I'm not a hyper-dedicated user of social media sites, but I have a Facebook account, and I check it a few times a day. On Tuesday, when the Harford and Cecil County public school systems decided to close down because of single-digit morning temperatures, my news feed was inundated with posts from contemporaries of mine, some who have school-age children, some who don't and some who are teachers within the aforementioned school systems. I don't have any children, school-age or otherwise, so I won't pretend to know what it's like to have to call out of work or arrange some kind of supervision on short notice when school gets canceled for the day (and if you think that disqualifies me from commenting on this situation, stop reading, because I'm going to keep going). Aside from my teacher friends, who all got a vacation day because of the cold, most of the people commenting on the school closures said something along the lines of, "they're letting the kids get too soft," or "they wouldn't have canceled school when we were kids," and even "that's what's going wrong with this country."
I, along with my teacher friends, was just fine with school being canceled, mostly because I get a night to myself when there aren't any high school sports being played (I spent the evening reading and listening to music. It was super exciting.). And, though I'm old enough now to have children who would have needed supervision on Tuesday, I still remember how great it was to get word that there would be no school the next day. I hated school, and I used to pray for it to be canceled, forever. The boiler room blew up, so there's no class for the rest of the year. Dewey, we discovered in scoring your standardized test that you have a 210 I.Q., so we're giving you your high school diploma at age 11.
In bringing this back to sports, because this is a sports column, after all, the complaints and comments I heard from my contemporaries on Tuesday were very close to ones I hear, day in and day out, in reference to modern day sports and the people who play them. They coddle the athletes, people say. Nobody respects the game, says someone. When I was playing football, we did two-a-day practices in full pads and no water breaks (that's an exaggeration, but only a slight one). I used to walk five miles to school in the snow, uphill, both ways. Yeah, right.
My own high school athletic days ended in 1998, right around the time coaches had to start thinking seriously about being politically correct all the time, lest they end up on some Internet news site for saying something insensitive. I was around to see things that would just not fly in today's world (at least I don't think they wouldn't, I might be wrong). When I was playing, if you begged off of soccer practice because of an injury, unless it was something that required a cast, you were told to go sit on a hill that overlooked the field. The hill was known to the coaches and players by a very vulgar name, and I'll leave it up to you to guess what it was. At the end of some practices we had no-holds-barred rugby matches pitting the underclassmen against the upperclassmen, and these invariably ended with someone nearly being maimed. I was hazed pretty badly as a freshman, and when I was a senior I hazed the freshmen even worse. These are just a few examples, but I'm going to leave it there.
I bring up my experiences not to brag about them, because then I'd be one of the people I was just mocking. Rather, I pointed them out to show that, while the world has changed in the 15 years since I last played high school sports, and things might be a bit more well regulated now, being exposed to a shaming and violence as a teenager didn't make me a tougher or better person, at least not in any meaningful, lasting way. I wasn't magically made a man and taught that life is hard during soccer practice. So, I venture that the opposite holds true as well, and that today's youths, who get to miss a day of school because it's seven degrees outside, and maybe aren't hazed so badly by the seniors on their athletic teams, aren't being made soft because they're missing out on those things.
A day of school canceled, politically correct coaches, pre-season summer football practices free of pads. These things aren't making the kids soft. That all happens elsewhere.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun