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I Got Suspended for Not Joining the Football Team

I Got Suspended for Not Joining the Football Team

I Got Suspended for Not Joining the Football Team

"You can either start living your life how you want now, or be pushed around and controlled by other’s opinions, forever."

ohhBRENT

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.

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.

For about two weeks I endured the sweaty afternoons and the relentless hyper-masculinity and rolled around in the dirt, all for the sake of "conditioning."

Up until then I dodged physical activity (this was no secret), and that reality was ignored by my parents. They were floored when they found out I was training to join the football team. I would come home each day to new equipment and the latest pieces in athletic wear. My sister even acted differently towards me, boasting to her friends about how I would potentially be skipping over the freshman and JV teams and joining varsity right away.

Everywhere I turned football was all anyone wanted to talk about. My teachers had heard the news and would congratulate me, and even some of my closet friends would send their support. No one ever questioned my sudden "interest." Instead it all just "felt right" and made "sense."

In retaliation, I retreated.

I went looking for new friends in different social circles where sports and my weight didn’t matter. I found solace in two classmates who could care less about school, let alone extracurricular activities. We’d start ditching classes (which was great because I got to avoid nosey teachers and the eyes of judgmental classmates). We’d hang out in lunch periods that weren’t our own (which was even better because I got to bury my feelings in whatever the lunch special was for the day).

One day while sitting in lunch, eating Doritos and drinking Gatorade, I opened up to them. I told them how conditioning practice was coming to an end and we’d soon start gearing up for the season. Without saying a word, they knew I wanted no part of it. They could sense how my demeanor would switch up around the football team and how uncomfortable it all made me feel.

Without hesitation, some of the wisest advice I’d ever receive in high school was carelessly thrown at me:

"You can either start living your life how you want now, or be pushed around and controlled by other’s opinions, forever."

I don’t even think my friend understood what it meant to hear her say this. Up until this point, I let the opinions and remarks of others fuel the self-hate that I had for myself. The same self-hate that led me into doing what naturally didn’t feel right for me.

That same day at practice we were given a speech about brotherhood and commitment. All the coaches stood in a line and preached how they respected and cared for us and were looking forward to the upcoming season. Afterwards, they handed out playbooks.

While holding the playbook and looking over the scribbles and plays that read as a different language to me, I knew that this had gone on long enough. I knew that I had to quit. But not today. First thing the next day.

I found my dean and varsity coach in the morning. They were on hallway patrol as students came flying into the school for first period. In one breath, I explained that I had to quit and my reasoning was because "This just isn’t me." I thanked them for their patience and quickly made my exit before they could even say anything in response, knowing I would have to face the varsity coach later on at some point because he was my bio teacher.

Once the bell rang and it was time for biology, I concocted a plan to ask for a hall pass to the library to work on "overdue assignments." I desperately didn’t want to sit for an hour staring face-to-face with the man who began to embody every insecurity that I had. To my bewilderment, he granted my wish and wrote me the pass. Something tells me he didn’t want to look at me either.

While headed to the library, I ran into one of my new-found friends. She asked where I was headed and if I could scribble her name on the pass so we could both go. Without hesitation, I did. A friendly face is what I needed. Once at the library, we were greeted with sideways looks and murmurs from the librarian who was known as a "hard ass." He glanced down at my pass and grunted, signaling access. We felt untouchable (at least for the moment).

While headed to my final class for the day, I was greeted by my teacher carrying a note. She informed me that the freshman dean required my presence in his office and to head there immediately. What could this possibly be for?

I took as long as humanly possible, hoping that along the way the day would run out and I could just go home. Once at his office, I was greeted by him and my biology teacher. They were both standing over his desk.

"Sit," he commanded. I held onto my books for dear life and took a seat. Squeezing down on my binder was the only thing aiding my anxiety. While focusing on everything but their eyes, I noticed the forged hall pass sitting on the desk. I swallowed hard.

"Forgery is a serious offense, as I am sure you know," the dean started. "In most cases, a three-day suspension is typical, but..."

The varsity coach jumped in. "We’re going to make this simple for you: you can either take the three days out, or give your commitment to the football team."

In that moment, two men who stood so tall and so big became so small in my eyes.

The dean took a deep breath, sat in his seat, and opened his mouth to speak. "We’re aware of your hesitation, but we see something in you that you just can’t see yet. The next four years with us will make you a better..."

"I’ll take the suspension."

And just like that, I was up and out of my seat. I wasn’t confused and I wasn’t blind. Not anymore. I saw this situation, and them, for exactly what it is. Here stood two men who saw my black skin, my stature, my build and immediately thought they knew what was best for me. Here stood two men who knew well that football was not a desire of mine, but felt it was necessary to make my introduction into high school hell because of it.

I found myself chuckling. I wasn't sure if I was amused by their desperation for a lineman, or the irony of the words of wisdom given to me by a friend coming to fruition so soon. These men had me, and they knew it. They had pushed and pulled me right to where they wanted me. They convinced me that conditioning with the team was my only choice, and now they wanted to lock me in for four years.

Right there, in that office, is where my big, black ass had enough. And if taking a three-day suspension—that is well deserved—sent the message that I can’t be controlled, I’ll take it.

It would take a year and a semester for me to learn that I was never really suspended. In a meeting with a new dean, I would learn that those three days of "suspension" were marked as unexcused absences. It was all a ploy, a bluff—and I called it. The choice to live my life how I see fit despite my weight or how I look is valid because it is my choice. I am not "less than" because of these choices and in that moment, I refused to submit to that logic.

That day I learned that I already possessed everything that I would ever need to face my biggest fears and harshest realities. The road to self-acceptance, self-love, and honoring the skin and body I’m in would surely take many years and many obstacles to fully come to fruition. Yet, following my hearts desires and living my life on my own terms, despite how I looked or what I weighed has formed an inner confidence that I now cannot live without.

As for the dean and my biology teacher...semesters later they would both face their own scandals and biggest demons, forcing them both out of the school. In truth, they should’ve been more concerned with their jobs and not so much on the big, tall, black kid from the freshman class.

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B. Whiteside

Chicago bred, currently living in New York City. When Brent isn't writing, he loves to binge watch House of Cards and is an avid YouTuber.

Chicago bred, currently living in New York City. When Brent isn't writing, he loves to binge watch House of Cards and is an avid YouTuber.