (I was 17 at the time) had a gun and came across an 8 year old boy. The 8 year old begged for his life. The 17 year old shot him dead. Its one thing to read about some hellhole half way around the world, quite another when the hellhole is less than six blocks from where you are sitting.

Nonetheless two months went by without incident. We learned to take the proper precautions and coped with real and imagined dangers. Once again I was managing to make it through the day without getting my ass kicked (or killed). One evening I decided to walk a mile up Broad Street to the Health Science campus to hang out with my two closest friends Dave and George. It didn't matter that I had just been with them an hour earlier at dinner after football practice. I had no pressing academic responsibilities that night and just wanted to hang out. I didn't have to walk. Both a bus and the subway would have taken me directly there. It was a journey I made several times a week, I was being frugal with my money, in spite of a two and half hour practice I had plenty of energy left (Oh to be 17 again!), it was a beautiful fall evening, one of those days that made living in the Northeast a joy and I loved walking past Joe Frazier's Gym.

You could be fooled by Broad Street. Philly's major north/south traffic artery was six lanes and a median, constantly busy, so much so that it was difficult to believe that it could be a dangerous place. It would be even more difficult to believe that things could be dangerous at the major intersections. It was at one of these Broad and Lehigh where I made a mistake. Understand, I'm not saying that I made a mistake from the perspective of hindsight. This was like when the ball hasn't left your hand yet and you know that its going to be intercepted but its too late to stop the motion of your arm. Someone called out to me and I stopped moving. You don't ever stop moving.

I could have taken off running at that point, but I was still a half mile from safety and besides there was a dark railroad underpass a couple of blocks away, that would not be a good place to be caught or cornered. I felt it would be safer in the relative openness of the huge intersection, so I decided to see if I could bluff my way out of this. There were four of them, relatively young, teens. They were somewhat slight of build and it would have been a fair fight were it not for the gun they claimed to have. I was skeptical. I hadn't seen a gun. One of the guys kept his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket. I was inclined to not believe them and it took a lot of restraint to not say so. That would have been, well, stupid. I figured that there was a 97 percent chance that there wasn't a gun. But that 3 percent bothered me. And so I let it play out. I didn't believe a bit of it. I swallowed the belligerence that was welling up. I had just spent the afternoon fighting people, some of whom outweighed me by over 50 pounds. Standing passively with these guys was infuriating. But there was that three percent. I had to fight the urge to just turn and walk away. What were they going to do, shoot me?

Well, maybe.

I mean, it wouldn't be the first time I had been wrong about something. And it would have been a dumb way to die. Fortunately, I had enough presence of mind to choose a course of action that was more respectful of the feelings of my parents and the long term prospects for my own future. They walked away with a small amount of money. I walked away upset; not because I felt that I had narrowly escaped being harmed, but pissed because I felt I had been punked.

I remember talking with my father and mother over the phone later that night, trying to convey as much nonchalance about the whole business that I could muster. Later I questioned the wisdom of saying anything about it at all. How could they have not felt concerned and helpless? I would continue to live in that community for another eight years. I tend to subscribe to the idea that you can live in relative safety anywhere if you understand and can comply with the rules of engagement. I saw a lot of bad things over those eight years, but none of it happened to me. There were no more mistakes.

As for Adams? No judgment coming from this corner. Its easy to focus on the physical threat that is contained in the situation, but there is also the matter of it being a violation as well, and the reaction to a violation varies. When a person's sense of honor is perceived to be at stake sometimes all bets are off. Its also easy to overlook the physical courage necessary to play this game at the professional level. There are real concerns about the possibility of someone being killed on the field at some point. And some of the most successful players are that way because they seek confrontation not avoid it. And when you think about it these players spend Sunday afternoons in conflict with others who are attempting to punk them in front of literally millions of people.That being said we are, obviously speaking to a different set of circumstances and to not understand that would be maladaptive in the extreme.