The Many Ways to Take a Hit

The swamplike air flooded into the car as Jeffrey opened the door, his face flushed bright red and his eyes swimming with tears. It was his first football practice, and despite my reservations, I had agreed to allow him to play- and while I expected him to be muddy and tried after practice, the furious tears were disconcerting.

“What’s wrong!?”

He shoved his backpack and bag angrily into the car and slid into his seat, arms folded, brows drawn down and scowling furiously while trying to fight back the tears. I was imagining him to be tired, or to have not been able to complete the drills to his own satisfaction. I was not imagining what he said next.

“No. NO. I’m never going back. Take me home mom. Please take me home!” Concern and surprise showed on my face, but he continued on, his whole body showing his indignation. “Is a coach supposed to swear at his team? Is a coach supposed to say GD and the S word and say the F word to a kid??! It was horrible mom! Take me home please!”

Stunned silence for a moment on my part. I’m thinking…huh? These are sixth graders, first week of school, at a school sporting activity. The teacher SWORE at them? and not just once, but over and over?? I attempt to calm him down, and ask him a few clarifying questions. Did the teacher swear at everyone, or just him? Did he say other things? What did he say? And what did you do?

It was a very emotional and wrenching few minutes, but it turns out this coach thought saying “I don’t f*cking care how you feel, move your G**-damn ass and run!” were perfectly acceptable for a team of eleven-year old boys. After two hours of this, Jeffrey told him, in tears, that he wouldn’t listen anymore, and he walked off the field and went to the locker room alone.

Fury doesn’t even begin to cover what was settling into my belly.

My goal was to get Jeffrey home and then reassess and call the school. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, we had to drive by the football field, and I saw the coach walking alone. I ripped the car to the side of the road, and told the kids to wait, that I would be right back. I did not raise my voice, and I did not attack him. I politely introduced myself and said who my son was.

He asked if Jeffrey was okay, that he’d left the field a few minutes early. Yes, I know, I told him- and I asked him quite pointedly- never raised my voice- “Why don’t you tell me what happened.” He gave some brief explanation of first day drills, blah blah blah. Yes. I understand that. Did my son tell you not to speak to him a certain way before he left the field?

“Um… yes. I’m sorry about that…”

At which point, still calmly, I reiterated everything Jeffrey had told me, including pronouncing all the words Jeffrey had only given me the letters for, and letting their vulgarity hang in the air. The color drained from his face. I asked him if this was in keeping with the school’s conduct for teachers and rules about profanity in the classroom, and what I should do with my son, who now lost all respect for his coach and didn’t want to come back to football. I asked him as a parent what he thought I should do, what HE would do if he were in my shoes.

He asked me not to tell, and spent several minutes apologizing. I told him I wasn’t to whom he owed an apology, and he walked towards my car with the intent of talking to Jeffrey. Jeffrey wouldn’t open the door or even roll the window down. I didn’t make him. The coach came around to my side of the car, and I let him lean in to speak to Jeffrey. He apologized. Several times.

I met with the principal this morning. I’m not out for blood, or even for this young coach’s job. I am out for reparative and corrective measures of behavior and coaching philosophy and an apology to all of those boys.

I am aware that there is some degree of tolerance for vulgar behavior among the sporting community- a wink and a nod to “boys will be boys”, but the truth is, abusive language is never acceptable, and I don’t believe the best coaches resort to it. The best coaches inspire with their example and with motivating the athletes rather than shaming or humiliating.

It’s posted over the entrance of the school on a large banner in school colors— School is a safe zone; kids are not to be bullied, humiliated, intimidated, threatened, or verbally abused. In talking with a friend about how to handle this today, she made an interesting observation, saying  “It makes no difference if abuse or vulgarity is traditionally “part of football culture”— It shouldn’t be.  If sexual harassment or racism were “part of the culture” should a child be expected to tolerate it in order to participate? This is not a decision a kid should be faced with in order to enjoy sports or any school activity.”

I’ve given Jeffrey the weekend to consider if he wants to continue with football. My worry is that what could have been a good and enjoyable experience for him is now going to be tainted and he will not wish to be a part of sports.

On a tangent, and I know it’s not a clear simple situation, but I could not be prouder of my boy for standing up, as hard as it must have been, and saying “no more!” and then walking alone to the locker room. Once again, my son shows me what courage looks like, and I am humbled.

30 thoughts on “The Many Ways to Take a Hit

  1. What a sweet, brave boy. Way to go, Tracy, for speaking calmly to the coach and letting him know he was way out of line. I’m so impressed with both you and Jeffrey.

  2. Tracy, I applaud the way you handled the situation. I have a tendency to be so hot headed, I was waiting for you to rip in to the coach when you went to speak to him. No wonder Jeffrey is such a kind hearted boy. You set a great example for him. This is a good reminder that the response to violent and abusive language shouldn’t be more violence and abusive language, even if you are the victim.

  3. Oh I was hot-headed, Gwen– I just knew my conduct mattered here and I had to be taken seriously for my own behavior if this moved up the ladder. I would have loved to have torn into him, and it would have felt good for a second. But then I would have had to live with myself afterwards.

    Doing the right thing is so hard sometimes.

  4. A suggestion from someone who’s never been a parent. So take it with a grain of salt … 

    Jeffrey should be urged to return. Not required, but urged. The coach apologized. It seemed sincere. Life is about second chances — and this is an opportunity for Jeffrey to give the coach a second chance. Life is also about follow-thru. He joined the team, he owes his choice to play football a second chance as well.

    Just my 2¢.

    • Agreed, CH. I am urging him to “get back on the horse”, such as it were. I am not going to make him, but I think there is a powerful lesson in this if he does. I only wish his first experience wasn’t such a terribly memorable one.

  5. I’m so proud of you. We are going through a not-so-similar/not-so-different situation back here in Washington where our observation of Sunday’s as a sacred day is being mocked and challenged–and while it pales in comparison to what Jeffery went through at football, it all comes down to this: How can adults be allowed to behave in a way they themselves would not want their child treated, in order to achieve success in things like sports/drama, or whatever the activity is? How come leaders can treat children with such disrespect and disregard, and it can be passed off as “part of the sports culture” or “just the way it is in drama”? Where do we, as parents, draw the line? And at what point do we stop metering ourselves, yank the gloves off, and let somebody have it for what they’re making our child do/say/feel/experience??

  6. Way to go, Jeffrey! Geez! What a terrible way to start off! And way to go, Tracy! I’m in awe you were even able to keep your wits. I’d have been spitting nails and, like you said in a previous comment, probably would have regretted ripping into him later. I’m so proud of your boy. He has more integrity than most.

  7. I am SO impressed with Jeffery! He showed such courage and knows his worth and value. It makes me sad and angry that a teacher behaved in such a manner. I hope that he has also learned a lesson from this.

    Good job, mom for teaching your kids how to live!

  8. I’m so proud of you. You showed your son exactly how to maturely and respectfully act in that situation. My heart aches for what your son endured, but with a mother like you, I know he’ll get through it and be better for the lesson you taught him.

    • Wow! I LOVE that Jeffrey knows who he is, and that he will not be verbally abused even when other boys are watching. I am so happy that he would stand up for himself when he is not only the “new” kid, but the only one taking a stand. So impressive! I think you handled it beautifully as well. I’m glad you didn’t back down and that the principal was involved. You have a great family!!!

  9. What a tribute you you as a mother. What an outstanding young man Jeffrey is. What other child would have told his coach what was what. Seriously what respect he deserves, and what you deserve for allowing your child to develop the confidence he has. seriously Bravo.

  10. You are an amazing mom! I am highly impressed at how well you handled that difficult situation. I’m glad you didn’t keep his secret. I’m proud of your boy for standing up for what he believes in and walking away. That had to be difficult for him to do.

  11. In a similar vein, my daughter was at soccer practice and the boys playing football were on a field right next to us. The football coach repeatedly told the boys to “not be a girl”, “not throw like a girl”, “not run like a girl”. I wanted to end that guy’s life. I got sick of it and went over and asked him if he realized GIRLS were right next to him kicking butt on the soccer field and he should knock it off. I felt it was abusive to both girls and boys. I’m very happy to hear about parents and kids sticking up for themselves.

  12. I am almost in tears. You have the most amazing son. I’m so glad that he had the courage and self-respect to stand up for himself. I’m glad you made sure the coach knew what was wrong. I find it very distressing when we tell kids that they have to treat each other with kindness, no bullying, etc., but then we let those they respect bully them. We teach them that “no bullying” is only a rule for kids – adults can bully all they want. All that the kids learn is that it’s okay to bully others as long as you are sure that you’re stronger, bigger and certain you won’t get caught. Not a good lesson to teach kids.

  13. Bravo, Jeffrey! And Bravo to you too, Tracy! Thanks for setting an example of composure and decorum to those of us young mothers who might be a little hot-headed and sharp-tongued. I’m working on softening my own interactions and you are an excellent inspiration.

  14. I’m trying to decide how I would have handled this. And I’m pretty certain I would have had less grace and clear-headedness than either you or Jeffrey. So proud of you both. And I wish you luck with deciding what to do next. Sounds sticky.

  15. I absolutely LOVE how you handled it – that you approached him calmly and didn’t raise your voice. He didn’t have a chance, that way, to put up a wall of defense and you were able to let him know how his actions affected the boys. Awesome!

    I love that Jeffery wouldn’t put up with it. Many kids would have. You’re doing a great job! :-)

  16. Love how you handled it. there have been many times that I would have loved to rip into someone for different reasons, but since my two girls were present, I decided I didn’t want them to see me get out of hand….so restraint was the choice. Please keep us posted. I hope Jeffrey goes back and reports how the environment changed. It bugs me how coaches of young boys think it’s ok to behave this way…that it will “toughen ” them.

  17. Thank you Tracy for standiing up to one of the bullies in this world. This coach should NOT be allowed to be around children, IMHO. On a compasionate note, perhaps that is how he was raised BUT this is YOUR child and no one should speak or act that way around anyone’s child. I have great respect for you in dealing with this in such a calm and adult way. Keep up the good work…blessings

  18. An experience this extreme can’t be isolated. This coach needs help. And while he’s getting it, he shouldn’t be alone around the kids. Jeffrey wasn’t the only child that day who was subjected to the coach’s inappropriate abuse. He was just the most courageous and sensitive to it. So despite the fact that the coach apologized and doesn’t want anything to happen, I’d be really cautious about letting him “get away with it”. He was completely out of line. Creep!

  19. What a courageous and brave thing for Jeffrey to do. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up for bullying, especially when it’s coming from someone in the position of power. I am not sure if I, at 30, would have had the courage Jeffrey had, to speak up for what he perceived as wrong, when the rest of the kids on the field weren’t saying anything. You have raised a strong son. Please let him know I have so much respect for his decision to speak up for himself and not tolerate being yelled at.

  20. You have an amazing young man there, willing to stand up for his beliefs. So sorry he had an unpleasant experience, he deserves better.

  21. I am in awe of you both. I am so sorry for the horrible experience for you both but so impressed with how each of you handled it. A lesson for us all. Such good points too that it is never okay but especially inappropriate for a coach/teacher to speak this way to students. Bullying is bullying is bullying. Bravo Jeffrey, you are one confident young man!

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