Sunday, April 03, 2016

Safe Spaces

Football is a more dangerous game to play than baseball, and the truth of that is coming out now, with all the emphasis on concussions and brain damage.  Because the ball is headed so often in soccer, it may turn out to be a more dangerous sport than we realised as well.  I don't think it is just that we have better medical knowledge now, though that is certainly true and what we are learning does confirm the football stereotype of stupid from having one's bell rung too many times. Yes, we used to call it that, and it was a mark of honor that you were a gamer who would go out and play anyway even when you were already impaired.

We did see it that way - that anyone who willingly submitted to being hit in the head that many times was probably stupid to begin with, and football or boxing was a good place for him.  We did see that the sport itself made things worse, just as we saw that smokers made poor distance runners and cigarettes affected the "wind" of athletes in other sports long before we knew exactly why. We particularly thought that linemen were dumb, and they themselves would kid about it. We have gradually shifted from valuing bodies to valuing brains.  We always considered both important, of course, but

I refrain from three Jerry Kramer anecdotes here, but if you want to review your groundbreaking changes in sports journalism in the 1960's by rereading Instant Replay, a few things that we know now but only suspected then will jump out at you.

And yet baseball has a much higher instant death or near-death incidence. You can get hit in the head with a thrown ball or a batted ball that is solid and traveling 90 mph or more. This is also true for fans, who are now protected in the very best seats.  The very best seats are not protected in football, basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming.  (Hockey, yes.  For similar reasons.)

Therefore, baseball has more unwritten rules.  Many of the unwritten rules are because they have so many games, and players have to put up with each other much more than in other sports, leading to the importance of being "a good clubhouse guy" rather than "a cancer on this team." But many of the unwritten rules about brushbacks, knockdowns, retaliation, and defending your teammates derive from this constant flirtation with extreme danger.  Yes, if you play football long enough you will have chronic pain, while you might get out of baseball unscathed.  But football doesn't have near-death experiences.  The closest thing is "going over the middle" for a receiver, and that is a highly-regulated area that provokes anger in much the same way that baseball does.

In baseball, the unwritten rules create something of a safe space for players, and their desire for retaliation is often because of safe-space violations.


It occurs to me that something similar is happening on college campuses. Students arrive having some unwritten rules about what the college is supposed to do.  I'm sure I arrived with an expectation that they weren't allowed to shoot me or physically torture me, and were expected to follow-through today with what they said yesterday, but I'm not sure I had strong expectations how they were supposed to treat me.  I expected them to not care very much, because why should they? Perhaps the female students saw that differently, as young women were more protected - and fenced in - in those days.

Whether it is the parent or the student that is the customer has changed considerably.  With student loans, the government is much more the customer, and the parent less so.  I certainly never saw myself as a customer in college.  I considered acceptance to be an honor they bestowed upon me, an idea they encouraged.  More subtly, I think they still encourage it. Yet when it becomes a community, it takes on some unwritten responsibilities. A community of scholars conjures up one set of expectations. A simple "community" suggests others, not always compatible.


Sam L. said...

One should expect college life to be different from high school life, and life at home and in your home town, unless your college is IN your home town; and like trying new foods, some things you won't like. Expect it, accept it, and continue on.

Sam L. said...

Sort of related: Excerpt: "Fritz is well known for occasional outbursts when she doesn't get her way, and those flare-ups aren't typically well-received inside City Hall."

Texan99 said...

My college was in my home town, but on the other hand I lived in a dorm the first year, so it was a big change from home in that sense. I can't bring any expectations to memory. Mostly I scrambled to figure out what classes were going to be like and what would be expected of me academically. Dorm life didn't suit me; it was an all-female dorm with restrictions on male visitors that struck me as intolerably Victorian, over-protective, and condescending. (At least there was no nonsense about curfew.) I moved off-campus as soon as I could. It was a fairly small school, with a reasonably personal and caring atmosphere. The professors treated us cordially and with some respect, without ever giving me the impression that they were walking on eggshells to prevent us from encountering any unsettling notions. In all, it felt like a safe environment.

james said...

I was disappointed not to have made it into my first choice schools, and was grateful to be at a place that was affordable. Safe? I didn't feel terribly safe in swimming class (I swim like a rock), but otherwise the issue never seemed to come up.
Maybe I just didn't take the correct courses or hang out with the right crowd to feel put-upon (Physics, Math, Biology, writing, linguistics, computing) (baptist student group, science fiction club, random folks hanging out in the dorm lobby).

Oh wait: I was very shy with women. Does that count as feeling unsafe?