My Sideline Altercation

by Tai Anderson, October 8, 2016

A rainbow over Roswell before the game. 

Last night was the Homecoming game for Roswell High School. The undefeated Roswell Hornets were hosting the undefeated Lassiter Trojans. I was back on the chain gang for the game, which gives me the best view in the house from the visitor’s sideline. Although my eyes are usually locked in on the action on the field, my ears are wide open to clues to the other team’s culture. I’ve written about this before, but I believe you learn the most about a team’s culture when it is facing adversity, and my Roswell Hornets do a good job of causing adversity for our opponents.

Last night was no exception as the Hornets were victorious by a score of 45-14. By and large, the Trojans were graceful in defeat. Their athletes gave maximum effort. Their fans cheered till the bitter end. Their student section was loud and spirited, and their marching band was really good. (I really appreciated that like RHS's band, they actually play in time and in tune!) Lassiter is a great school. I went to my first concert on their football field; The Connells with the Dead Milkmen in about 1992. They have great facilities. They have a great program, and you could see it in the way their team communicated on the sidelines.


Don’t get me wrong. Even at the high school level, football is a PG-13 to rated R activity. Football’s vernacular includes some 4 letter words, especially when a team is frustrated, and the Lassiter Trojans were frustrated last night. They are not used to losing, and they did not enjoy it. However, from my perspective, their program is classy and well-run. Teams have ebbs and flows, and it just happens to be high tide at Roswell High School with a perfect balance of an incredible coaching staff and an ample supply of gifted athletes on the field. Many believe that we’re the best team in the state, and one of the best teams in the country.

As Roswell starting pulling away toward the end of the 2nd quarter, the Hornets advanced the football inside the 10 yard line setting up a first and goal. This is the time on the chain gang when you set the sticks down and only the crew member who is on the box moves with the line of scrimmage. It’s the end-zone or bust for the offense when you’re first and goal. I set down my stick. It was then I overheard an older man of about 70 just losing his mind from the sidelines right behind me. He was screaming at the officials and screaming at our players. Then, for some reason, he started yelling at me. I was wearing my bright Green Hornet sweatshirt. So, I guess he saw me as a representative of the team to receive his ire.

“You’re just a bunch of cheaters.”

“All you do is recruit.”

“You’re a bunch of thugs.”

“Maybe if we had a bunch of apartments we’d be kicking your #ss.”

I was stunned. He was yelling right at me. My blood start boiling, and the veins in my neck started popping. My adrenaline kicked in. My mind started racing with things I wanted to say. In his identifying our apartment demographic, he was making a not so veiled racial generalization about our community. I don’t just love our team, I love the players on our team. I know them. I’ve seen how hard they work.

Yes, we’ve had a handful of players move into our community this year that account for about 2 out of our 22 starters. However, if anything, I would think we have a lower amount of transfers than you’d expect from a 7A school in a city as large as Roswell.  Our team is not strong because of our transfers. You could bench every player that hasn't been with our program for 3 years, and we'd still be dominant. Our team is strong because of our strong coaching and feeder program. The defensive unit has been dominating since sixth grade.

This is what I wanted to say...

Listen buddy, we’re the Roswell Hornets. Not the Roswell WASPS. I’m sorry if our team isn’t whitewashed, and we don’t all live in million dollar mansions, but you are categorically misinformed. I’ve been cheering on these boys for years. You need to chill out and get off our sideline. You’re our guest tonight, and you’re embarrassing your school and program.
— The articulate voice in my head

However, mindful of the fact that I was representing my school, I chose not to escalate the encounter. With all of the self control I could muster, I simply, laughingly replied, “Why are you yelling at me?” genuinely perplexed. This set off the man on an even longer, extended tirade. Finally, the other fans around him asked him to be quiet, and one of the Lassiter coaches even walked over to him and instructed him to chill out.

As we went into halftime, and my flight or fight syndrome subsided, I started thinking about the encounter.

In that moment, that man hated me because of the color of my sweatshirt.

When he saw the green, he saw “the other.” He was obviously connected to his team, to his tribe, and he was frustrated by the adversity they were facing. I get it. But, I couldn’t help but think, "we’re neighbors." We probably only live 10 miles apart. We might very well root for the same college team or the same professional team. Odds are, he’ll probably be at a church this Sunday worshipping the same God. In a different encounter, we might be fast friends. I imagine there is much I could learn from his life experience. The reality is that if I wasn’t wearing my green sweatshirt, I wouldn’t be the target of his misplaced frustration.

As I got home and turned on the news to the latest divisive scandal, it struck me that perhaps my experience last night gives me just the smallest perspective of how many in our society have felt over these last 18 months, or more accurately their entire lives. As a white male in suburban Atlanta, it takes an encounter on a football sideline to make me feel like “the other.” I am not daily blamed for our nation’s challenges.

How do Hispanic Americans feel when categorically false and sweeping inaccuracies are hurled at them, often vehemently, blaming them for every downturn in the economy? How do African Americans feel when they are described in sweeping, statistically false generalizations casting them as thugs and criminals? How do muslims feel when they are maligned daily on news outlets and talk radio, described as terrorists, bent on our destruction? How to homosexuals feel when Christians blame them for natural disasters? I was yelled at harmlessly for 60 seconds, and my blood was boiling. Minorities have to deal with old white men yelling at them their entire lives.

I can take off my sweatshirt and that man will no longer hate me. People of color, muslims, and LGBT can’t (and shouldn’t) change who they are. But, there needs to be a change. I believe the change needs to start with me.

I’m exploring my own thoughts and actions every day to see where I have unexplored prejudice or bias. I am looking for ways that I need to change to be a more understanding, tolerant person, a better neighbor and citizen. As I learned over this last week at the Catalyst conference, Leadership starts with self-leadership, empathy and humility.

We should be the leaders we wish we had.
— Simon Sinek, Catalyst Atlanta 10/7/16

The Lassiter coaches corrected the angry fan who was blaming our team for their woes. They know that they have a great program, that their challenges are their own, and maligning our program does nothing to improve their team. Their challenges last night were not Roswell’s fault. Roswell just exposed opportunities for them to learn and improve. They will, and they will be a formidable opponent for anyone they face in the playoffs. Their leadership know that any change and improvement begins and ends with what is under their control.

It’s time that all of us adopted that same mentality personally and only accepted leaders that challenge us to be our best, instead of giving into the easy path of blaming others for our woes.