My kids really enjoy sports. We swim, dance, run, play soccer, do gymnastics and are, in general, an active family. I have always enjoyed watching the kids sporting events. I love seeing them give it their all at whatever they do. Even Bo joined the Dwarf Athletic Association of America this year at their games. He ran track and swam, and he loved every second of it. We compete at whatever level we’re at, and we always have the largest cheering section at the event.
Fall was always my time to enjoy soccer. As my boys aged up it became even more enjoyable to watch them compete. They understand the game, and they truly enjoy playing it. Well, they did. The enjoyment started to wane about this time last year. Stuff started to get in the way. First it was some of the other parents. Oh my gosh. I’ve gotten a little too into the game sometimes too, but I can’t recall a time when our team was up 9-0 and I yelled “Have all our players scored yet? Make sure everyone on the team scores on them!” Really? You’re winning 9 to NOTHING. Our kids are being crushed and you want to score MORE goals? We get it. Your team is really good. Now sit your tube top clad self back in your folding chair and sip your Starbucks, because no one wants to hear another word out of you.
Then it was the other kids. An occasional push or shove is within the boundaries of normal of soccer, but purposely hurting other people isn’t. I brushed all that off though. And, I told the boys to brush it off. People lose their minds a little bit when playing team sports. If you’re really hurt, tell the Ref. Otherwise, try your best to keep on playing fair. Karma will bite those other boys in the behinds, or so I tell my kids.
There have been problems with the organization we play for. They constantly push new equipment, more expensive shoes, and more out of town tournaments at the kids. This has become an elitist sport. I suppose that’s the way of competitive sports, but it’s disheartening. If they want to play, is this REALLY what they have to endure? Do they really need a brand new warm up jacket with their name on the back of it to the tune of $75 every single year? Last year’s was green, but this year it’s BLACK. And, all the other kids have one. Except mine. They never get that stuff, and they’ve said anything to me about it. They have Adidas warm up pants, but not from the catalog. They have the ones from Costco.
In the spring of last season we had our first issue with the lack of diversity within the sport. The city we live in has diversity, therefore, so do the other clubs within the city limits. But, they’re playing other towns now, and those towns are all white. My kids know about tiny towns. We’ve talked about why we don’t travel outside of major cities in our midwestern community anymore. When my boys were cute and small, it was fine. Now they get comments. “Where’s your mama, boy?” Yes, my sons were actually addressed as ‘boy.’ “What organization are you here with? Boys and Girls Club? Fresh Air Fund?” UGH. People see them as a threat now, and not as my sweet little guys. My kids are an oddity to ogle and count all the time. In small towns, it’s worse. I’ve developed an edge about it. So, it wasn’t surprising that when my boys heard the n-word for the first time outside of the pages of a novel, it was on the soccer field from someone who was from one of those tiny towns. We talked about it. We let the powers that be within the administration of the club know about it. We played the same team again the following year. Nothing had changed. My boys were given the choice to continue to play, or to quit and find a different sport, a more inclusive, less elitist sport.
They chose to keep playing.
Nothing has changed this year either. I am white, so no one knows that I belong to the three amazing African-American boys who are playing on the field in front of us. I hear all the comments. “That smallest black one is scrappy.” “Well, that’s probably because he has to be. This city has some rough neighborhoods.” I laughed at that last part. And another time, “It’s nice they let some kids play on scholarship. I wish we could do that to increase diversity on our team.” Well intentioned, that one, but so ignorant. Our city isn’t perfect, by a long shot, but its problems are less overt. I don’t know which is worse, the enemy you can see, or the one that hides within the systems you have to deal with every day.
I don’t say much to these comments anymore. If the comment is truly racist in nature, nothing I say will change anything. That person has made up their mind. My brief interaction with them will be a waste of my energy and will likely take years off of my life. If the comment is merely ignorant, I might let them know those are my boys, and that they’re not on scholarship, because, you know, not every African-American child comes from a rough neighborhood, or a low income home. Just like not every white person from small town America flies the Confederate flag.
Here’s the rub, I’m starting to believe they do.
I’m starting to lose my faith in humanity. That edge I spoke of, well, it’s starting to get a little too sharp. So, today, when Cam came running off the field and told me that another player had shouted “Get that big black boy! Take him down!” and he wondered aloud if it was appropriate for someone to insert someone else’s race in their description of him when that it would never occur to him to yell out “Get that white boy!”, I put an arm around the shoulder that is nearly even with mine now, leaned my head against his and together, we agreed to just take a deep breath.
We did it so that the edge wouldn’t sharpen even further, because he’s starting to get one too, and that makes me so sad. He’s starting to become suspicious of people, to scowl at the comments, even the naive ones. He’s starting to lose that boyish faith that people are really, way down deep, good hearted. I have to do better for him. I have to set a better example of fighting when I need to, but not assuming that people are always ill intentioned. I have to admit though, these situations make that very difficult.
I want him to have the edge, for self-defense, to let him know when he is in true danger. But, I don’t want him to lose who he is to it. I want him to always be the boy that secretly cries over the kids in China who are waiting for their families and remind him so much of his brother and sisters, the boy who adores everything his tiny sister does even when it’s totally gross, the boy who is willing to let his mom put his arm around him in those tough moments because she needs the comfort too.
I want him to always be that boy.
–FullPlateMom, who will try harder, for him.