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The Truth, Mainly - 05/15/2000

Another Self-Evident Truth has turned out not to be true

It's a traumatic thing when your favorite bias gets undermined. Especially when you're a highly dignified English teacher and you've got the prescribed English teacher bias against jocks.

It was the jock thing that made me chortle audibly last week when John Rocker balked home the winning run with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

Rocker, you'll remember, is the mouthy guy who got suspended for making nasty comments to Sports Illustrated about how New York City is a pesthole of minorities, foreigners, non-English speakers, gays, and so forth.

He's the pitcher who tries to look really mean when he pitches. So there he is looking really mean in the bottom of the ninth with two out, the score tied, a runner on third, and a 2-2 count on the batter. Rocker toes the rubber, scowls an intimidating scowl, and goes into his windup.

And that's when he drops the ball.

Yes he does. He drops the ball and the umpire rules it a balk and the guy on third base trots home with the winning run.

I chortle audibly.

"That," my wife says without looking up from her crossword puzzle, "sounds like the chortle of an English teacher whose bias just got reinforced."

"It's not a bias,"I say. "It's Self-Evident Truth. Jocks devote so much energy to the physical that they have none left for the intellectual and the moral. Thus we have John Rocker, who makes remarks that are xenophobic, homophobic, and really dumb. So when he screws up big, I do indeed chortle."

"On the other hand," she says, pulling a clipping out of her sewing basket, "here's a story about the National Collegiate Athletic Association announcing it's going to move some NCAA championship events out of South Carolina unless the state takes down the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol. And here's another story, dated less than two weeks later, saying South Carolina is going to take down the flag. Whaddya think?"

"Don't bring up specific cases," I say. "I'm an English teacher. I'm concerned about theory, not practice."

"Uh huh," she says. "My guess is that the decision to take down a racist symbol was more heavily influenced by the NCAA's statement than by anything the National Council of Teachers of English had to say."

"OK," I say. "There's one time when jockdom was on the right side. What'll we talk about now?"

"My memory," she says, "is that some jocks have been way out in front of some English teachers for a long time. Check out Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson."

"Don't be silly," I say. "Isn't it time for Ten-Eleven's News Now?"

"I'm not finished yet," she says, and she hands me a clipping from the April 30 New York Times.

It's about a high school linebacker in Massachusetts. His name is Corey Johnson and the story says he was one of the stars last fall on the Masconomet High football team.

The Truth, Mainly


He's small for a linebacker—5-8 and 180 pounds—but a teammate says "he hits like a ton of bricks." He played so well in his first game as a sophomore that the coach gave him the game ball. And in his senior season he was elected one of the team's co-captains.

But that's not the part of the clipping she's underlined. What she's underlined is the part about Corey Johnson coming out of the closet last fall and telling his teammates and coaches that he's gay.

And the part she's got underlined with exclamation points in the margins is the part that tells about what happened after he came out.

One of the other linebackers told him "More than being teammates we're your friends and we know you're the same person."

The coach said he was OK with Johnson's being gay. When the president of the school's booster club told the coach that Johnson should be removed as team captain to preserve "unit cohesiveness," the coach told him that the was the divisive one and that Johnson would remain captain.

And the part that's underlined and has exclamation points and two bars of the "Ode to Joy" in the margin tells the reader about this: when the captain of an opposing team made anti-gay remarks at a pep rally, his coach benched him.

I hand her back the clippings, and there's a minute or two of silence.

"I'm all disoriented," I finally tell my wife. "I need my vertigo pill."

"Of course you do," she says. "It's always disorienting and vertiginous when Self-Evident Truth turns out not to be true."

She says that if my disorientation and vertigo get any worse, I may find myself telling everyone that Tom Osborne, who says politics and football aren't that different, could be the best congressman the Third District ever elected.

But right now, I'm just looking forward to seeing John Rocker screw up big again. It'll be such a comfort.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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