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Location: Midwest, United States

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Killing the Athlete

I’m going to share a story.

It’s a true story...something I (and a few principal others) experienced some half-dozen years ago. The memory still haunts.

I was running on the indoor track at my community center sometime some early evening. The track is elevated, circumscribing the perimeter of the two full-size basketball courts below. Twelve laps to a mile. Today was “tryouts” for the public league teams. The aspirants faced a simple drill: dribble the length of the court and execute a lay-up. Retrieve the ball and dribble back to the other basket, stopping at the free-throw line to launch a two-pointer.

I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the goings-on. I tend to lose myself in my own breathing. Still, there were the excited cheers and shrieks of happy youth, proud parents and sundry friends to beguile me. Every now and then I’d cast an eye onto the court to follow some paddled-footed, grinning gnome as he did his best despite his youthful incompetence. I’d smile. Who wouldn’t? As my run progressed and the evening wore on, the tryouts continued for the older youth. I saw flashes of talent, dexterity and self-confidence. Yes. Testosterone is powerful stuff.

As I shuffled along my way, I spied a handsome youth at the start line. He was tall and black-haired. Features chiseled and deep-set. Dark eyes burning. He took the ball with a decided nonchalance.
A voice bellowed out: “Show ‘em how it’s done!” That bellow caught my attention. The youth burst into a masterful foray down the length of the court. You could see he was well-coached. You could see that he had practiced...and practiced...and practiced. I was impressed by his talent, humbled in the presence of his athletic grace. But, then, he missed the lay-up! A rookie mistake. His father’s voice careened in anger from every mortified reflective surface in the building:


A rage burst forth inside me. An unfamiliar emotion. I stopped in my tracks. Do I rush downstairs to find the slanderer and slap him seven-ways to Sunday!?! I wanted to do EXACTLY that.

As I stood there, I saw the youth retrieve the ill-fated ball and begin a desultory journey to the opposite basket. There was no fire. No flair. Neither excellence nor elegance. He stopped well short of the free-throw line. He sauntered to the painted stripe and casually let loose a dismissive shot, a dispirited shot, an “air-ball” that reeked of surrender and hopelessness. His father bellowed additional pejoratives. I can’t remember his words.

All I remember is their cruelty...and my rage.

My rage had gone full boil. In an interval of mere seconds, I witnessed salted calumny heaped upon a tender soul. I saw a heart broken.
I saw talent surrender to shame beneath the crushing weight of a father’s diatribes.

I leaned over the upper deck railing and screamed:

(well...there’s no point in repeatin’ it ‘cause rage is ugly and I had fallen into a murderous rage).

* * *

Gratuitous Non-Sequitur:

* * *


Blogger Cheesy said...

Parents like that PISS me the hell off....

I am all squishy! Did we actually get a peek at Jonas??
[Digging the hat dude]

Fri Dec 12, 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I don't understand how parents can sometimes be so cruel to their children. My father, although I know he loved me and I loved him, had a sharp tongue at times. He was the one person in my life who lifted me up most and shot me down most. Don't parents know how much children want to please them and crave their praise?

That almost looks like a Mountie hat! Coming home anytime soon? :)

Fri Dec 12, 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Ponita said...

I just have absolutely NO patience with people like that - no matter who they are berating, it is not right.

Good on you for telling him off. I hope whatever you screamed at him made him realize, even if just for an instant, that he is an arse and a bully - and embarassed him in front of all the other people there. What a jerk. What a cruel way to crush you own son's ego completely flat.

Mysterious man in that photo - very nice!

Fri Dec 12, 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous serenity said...

i feel many things reading this strikes me most i think how the damage runs so especially deep when delivered by a person who has power over another...whether as a parent because of being born under that power and children naturally wish to please...or as adults making choices about whom to give personal power to...who we share tender parts of ourselves with...and hope those parts will be kept safe...

in this case i think it is clear your readers (including myself) feel your rage too...i feel it as i honor the young boy in your story and his value beyond what he can or cannot "do" to please his father...honor his value merely because he is valuable...period.

i saw a poem the other day that suddenly occurs to me as interestingly appropriate to share here...i wonder what it would be like if we all were more aware and could relate to one another always as if the words we speak or the touch we give might be the last ones we ever give to that other much more kindness and compassion and understanding there might much more important that touch or those words would be...we always assume there will be another moment...i would have liked to have planted this poem in this boy's father's head as he was saying those words to his son...

"If You Knew
What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?

If you were taking tickets, for example, at the theater, tearing them, giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm, brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase too slowly through the airport, when the car in front of me doesn't signal, when the clerk at the pharmacy won't say Thank you, I don't remember they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.

They'd just had lunch and the waiter, a young gay man with plum black eyes, joked as he served the coffee, kissed her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.

Then they walked half a block and her aunt dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack in heaven have to split?

What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?"

-Ellen Bass

Fri Dec 12, 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger lu said...

You are a hero for yelling over the rail. I had a similar experience and the rage is still hangs on in my gut.

Fri Dec 12, 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger the psycho therapist said...

I, for one, would have loved to witnessed your outpour. I'll bet you were something.

Sat Dec 13, 05:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so glad you screamed some expletive, i wouldnt've been able to take that just standing there i wouldve had to do something or leave or cry out in despair, unbelievable that still happens, sheesh

Sat Dec 13, 09:14:00 PM  
Anonymous anonymous said...

as someone who's been that kid, the kid who got publicly lashed, i can tell you your rage does no good. i'm sorry, to say. it would have been more powerful to begin clapping for and encouaging the kid rather than engaging with the asshole of a dad. but didnt' know and i'm sorry; dont take it the wrong way.
you have courage.

Sun Dec 14, 05:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE the photo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sun Dec 14, 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That type of behaviour really is unacceptable. I see it all the time and it is one of the reasons my son no longer plays competitive sport. It gets me so angry. Unfortunately, I am beginning to see it in other areas too such as academic achievement. Some parents need to get a life of their own and not live so vicariously through their children. *sheesh*

Tue Dec 16, 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Hi, Jonas. Cool hat. *grin*

Tue Dec 16, 05:46:00 PM  

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