Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Unsportsman-like Conduct

John Fitzgerald Kennedy JFK may well be best remembered for his famous “Ask not…” inaugural speech, or perhaps for his leadership ushering mans first steps off this planet in to space. But I will remember him for “The President’s Council on Physical Fitness” and how this policy forever created a hatred for competitive sports which smolders within me to this day.

First off, I wasn’t built for sports. I was usually the smallest and lightest kid in my class. Of all the classes I hated most in high school was Physical Education. Competitive sports were alleged to supposedly teach cooperation, teamwork, and camaraderie. Instead they taught me that only the strong deserve to survive and that the tenuous and shallow pursuit of personal “glory” is an underlying value within the American psyche.

You can therefore correctly assume that I was indeed the last one picked, before the wheelchair kid, when choosing up teams for sports. I was the brunt of much hatred and name-calling merely because I was not skilled in throwing, hitting, kicking, passing or catching any form of ball. Mistakes are not well tolerated in sports. Were executions a legal part of the sports program I likely would not have lived beyond my second month as a Freshman.

During the previous two years of pummeling at the hands of bullies at junior high, I had learned fairly well how to run. Now as a Freshman in high school, my buddy talked me into signing up for Cross Country with him. That first year, I was the third slowest kid on the team. By the
time Track season rolled around in the Spring, the two slower guys had dropped out. I kept at it because it was hard and I needed to do something hard. During our two weeks track instruction in PE class, I enjoyed brief status. The other kids quit when they got tired or their sides started to hurt. I left them in the dust.

By my Junior year I was my school’s top Cross Country runner and top Two-Miler. Some of the PE coaches took notice - most finally conceded that this short skinny kid was indeed an athlete. But one coach wouldn’t.

It was during two weeks of boxing instruction in PE. Coach Asshole was matching up kids of simi
lar height and weight to spar in the ring (just mats on the gym floor actually). -- This day, this sadistic bastard matched me, the smallest kid, against the biggest guy in class. I guess he thought it would be funny.

Now back in those days my Dad was a huge boxing fan. I would sit on the couch with him and watch the Friday Night Fights from Madison Square Garden. Dad and I would watch Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson while he drank a Pabst Blue Ribbon with a dash of salt. Dad would explain to me the nuances of the sport of boxing; the strategy, drawing in your opponent, back-peddling, feinting a throw to gain an opening. He called it part dance, part sport.

There I stood on the mat in PE class surrounded by the guys. I turned my body to the side to present the smallest possible profile and put my gloves up to protect my face. I danced… left, then right, then again left… God, this moose was at least a head taller than me. But unlike Rocky and Sugar Ray, Moose was stupid – when he would cock his right back to throw a punch, he would drop his left and hand exposing his face. JAB – reaching up, I threw a left jab to his face then feinted back. His right hand swung in a big empty arc through the air, coming nowhere near my face. Dancing, left… right…. Moose again winds up for a right cross, again dropping his left hand and exposing his face – Bam, my left jab catches him square on the nose.

Moose repeats this same mistake over and over again. By now Moose is beginning to fatigue from throwing right crosses that only create wind and suck his endurance. On the other hand, Track Star has endurance on his side and showing no sign of tiring. Moose is stumbling over his own feet now… both hands drop as he looses his balance. Bam – I deliver a right cross to Moose’s jaw. There’s no way I’m going to hurt this guy, I don’t have the upper body strength nor the mass in my hand so do any damage… I’m going for style… and to show Coach Asshole that I am an athlete.

“Time” someone yells and a towel is thrown in, the fight is over. Moose has never laid a hand on my body the entire fight; I have delivered at least a dozen or more left jabs on his fat face and a right cross to his jaw. If anyone had been keeping score, I would have won the match. In my mind, Coach Asshole’s silence affirms my win. That Friday night, I tell my dad about PE class – he is proud.

A few years later I notice that my Dad has stopped watching the Friday Night Fight on TV. “The fights went crooked.” he explains when I ask. There's a cold glass of Pabst on the coffee table; he’s watching Laurence Welk.


Mary Witzl said...

I loathed P.E. and hated that whole President's Fitness thing! I was the skinniest kid too, and also the most uncoordinated. Only the morbidly obese and disabled kids in the class were chosen after me. I didn't even care until I was in high school and rejected as an exchange student because, as one teacher put it, "American kids ought to look good in sports." To this day that makes me seethe.

I could never run, but I'm a great swimmer. I can swim for miles. Wish I'd been able to show my coach that in high school...

Charlie said...

A most excellent fight, Robert. You described it well.

Similar to your dad, I quit watching baseball (my favorite spectator sport since childhood), when the steroids thing came to light. And juiced balls. And cork bats. In my mind, Hank Aaron will always hold the home run record—not the drugged up fraud Barry Bonds.

(I have a tendency to ramble off topic.)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Mary: Oh my, swimming was even worse for me. We did it in the dead of winter and I was always freezing. Yet another nail in the coffin of my sports participation.

Charlie: Willie Mays lived a block away from me when he played for the SF Giants... and the only black man who lived in our town. Today players don't care who they play for.. just how astronomical their salary is going to be. Indeed, what's the point!?

The Mother said...

I, also, loathed PE and carried that into an adulthood that finds me on the treadmill and in the weight room rather than tennis courts.

I married an athlete. Sometimes, I'm so stupid it surprises me.

He has been terribly disappointed that the kids got my brains AND my athletic ability. If I had to pick, though...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dr.Mom I do the Nordic Trak in winter, ride my bike in nicer weather. I purchased "his and hers" bikes, but "hers" gets little use.

I love to go out during Super Bowl or other events and enjoy crowdless public places. I have no interest in sitting for hours in front of the TV watching sports which I find repetitive.

None of our kids are active in sports, though I wish they were active in some form of physical exercise. They are all pretty svelte, as was I until... I hit 40.