N.C. Harrison recalls the high school football camp when he and his fellow players received an unexpected hit from a puzzling guest speaker.
Author’s Trigger Warning: Includes a discussion of male-on-male sexual violence.
Many of the most important lessons that I learned in life I learned during my years playing football, in middle school and high school. I learned, first of all, the importance of good, clean hard work. I learned, through getting the wind knocked out of me pretty viciously in seventh grade, how to take a hard hit, get up and hit back even harder. I also learned, perhaps most importantly, how to get along with people from a variety of different backgrounds as, at times, I was one of only about two or three white kids on a football team in the rural Deep South. Considering how closely you live and work with guys in such an environment, corporate diversity training and university classes in cultural studies have nothing on that.
One of the most exciting episodes of my playing career took place during the team football camp I attended between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. The practices were brutal, full contact and full pads for up to ten hours per day in the blazing Georgia heat. Food and rest, unfortunately, were a bit scarce. For food this was probably a good thing; the less you ate, the less you could throw up. Sleep was impossible in a non air-conditioned weight room. We did, however, manage to overcome the heat and huddle together in a big pile like puppies, one night, at the sight of a rather amazing spider scuttling across the Olympic lifting platform. Several of us still swear, to this day, that it was larger than a dinner plate.
In spite of the hard work and lack of sleep, we were teenagers and enjoyed a certain amount of good spirited mischief amongst ourselves. I remember two wide receivers, thinking themselves clever, swinging from vines like Tarzan (complete with battle cry) and almost breaking their fool necks. Another thing that stands out is a a tall, rangy linebacker (he would later play for the Air Force Academy) with cafe au lait skin informing us, after one particularly hard scrimmage, that he was going to, “Get the hell outta this football shit and restart the Negro baseball leagues!” His father had played professional baseball, although not for one of those storied franchises, and I think it held a certain nostalgic pleasure for him to fantasize about. Either that or he had been driven a bit mad by the heat. And finally, throughout the night, we got to hear our center and defensive end play one song together on the guitar—badly. I think it was supposed to be Wyclef Jean’s “Someone Please Call 911,” but you really couldn’t tell. The two of them had planned to form a musical group called “Mookie Black Sings the Blues,” but I’m pretty sure they never did. We’d have heard about it by now, and gone mad from the revelation.
In spite of all this, however, the thing that stands out the most to me from that week is our visit by a juvenile court judge on the last night of camp. We were elated. First of all, this was something we were doing instead of scrimmaging, which was a big deal to us, and we were all in a nervous, restive mood because Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings had died that morning of a heat stroke. Although he played at a much higher level, he was one of us and we had, in a very real way since we were also at training camp, lost one of our own. We were also going to a buffet that night, with the intention (and capability) of closing that place down and getting to see a movie. The judge, I think, was supposed to impress upon us the importance of being good citizens and remaining on the path of righteousness.
He did, in a way, but I do not think that this presentation was what any of the coaches, including the fundamentally insane one who booked him, expected. It took a lot to surprise that man, who had wandered around camp in nothing but a towel while singing “My Girl,” naked because he had been “chafed over ninety percent of (his) body by a pleather couch,” but this certainly seemed to. This man, who used to scream, “I’ve got a chubby and I’ve lost my condom!” to celebrate a really great play just stared in goggle eyed bemusement. All in all, I think he sort of deserved it.
The judge began by introducing himself, and then asked, “Now, how many of you boys ever worry about getting anally raped in prison?” We didn’t know quite how to respond. “Well,” he went on, “I’m here to give you some pointers about how to avoid that. Number one is you got to learn how to suck a dick.”
He went on in this vein for about an hour, and then took questions. One guy asked, “Uh, Mr. Judge, sir… what kind of things would you put a dude in prison for?”
“Oh, you know,” the judge said, “the usual stuff, murder and robbery. Sometimes a traffic ticket, if I’m mad.” No one asked any further questions. One of my closest friends, a nearly 350 pound defensive tackle, just left the room shaking his head and muttering to himself, “That man was not human, dawg, he was just not human!” Most of our coaches were a little displeased with the display and even our distinctly eccentric, but scrupulously polite, head coach pointedly did not treat the judge with any graciousness on his departure. I think they, like all of us, were a little terrified of the man (later to become the myth and legend). Why had he launched into such a strange, careless discussion of male-on-male sexual violence?
Dinner and the movie were a little bit subdued that night, as was camp’s final practice the next morning. I wonder how many of us were a bit warped by that hour long diatribe, if our understanding of human relations was maybe just a little bit skewed. I know mine was, and that I still can’t hear “Someone Please Call 911” without shuddering a little bit… but that might have had more to do with my teammates’ midnight concerts.