Monday, September 21, 2015

How to defeat the —ism

A recent post, "-isms die hard" captured but two recent encounters with sexism. Since that posting, a number of people have talked to me about their own thoughts and experiences with any given —ism. Often, they are hard to hear, but they are important to listen to and share. And that is the purpose of this posting; I want to thank a coach for pointing out that simple but powerful truth. I believe the only way we can defeat the —isms is to talk and to listen, to reconcile and resolve, name them, own them and let them go.

I am now coaching JV girls' golf. It's an adventure! At our second league meet of the year, another coach and I were shuttling our players between certain holes, checking in on their games, scores and more. I always enjoy talking to other coaches and learning from them. It's not hard to do this in JV girls' golf.

At this particular match, our teams were the first or four teams to tee of that afternoon. That means three other teams (a total of six schools) were slated to play—including one varsity team (read: a team that is better and therefore, plays faster!). In the middle of our match, the coach from the very last group caught up with me and asked me about pace of play. He was respectful and yet I could tell that he was frustrated with the situation at hand. I would be too. His team wasn't even close to the first tee.

About ten minutes later, I checked in with the coach my team was playing against. He relayed what I just heard: some coaches behind us were upset about pace of play and that the course scheduled so many matches on the same day. He added that one coach (who I talked to) was the most exasperated. 

"What did he say?" I asked.

He replied, "He just looked at me and said, What's going on here? Who are you? Are you a parent? Do you work here? I told him that I am the coach." 

I looked at him and I knew what might have gone unsaid. There was a pause in our conversation. I looked him in the eye and I said "Do you think he said that to you because you are Latino." He looked up and looked at me. He could tell I was listening. 

"Yes, I do. I wanted to tell him, you know, I've been the coach here for eight years! I do feel that way, a little bit." He shook his head and said "It's hard."

I said, "I'm sorry. I can't understand what that must be like for you, but I think it's important to talk about. I don't know that we will ever work through racism in this country unless we have the courage to talk about it. We carry with us assumptions and presumptions, they're not right. We have a lot to work through."

He responded by telling me "I have an 18 year old son and I tell him all the time to look people in the eye. Give them the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time, acknowledge how you feel."

It didn't take us long to get back to our coaching duties. In but a minute's time one of our athletes had a question and we kept them moving.

My team lost by all of three strokes that day. I was so disappointed. I know every loss is a learning opportunity, and there are things I would do differently and challenge my golfers to consider. But in spite of the loss, I gained so much from a simple conversation. 

Taken right after these two had killer drives off the 9th tee!
I say that because after our teams shook hands, went through the scores and the top five golfers of the day, I had a chance to thank the coach for hosting us. He said "thanks for coming and playing a good match. And hey, thank you for our conversation. I really appreciate it." 

It was one thing for me to ask the question that I did. Had I not had the experience two weeks prior of the sexism I met on the golf course, I don't know that I would. But equally if not more important, was this coach's willingness to share, open up and then thank me for what we discussed. That's a good day. 

And I think that's a start to bringing the —isms to their final resting place. They die hard....but someday, I if we want them to, they'll be gone.

Photo Credits
Krassner Quote

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