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  • Reverend James Squire

Football and Women's Status

A friend shared with me an article from the New York Times writer, David Brooks, on why men are not doing as well as women in all areas of life. He has the statistics, but he doesn’t have the reason for this observation. I don’t agree with his implied roots that has caused this disparity. Brooks states, “A system that labels more than a fifth of all boys as developmentally disabled is not instilling in them a sense of confidence and competence. Masculinity has gone haywire. Reverting to pseudo-macho cartoons like Donald Trump and Josh Hawley doesn’t help. The conclusion is that men haven’t found a role.” I disagree on the origin of this perception that women are better than men in all areas of life. If it was reversed that men were superior to women, I would have the same reaction. It reminds me of the days that studies concluded that black people are inferior to white people. They too were wrong! There are three things that cause a group of people to “appear” better than others. They are a shared experience, access, and getting a chance to operate on a level playing field for your starting point has a lot to do with where you finish.

Of all places I see the roots of this crisis of manhood and the answer to the dilemma in football. Remember how much trouble Trump got into when he lost the suburban women’s vote because he referred to them as “housewives.” Defining women’s role as just that was limiting. Both Yale and EA embarked on co-education by including one class of women at a time. What both schools noticed is that it takes a person with a “pioneer attitude” to do this. They had a certain profound positive spirit as “the first” to have access to what men had. With first access comes the phenomenon of a competitive nature when people, men or women, get a chance.

I remember being on the practice squad of our JV team in high school. I weighed 120 pounds and was 5’ 8” tall. The spirit was willing but the flesh just wasn’t there. When our coach would bring a player out of the game and then looked down the bench to us second stringers, my friends and I began to salivate. We would lean forward. We knew we would only get in for just a series of plays to reward us for hard work in practice. I pitied the poor guys on the opposing team for they didn’t know what hit them when we got a chance. When you aren’t in the game and get a chance, you give it everything that you have. Thanks to the feminist movement, women got their chance. It should be no mystery why they excelled. They broke stereotypes that are the heart of racism and misogynistic attitudes.

I learned a lot about the power of shared experience when I coached middle school football at EA. I did it for a limited amount of time because other duties took over quickly. These 7th and 8th grade boys wanted a chance to play (almost as much as their parents wanted it, but that’s another blog). When my co coach or me would look down the bench, “please me” was written all over their faces. They entered the game with reckless abandon. One of the best players on the team was the smallest guy who was tougher than most people I know. His teammates called him “Mad dog.” He was hit so hard by an opponent on one play that it literally turned his helmet around on his head. I already had started on to the field to make sure that he was alive, and he waved me off. He wanted to continue to have a chance to play. I had players who were so excited to get into the game that they forgot to put on their helmet! That’s the power of having a chance. That is the power that black people and women grasped so firmly because they never had it before.

EA is a great school with many varied ways to stand out. But what seems to empower groups of people is when they are doing something together. Shared purpose brings power along with it. It is power that empowers others of the same group whatever that group is. When I attended alumni gatherings in various locations across our country, I would encounter former players that I coached in middle school. They became very important people, but all they wanted to talk about was a particular moment in their experience on that team out of all other positive experiences that they had that has emotion attached. The hedge fund manager didn’t want to talk about his financial success. He wanted to talk about that pass he caught. As an aside I had a quarterback whose father was a very famous professional athlete. I told our athletic director that this professional athlete’s child could throw a ball accurately for 60 yards. His response was, “That’s great! Do you have someone who can catch it?” There is a message there as well.

Men’s origins of finding their role and gaining some footing on what statistics evaluated that they are overshadowed by the accomplishments of women rests in a certain “fire” that has been lost. This will change when they are hungry again to achieve more than others think they can. They need to find that second stringer attitude that a young football player has to be eager to get back in the game. I am not talking about reliving your glory days with you mind. Men need to relive them with their psyche and soul. Any group that is given a chance to play, is going to find the passion to make an impact on society. We need more citizens like Mad dog who was a warrior on the field but a gentleman in all things otherwise who embodied sportsmanship.

One day one of our outstanding football players on the varsity who had heroic stature to these middle school kids came to see one of their games. He had gone to the Roman Catholic school that we were playing against that afternoon. He said, “Those guys are scared of you. They said we can’t beat a team that has a priest as a coach!” I never had time to change between activities and meetings.

Sometimes the collar works for you! I have to admit that coaching that team was like a booster shot for me on difficult days as I could feel exactly what it was like for them to have their moment in the sun after waiting on the bench and leaning forward, looking into the eyes of the coach with that “please me” vision!

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