I know we are coming ever closer to the French Open. At least I’m pretty sure we are. The redesigned Women’s Tennis Association website is so hard to follow that I deleted it from my browser!
But before my readers think I’m posting again about tennis, I need to change the subject quickly because my thoughts about professional tennis tours can wait. In fact, I began this post about a weightier subject, to use Quakerspeak, on Friday evening after I read this horrifying news report:
The 11-year-old girl was relentlessly bullied. And the culprit, police say, were her teachers. One of them told the girl to “go kill herself” and threatened to fail other students if they didn’t fight the girl, police said. And when that teacher was removed from the classroom, a second teacher allegedly kept up the abuse.
The local sheriff who was notified said he learned about the accusations a few months ago after the girl’s mother filed a complaint. She did so again in April because her daughter’s abuse continued. Deputies said a teacher at the girl’s school “threatened to fail three of her students if they didn’t fight the girl. She allegedly told the bullied girl to ‘go and kill herself.'”
The teacher was finally removed and the class was taken over by a former teacher’s aide who allegedly retaliated against the bullied girl. Cameras caught the aide pushing the girl onto school bleachers.
The sheriff said the girl’s mother was right to report the bullying.
I’ve been an athlete most of my life, but I wasn’t exactly encouraged to be one. Most young kids when I was growing up played hockey or baseball. Many hockey stick bruises preceded by “hit the fag” puck shots scarred my legs and brain. But I still love skating! There’s nothing like muscle memory.
Tennis was a different story. “Hit the fag where it counts” was a common refrain by even my own teammates in high school, but the added dimension here were coaches who either pretended not to hear or did but asked the guys “to respect tennis etiquette.” Why yes, rather than suspend my teammates for at least one league match or for the rest of the year, the coaches reminded them about etiquette!
The head tennis coach was also one of mother’s teaching colleagues and was actually a nice guy. Years later, when my mother mentioned how grateful she was that he encouraged me in tennis, I burst out laughing. I told her that he and many of my teammates made me mentally tougher.
No laughing matter, though, was my swimming instructor. He would have all high school boys sit on the bleachers, ask a few stars from the swimming team to demonstrate how to do the butterfly or a new crawl, and then have almost all the students get in the pool to try the new strokes.
Almost all the students.
I was usually told, along with another student who was a very talented musician, to stay on the bleachers. The swimming instructor, who was also the high school coach, would then tell me and the other young man to get in the shallow end and walk to the other side of the pool. He would cross his arms and encourage the students to laugh as we walked through the water.
I hung in there for a while. Finally I told my mother, a teacher legend in her school, why I was skipping swimming class. I thought she would be upset with me as I was the kind of student who turned in homework early! Instead, to her credit, she was livid with her colleague, the swim coach.
I was lucky. In my era, many young gay guys might not have had understanding parents. I’ll never forget one evening as a teenager, in tears, telling my mother I hoped I was not a homosexual. She hugged me and said she knew that I would be someone very special.
No bullying should be tolerated — ever — and adults should know better, especially teachers. I’m proud of the 11-year-old student whom I read about on Friday. I was that 11-year-old student, and for that matter 14-year-old, even 17-year-old student. I’m grateful for all the teachers, including my mother, who looked out for me, especially in an era when many of their colleagues stood by or to some degree encouraged the bullying. Many thought I would grow up to be a real man for getting through it. I’ll forgive the coaches and teachers who stood by without saying a word, but in today’s world in the United States, there should be no more excuses.