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Green Lantern: Autism Puts My 2010 Jets In Perspective

Spectrum Disorder Has Given 1 Man A New Look On Sports
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Jack Capellini

Forgive the old school look for Jack knows not what he does sometimes. Blame his father.

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By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com

HARWICH, Mass. (CBS 2)A while back I told the story of my day with my autistic spectrum disorder son at Yankee Stadium. It was his first game and it ended up being a memorable experience on many levels. Not so much because of the outcome of the game itself, but because of the interactions he and I had within the framework of nine innings of glory.

I learned a lot about myself that overcast July afternoon in the Bronx, both as a fan and a father. The reaction the story generated went above and beyond anything I could’ve possibly imagined. And many people outside the realm of the sports world asked that I continue to chronicle my experiences. Now that wcbstv.com is no longer around, I feel it wouldn’t be overkill to discuss the topic again for CBSNewYork.com, albeit from a different standpoint.

I write what I know. It’s what I do.

I won’t rehash all there is to know about Jack, my 7-year-old. I’m providing the link to the previous story here. Hopefully, it will explain in detail my particular situation with regards to my struggle understanding autistic spectrum disorders. This isn’t a case of one man looking for attention. On the contrary, it’s one man asking you, the general public, to take the time to better understand that which countless American parents have to deal with on a daily basis.

What follows is how the anticipation of the Jets’ 2010 season means absolutely nothing to my boy, and, frankly, shouldn’t amount to a hill of beans to me either.

As I sat there in the dining room of my beach house in Cape Cod that Sunday following the Jets’ 16-11 preseason loss to Washington, my boy sat just a few feet away asking over and over again about the impending trip we were to take to see Humpback whales off Hyannisport. Of course, I had already told him in complete detail no less than 15 times exactly what the plan was, but, after all, he’s autistic. It may not have fully registered.

Well, check that, I know it registered in some form. It’s just that sometimes the disorder doesn’t allow for him to show he actually gets it. Call it a super nervous twitch, if you will.

So I spent the better part of that Sunday doing fatherly things at various beaches, canoeing around a local lake and explaining the birds and the bees to anyone who would listen (that’s another really long story).

What most everyone around me didn’t know was that I was also freaking out about the Jets. I know. Get some perspective, dude. Hey, my answer to that is if not for the sports teams we love, how much of life would be tolerable?

Our passion for our various teams is part of what keeps the madness of life in the positive column.

The “Green Lantern” moniker was unearthed years ago when I was looking for a pen name or an alter ego to write under as a professional. I correctly assumed I’d have enough content to work with because the Jets had been fodder for just about everyone, in the professional sports media and in fandom, for the better part of 40 years. I figured, hey, why not?

Wayne Chrebet, to anyone who doesn’t understand recent Jets history, was the Green Lantern, labeled as such by one Keyshawn Johnson in a ridiculous book that was all about his ego and taking shots at people that he felt owed him a living.

As a result of that forgettable book and diminutive No. 80’s prowess at doing all the little dirty things on the field, Chrebet fast became my guy. And I felt because his career ended way too early due to concussions I could, in my own little way, pay homage to him by naming my blog after him. Yes, it’s true, there are many out there on Twitter who think I’m some sycophantic super hero buff. But for those in the know, of which there are many, I’m simply a guy who spews his views on the Jets — how to fix them, how to ignore them, how to hate them, and, most especially, how to love them.

Because, when the Jets finally climb the mountain, I will know in my heart I was there fighting the good fight and imposing my ridiculous system of checks and balances since the beginning.

The same approach is used with my son, whose disorder I chronicled at length in the July column. I will not under any circumstances feel sorry for myself. I will have days where you won’t want to come within 50 yards of me because of the situation, but by and large I’m about making the most out of the time we have, not harping on “what if” and “if only things were different.”

So I was furious that Sunday because a preseason foot injury had claimed Calvin Pace’s services for up to six weeks. I obviously hate the preseason but understand completely the need to beat up your teammates for five weeks. Regardless, the idea of losing Pace bugged me. It obviously annoyed my friends on Twitter as well because they were all up in arms, demanding on one hand Adalius Thomas be signed yesterday and on the other that everyone just take a chill pill.

I, myself, agree with the latter, but, again, that’s a column you’ll probably see at a later date.

My son, Jack, has no desire to watch football. He likes the Jets because daddy screams about them all day. I watch him throw a ball and cringe. My 3-year-old daughter could run a Rex Ryan blitz package at this poor lad and traumatize him for life.

But that doesn’t make him any less cute and loving.

I think what I’ve learned more than anything else is you really can’t sweat the little things. And, let’s face it; loving a football team to the point of getting sick over it is about as absurd a notion as there is. Through my struggles as a spectrum disorder parent I’ve learned to take things less seriously when my teams take the field. It’s just not worth the additional agita.

Now, from reading my tweets you’d probably beg to differ, but I have one very good friend who reads my stuff all the time and cannot believe I’m the same guy now that I was back in September of 2009, when I first joined Twitter. I was all venom back then, ticked off at the world because the Jets were, as usual, the Same Old Jets. It was just a different year with a different audience.

But, a funny thing happened along the way: I started taking more of an active interest in my son’s issues and less in the made-up-world of professional sports. And when that happened, voila, the 2009 season took off and it was easily the most enjoyable one I experienced in more than a decade. I still cared. I still wrote. But I left it all on the page or on the TV screen.

Because I worried about Jack in school and in social interactions I became less focused on stupidity like the reasoning behind the Jets playing goal-line zone defense with Tony Gonzalez lurking about in the final seconds of a late-season loss to the Falcons. That subsequent defeat would have driven me insane even a year earlier. But on that given day, it was more like “I’m too old for this crap,” but not because I’m actually old, but because all the talk of prioritizing had come full circle.

Will Jack play football? I highly doubt it, though, as the Jets taught me last year, stranger things can happen. It’s just that I’m now a full-blown realist. The odds are my guy will need some kind of help, both academically and socially, for maybe the better part of the next 10-15 years, maybe longer. He’s certainly made strides in every facet of his being, but just when you think he’s turned the corner or become more like every other kid, the inevitable comparison to the mainstream comes into play. And I have no choice but to accept that which many parents would view as unacceptable.

He’s different.

But you know what? So am I – all because of him.

And I wouldn’t switch places with anyone for all the Vince Lombardi trophies in the world.

So, hey, Darrelle Revis, you don’t want to sign, don’t sign. To the other members of the Jets, if you really think you’ve already won something, I say you go guys.

I got bigger – and more important – things to do.

And they don’t have Jack to do with “Hard Knocks.”

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