Mush Face

As many of you know there are not many things that I enjoy more than playing basketball. It brings me a joy that very few things are able to. When I am in the gym the world disappears for 2 hours. The worries and stresses of my life slip away and for a while, the only thing that matters is playing. On the days I play I look forward to it as soon as I wake up and that feeling of excitement continues all day until it is time to play. I rearrange Voxcasts and family affairs in order to participate! When it gets canceled I go into a funk that is only rivaled by losing money. The funniest part of my love for basketball is that I am not even that good at it. I have a mediocre shot, am 1/2 inch shy of six foot, and my handle is barely competent on a good day. Let me put it this way, I wouldn’t start on most JV high school teams. My only saving grace is I am somewhat athletic and can usually place myself in the best position to succeed.

Twice a week I go to the local high school and play what I call “old man” basketball. A bunch of older (20’s and 30’s) guys get together and play pickup games. We call our own fouls and rarely ever argue. I break the teams up evenly and we rotate the teams in and out so winning does not dictate whether you get to play again or not. The culture and climate that has been created is amazing. Overall it is a movement paradise!

This week the local high school was closed so I went to a local gym to play a pickup game. The average age of participants was 20 years of age and I was easily the oldest person there at the age of 35. We picked the teams and started to play. There was an argument on almost every play whether there was a foul or who the ball was out on. I suddenly remembered why I hate playing at the park or outside of my old man league. It was brutal to watch time and energy being wasted on arguing over a call.

One of the players was around 21 and was a 1,000 point scorer in high school. He was the best player on the court by far. He was hitting 3’s and was dribbling by everyone with ease. One play the ball was in the air and I went to box him out. Next thing I know I feel his hand on my face pushing my head followed by the statement, “I will do that every time you box out with your arms. That is some p*&%y s*$t.” Let me preface that by saying I had never known the way I boxed out was a foul. I wrestled my whole life and basketball was something I did for fun. I never played in a league or played with refs. I am not saying what I did was not wrong I just had never had anyone say anything before.

Back to getting my face mushed. I felt humiliated and it immediately took me out of the game. I didn’t move at all for the rest of the game and quickly went home as soon as the game was over. The incident stuck with me all week. I replayed it over and over again sometimes imagining a different reaction and what the outcome would be. I do this often with situations when I feel upset. I pay different scenarios in my head of how I could have handled it and what the repercussions would be. Sort of like a poor man’s Walter Mitty. 

It reminded me of a time in class when a child purposefully threw the ball off of another child’s face so it would bounce back to him. I knew that feeling the child on the receiving end of the ball felt exactly. The humiliation. The loss of pride and power. The knowledge that any recourse taken would only lead to either physical harm or other consequences.  When this happened to me as an adult I recognized that this was a situation I needed to leave immediately. My student in class did not have that same luxury. They had to stay there and deal with their feelings of inadequacy in the public light of my class.

The incident bothered me greatly. I did a lot of mindful breathing and rationalize to myself why what happened wasn’t as big of a deal as I was making it out to be. It was one incident that really didn’t impact my life in any giant measurable way. Either way, it was nipping at me all week.

There are a couple of thoughts I have about my situation. First; when someone disrespects another in a game they are taking the joy away from them. They are not unlike the Grinch who wanted to steal the joy of Christmas from the Who’s. As a teacher, this is something we need to be aware of. This loss of joy not only affects our students at that moment they are going to feel a sense of shame or anger whenever they are reminded of the incident.  It will create a negative association that can last forever. We must ensure that the climate and culture we set in our class does not allow this to occur. Conflict will arise and that is unavoidable; however, it is necessary that it is not elevated to a place where students lose their self-respect and joy of movement.

Secondly, Jorge Rodriguez says that when we play a game we need our opponents to want to play with us again. This takes teaching games to a whole other level. We aren’t just teaching the game but socialization. Who wants to play a game with people that make us feel like garbage? In my situation, I will not be playing basketball at this gym or with that person again. I lost a place to enjoy movement and that sucks.

My final thought is what we can do when this does occur in our class. In the situation, with the aggressor in my class, I spoke to him privately as well as with their parent and an administrator. I made it known that my class will not be a place where students will experience either physical or psychological harm.

Have you ever experienced something similar to me? How did you handle the loss of pride and joy?







1 thought on “Mush Face

  1. UOIT MEd

    Justin, I always enjoy reading your blogs, but this one in particular resonates. I suck at basketball and have never really excelled at sports, but I have had my dignity, pride and joy extinguished far too many times to count. I am sorry that happened to you, but thank you for sharing your story and for the important connection to the classroom and the students we serve!



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