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Hicks or high-rollers, it makes no difference when sports go bad

by Josh Stewart

Damn, Mom!

I spent the better part of an afternoon telling my co-workers that despite being a 31-year-old, married, home-owning adult, my mother would drag me by my ear to the police department if I were at a house when a rape allegedly occurred.

Of course, I called her that evening, and, as moms tend to do, she threw me a curveball that would buckle A-Rod’s knees.

‘“I wouldn’t do that,’” she said. Later, she added, ‘“You don’t know what you’ll end up doing to protect your child.’”

Well, after a couple of hours calling the parents of the Long Islanders who are currently embroiled in the Duke lacrosse rape controversy, I’ve got a pretty decent idea. My probing was required due diligence, but as with anybody else trying to get a comment, it was utterly fruitless. Two hang-ups, a ‘“No comment,’” a ‘“He’ll be able to comment in a couple of weeks’” and one ‘“Call his father’” had me concluding that it would’ve been more productive to just sit at my desk and do my nails.

I tried and tried to accept my mom’s premise that these parents are going through hell and are just doing the best they can. Sorry, Mom. You did a fine job and need not make excuses for maniac moms and demented dads.

If these parents had done the best they could instead of being enablers of the worst kind, their kids wouldn’t be watching episodes of ‘“Oz’” to try to develop survival strategies in the state pen. There’s a soul and a consciousness missing in these kids. And no, the lack of DNA evidence doesn’t change that opinion. As a fellow journalist said so eloquently to me the other day, ‘“I think these guys are smart enough to wear rubbers before they rape a stripper.’” Whether it caused them to be dastardly enough to commit a rape or gutless enough to erect a five-story wall of silence, this is a story of parents who failed miserably. Unfortunately, this story has turned into one of privilege, of BMW-driving thugs from the Northeast burbs who came down South and thwarted Andy and Barney just because they could.

It’s not.

I know this because I’ve witnessed my fair share of psychotic parental behavior while covering prep sports in small, blue-collar towns in North Carolina. Yeah, I was threatened by hayseed fathers promising to ‘“find me’” for failing to give little Johnny his due. I’ve been chased by girth-laden cheerleader moms ‘— sporting elastic waistbands and bad attitudes ‘— who said after a win how I’d now have to write about the middle-school football team that I had supposedly buried all season.

Talk about kids getting conditioned that they can do no wrong’….

At least I could always count on the coaches to fill the void of ethics and perspective. Well, except for that football assistant coach who exposed himself to a waitress during a break from a state coaches’ clinic. The story goes that he wanted her to see his ‘“brain.’”

And racial insensitivity? Please. You haven’t been disgusted until you’ve heard a wrestler from a backwards locale, after winning a state title for his team against a squad of mostly black counterparts, having to be reminded by a teammate not to use the ‘“n’” word while speaking to a scribe.’ ‘ 

No, this just isn’t a case of Porsches vs. pickup trucks. Everybody, regardless of whether they’re splitting stocks or splitting logs to make ends meet, can easily get lost in the high that is athletics.

And once ‘“sports syndrome’” latches on, it’s hard to return to reality. I’ve had but one experience with the Duke lacrosse team, walking past their bus on the way to cover a Blue Devils basketball game about eight years ago. I still remember the screams of upperclassmen threatening the freshmen for not getting the equipment on the bus quickly enough.

Some call that harmless initiation. But considering the allegations ‘— that Duke’s players morphed from chaotic hooliganism to militant adherence to closed ranks ‘— it’s quite significant. These kids have responsibility, honor and self-discipline drilled into them ‘— as it pertains to the team. But the rest of the world? Hell, that’s just something that gets in their way.

Gee, did I just describe Duke’s lacrosse team, or the Crips and the Bloods? Scarily similar, aren’t they? Remember, this isn’t about money.

What is it about? It’s about this e-mail sent to his teammates by Ryan McFadyen the night of the alleged attack, presented here as it was sent:

To whom it may concern

Tommrow [sic] night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c [dorm]. all are welcome.. however there will be no nudity. I plan on killing the bitches as soon as [they] walk in and proceding [sic] to cut their skin off.’…

How appropriate that I had to put [sic] in there. What’s sicker? The fact that in Long Island, Staten Island, North Carolina, North Dakota and everywhere else there are parents and coaches who will overlook and even conceal such depravity because someone can thrill their hearts with a goal, basket or touchdown.

My wife and I are thinking about starting a family. And as much as I’d love a Josh Jr. who would make up for each and every one of his pop’s athletic deficiencies, I think I’d be happier if he was the kid who chased fireflies in right field then put away his glove and took all the piano lessons I skipped.

Because frankly, this sports culture scares the living hell out of me ‘— both on Easy Street and Main Street.

North Carolina native Josh Stewart covered high school sports for The Gaston Gazette from 1997-2000, before becoming sports editor for the Long Island Press. You can reach him at jstewart@longislandpress.com.

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