I'm fascinated by the reaction to the video of the Rutgers basketball coach abusing his players.
My first experience with organized team sports was kickball in first grade gym period. The gym teacher would select as captains two of the more athletically inclined youngsters while the rest of us sat on the red line and one by one were chosen as players for their teams. My agony in being passed over increased in direct proportion to the number of boys on the line diminishing. Eventually two choices remained: me and the mentally disabled kid in our class. I recall no extra attention or encouragement from the gym teacher to ameliorate this situation.
By the time I got to high school there was no attempt made to hide the fact that in my little town 65 miles north of New York City sports were king. In the local paper was page after page filled with photos of sports teams posed in a group, and star players holding trophies, and action shots of remarkable maneuvers during games, but one would search in vain for any mention of academic or artistic achievements.
This view that sports were a higher priority was reflected by my community at large when one year the provision of the school budget increasing athletic funding was passed while funds covering new books for the library were nixed.
In the classroom I held my own and in the music department I excelled, but these things didn't really matter at our school; esteem was earned by athletic prowess and nothing else.
Our school building had two wings: the administration/gymnasium/auditorium was in one and the classrooms were situated in another. Connecting these two wings was a short, narrow corridor. Each morning one had to pass through this hallway to get to homeroom. This is where all the athletes congregated before the first bell. I called it "Jock Row" and the memory of it haunts me to this day. I'd take a deep breath, lower my gaze, hold my books close to my chest and plunge in.
"Faggot." "Faggot." "Faggot." "Faggot." Every morning for four years -- every single morning -- I'd hear this epithet mumbled for as long as it took me to run the gauntlet. They might as well have thrown bottles; at least those bruises would have been visible. It is inconceivable to me that no one knew this was a daily occurrence. Yet no one -- none of my friends, nor my teachers, nor school administrators ever once came to my aid, much less tried to curtail the behavior.
Indeed, the same individuals who taunted me before homeroom would be lauded for their sports records in the morning P.A. announcements. Worse still, some of the boys who verbally abused me in Jock Row would walk around the corner and flirt with my sister. Even as a teenager I could see how utterly reprehensible that was. And yet these were the ones displayed as role models to the student body at large.
Even in adulthood, sports are seen as somehow preferable to other interests. Every hotel has umpteen ESPN channels, but try to find a classic movie! Every holiday afternoon with the family is underscored by the unending din of 50,000 screaming voices in the stands of whatever game is being broadcast.
Those boys who abused me in the hallway grew up to be sports fans. They sit in their living rooms in their team jerseys and scream at the television set. They attend games and riot and stampede and stomp each other to death. Is anyone even surprised any more when this happens? Apart from a performance of Macbeth in 1849 and the 1913 premiere of the ballet The Rite of Spring and of course that little mishap at Our American Cousin, I am unaware of any violence related to a theatrical event.
The few professional ball games I've been dragged to have made me very nervous. Even now I refuse to throw a ball overhand out of fear of being laughed at. A dread of Opening Day is the one thing that has kept me from becoming president of the United States.
Absolutely nothing in the Rutgers video surprised me. Nothing. I've seen it all my life. That coach is just a jerk from some other school's Jock Row all grown up and acting like a big, bad man. It did make me briefly wonder what became of all those guys from my own corridor of hell, but a second later I realized I don't give a shit.
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