Monday, June 18, 2012


Maureen Dowd's op-ed piece yesterday in The New York Times summarizes, I suspect, a lot of folks reaction to the Sandusky case revelations. My own experience as a boy was that we kids, or at least a lot of us, knew who the sexual predators were, among them priests, policemen, older boys and girls and—not in my case but in ones I heard of—family members.

Obviously these horror stories are as old as humanity, and society has been secretive about them for that long as well, it seems, with the exception of some artists who portrayed in art and writing, including plays and later movies and TV, some aspects of sexual predation. But what movies can you think of that have addressed these kinds of authority-figure sexual predators outside of Catholic priests? I can't think of any, especially any that address these horrors in sports culture.

I live in a town and an area that for boys and girls is often focused on team sports and team sports culture, the kind that fostered Jerry Sandusky and allowed him to get away with preying on boys. I played team sports as a boy but rarely found older boys or men I looked up to in that arena. I stopped playing either because I couldn't—or didn't want to—keep up with the macho fantasy behavior both on and off the field, or because the older boys and coaches and some of my peers put me off with their adherence to codes and behaviors I found dishonest and often cruel.

My fourteen-year-old had some natural athletic ability as a boy that coaches always wanted to exploit or encouraged him or me to use for their sports and teams (his first day of lacrosse he scored goals and the same in basketball and other team sports back when he was six and seven and eight). But, like me, he didn't like the culture, the atmosphere, the behavior of the teams and coaches he was part of, so he lost interest and ended up preferring the more individualistic sports of skateboarding and snowboarding and inline skating etc.

It feels like the entire community favors team sports above all others though. And despite the stories I hear of angry parents actually getting into screaming matches and sometimes physical fights at games, even when the players are seven and eight and nine etc. and know people who don't communicate anymore with old friends because of fights like that at games, or hear of sadistic coaches or serious injuries etc. etc. team sports still dominate my community, including barbershop talk etc.

Yet the local skateboard park isn't much bigger than the average living room (and in my hometown next door there is no skateboard park), and there's all kinds of laws that prohibit my son from skateboarding around town. And even though kids do it anyway and for the most part aren't issued tickets, older people frown at them or even yell at them to stop. I was in front of our apartment house not long ago when an older woman approached me and asked if my younger son and his friend who had just skateboarded across the street to my car in the parking lot that I was walking to were mine? I said one of them was, and she said they scared her the other day skateboarding and if she ever saw them skateboarding on our street again she'd call the police and make sure they were ticketed or had their skateboards taken away (that has happened to my son already).

It's almost like a bad 1950s movie about juvenile delinquents or a 1960s movie about "youth" and the generation gap. And in light of the Sandusky case seems like exactly the kind of hypocrisy that I grew to hate as a boy and then teenager and continue to as a man. How can all these institutions that supposedly represent the best of adult organization and interaction—team sports, religions, police, etc.—continue to protect sexual predators or just physical cruelty and sadistic or semi-sadistic behavior, while continuing to condemn, or at least censor or prohibit or denigrate, individualistic expression of what is supposed to be at the heart of these institutions, like the art and style and sports that allow for each to express themselves independent of the group.


Anonymous said...

Bloomfield re-did one of their parks to include a skate park for kids from the town. I thought it was great. Inclusion and recognition for the non team kids. Sadly no one is ever there... I am sure there are many in front of their TVs or computers meting their brains.

Lally said...

I'll have to tell my fourteen-year-old and his friends to check out that park in Bloomfield, though it may be restricted to locals only.