I was minding my own business in early July, returning from Petco Park after sitting through a fairly run-of-the-mill Padres-Dodgers game (while surrounded by annoying fans oozing slurry gregariousness brought on by the near-constant inhalation of $10 cans of shitty beer*) when I received a Facebook notification that I had been tagged by Jeff and Mikki Martin in a post. I’m not often tagged to look at stuff, and when it comes from the Martins, that is, Jeff, it’s usually some educational martial arts video. So I checked it out and was dismayed not to find another fake-jitsu master, but something else. An exchange between the Martins and a troll named Chris.
For good reasons, Martin posts don’t often get trolled, but every so often someone crawls from out of the social media mire to pollute one of their posts. I’m no kind of social media hitman unleashed to shout down inconvenient voices; they tagged me cuz this happened to be a post about youth sports. I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to understand the dynamics that have mutated that childhood experience into something other than rewarding for many kids, so maybe I could contribute something that might support the Martin’s position. After all, that is why they keep me around—sure ain’t my sunny disposition.
Weariness seeped through my bones. Not because I wasn’t prepared to respond, but because one look at the troll’s drivel suggested a couple of things: (1) He had an axe to grind and was intent on shoe-horning his narrative into the thread. (2) He doesn’t know fuck all about the issue he felt compelled to oppose so vehemently. That means any attempt to elicit a reasoned back-and-forth would be a waste of time.
What’s the big deal? Just another tiff that would quickly be smothered by the brume of typo-ridden digital dribble farts that now passes for much of our social interaction these days. Fair point. But when we read the post and the troll’s comments, think about them longer than it takes for the next sanctimonious nutrition post to inchworm its way through our feed, and apply the besieged skill of critical thinking, we discover a sad state of affairs that speaks to a crisis extending beyond the youth sports industrial complex.
The Martins commented on this Subaru commercial. A perfectly mundane ad about a mundane SUV awash in the mundane sentimentality attached to a mundane parent’s bittersweet experience of his mundane daughter’s mundane growing up. A father cleans out a Subaru Forester as he prepares to hand it down to his daughter. Each piece of trash evokes a fond memory of his daughter’s childhood as she ages. Okay, I get it, Subaru makes vehicles that last. Vehicles that occupy a central place in a family’s mundane history. Vehicles that a mundanely perfect dad feels comfortable passing down to the most precious thing in his life. The commercial makes an emotional appeal via mundane scenarios that are supposed to resonate with a vast segment of American audiences who can experience the nostalgia of remembering those mundane moments. Why would the Martins comment on a fairly typical car commercial?
Well, at about the 11-second mark, the father pulls a rumpled hospital wristband from the SUV. With the magic of TV, he turns to see a younger version of his daughter in what is probably a soccer uniform and what is definitely a full toe-to-hip cast on her left leg. Just a mundane memory from the mundane life of a mundane all-American family. So in the commercial creators’ collective mind, a traumatic, possibly catastrophic, sports injury is just one of those classic childhood experiences** that all families who didn’t realize they needed a Subaru can relate to. The Martins took exception to this normalization and created a post that reflected The Brand X Method™’s position regarding youth sports injuries. If you know what we have been doing for more than a dozen years, this kind of post is not controversial.
Or so it seems, because almost immediately out of the murk slouched a troll. The following is the exchange between the troll and the Martins (this is verbatim but does not include the comments of others who participated in the thread).
Troll Chris: Really ? I Boxed , Wrestled , played Football and Baseball as a kid back in the early 1970’s. I got bloody noses , broke a thumb got water on the knee and I like to remember inflicting worse on the other guy every chance I got. ITS PART OF SPORTS….Its nothing new. If you donttt want little boo boo getting hurt let them take up stamp collecting….You gotta be kidding me
The Martins: You are sorely uneducated on what is happening in youth sports today.
Troll Chris: I’m am appalled at the prospect of parents raising a generation of youth scared to play the game because they might get hurt.
The Martins (Jeff specifically): Most people who know me would laugh at your suggestion that I am advocating coddling kids. Your argument seems to be predicated on two assumptions. One that you turned out okay so other kids should turn out okay too. Secondly, youth athletics 40 years ago is the same as today. I don’t know you so cannot verify that you turned out okay. Youth athletics today is far different than you or I experienced in the 70’s. There was no early sport specialization or professionalization of youth sports in our day. I was talking to one of our athletes yesterday, Grady. He started with us in 7th grade, played varsity football all four years in high school and was the strongest kid on the team for most of those years. Suffered the typical bumps and bruises playing the game but had no major injuries. His first year in college during the last practice of the season he planted his foot and was hit from the side. Tore his acl. No amount of strength work could have prevented it just an unlucky part of playing a rough game. You know what shouldn’t be part of playing the game? A 500% increase in injuries leading to Tommy John surgery, with the biggest rise coming in kids 16-19. Directly attributed to year round play. It shouldn’t be that kids are pitching so much without an off season that they are fracturing their growth plates in their shoulders (a completely different injury from the ucl tear in the elbow.)
Troll Chris: I knew that if you wrote a lengthy enough reply you were bound to finally spew something I could agree with. And you did. You’re right…..You don’t know me……..If someone wants to play the game……And reap the rewards and benefits that come with playing the game….Whether its monetary or in the form of a ribbon or trophy……Then they have to be willing to accept the reality that injuries are part of the game. As I offered , there are other endeavors to pursue . If not stamp collecting then perhaps bird watching? Chess ?……I’m done here. Goodnight
There’s more here than the obvious conclusion that this guy’s fuckwitted.*** First, he immediately makes the post about him, which is so tiresomely typical of social media. He runs off a litany of owies that he amassed during his glory days 40 years ago and quickly makes sure we know that he gave as good as he got cuz he’s no pussy. After that compelling intro he gets to his point: owies are a part of sports. Okay. Duh. The Martins know this. And Troll Chris would know the Martins know this if he knew the Martins. But he doesn’t.
Second, he interprets the Martin’s post as more evidence of the nefarious cultural current destroying the USofA by wussifying an entire generation of children. You know, the one that unleashed participation trophies from beyond the Wall. To dismiss the Martins as part of any effort, trend, or other force given to snowflakery is, to put it mildly, laughable to anyone who knows the Martins. But, again, Troll Chris doesn’t know the Martins.
As acknowledged in the thread, Troll Chris’s equating of incidental owies such as bloody noses to broken/fractured bones and/or torn tendons/ligaments is wrong. Even after the Martins posted a long response that clarified their position with regard to, among other things, the wrongness of sports injuries resulting from professionalization, overuse, and specialization, while never vilifying sports and acknowledging that some injuries simply cannot be avoided, Troll Chris stood his ground, anchored there by ignorance and a deep capacity to ignore. This, more than his overbearing contempt toward total strangers, is what I found so tedious.
Troll Chris knows he’s right (everybody knows they’re unequivocally right). What passes for public discourse these days emanates from a pandemoniacal bipolar leaning Tower of Babel full of unrepentant belligerent fuckers. For Troll Chris, sports injury is a monolith. A bruise from an errant pitch is a broken femur from a broadside tackle is a shredded ACL from a poor landing is a noncontact fractured growth plate from too much throwing. It’s all the same; it’s all good. IT’S PART OF SPORTS (to quote the appalled Troll Chris).
We who would quibble over the distinction between a charley horse and full UCL tear in a 12-year-old are an affront to the American way of life as it’s always been (at least since Troll Chris’ 1970s good-as-he-gave heyday). The strength of Troll Chris’ conviction is distantly followed by his incisive sarcasm expressed in his suggestions for those of us unwilling to put our sons and daughters at risk of osteoarthritis by age 25. He says, by all means and with all magnanimousness, we should keep them on the porch where they can collect stamps, watch birds, or play chess.
We can find a variety of troll species gibbering on both sides of countless issues. Their yammering intransigence has given rise to the newly popular act of “doubling down” on one’s narrative rather than engaging in rational discussion with an eye toward finding common ground. Couple that broad trend with the magical thinking compelling much of the action we see leading to injuries in youth sports and you start to understand why it’s been so difficult to even have a conversation about what constitutes the best (ie, most effective and safest) training for young athletes (with or without ambitions of playing at high levels).
Troll Chris’ species is of a kind. One that is terrified of participation trophies and off-seasons. One that believes life lessons are best learned helmet-to-helmet, beyond the stinking pitch limit, rubbed with dirt and wrapped in ice, on the drive home from the game, year-round. One that knee-jerk rejects gradations of thought, action, and circumstances that challenge any of its cut-and-dried narratives.
TBXM™ has a different belief system. We imagine a better future for our youth. That may seem a little gooey, but it’s true. We see a better way forward when it comes to kids’ fitness and sports participation. But we find ourselves hampered by reactionaries like Troll Chris who see nothing wrong with turning injuries from overuse or movement dysfunction into mundane memories. Not only are sports injuries just part of growing up, they are essential ingredients in developing our kids into proper adults. We say no. But that’s because we know we’re right.
* Look, get as shitfaced as you want when you go to a sporting event. Get high, drink `til you’re blind, heckle the opposing team, the home team, whatever. Fuck do I care? Just leave me and my family out of it. Don’t tell me which team to root for. Stop listening in on our conversations. Stop turning around to rummage for high-fives. Don’t tell me to stand up for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Don’t walk back your simmering beer-sodden belligerence with an insincere introduction and then try to outmuscle me with a drunk-ass Trumpian alpha-male handshake. Please. Don’t. I hate you.
** Given the practical limits of a TV spot, it was not feasible to explore the possibility that the daughter quit soccer (and maybe all sports) and/or is currently plagued by nagging osteoarthritis as a result of the injury now that she’s a young adult.
*** This an important point. The instantaneous and insulated nature of social media has simultaneously increased the risk of fuckwittedness while decreasing the cost of said fuckwittedness. An underlying reason why I opted out of this particular thread was my circumstances at the time (on my phone, in a car)—I need to think about the shit I say publicly. My initial reaction to Troll Chris was to greet him as a fuckwit, which is, in itself, fuckwitted.