Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Mr Trump's Language Has Backfired: Lessons From a Brooklyn Coach

In the late 1980's and early 90's, most of my spare time was spent coaching CYO basketball and sandlot baseball. My teams, based in St. Saviour's parish in Park Slope, played games all over Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. At that time, New York was a racial tinderbox, with killings of Black men in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst producing huge protests and bitter counterdemonstrations. There was tremendous tension in the city, affecting people in the neighborhoods which fielded teams, many of which were highly segregated . Our multiracial teams from Park Slope played all Black teams from Red Hook, Farragut Houses and Flatbush, while competing against all white teams from Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Marine Park Howard Beach and Rockaway.
How did the coaches, families and players handle the tensions surrounding them? How did they prevent basketball games and baseball games between kids from different neighborhoods, and from different racial backgrounds, from devolving into fights, riots and communal warfare?
The answer was very simple. There was an unspoken agreement among the coaches, parents, and referees that in the heat of closely contested games NO ONE WOULD EVER MENTION SOMEONE'S RACE! You could insult a player by referring to his weight, height, size of his butt, the way he walked talked or shot, but never ever by referring to his race. You could call someone an asshole, but never a Black or White asshole.
People stuck to this rule religiously and the result was that in more than 10 years of coaching, there only one game I coached that turned into a riot even though many were hotly, even bitterly contested. And that one exception was when white parents form a parish in Marine Park claimed that a black player on our team was intimidating their kids and use a racial term to get their point across.
The lesson. to me is clear. People in public life, if they want to prevent tensions from exploding into violence, have to refrain from openly attacking people by race, religion or nationality, even when they are angry.
Mr Trump failed to follow that rule and now we are about to reap the whirlwind.