One of the things I have begun to figure out as I have grown older is that there is a story behind every headline. So often I scroll through the news and I read some sentence fragment in bold print and draw critical and judgmental conclusions from it. But the more I live the more I realize that I get myself in some situations and there are a handful of small steps, some of which aren’t all that irrational, that lead to whatever situation I happen to be recounting in my head. There is, of course, at each step the option to walk away…but we’re all human beings right? We all have the “fight or fight” instinct, right? Wait…wasn’t there supposed to be an ‘L’ in there somewhere?
So this past winter I was at my son’s basketball game. He was 10 years old at the time and on a team of 5th and 6th graders. Remember that 6th graders are technically middle-schoolers now so we’re not talking about tiny little children running around here. One of the kids on his team has a very ugly (please shave it now!) dark but not whiskery teenage mustache. One of the kids clearly has BO.
The point is that while these are kids, they are kids who are at an age where they need to be playing the game by the rules. And, as with any youth sport, the referees are a total crap shoot. Now I’m not talking about literally firing guns at feces here, I’m talking about the dice game craps. Or, as Mama always said, youth sports is like a box of chocolates.
At this particular game our family had a pretty good turnout. The folding chairs line the sideline and we occupied 7 of them. We were near the end of the court and were seated as follows: my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my dad, my 3 year old son, me, my wife, my 8 year old daughter, some guy, his 8ish year old daughter.
Well my father-in-law, John, gets into any game he attends. Doesn’t matter if it’s minor league baseball or youth soccer or church league softball…John hates poor officiating. And he’s vocal about it. He also happens to look exactly like every adult male cast member from Duck Dynasty. So his manner is abrasive when it comes to being a spectator. I happen to be similar in that regard, but I do my best to be sensitive to the fact that someone’s parent is likely sitting somewhere near me.
During this game the referees were seemingly calling some rules but not others. Two of the things they just kept allowing were travelling and double-dribbling. For you non-sports folks out there those are the rules that relate to how you have to bounce the ball while moving around on the court. They are foundational to how basketball is played. So when the refs kept not calling it John would bark something and then I would yell out something like “come on! You’ve gotta call that!”.
After another of these incidents a voice came from my left. “Are you guys coaches?” I ignored it because nothing good could come from walking down this path. 15 seconds go by. “Are you coaches?” I turned to him and played dumb “What?” “Are…you…coaches?” “Are we coaches?” “Yes. Are you coaches?” “No, obviously not. We’re sitting over here. (as opposed to the other side of the court with the team)” “Then shut up.” “These kids need to learn how to play the game the right way.” “F%@# you.”
Screeeeeeeech….this thing just got bumped to a whole new level. I have some decisions to make here now. This guy is sitting next to my sweet little daughter. My wife is between us. His daughter seems unfazed so I can only assume this guy acts like this regularly and she’s going to grow up with a warped sense of what being a human living in a society is supposed to look like. Decisions, decisions. My blood is pumping.
“You’re going to say that right in front of my kid, huh?” (More slowly this time) “F % @ # YOU”.
There are certain lines you do not cross with another man. I don’t pull out this rule often, but I do believe in it. One time a neighbor who I like and get along with was mad that there was cat poop in his bark dust so he flung it all over onto my walkway and my house and I nearly stepped in it before I realized what he’d done. There are certain lines you don’t cross with another man. I gave that neighbor a pass on that one but I did talk to him about it and let him know I was aware he was flinging crap at my house. And had he done it again we would no longer be cordial neighbors.
Back to this situation at the basketball game…there is no solution here that will not leave me with regrets. I was at a cross roads. Either I can do what really SHOULD be done and tell the guy to follow me outside and break his nose. But then I end up in the newspaper tomorrow (or the following Thursday…whenever it is the newspaper actually gets delivered anymore). And that leads me back to my original point: every headline has a story. Everyone to the last person will read the headline about the two guys who got in a fight at the youth basketball game and shake their heads and talk about the demise of society as morons are fighting over youth sports. But this wasn’t about youth sports. This was about learning life lessons about how not to conduct yourself with other adults in front of their spouse and children. I truly believe even now I SHOULD have punched this guy. And a very big part of me regrets not doing it.
What I did do was say “You’re a really classy guy. Class act.” And then full on turned my back to him. Now the astute reader is remembering that my back turning, while demeaning to him, has left my wife and daughter kind of isolated by this guy. I thought about that too. But the truth is my daughter didn’t know what this guy was talking about. And had I traded places with her I’m almost certain we would have fought. It’s an aggressive move and I was literally trying to stay out of the newspaper, really.
A few minutes later a hand came into my vision. He was trying to shake my hand. “I’m sorry.” I looked at him. I almost shook it out of pure instinct…someone extends a handshake you usually take it, right? “Last week the parents were pretty out of control and I got pretty worked up.” So I looked him right in the eye and said “apologize to my daughter.” He did. She had no idea what was going on. I think he extended his hand to me again and I turned my back again. That’s the last I saw of him. Never looked at him again.
My wife says I should have accepted his apology. And to an extent she’s right. But my point is that he needs to learn you don’t go where he went. I don’t know who’s right…maybe we both are.
Good news though! I didn’t end up as a punchline at the water cooler. I didn’t lose my reputation or job. I didn’t get a black eye. All I lost is a little bit of self-respect. But I don’t really count that up very often anyway.