Sunday, September 21, 2008

playing games

So, let's pick it up kind of where I left off.

In my last post, I asked you to visualize a couple words. Let's do that again, but now I'm going to add a third:




If you are normal, or, I might say, in the case of many people I encounter, when you used to be normal, you probably imagine kids playing and having fun. I might guess you can almost feel, without putting it into words, the adult view of the pointlessness of kids' play. That they play for the simple goal of play, something that is hard for us to appreciate at times.

Competitive high school sports in California have eviscerated those elements in nearly every game that kids ever used to think was fun.

Oh yeah... that's another word to think about.


In California, as soon as the high school football season ends (usually in November), the following season begins. And this is what it's like: During the season, kids practice every day except Sunday. They practice late into the dark. There is no time for them to get away from their football identity and just be kids. And I'm not even going to gripe about other responsibilities like doing homework. The most criminal part of the thing is that they don't have any time to cultivate their identities and do kid things.

They practice all summer, too... out on the astroturf when the sun is blazing down and turf-level temperatures get up around 120 degrees. Not only do football players in California not have the time to just be kids, they are not allowed to play any other sports, either, since football runs from January to December.

I asked a football coach (yes... he is a friend of mine, but we do get into this argument frequently) why he never lets up on the kids... why they don't stop practicing at the end of the season. He gave me the two most sickening answers I could possibly imagine:

1) Because they'd lose games against all the other teams who practice year round (mantra break... game, play, youth, fun).

2) Because the parents in the community wouldn't stand for it if he didn't produce winners.

Ugh. Taste of throw-up in my mouth.

Jewish boys are forbidden to attend classes on holy days, but their coaches would never tolerate them missing a football practice, no matter what.

I am not making that up, either, as offensive as it is.

Now I'm going to tell you a true story that makes me look bad. Last year, I was working quietly on my computer (I think I was doing some editing for Ghost Medicine) and I happened to be next door to the room where the football coaches were meeting with their high school team. I found myself in that situation quite a bit, actually, and it was frequently distracting because of all the yelling and cursing going on in those meetings. Don't be shocked, parents, remember... this is what you want for your sons. Make them winners. Well, on one particular day it was especially bad. The coaches were screaming and cussing at these teenage boys worse than anything I'd ever heard. Seriously. I couldn't even concentrate on anything else, and I felt almost like a voyeur, fully witnessing this meltdown and abuse of these young kids.

Then I heard the coach actually throwing things. He cussed and screamed, and all kinds of stuff began smashing into the walls. I can't imagine what the KIDS must have been thinking or doing, there was no sound from them at all. Nothing. Just what sounded like a nineteenth-century asylum next door, to me.

Remember parents... this is what you want. Maybe your boy will win the game this week!

And I got up out of my chair. I have a teenage son myself. And I thought, God, if my son was in that room, I'd be right through that door and get him out. But they weren't my sons in there. They were the sons of parents who wouldn't put up with losing a game.

So I was a coward, and I just sat there and listened to the abuse.

The next day I told the coach about what I'd heard. I told him if my son had been in that room I probably would have had him arrested when he started throwing stuff. You know what he did? Moved his team meetings to a different location.

So, yeah... California is killing its boys. You want to turn your son into an illiterate monster, California is the place to go.

And my football coach friends can't deny the logic of my argument. Look, I say... California has about 1/8 the population of the entire United States. Right? Do 1/8 of all boys who get D1 football scholarships come from California?

Uh... no.

Are 1/8 of the pros former high school players from California?


No... most of them come from places that actually allow kids to be kids. But here in California, forget it.

And it isn't just football that is killing our boys... it's other sports and what we do to them in the classrooms, too. So, don't just think I'm picking on football. I like the game, really I do. It's just after all these years of seeing what it does to kids, I've gotten sick of it.

(this will be continued)


-- A. S.