Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


“Hey! What are you going to do when you hit one?”

Years ago, when I worked in a visitors’ center in Central Park’s north end, a coworker looked out the window and saw three boys a hundred or so feet away. The boys were on the edge of the lake and they were throwing rocks. No big deal, kids love to throw rocks in the water. The problem? They were throwing them at a small flock of ducks that paddled around in the water. So my coworker opened the window, stuck his head out, and yelled the line above.

I thought about this event after recent events in the sports world combined into a weird abomination in my head with Natalie Whipple’s blog post last week. It’s about stupidity. Is there a writing connection in here? Somewhere.

In Natalie’s post (Alternate Reality) she talked about a period in her life when she became extremely self-conscious as a result of her early adolescent development. She says:

I got SO self-conscious because of my changing figure—and boys noticing—that I couldn’t stand to move more than necessary. I stopped running and swimming, refused to dance in public, and never stepped foot on a trampoline again. I was just soooo embarrassed all the time, and it didn’t help that I did get crap about the way I looked.

Now, the post wasn’t about Natalie’s body, it was about the way things might have been different in her life if…but it made me think, and it got stitched together in my mind with Bountygate. If you haven’t heard, former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a bounty system in place. Each week players received cash not just for making big plays (a practice that has deep roots in pro sports but is now banned due to the salary cap), but for injuring opponents, for knocking them out of the game. Breasts and bounties? Strange combination, but bear with me.

Reading Natalie’s post made me think about how I was back in those days, and about a couple of girls who showed up for junior high school in rather, err, busty form. Did I stare? Yes. Did I ogle? Yes. Did I comment? Yes. I will defend myself and only say that I always tried to demonstrate tact and not say or do anything rude to these girls, and not say anything within earshot of them. I don’t remember being caught by them staring, but I’m sure they were aware nonetheless.

In my comments to Natalie I said I think most boys that did act up were not acting out of malicious intent. They were not trying to be mean or make girls feel uncomfortable. No, I think most of them were just not thinking. They were not thinking that being stared at would make a girl uncomfortable. They didn’t think that attention was unwanted. And in truth, from the kind of crap we were seeing on TV back then (and that kids are still seeing on TV), we probably thought girls would actually appreciate the attention. It certainly never occurred to me at the time that a girl would be uncomfortable. It was, basically, thoughtlessness.

This is not to excuse the behavior. It was callous. It was rude. It was, in short, stupid. And maybe we could get away with it by way of the fact that we were ‘just kids’ and didn’t know any better. Aside from the physical changes we go through, growing up is also about learning to navigate the complicated waters of personal interactions.

Adults do stupid things, too. The Bounty fiasco with the Saints illustrates this point beautifully, I think. Pro football players – pro athletes of any kind, really, especially those in contact sports like football or hockey – exist on a funky sort of edge. They know they can get hurt, and accept those risks. They also know they’re always one play away from being out of a job, either through performance or injury. Football and hockey players in particular have to walk a fine edge between vicious brutality and respect for one’s opponent. Putting a bounty on a player’s head trashes that edge.

(note: gratuitous clip from Slap Shot they won’t let me embed)

The thing is, I don’t believe most of these players (or coaches, for that matter) really think through what they’re doing. They’re paid to a large degree based on how hard they hit, and when you hit people, you hurt them. It’s part of the game. As fictional hockey coach Reggie Dunlop would say, “Let ‘em know you’re there!” But I don’t think they really believe they’re going to permanently hurt their opponents. Even when they see a target wrapped up in a vulnerable position and come in with a late hit, I don’t think they ever really think about long-term damage. The opposing quarterback wobbles off the field after taking a shot to the head? Yeehaw. Pay up, coach. Same quarterback can never play again because he can’t shake the lingering headaches and nausea of post-concussion syndrome? That’s another story altogether, and I don’t think the guy who picked up $1000 bucks for making that hit is going to be too happy with himself. At least I hope he isn’t. Like adolescent boys staring at a girl, it’s a case of not thinking things through, of not seeing all the possible consequences. In short, it’s stupidity.

Is there a writing point in here? Probably. There’s no age limit on stupid? Don’t forget to use stupidity as a plot device? I don’t know, I guess take out of it what you will. This was just one of those things I felt compelled to write. Have a great weekend.

6 Responses

  1. I love the connections you made here. I completely agree that most stupid acts/decisions are because the person just isn't thinking past the moment. Like you said, that's no excuse, but it seems to be true. There's no age limit on stupid, but I think a sign of maturity is the ability to think of the consequences of our actions before performing them.

  2. I hope as a mother that I am able to convey this to my sons. That things like this can hurt a girl. And yes there is no age limit on Stupid. Have a great weekend.

  3. Nice to know I used stupidity in regards to Nick on my own story. As for the whole figure thing, I was one of those girls who returned to school well-developed. Though it could be embarrassing, I chose to use it to my own advantage and let those boys know exactly what they'd never see or touch for themselves. But that whole football thing is disgraceful. That should be considered a crime, like a gang leader putting a hit out on someone. Isn't paying one person to assault another a crime?

  4. Thanks, all. Amanda, I have to say I still do stupid things, though the good thing is now I mostly do them to myself (I embedded a pin in my thumb about a week ago doing something I truly knew I shouldn't be doing).

    -Nancy: Funny, I don't remember thinking Nick was 'stupid' necessarily, but I suppose if we consider 'stupid' = 'not thinking things all the way through' then he qualifies. As for the bounty and assault, yes, I suppose it is, but nothing legal will come out of it. Lengthy suspensions for the coaches, league-imposed sanctions against the team, a big suspension for one player who reportedly put up $10K of his own money to knock out Favre, but law enforcement is always loathe to get involved in in-game incidents.

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