Things left unsaid can haunt us

There has been a lot of commentary on the George Floyd and the Ahmaud Arbery cases. The tragedies seem pretty clear to me, although the Arbery case hits closer to home as it happened not only in my home state but near the Georgia coast that I love so much.

When you put a gun in someone’s hand, they get a sense of power and authority. When you put a gun in a racist’s hands, you exponentially ramp up the chances of a tragedy like what happened in Glynn County. And the guy who pulled the trigger in Glynn County was not just a racist but a racist idiot. Just way too much going on there for the guy to responsibly have a gun.

As for George Floyd, clearly much needs to change, and I believe much will. Perhaps we can start with this: When a man face-down in handcuffs tells you he can’t breathe while you’ve got a knee in the back of his neck, give him the benefit of the doubt and stop.

These are big and current issues. I hope we fix them because they shock and horrify me. But there are smaller and more distant issues that actually haunt me.

For instance, I can turn around right here at my desk and see a few high school yearbooks — some mine, some belonging to my wife, who attended a high school about 20 miles from my hometown. I didn’t know her back then, but I’m almost certain she passed me a few times in her town and stuck her nose in the air to snub this guy she probably thought was a total dork. Well, I’ll have her know that she couldn’t be more, uh, well, absolutely right.

When I look back in those yearbooks, there are many things of old that jump out to me. One, yeah, I was definitely a dork — and, yes, I use the term “was” very loosely. Another thing that jumps out to me now and I never thought about back then was that we had two homecoming queens and two homecoming representatives from each class — one white girl and one black girl.

It troubles me that I never thought anything of that in the 1980s when it looks so blatantly wrong now. My school was majority black, so I assume the white powers in charge at the time did it so the court would not be all black girls. To me, it was just the way things were. It was a given. To teenage me, that seemed fair enough. You could even spin it to say that the setup offered the opportunity to twice the amount of girls. That way, a dork like me could clap for 10 girls who wouldn’t give me the time of day instead of just five — not that it was permissible to ask five of them for the time of day back then.

There were many such things like that back home that I just didn’t think about. By the time I was a sports editor at a small-town paper, though, I began to see things a little more clearly.

The day that haunts me most was while I was covering a private school baseball game in the early- to mid-90s. It was one of the many private schools in south and middle Georgia founded in the mid- to late-1960s. (I’m sure the timing of their founding was pure coincidence, having nothing to do with the fact that schools were being desegregated back then and everything to do with their faith, the Jesus-was-white kind of faith.)

Anyway, the home private school team was playing a squad that had — gasp — one black player. I guess that school hadn’t gotten the memo. Before the game started, I was getting my camera and stat sheets ready while the local team’s pitcher warmed up with his catcher. They were two kids I really liked, and they were both talented. In fact, they were both drafted by Major League Baseball teams after their senior years.

The catcher looked over at the other team and then told his pitcher, “Hit the brother.” The pitcher nodded. I may very well have been the only person to hear them. I was disturbed, but figured it was just stupid talk. I mean, I really had liked these kids, so I didn’t want to believe they were that sinister. Yet, every time the black kid came up to bat, the first pitch was a brushback fastball dangerously just under his chin. The batter’s coach said nothing. The pitcher’s coach said nothing. The umpire said nothing. The batter knew exactly what was going on. He said nothing — he was way outnumbered.

Worst of all, I said nothing, and I reported nothing. I wrote just another story about a baseball game.

And that haunts me still today.

Leave a Reply