I Got Suspended for Not Joining the Football Team

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B. Whiteside

Photo: Joshua Allwood (via Unsplash)

Throughout my adolescence, I was always the bigger, taller, and blacker kid.  At 14 years old, I stood at a whopping six feet tall and weighed a solid 320 pounds. I even started growing a full-on beard around the sixth grade (there must be something in the water, right?). I tried desperately to hide from these facts, but of course, there was no use. 

To put it plainly, I stuck out.

Everywhere I went I was greeted with questions from people like, "Wow, you’re a big guy. You must be into football?" Faking a smile the best way I could, I’d always respond, "No, not really." They’d continue with, "Oh, so basketball is more your thing?" Smiling a little less this time, I'd simply give a "No." Eventually, I would morph and learn to deflect these questions with quirky antidotes and jokes, like "A ballpoint pen on a blank page is the only thing I’m dribbling." I'd get crickets in response.

The truth was, I had no interest in sports. Not even a little bit. Yes, as a kid I was on a baseball team, but I split my time during games either in the dugout stuffing my face with hot dogs or in the outfield picking dandelions. I played football, but that was all in an effort to try and satisfy my father. I remember his eagerness during the car ride to sign up for the team. I also remember his embarrassment when the football coaches informed him that because of my weight I would either have to play in a league with boys at least five years older than me or keep it cute and play flag football.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I would drag my feet to the car, headed to practice where I’d drag my feet up and down the field. But once that final whistle signaling the end of practice blew, I’d sprint back to the car, high-kneeing it the entire way.

While all my siblings and cousins spent summers out on the front porch or in the yard getting sweaty, I was inside keeping cool, buried knee-deep in books. During the holidays when my uncles were in the living room watching sports, I was in the kitchen, mixing pots and pretending not to listen to my mother and aunt's gossip.

I wasted a lot of time trying to trick myself into thinking I loved the things others thought I should, based purely on my appearance and what laid in between my legs. I played myself, and ultimately, this turned into me hating my appearance and hating myself. 

I’d pray for invisibility and practiced the art of stealth. If only I was 100 pounds lighter and a foot shorter, no one would bother me. People would see right through me. For a while it worked (or at least it seemed to?), but it wasn’t until I reached high school when I realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do or say to hide; because in high school, everyone has a target on their back.

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The football team at my high school wasn’t the greatest. They weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great. I knew this not because I went to the games, but because every day I was hounded by varsity coaches and team captains trying to get me to join. The team statistics were usually what they opened with, after, of course, shamelessly complimenting my build and stature.

It all started on the first day of my freshman year. I was standing at my locker during a passing period, switching out textbooks and talking to friends, when I was approached by the dean of the freshman class. He was a tall, bulky guy himself, and he also happened to be the coach of the freshman football team. He introduces himself and tells me how he had his eyes on me since orientation earlier that summer and wanted to know if I’d be interested in attending conditioning sessions with the team. I had no idea what "conditioning" even was, and somehow, he knew this. I tell him that my eyes are more set on student council and the drama department, thinking that would be enough for him to leave me alone.

It wasn’t. Every day, for weeks, he sent upperclassman to sweet talk me and tell me more about the team and all that "conditioning" entailed.

"Just come workout with us," one of the boys would say. "What’s the worst that can happen? You learn a thing or two and get toned along the way." 

I’d smile and push off their advances, but it was never enough.

My friends were floored by this. All the attention from upperclassman began to translate into attention from everybody else. People wanted to know why seniors would descend from their hallway looking for me. Other freshmen aspiring to join the football team would become envious and were confused why my size, and size alone, was enough to warrant all this attention. And rightfully so, since I was confused too! It wasn’t like I knew much about the sport, let alone how to tackle. They saw my size and build and that was enough to harass me.

Eventually, they would have me cornered. I was sitting in homeroom when I got a note from the freshman dean. Inside the note was a new class schedule. I had been switched out of my science class and into another. Thinking nothing of it, I picked up my belongings and headed to where I was now supposed to be. I was shocked to learn that the varsity football coach (who also taught a section of freshman biology) was now my teacher. So, if dealing with the harassment from team players in the hall wasn’t enough, I now had to deal with it in class.

There were a couple perks at first. He'd give me extensions on homework assignments. He’d ignore me glancing over at my neighbors during tests. And he'd give me the occasional hall pass out of his class (and others) and would even allow me a grace period upon entering class after the tardy bell. But as football season got closer, and the time for me to join was running out, things started turning out not to be so sweet.

The same upperclassmen who would fawn and compliment me began teasing me. I would find myself in corners, surrounded by linemen who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be like them. They took me choosing not to be a part of the team as "cockiness" or feeling as if I’m "better than them." Soon enough, my sexuality came into play.

"So…what? You're gay? Is that why you don’t want to play with us?"

"Don’t worry, we don’t discriminate! We allow fags on the team."

Truthfully, I was battling with coming to terms with my sexuality. Up until this point, I was doing good at dodging the looks, rumors, and accusations. Attacking me for my weight and height, I could somewhat handle. But adding my sexual preference on top was beginning to be too much. So, to make it all stop, I caved.

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