I felt a chill run through me as my palms became clammy from nervousness. This was supposed to be fun, yet, I no longer wanted to be in that room. Fear and worry for the players on both teams, coursed through me, as I felt my heart rate increase. I sensed more than heard the chanting as it turned into taunting, then to full-blown encouragement then cheers when negative action was taken. It was obvious that the spectators were goading them on; while the players were feeding on the negative energy as it manifested and grew into a hideous beast, to cling and devour its prey. This game was not going to be pretty. All I could think about was that I needed to get out of that gymnasium, and get some air.
I was no longer watching a competitive basketball game; I was watching a war unfold in front of my eyes and it made me ill. I have played and been, to many basketball games over the years. Games that was so competitive that at times I would catch myself holding my breath in anticipation of the next move from either team. Some of those games, my favorite team would win and as such is life, some games would be painful losses. Yet, with the excitement of true competitiveness and good sportsmanship from the athletes, and spectators, the losses were accepted and praise abounded for a job well done on both sides. It was painfully clear, this was, and would not be, one of those games.
I would like to be able to say, that, it was only the students that were doing the taunting from the stands. It would have been easier to brush off, stating, because of their youth, they did not understand or maybe have not been taught what is appropriate or inappropriate to yell and chant.
No, I cannot say that, because a good portion of the encouragement of retaliation came from parents and other adult spectators. Retaliation did come, quite swiftly in fact, and often. I caught myself wincing more than once as I saw players deliberately trip and shove opposing players. Each time, I would breathe a sigh of relief when they stood back up and no serious physical injury evident. They were lucky this time. I no longer cared who won or lost - I wanted the game over.
Why, as a society, do we teach our children that violence needs to be reciprocated? We oftentimes follow the mentality, that if we are struck, then we must strike back! How great would it be, to go to a game, and instead of all the swearing, taunting and encouragement to draw blood; what if we instead stand as parents, family, friends, faculty and students, as one, in verbal silence while clapping slowly. What a great message of support it would be to our team saying through our solidarity, we see you. We see how you are being treated, and we do not like it. We support your decision to not reciprocate with anger but take our energy and remain strong and in good sportsmanship. It could be taught to the players, when they see this, it is to mean that they are to remain strong, play hard, but play with integrity.
Mr. Carbone taught me this lesson in high school. I was the angry student/athlete. The world/life is against me, student/athlete. Not many people messed with me. During one particular game, where another player and I were getting extremely, physically nasty with each other – he pulled me aside and asked why I was retaliating. My response being, “she started it – I was going to finish it.”
Coach Carbone then asked me to do one thing – stop retaliating and play the game the best that I could. No more, no less. “The only way a fight can continue is if there are two or more people allowing it to continue. The choice is yours, Kelly.”
I did not like what he was saying, but I knew he was going to pull me from the game if I did not adjust my game. So, I didn’t respond when she shoved me as I was going up for a lay-up (even though my hand fisted, and I wanted to deck her), landing hard. I did get both of my foul shots. It just about killed me, but I did not respond negatively, when she kneed me in the back of the legs, or jammed her fist into my ribcage, as she was defending me. Instead, I focused on my shot. After time, the crowd started to see her brutality to me, as did the referees. No longer was it ok, because no longer was I returning the brutality. That was one of my highest scoring games ever. That was, also, one of my greatest life lessons.
Some of the changes we have made against violence in our society was not from returning the violence. In fact, the complete opposite, it was made through positive action and words.
“Words are alive. They are living, breathing things. They cling to you. They get into the air then into your hair, your pores, the walls, and the floor.” - Maya Angelo
When I heard Maya Angelo make this statement, I got gooseflesh. Finally, someone spoke aloud what I believed. I have heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I disagree. Words are so much more powerful.
Think back to the first time when you heard someone tell you,”I love you,” the words wrapping around your heart in a silent hug. Then, as time went on maybe heard the words, “will you marry me?” Again, maybe, flash forward years later and that same person coming to you and saying, “I want a divorce.” Words are powerful.
If you have children, remember the first time you heard the words “You are pregnant.”
I remember those three words. I remember that excitement of learning that a child was living and growing inside of me. I remember the happiness thinking of the possibilities of a future with a baby. Those three words were music to my ears. I also remember, nine months later, as a nurse whispered in my ear, while stroking my hair in comfort, “I am so sorry, your baby has died.” Feeling the crushing pain as I held that tiny baby in my arms, wanting so much for her to breathe again, yet knowing she never would. I remember the sadness and despair those words brought to me. Indeed, words are powerful.
Tell a child often enough that they are stupid – they will believe you. Tell a child often enough that they can do anything – be anything – they will believe you. The word choice is yours.
Words are alive, they have energy, and they elicit emotions. Words can incite anger and riots – but they also can inspire hope and the possibility of something better.
I have seen athletes tear each other apart. Leaders and teachers, that should be building up the youth, only to tear them down – sometimes, just for the simple fact that they are not quite good enough, in that persons point of view. Instead of embracing who that person is as an individual, instead, the person is grouped together and rated, analyzed and then it is determined that they are just not good enough.
I have, also, seen athletics play their heart out, showing sportsmanship, by helping another opponent up after being knocked down. I have watched as an athlete approach another player after the game, shaking hands while acknowledging the well fought battle, while conceding defeat. All choices made by the individual. I have watched teachers, not just list the academic faults of a student, but also the wonderful things they see in that students character and work.
We can make a positive difference through our words and actions - or not - the choice is, and always will be our individual one to make.
Kelly Ilebode is a Malden resident and published author. If you would like to visit her personal website, you can go to www.kellyilebode.com