High School

“How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?… Yeah… Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.”, Uncle Rico, Napoleon Dynamite. 2004, Fox Searchlight.

“Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state.” op. cit.

“You gotta be a football hero
To get along
With the beautiful girls.
You gotta be
A touchdown getter,
You bet.
If you wanna get,
A baby to pet.” –
You Gotta Be A Football Hero”, by Al Sherman, Buddy Fields and Al Lewis

I can’t remember with absolute certainty in which grade I was when, as a member of the school chorus, I was made to sing “You Gotta Be A Football Hero”. But my recollection was that it was ninth grade. Written in 1933 it’s very much an expression of its time. Unfortunately, by the time I was singing it in 1979 it was still an apt expression of the time.

In rural Central Pennsylvania in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Football was the sport. All others were also-rans. At the time, the football team got brand new tear-away jerseys for every game. My two older sisters both played field hockey. They played in uniforms that had been in constant use for probably ten years.

I was not, by nature, athletic. I had been a member of the local swim team for many years, but I was never very good at it. I tried wrestling for a little while. I dallied with tennis. I gave cross country a spin. I was not a football player. And I found “You Gotta Be A Football Hero” to be an idiotic affirmation of the dominate prejudice of the time: the jocks got the chicks. And they were permitted a broad latitude in behavior that was not tolerated amongst mere mortals such as myself. As a result, the bullying (mostly emotional, but sometimes physical) that many experienced, myself included, at their hands went unpunished.

On July 26, 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced the reversal of the policy put in place by the administration of President Barack Obama, which permitted transgender individuals to serve openly in the armed services of the United States.

I would have been upset about this decision, regardless of circumstances. But my son, Zeke, had just come out on July 8th. That, of course, made it much more personal. This was a policy intended to discriminate against a specific group of people. People like my son. It made me angry.

So, as an expression of solidarity with Zeke and others, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to the following:

Trans Rights

And I went about the rest of my day. We were on vacation, at the time, in Ocean City, MD. So, I went to the beach with my family. I came home, and took a nap in the afternoon. I cooked shrimp scampi for dinner for the family. A whole stick of butter, lots of garlic, plenty of lemon juice and white wine. We had a nice evening together, watching TV. Checking in with Facebook, I noticed that my new profile picture was generating a lot of positive reactions: lots of thumbs-up, smiley face, and heart emojis. One friend even checked in via private message to see how Zeke and I were doing, in light of the President’s announcement. I was appreciative of the support. The evening wound down, and we all went to bed.

I woke up about 6:00 the following morning, because I’m 52 years old and my bladder is not as elastic as it once was. While I was trying to generate enough personal volition to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, I checked in with Facebook to see what was happening. I had received the following series of comments from someone with whom I’d gone to high school.

Tim B. : Eric, i served, did you? Don’t be fu***ng sayin’ everything is everything if you haven’t been there shmuck
Tim B. : Ya little wuss
Tim B. : Didn’t you play flute in the marching band while we were on the football field breaking bones….get a life

Emotionally, I was immediately back in high school. I felt a familiar flush rising to my cheeks and my ears, and the mix of anxiety and fear that I had experienced when being confronted by Tim and others like him. And the lyrics to “You Gotta Be A Football Hero” started running through my head. But those feelings quickly gave way to anger. And then, after some deeper consideration, the realization that while Tim’s response is one that is readily found in public, it’s one which is diminishing in its prevalence. It’s also a response that’s grounded in fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of that which is different or falls outside the experience of the average person; fear of a world that’s changing and the recognition that there’s little we can do to affect the outcome.

The fact of the matter is that public perceptions and attitudes towards the LGBT community are changing. For the majority of the millennial and post-millennial generations, the LGBT “issue” is a non-issue. And the millennials and post-millennials are coming into their own socially and, more importantly, politically.

Of course, Tim’s comments were all public. As a result, one of my daughters asked me who he was. I told her that he was someone with whom I’d gone to high school, but that he’d never left. Another friend responded with a private message: “It’s a long ride deep into the heart of Crazytown”. Indeed.

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