Growing up Mom believed that all kids should be active so I was required to play baseball from 4-7th grade. It didn’t matter that I saw the baseball as an ember fashioned by the devil to maim me when ever I stepped in to the batter’s box. When I was in the 5th or 6th grade my team made it to the championship game. My coach was an old surly man who coached primarily to win and because he thought his son couldn’t be guided and nurtured by any one better than himself. His son was our starting pitcher and enjoyed all the perks of being the coach’s son.
I was not good at baseball. There was no way to hide that fact. Most of my energy was spents designing ways to avoid being hit by the devil’s ember. It was late in the championship game and because the league rules said everyone on the team had to play, I was forced to take a turn at bat. The game was tied, the bases were loaded, and the eyes of the pitcher 60 feet away from me glowed bright red. He wound up and hurled the canvas covered rock at me aiming for my head I was sure. I stood frozen and heard the ump yelled , “Striiiiike one!” The catcher lobbed the ball back to the pitcher and the pitcher readied himself. He smiled down on me from the mound and I could see his fanged teeth. He drew back and rocketed the ball directly towards my ribs. At the last second the ball took a 90 degree turn and landed in the catcher’s mitt. “Striiiiiike two,” was the call.
I glanced over at my coach and his eyes glowed red too but a more intense red than the pitchers. “Don’t just stand there Hofmann, SWING AT THE BALL!” I hated that he never called me Kevin. Calling me by my last name seemed so impersonal. The coach only spoke to me when he had to; my ability didn’t deserve to be acknowledged.
The pitcher hurled another pitch at me this time aimed at the tip of my nose. I backed away from the plate and did as I was told. I swung the bat to give the illusion that I cared. The planets came in to alignment at that moment. The ball somehow found the bat and launched itself in to right field over the head of the chubby right fielder. He was the opposing team’s me with a little extra weight. I’m sure he sat in right field just praying the ball never came to him but for some reason God liked me better that day. I sprint to first, then to second, and then to third, while the poor outfield chases down the ball. I betrayed my own kind but for once I got to be part of the athletically elite and it felt good. I stand on third base and my team is cheering and screaming my name, my first name! I fight back the tears of joy.
A teammate hit me home and we score 4 runs and go in to the last inning where our opponents had to score 4 runs just to tie. I stood in left field praying that the ball would get hit to anyone but me. The other team got two men on and then got two outs. I was thankful the balls were hit to other more capable players to this point. I heard the crack of a bat and the ball was coming in to the outfield. It was hit to center field and I ran over to back up our centerfielder. He bent down and the ball scooted under his glove and came right to me. The one that swatted the ball was rounding third. I run up and grab the ball and threw it on target to the second basemen. He turned and threw it home and the catcher tags the hitter out. The game ends.
We were champions and we gathered around the bench to hear who would be awarded the game ball. It was crazy to think I had a shot at getting it. This shot was diffused quickly when the coach awarded his son, our pitcher, the game ball and said nothing about my contribution.
I couldn’t be mad at Paul, our pitcher. He simply benefited from Coach’s son privilege. It wasn’t the system that Paul set up. This practice of Coach’s son Privilege has gone on for years, decades even. Some have termed it simply; an unearned advantage. This wasn’t the first team I was on where the coach’s son got his pick of positions or his pick of equipment simply because he shared DNA with the coach. This was often decided before we had our first practice. But like I said I couldn’t be mad at Paul. It was the system that was flawed. Since then I often get asked how we change such an unfair system. It means the sons that benefit from the system have to speak up. If Paul would have simply stated that the right thing to do in this incident would have been to award the game ball to me it would have helped to dismantle Son privilege.
I wonder if Paul would admit that he did have an unfair advantage on his father’s team. Initially I’m sure he would argue he worked hard to be a pitcher and nothing was ever given to him. I would agree that Paul did work hard and usually pitched a good game. But on that day when things were equal he was given an unearned advantage and rewarded with the game ball. On that day it wasn’t performance that mattered. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t work hard but on this day he was out performed. I could even argue that athletically Paul was more suited for baseball than I was and for me to perform at this level with the athletic ability that came with my DNA meant I had to work much much harder than Paul on this day. It is frustrating reflecting back on that day, but again I was very aware of Son privilege and understood those of us who aren’t coach’s sons have to out perform the sons only to be considered their equal and even then things may not be fair.
Explaining White privilege is such a hard thing to do. Once someone hears privilege attached to White many get defensive. I’m always trying to find a unique way to explain such a difficult concept for some to grasp or even admit it exists. I hope seeing the unfair advantage Paul had on this one day helps some to realize how White Privilege works on a daily basis.
I was speaking in Dayton Ohio to a group of transracial parents a few years ago and my wife was there with me. My wife shared with the parents that as parents of children of color we have told our sons that simply to be considered equal to their White peers they have to out perform them. This was a hard fact of life we have shared with our sons. There was a TRA mom in the audience who became very emotional. She was saddened by the fact that the rules she grew up under as a White person will be different t for her child of color. I was shocked by her emotional response and that struck me. I thought about that a lot and wondered why she was so sad. My wife and I discussed it and came to the conclusion that from this White mother’s perspective she was sad because she was mourning the loss of complete and total access. This was so interesting to me because my wife and I agreed that although the system is unfair it wasn’t something that saddened us. We couldn’t lose something we never had.
I think this concept is very very difficult for a lot of multicultural families. As you raise children of color you become aware of truths that most people of color have always known. You have to understand that your all-access White-Privilege card has been replaced. You no longer have the all-inclusive membership. You still have most of the amenities but your access is limited. Your children can enjoy the membership but only when they are with you. This member will not be transferred to them. But the beauty in this is you get to understand and see the world in a different way which isn’t bad.
Another struggle for some will be that now since you are squeezed to see the world in a different way, the friends and family that aren’t impacted by color will continue to see the world from their experiences only. So getting them to see your changed or different view of the world can often be frustrating. They aren’t wearing the same glasses you are to view the world.
For one day I was a hero. Every time I retell that baseball story I tear up. It is one of my fondest childhood memories. I don’t look at it bitterly because I didn’t get the game ball. The coach’s slight didn’t steal the joy of this memory. His son’s privilege won him the game ball but the memory of the day I was a hero just can’t be overshadowed.