I am terrible at sports. My family didn’t play or watch them growing up. I can’t remember the rules, and I’ve never been to a football game that didn’t make me want to stretch out on the benches and take a nap. It’s just not in my DNA, and I have completely accepted this fact at age 39 (today, actually, because this posts on my birthday). Don’t invite me to your Superbowl party, because I’ll be absolutely no fun.
But as a teenager I hadn’t figured this out yet. I thought that maybe I would get into sports if I just tried harder, so every year in Young Women’s I would sign up and play with our church basketball team. Even being the non-sports person that I was, I could tell we weren’t the best team out there because our practices revolved mostly around learning how to dribble the ball with only one hand. Honestly though, I needed even more basic help, like someone to explain which basket I was supposed to shoot at. (It would mysteriously change halfway through the game, and NO ONE WOULD TELL ME THIS FACT, which it turns out, was kind of important for me to know.) (Although on second thought, I only made one 2 point shot EVER in my entire YW’s basketball career, so maybe it didn’t really matter much which direction I was shooting.)
When I turned 16, I decided to get serious. I opened the encyclopedia to learn what the rules of basketball actually were. (Sadly, what I really needed was the internet because encyclopedias don’t explain how to play sports – but I was living in the 1990s. The internet didn’t exist! I was doomed.) I decided that even if I didn’t know the actual *rules* of basketball, I would make up for it by being extra tough, and super…sporty-like. I went out into my first game of the season mentally prepared to be very aggressive, and to make some shots and baskets (maybe even on the right side of the cultural hall). Within minutes, I stumbled over a tiny 12 year old girl and aggressively pushed her out of my path, then I muttered under my breath, “Ugh, stupid Beehive!”. As soon as those words left my lips however, I felt instant shame. Oh my gosh, what did I just DO?! I just whispered that a Beehive was stupid because *I* tripped over her. She probably knows what she’s doing more than me. I’m a Laurel. I probably just humiliated her and she’s going to go home and cry. Did she hear me say that? Did anyone else hear me say that? Did Jesus hear me say that? I AM SO SORRY I JUST SAID THAT!!!
I couldn’t figure out who I’d even said it about, because there were so many little Beehives wearing matching jerseys running around on the court. I couldn’t stop the game and apologize! I just wanted to lie down and disappear into the floor over the shame of it all, but everybody else was still totally absorbed in this dumb basketball game and there was nothing I could do.
Except – I could be super nice for the rest of the game. I stopped mindlessly jogging back and forth from one end of the basketball court to the other, (occasionally catching the basketball on accident and looking around frantically for someone on my team to yell, “Abby! Throw it to me!!”). I started helping people up who fell over. The moment anyone was bumped I would put my hand on their shoulder and say, “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? You’re doing so awesome!” I became an over the top cheerleader on the court that day (and probably became even less helpful to my teammates than normal), but I wanted so much to make up for what I had done earlier in the game.
I kept doing that same thing the whole season. I couldn’t shake the memory of what I had done, and I kind of liked being the cheerful dork on the court telling everybody how awesome they were, so that became my new version of playing sports. It suited me well. At the very end of the season, they awarded the champion teams, gave out prizes for MVPs and top points earned, and THEN…they announced the person who won the “Good Sportsmanship Award” and it was (drum roll) ME!!! And honestly, it all started because I shoved a little girl and called her a “stupid Beehive” under my breath. That’s what spurred me to win the most beloved award of my entire lifetime sporting career.
We are in a very turbulent time with many people crossing a divide to communicate with people different than them for the first time. I have personally made mistakes broaching the topic of race and racism, and I am sorry for that. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn.
In the lingering embarrassment for those missteps, I’m trying to remember how mortified I felt after saying “Stupid beehive!” during the Syracuse Second Ward basketball season of 1997, and how that spurred me into action afterwards. I don’t need a Good Sportsmanship Award this time, but I still have that desire to be better. All of us will need second chances in our game of life, and sometimes it’s exceptionally painful to give them to ourselves. (It feels so tempting to lie on the floor and just disappear in shame.) Despite that, I want to do better the next time around, and then better the time after that. I want to help my children do and be better than me. And above all else, I want to help create and live in a world of equality and justice for everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like.