Sitting at the cool table

I didn’t go to a typical high school.

I was lucky enough to end up at a Catholic, all boys college prep school, that I still am confused as to how my parents ended up affording. We didn’t have your stereotypical lunch cafeteria when I was there. We actually didn’t have a cafeteria at all. Any food that you could purchase for lunch was served at the tiny concession stand inside our gymnasium. There were tables and benches set up for eating in the room next to it, which also doubled as the wrestling practice area after school. Our options were to go off campus (if we were allowed), go into the concession area, or eat in the outdoor areas all around the campus.

Because of this wide-spread sector of nourishment options and lack of a female gender at the school, I never really got to experience the type of class and clique system in the proverbial high school cafeteria that you see on TV or in the movies. I guess throughout our quad, the areas around the gym, and the various stretches of grass and trees scattered throughout the campus, there were plenty of places for cliques to form. And for the most part, they did form. However, it was never bottled into confined quarters of testosterone, estrogen, pubescence, and student body pyramids of hierarchy.

The beauty of the cafeteria battlefield is the anatomy of the tabletop barracks. Jocks, high school socialites, and the preppy bunch rule the entire land. From their ivory dining slabs, they oversee the entirety of the cafeteria. They govern what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. They decide whether punishment should be doled out swiftly or through weeks and months of incessant teasing and public ridicule to break those who dare exist in their world. Subjects are relegated to sub-groups. Mathletes and literary nerds all have their own tables and sections of the room. The emo crowd all listens to Hawthorne Heights at their table while they discuss whose parents are the worst. The normal-ish but lower middle class to upper lower class kids are the threat. And therefore they’re appropriated to the far corner of the room, in plain view for the rulers to keep an eye on while keeping themselves from their “eventual hired help.”

The reason that everyone breaks off into cliques is because during our high school days, we’re constantly being measured, prodded, judged, tweaked, broken down, built back up and made more vulnerable than is possibly humane. The majority of it is due to a pungent waft of insecurity. Whether you’re climbing the rope ladder in gym or the social ladder everywhere else, you’re always being tested and having to climb up. Our instincts are to do so in a friendly and kind way, but we’ve been conditioned to view kindness as weakness. Instead, we dog pile onto the constant hazing and genitalia-measuring that happens.

The crazy things about this entire escapade are 1) we all actively participate in it in some way during our time in high school and 2) there are people who carry these actions well into their adult years. Everything becomes showing just how much tougher you are than those you feel threatened by. We pretend that we govern over the sporting world, much like we either did or wished we had governed over the high school cafeteria. We can’t differentiate between the real world and the adolescent world we once traversed through.

We judge athletes as soft. But why do we do it? Can someone who takes the risk of dedicating their life to having a drive many of us can only imagine to be exhausting and ultimately unfulfilling truly be a “soft” individual?  What is it about ourselves that makes us pretend we would never cry after a loss or we would stand toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest of the NBA if given the same physical attributes?

In the Daily Dime Live the other night, I was posed the query of whether I thought Chris Bosh or Kevin Love is currently the better player. I chose Bosh. It isn’t really important to get in depth with my reasons. Essentially, until Love shows he’s a decent defender in a consistent manner, I feel like Chris Bosh is the better player since he’s a better scorer and a better defender. Obviously, Love’s rebounding is impressive but Bosh’s pluses just outweigh Love’s at the moment.

The reaction I got was fascinating. Maybe it’s just a residual fallout against the Heat because two guys decided to move to Miami last summer or maybe it’s just the insecurity of the high school cafeteria mentality, but people couldn’t really give me an actual basketball reason as to why Kevin Love is currently better.

“Chris Bosh is a woman.” – one response I received which apparently means that women are a downgrade in our society.

“Chris Bosh is soft and doesn’t play defense.” – another response with which I vehemently disagree. I don’t really know what soft means, but I know he plays oodles more defense than Love.

“Chris Bosh cries.” – Apparently, emotions are bad. I mean, they’re fine if they’re the right emotions, but it’s better to bottle up the wussy ones.

For some reason, when our society gets behind a keyboard, we become the ultimate warrior. I don’t mean the wrestler… well, some of us become the wrestler. We are the human embodiment of competition. We are our own all-inclusive Fight Club. We never take a play off. We always stand up to the defender after a hard foul. We are Stephen Jackson’s unwavering sense of psychotic loyalty.

The NBA world becomes a high school cafeteria. We ridicule based on wanting to keep a player down psychologically, even if they have no idea we’re doing such things. We don’t go off of skill set so much anymore or trying to figure out how guys fit into their roles. It becomes teasing and personality ridicule to determine just how good a player is. Chris Bosh is a wuss. Pau Gasol is allegedly soft. Hell, before his historic run through the playoffs last year, people used to say Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t man enough for the job.

That’s fine if all you care about is how subjectively tough you perceive a player to be. If that’s all that matters to you, go ahead and discredit them. Ignore the drive and determination that got them there. It’s easy to do because it’s nothing the majority of us can ever begin to relate to. It is foreign and therefore a threat to what we know. It just doesn’t change their basketball skills or their effectiveness on the court.

Now please, go sit at another table. This seat’s taken.

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