Archive for December, 2013

Coach’s Corner: Retire Chief Wahoo

December 19, 2013

As we head into 2014, now is the time that youth sports leagues around the country are starting to make their decisions about their spring seasons.  In that respect, I’d like to tell you a decidedly nerdy story that I’m hoping might help parents and leagues get out in front on a particular uniform choice.

They don't give the t-ball kids the choice fields

They don’t give the t-ball kids the choice fields

The first time I stumbled into coaching, the team name I was assigned was the Indians.  Despite my loving the first Major League film and having great respect for the long-suffering fans of the Tribe, I can’t say I was thrilled.

Now, it wasn’t the name.  I have to say I never found a whole lot of substance in the fact that using a people’s name as a team name was somehow trivializing of that people.  Quite the opposite, I think that often teams want names that represent something noble that they can attach themselves to.  Given a number of American Indian tribes have seen fit to support team names such as the Indians, the Braves, and the Seminoles, I was more than fine with my kids becoming Wahoo warriors.

The first one is the kind I think you'd find in a very old Looney Toons

The first one is the kind I think you’d find in a very old Looney Toons

It was the Wahoo itself—that being Chief Wahoo, the team mascot—that gave me pause.  The cartoonish, smiling Indian (my friends and I used to jokingly call him “The Horny Indian”) did evolve over the years from a figure that seemed very obviously a derogatory caricature to one that seemed more generic, but, still, it somehow felt wrong having my kids wearing a simplistic cartoon representing an entire culture.  Indeed, I bought a special “I” Indians hat so I could affiliate but not be wearing the logo.

I was delighted after a couple of years to escape the Indians in favor of the Grays, but this past year, my big fella was back in Wahoo wear as his head coach had a Cleveland connection.  My old “I” hat was too beat up to use again, and I was feeling cheap so I went ahead and wore the Chief.  But during the season, I saw this extremely well done picture put together by the National Congress of American Indians of the Wahoo beside two fictional teams:

That picture really put a spot on it.  As a Jew, I would actually be fine with a team called the Jersey City Jews or the Islip Israelites or Hackensack Hebrews or somesuch.  But that logo?  Yep, I’d be offended.

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren't

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren’t

It seems the powers that be at the Major League level, seeing the heat that Washington Redskins are getting over their name, are starting to think the wiser about their old logo.  Indeed, as noted in this Sports article, Chief Wahoo seems to be on its way out.  But when I got one of my big pre-season baseball catalogs in the mail and turned to the uniform section, the only Indians hats they had in stock for teams to order were the ole’ Chief.  They did have the new “C” hats available, but they’d need to be special ordered.

Maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m just another member of the PC police.  But I think if the Major League Indians are getting that embracing the culture of others as a symbol for your sports team is different than caricaturizing it, I think it is even more important for that to be emulated immediately at the youth league level.

Not THAT's a mascot!

Not THAT’s a mascot!

I would call upon all the major youth leagues, staring with Little League and Babe Ruth, to request that their affiliates specifically ask for the “C” hat for their kids, as well as jerseys that say “Cleveland” or “Indians” rather than have the Wahoo logo.  It’s a simple enough fix, and one that I think is overdue.

Let’s leave the silly mascots to the giant wingless birds of the Galapagos Islands (bet you didn’t know where the Phillie Phananatic was from!) and people with unusually large baseballs as heads.  Especially the latter, especially wearing blue and orange.  Yeah, that’s the best one, anyway.

Making Mandela Meaningful to American Kids through Sport(s)

December 5, 2013

Sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. It can create hope where once there was only despair. It breaks down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand. – Nelson Mandela

I’ll get back to my baseball tale soon, but I simply must take the time out to honor the passing of what, as you might gather from this blog, is a personal hero.  Nelson Mandela was such a remarkable man in so many ways, and his journey from nonviolence to armed struggle and back to nonviolence, particularly because the road back was one taken while in captivity, is one of the most remarkable personal tales ever told—and it was told on a global stage.

But while most of us grownups remember Sun City, Biko, and the shantytowns built all over college campuses in the 80’s divestment movement, our kids have lived in a world where South Africa has been a non-issue on the American news stage.  Apartheid is history, and not one most schools teach to elementary and middle schoolers.  So on the day of his passing, I struggled to think about how to make this amazing man connect to my suburban white kids.

And then I remembered the quote from above, and the story of the 1995 rugby world cup that was captured in the movie Invictus, staring Morgan Freeman and Mandella.  I quickly scanned Netflix to see if it was streaming, but, alas, no dice.  Instead, I got even luckier, as the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary The 16th Man was ready to roll, and it is also available in its entirely on YouTube as embedded below.

We boys watched this just a couple of hours ago, and both pronounced it, “Very cool!”  I really can’t imagine a better hour spent with my kids today than watching this.  Much like the movie Lincoln gave you a measure of the full man by taking a small slice out if his life, The 16th Man gives you a sense of this pivotal moment in both South African and world history, and the enormity of his courage and his strategic thinking to bring a nation together that seemed virtually certain to be torn asunder by hatred, violence, and revenge.  I cannot imagine actors doing a better job in relating the personal and emotional journey that the South African rugby team went on than the players did themselves.

I think what makes this great for kids is that, at its center, this is a classic underdog sports story with a magical ending.  But the sport here transcends sports, and shows Mandela in a relatable and heroic light that is both true and resonant for today’s kids.

As we discussed it, my little guy immediately made the connection between Mandela and Rosa parks, and we also started an interesting discussion about the current flap over the name “Redskins” for Mandela took one of the most hated single symbols of the apartheid era, the Springbok of the national rugby team, and wore it on his head and his heart, even in the most uncomfortable of circumstances.

I’m so glad I had the chance to share that moment with my kids, and hope that Mandela’s spirit smiled a bit in knowing that his wisdom will continue to make a difference in children around the world who may not have even heard of him until today.

Rest well, Madiba, the epitome of a life well lived.

Nerds in Jockland, Part 1: Basketball Shorts & My Ralphie Parker Moment

December 5, 2013
And they're reversible!

And they’re reversible!

There I was sifting through Target’s website looking for an exact match for the basketball shorts I had just purchased for my big fella. The winter basketball team he’s played on since 3rd Grade, the Vikings, had for reasons I’ve never quite been able to determine always worn a deep green color. Sporting some Sports Authority gift certificates, I couldn’t resist giving Gus the gift of the one pair of forest green Nike hightops despite the fact they broke my three-digit ceiling for sneakers.

And when we found matching socks, I simply couldn’t abide the notion he wouldn’t have a matching pair of shorts as well. So when I was shopping at Target the next week, I found a pair of charcoal gray mesh shorts with a backsplash of neon green, I held it up to the light like a glass of fine wine to see how the colors blended. And when it seemed indeed to combine into that ideal verdant tone, I was as giddy as my 9-year old on the 8th Night of Chanukkah when he received the Geno Smith jersey he had been pining for all week.

So excited was I at finding costume’s end (and at $10, a bargain!) that I began to hoard every corresponding pair off the rack, thinking without thinking that if I bought out the store, the whole team would, for the first time in their storied five-year history, truly be uniform. Heaven forbid that anyone else see me hold up these holy grails of basketball perfection and steal one away! But before I rushed to the checkout line, I noticed that the crotch of the XS shorts in my cart would probably need to be split in half in order for it to fit over one leg of the average 12-year-old.

And so after having the rare good sense to speak to an employee, I did as he suggested and found the shorts online. Immediately after finding the link, my fingers flew an email to Coach Lindsay, telling her I’d have Gus model the shorts at practice and if she liked them she could suggest everyone get a pair. I noted that I’d even volunteer to do the group purchase to save the money on shipping.

See?  The neon TOTALLY works!

See? The neon TOTALLY works!

When Gus arrived at practice, I tore through the box of brand-new Vikings jerseys and helped Gus to put his on—much to his pubescent consternation. I beckoned Lindsay over to take a look, noting that the splash of neon green would give them a, “Seattle Seahawks kind of look.” “Great!” she smiled. “That looks pretty good!” I kept grinning as she attempted to extricate herself back to her players.

And it was then that I realized those $10 shorts were nothing more than the massive fruit basket Ralphie Parker plops down at the desk of his teacher in A Christmas Story in the quest for his Red Rider BB Gun. Coach Lindsay was forced into the role of Miss Shields, humoring her student uncomfortably as he basks just a few beats too long in the over-the-top glow of his own generosity.

Oh sweet mother of Spock, I am such a N-E-R-D.

Yep, that pretty much sums me up

Yep, that pretty much sums me up.

When my zealous moments give way to the reality that, perhaps, not everyone shares the passion for a pair of basketball shorts, a baseball cap that corresponds to the state bird, or a specialized jersey that harkens back to area Negro League lineage quite as, uh, intensely as I do, there’s always that flash of humiliation.

I’m 7-years-old at Shea Stadium, hearing the laughter of drunken fans mocking me for, “Wearing Yankees pants!” because I desperately wanted pinstripes to match my Mets jersey, but the closest color at the store was navy.

I’m 13 and walking through the Omni hotel in my home-made Dr. Who outfit, comprised of a generously-collared paisley felt shirt adorned with question marks pinned to the collar, partially covered in an oversized black, yellow, and white checked jacket—both unearthed from my father’s disco collection. To top it off, I sported a frayed straw gardening hat with a green visor. I walked, people laughed, and I took 3rd place in the costume contest—out of 3 participants.

I’m 17 and the Woodward Academy basketball star has just ripped my copy of Marvel Secret Wars out of my hand. He waves it around, speaking in a high pitched nasal tone. The words were irrelevant! as I had heard them all before, but my baseball “teammates” showed up to salt the wound with a taunting chant of my given nickname—“Photon”—made just a twinge more painful in that southern “FAW-tawn!” twang that this son-of-a-carpetbagger did not possess.

But, you know what? That Ratatouille flashback is indeed a flash. As I’ve realized that the nerdy passion I bring to my kids’ sports may be the exception, but I think it should be the rule. Indeed, one of the current Kings of the Nerds, Will Wheaton, actually expressly mentioned sports when he gave his now virally famous response to a question at a Sci-Fi convention, when a pregnant woman asked him to speak to her unborn child and say why being a Nerd is awesome:

So there’s gonna be a thing in your life that you love. And I don’t know what it’s gonna be. It might be sports, it might be science, it might be reading, it might be fashion design, it might be building things, it might be telling stories or getting pictures. It doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome… The defining characteristic that ties us all together is that we love things… we come from all over some cases all over the world so we can be around people who love the things that we love the way that we love them. And that’s why being a nerd is awesome. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that that thing that you love, is a thing that you can’t love. Don’t ever let anyone tell you “You can’t love that, that’s for boys. You have to love this because you’re a girl.”. You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.

I would say courtesy of TJ Arrowsmith, but taking this picture was just rude...

Courtesy of TJ Arrowsmith, though courtesy is pushing it

That’s me, Scott Nathanson—Nerd. And the only thing I’d argue with ole’ Wesley Crusher about is the implication that we Nerds need to find people like ourselves to love the things we love. I get it, given the taunts and bullying that so often comes with being a Nerd. I think that makes it that much more incumbent on we grown-up Nerds to be out there sharing the way we love things with others—especially our kids.

In my next post, I’ll tell you a horror story that explains exactly why I believe we Nerds need to put away our pocket protectors, pull up our socks and shorts just a little bit too high, and go take over youth sports.