Monday, December 17, 2007

My Athlete's Better Than Yours

I've been working in the sports department of an Erie newspaper for a couple of months now, and it's a pretty great job. I've always loved sports, and all I do here is watch, talk and document things that pertain to sporting events. It's great.

Since working here, though, I've been re-exposed to something that I'd hoped I would never have to deal with again, at least not anytime soon.

This would be the overbearing and clinically insane parent of a youth or high school athlete.

If you've been around sports as long as I have, or even for just a short amount of time, you know exactly who I'm talking about: the guardian who, for some reason or another, believes that their child is better than any other kid in the school, county, state or country, and that they should be treated accordingly.

Every once in a while, a parent will call into the paper and ask a question about why their child wasn't considered this, or not selected for that.

For instance, last week the paper ran a fall sports photo album in their weekly high school sports section, called Varsity. It just consisted of some of the more memorable pictures of kids from the year: a girl wearing street clothes and a knee brace performing for her school's colorguard, a kid crying after getting spanked in the football state playoffs, a group of morbidly obese high school football linemen screaming with shaved heads and faces painted like Mel Gibson's in Braveheart,and I guess a few others that I would actually want to look at sometime. (Sidenote: I did not have anything to do with selecting these pictures of fat, flag-waving, or blubbering children.) Parents have written letters to the sports editors pissed out of their minds and ranting like they're Bill O'Reilly at a U2 concert because their children were not included in a five page long photo album.

It really annoys me, the way that these parents seem to believe that even though "their little Ronnie" is short, fat, slow and white (characteristics they apparently cannot see), he will someday make it to the big leagues, and they will ride his coattails to wealth health and happiness, and then they will be their to mourn with him when he meets his downfall after a long and drawn out rape, murder, assault, drug or steroid abuse case.

This will, no doubt happen. These kids are going to be big time, but a paper in Erie might jeopardize that if they don't include the budding star in a newspaper photo album that, quite honestly, nobody gives a fucking peg leg about except the people that are in it and like, there families. It's not that big of a deal to have your picture in the paper. Maybe your grandma will call, or your History teacher will hang it in the bulletin board towards the back of the room right next to his map of Greenland, but it's not going to do you any good.

A couple of the guys I work with were discussing it just this evening at work, and one of them said, "You know what's weird about this? These people are adults. I mean, grow up," he said. "I'd understand if maybe a kid wrote us something, but you never hear from the kids."

Maybe because most of them don't get too hung up about it. Maybe because you don't get blown for having your picture in the paper dribbling a ball. Kids have more important things to worry about, like the next dance or that Saturday night when they can smuggle three of their dad's beers to their room and watch reruns of South Park until the sun comes up.

I've known kids that have had parents who were so worried about their athletics that it kind of messed up their lives. I was friends with a guy whose father had him transfer to a different public high school because of his basketball career. He got busted--because this is an illegal thing to do--and he had to sit out a year. This kid may have been a long shot division I recruit, but when he returned the following year he played terribly. Now he plays at a school that has one of the worst division II basketball teams I have ever lain eyes on.

Other kids have had fathers that held them back a year in school, so that they could have that extra year as an advantage for sports reasons. These same kind of guys will try and coach their kids any time that they can, and they preach a me-first attitude that doesn't really help them with what will actually get them recognition in the first place: winning.

Sports are awesome, and I love them. They're such a great passtime, and I spent a great deal of my life playing them, especially basketball. I wanted to win, and I liked having my picture in the paper, but never once did my parents get angry whenever someone else on my team got their action shot in over me, and neither did I. It was, and never really should be, about that.

And it shouldn't be about your parents. The worst thing for many of these kids may be that their parents are running their lives, and they will continue to forever. If they put your sporting career on such a high pedestal and attempt to intervene in it with such vigor, what will happen when it ends? They'll do the same with your professional career (which probably won't have anything to do with a sport), and they'll try to control you forever.

Whenever I got to college last year and fell under the tutelage of a coach that was kind of like a facist dictator, I stopped having fun. (I wasn't allowed to wear earrings or have my hair semi- long or express myself in any personal manner, and that was just off of the court. I still, to this day, don't know what his deal is/was.) I was very fortunate, because when I discussed "retiring" with my parents they were understanding and allowed it to be exclusively my decision. When I did definitely decide to leave the sport in a competitive sense, it was hard because I've always loved winning, and it was difficult to comprehend why it wasn't fun anymore. I realized after a while that I was lucky to have had fun the entire time I was in high school, because a lot of kids are pressured so heavily by their overly proud nutcase parents that it's difficult to even have any fun as a child.

It's not fair to a kid to have a parent that badgers them about sports all the time, and it's not fair to the people who cover sports to get letters concerning the lack of coverage their kid or team is getting. If it's deserved, it will come, I think.

So, next time you see a soccer mom with a cooler full of human growth hormone, whey protein, and a phone book with a list of agents, set her straight.

In high school, it's just a game. Not a media circus, and it should be viewed that way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Subliminal Christmas Movie Messages

Every year I get extremely excited about the holidays. Towards the end of November, I start to get a little bit giddy about them, actually. I'm not the only one either. It's always been noticeable to me that around the time of Christmas, people are happier and good deeds seem to become more commonplace.

A big contributor to my ever-enhancing Christmas spirit are a number of classic Christmas movies. The first one to come to mind, obviously, is A Christmas Story, which is my favorite. Hands down. When it starts playing everyday on TBS, you know that Christmas is coming.

I could go on for days about that particular movie, but I've got no issues with it. It's kind of like how I could speak lovingly about Jessica Alba's looks for days on end, but I would rather take stabs at Drew Barrymore's acting abilities. There's just more to talk about.

Anyway, a couple of nights ago I was sitting in my apartment watching another one of my favorite Christmas movies. The old version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the version in which the characters are made of clay or something and move around like they've been stricken with a horrible case of osteoporosis.

I hadn't seen the film for a couple of years, (I had been slacking. It'd been replaced in my life by watching the O.C. Chrismukkah episodes over and over again.) and was absolutely shocked when I watched it.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is an apalling movie. With the exclusion of Remember the Titans and American History X, it's got the most outwardly discriminatory plot line ever.

Now, I know the song outlines how Rudolph was an outcast and stuff, and the whole story was kind of a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of deal, but the movie just takes it to an unneccessary level.

The movie begins in a cave where Rudolph has just been born. His parents notice (after an uncharacteristically long time, I thought, since a red blinking nose is pretty fucking noticeable) that he's got a very uncommon deformity. His dad is immediately pissed about it. I found this odd, but just figured he was a little unsettled that his son had a blinking nose, and that he might end up gay or something. His dad came off as pretty alpha-male, even though he hung out with dudes named Dancer and Prancer and had the ability to fly.

Things really got weird whenever Santa came in, though. Here's this guy that is supposed to be the face of charity and a deity to children telling a guy that his kid has no chance of succeeding in anything because he has a red nose. To put this into human perspective, it'd be like Vince Lombardi coming into your home two minutes after your birth and telling your father that you'll never start at quarterback or do anything significant because you have a cleft chin.

Santa threatened that Rudolph would never make the sleigh-team if he didn't grow out of having a red nose. I was mortified.

So, as so many do when their offspring are different, the parents tried to hide Rudolph's nose. And, as so often happens, a girl got him to reveal his different attributes (on accident, this time).

Rudolph's girl (I can't recall her name for the life of me) says that he's cute, so then he starts flying around, and he does a better job than any of the other kids. After this he's rubbing antlers or something with his friend, Fireball, and his black nose cover comes off, revealing his bright and shiny red nose to everyone. He is immediately shunned by everyone. Sidenote: This is arguably one of the most subtlely weird parts of the movie. Fireball is the first person to persecute Rudolph about his nose which is strange. First of all Fireball is a terrible terrible name, and you'd think he'd get made fun of a lot for that. Even worse, the reindeer dubbed Fireball has a patch of blonde hair on top of his head between his antlers. That's just as weird among reindeer as having a fucking red nose!

So after all of this, Santa has to come up to Rudolph's parents and be a huge dick again. He talks about how Rudolph could've been a great member of the sleigh team, but now that is nothing but a dream since he's got one little deformity (which I haven't stated before, I don't even think it is a deformity. A red nose is pretty cool if you think about it, though I guess I wouldn't want one).

Most of you know how the story goes. Rudolph ventures out on his own, bonds with some other misfits (on that island, and he hangs out with the elf that wants to be a dentist) who are really not that bad but have been shunned by society.

Then, finally, the guy that's been shit on by reindeer society for his entire life helps to save his family and his broad with the help of the elf-dentist and (my favorite character) Yukon Cornelius. They do all of this in insane conditions. They must outsmart a tenacious abominable snow man and escape back to Santa's neighborhood. All of this happens during a snow storm that is threatening to cancel Christmas.

Then, when Rudolph returns, Santa--who has been a colossal asshole this entire story--asks him to guide his sleigh because of his red nose. The red nose that he has been ridiculed over since the day he was born.

Now, if you take it at face value, this seems like an okay concept. The loser gets to save the day and also get the girl, and he gains everyone's respect and admiration. Rudolph opts to be the "bigger man" and save Christmas, helping Santa and his minions to avoid criticism from children the world around.

But, I urge you to look at it from another standpoint. This film sends out a bad message to kids. It basically tells them that it's fine and dandy to take shit from people, and then when you have a chance to impress them and gain their admiration, you should jump at it.

It's like getting a swirly once a week from the class bully but then gaining his admiration when you break the nerdy kids glasses at recess when you frogsplash him from the monkey bars, instead of befriending the nerd and refusing to do what everyone else feels is right.

If I'd have been Rudolph, I would have said, "Fuck you people."

Because really, in that terribly vain fictional world he was living in, getting the toys out promptly on Christmas Eve should've been the least of their worries.