Talkin' Trash in the Berry Patch

Adella played a beautiful game of basketball yesterday. She, as my neighbor who knows all sports puts it, is a great "ball handler." She can dribble that thing any way you want it and get it the hoop so a teammate with upper-body strength can shoot the thing. She's a fast-moving and coordinated 48-pound third-grader.

So why was she crying into her pillow an hour after the game?

Because No. 5 from the Middlebury Pink Ladies team told her she hated her for guarding her and taunted her every time they were near each other on the court. The "I hate you" did in a little girl who seldom hears those words and never before has heard them directed at her.

Dad to the rescue: "That's trash talk, and it's unsportsmanlike. You give her a trash talk smile and let it go." Men are smart, practical, and in the moment. When the moment's gone, so is the problem. Oh, to be a man....

The tears continue; so does dad: "Players do that to get inside your head because if you're thinking about them and what they're saying, you're not doing what you're supposed to do--which is play the game. Don't let her in."

Ah yes, dear, but girls don't forget quite so quickly. Next morning Della says to me over breakfast: "Did you notice she played out of bounds most of the game?"

Me to Della: "Yup, but the coach didn't say anything, and neither did the ref. She came in when she wanted to."

"How come the coach didn't say anything or the ref?"

Mother to daughter: "Winning is everything in Middlebury, and that's what they teach. Your father teaches you to play well, and that little jerk couldn't handle you."

The world has too many of this kind of abuser in it. They are hateful, hurtful people. As my mother would say to me, "Think they're worrying about you? They're off doing their thing, so you go do yours." Somehow, the idea that people could be so cavalier and casual in their cruelty always deepened the wound.

How is it a stranger, a nobody in my daughter's cosmology, could rob her of joy so swiftly? How is it cruel people--people who tell us we're worthless, who use us, who badmouth us behind our backs and insult us to our faces--have so much influence on the quality of our experiences?

My daughter will never forget No. 5 and trash talk. Will my daughter remember that No. 5's team won by 28 points and could have afforded to be kind? I won't let her forget that cruel people do business wholesale.

No. 5 didn't have it in her. My sensitive little girl does, though. Please God, we will build her up good and strong so nasty blow-ins won't hem her into a life of fear of abuse.

I had a lifelong friend whom I loved more than any other friend I had ever known until he killed himself in 2001. He was gay, and his suicide capped off years of being judged and slammed and laughed at and discussed. Later that year, after 9/11, my pastor, who knew both of us from our childhood, said he thought some people were just too gentle for this world.

What an indictment of this world. Lord, have mercy.


  1. He Who was the most gentle was murdered by crucifixion by a hateful mob when He was only 33. And He asked His Father to forgive them...

    Last night, I was eating dinner at a table next to a frustrated mother and an eight year old handicapped boy. He was mentally deficient, with an oddly formed face; his mother understandably doted on him, as she must all of the time; and he was playing a DVD player with a nice, melodious soundtrack throughout the meal. As I left, I stopped by his table, bent over to him, and told him privately, "I liked your music. It was very nice." His mother teared up, and told him to say "Thank you", which he, looking a little self conscious, obediently did.

    It cost me nothing; it gave him a memory that not all strange men are evil; and it gave his mom a chance to be proud of her son.

    Adella saw the opposite of that, and now she will see the nice side of people. Her opponent, of course, is the future Britney Spears / Paris Hilton of her generation - human detritus beneath scorn. Good for you and for her Dad!

  2. Thanks for that great story, Greg. Wow. It's amazing, the electricity you can generate with just a drop of kindness. There really is no energy shortage in this country--we're just not looking on the inside of the obvious places. I know a veterinarian who might be willing to administer distemper shots at the next game. There must be a cure for spoiled white suburbanites!

  3. Anonymous8:27 PM

    There are too many coaches coaching children at a young age who care themselves too much about winning.

    We all know that scoring more points than the other team feels good, even when you're young.

    We all know that winning does become more of the thing as kids get older and play in middle school and high school.

    Some of those coaches who think of winning too much when kids are young forget that learning the right way to play is the key at that young age.

    The right way to play is not just learning the fundamentals of the game, but the fundamentals of sportsmanship, too.

    Sportsmanship is becoming a lost art. The kids who aren't taught it now are going to be the coaches of tomorrow, and the arrogance they learn to show when they're little will be visible in their players.

    Trashing talking turns into showboating, which turns into taunting, which turns into roughhousing.

    We need a Sportsmanship U, and we need it fast.


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