Well, it looks like the pitchfork-and-torches crowd are coming for dodgeball, with intention of banning it from schools and all aspects of polite society.
Seriously, haven’t we been through this before? Yes, we have. Back in 2001, there was a drive to eliminate dodgeball from school playgrounds and gymnasiums.
I was there, man. On the front lines of the battle, right in the thick of the s**t. That is, I wrote a column mocking school administrators who wanted to ban dodgeball. Even won a national award for that column. Highlight of my career. Ah, good times.
(I’d like to recap some of the points, from both sides, I described in that column, but I don’t have a copy of it. If you think it’s strange I would not have preserved a copy of a column for which I won a national writing award, well, you’re looking at a guy who has won enough awards over his career to wallpaper his home with them, but keeps them all in a box in a closet and didn’t even remember which closet until stumbling across them recently while reorganizing his boardgame collection.)
As I recall, the main concern back in 2001 was that dodgeball turned kids into “human targets” and less athletically inclined students were quickly eliminated and banished to the sidelines, where they received no benefit of physical exercise whatsoever.
I also remember interviewing an administrator with the Baltimore County Board of Education who was so enthusiastic and helpful in describing the evils of dodgeball and why it was being removed from schools, and I felt a tad guilty because she was being so helpful and I was just going to mock her points in print.
And I wondered when school P.E. teachers had forgotten “Greek Dodge,” which was the version we played at Colgate Elementary. When you were hit by a ball, you didn’t go to the sidelines; you went to a space behind the other team’s court, from where you could throw the ball at the other team’s players with impunity (you were no longer active, thus they couldn’t return fire, so to speak); plus, if one of your “live” teammates threw the ball to that rear area and you caught it on the fly, you were again “active” and returned to the main court.
See? No “player elimination.”
Anyway, I saw earlier this month that a team of Canadian (man, there are some cheap shots I could make there, but I shall refrain) researchers have determined dodgeball “is a tool of oppression used to dehumanize others.”
My first thought: If by “tool of oppression” they mean a large rubber ball, and by “dehumanize” they mean whipping said ball into the face of the large but slow punk who harasses you because you read books, then, what’s the problem?
My second thought: A team of researchers? Studying dodgeball?
According to an article I read in the Washington Post, “Dodgeball in phys-ed classes teaches students to dehumanize and harm their peers, professors from three Canadian universities said in a presentation this week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver. A paper on the subject is set to appear in the journal European Physical Education Review.”
It taught me to improve my agility and reflexes, as well as how to throw a ball hard, anticipate movement and lead a target.
According to the Post article, the researchers said they were interviewing middle school students about broader questions concerning physical education courses, and the students repeatedly said they hated playing dodgeball.
(Really? They all just volunteered this, with no prompting and no leading questions?)
This is where I’d usually make a snarky comment about kids today being too coddled and of course they don’t know how to react to an activity where not everyone comes out a winner. But I won’t. I’ve grown, see?
From there, the researchers jumped to a 1990 article titled “Five faces of Oppression” and written by political theorist Iris Marion Young.
Those five faces are: Exploitation: Using other people’s labors to benefit for oneself; Marginalization: Relegating a group of lower standing to the edge of society; Powerlessness: Those relegated have a lack autonomy; Cultural imperialism: Establishing the rules and customs of the ruling class as the norm; and Violence: Members of a group of lower standing know they may be subject to random, unprovoked attacks.
Dodgeball, the researchers determined, matched all five. Dodgeball.
(While researching this column, I came across a photo of Former First Lady Michelle Obama playing dodgeball last week. I guess she hasn’t heard.)
And here I thought the classic movie featuring Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller had dispelled all those dodgeball fears from the early 2000’s.
“The message is that it’s okay to hurt or dehumanize the ‘other,’ ” one of the researchers is quoted in the Post article.
Dang, I hope kids still don’t play “Kill the Man with The Ball.” These researchers will be likening it to genocide.
The researchers did make a valid observation: there are competitive, aggressive students who enjoy playing dodgeball, along with the kids who would prefer not to be the targets of the first group.
So, instead of the researcher’s suggested solution, which is to do away with competitive physical games entirely and focus on other activities like nature walks, fitness, gymnastics and aquatics (and if they don’t think kids will find a way to make those activities competitive, then this study of their’s must be the first time they’ve ever been around kids), here’s a thought:
Let the students who enjoy playing dodgeball unleash their oppressive, dehumanizing ways upon each other, while the students who prefer something a tad less aggressive engage in a different activity.
Then, when the zombie apocalypse* arrives, we’ll see which group thrives.
(*This is a joke. I’m not saying there will be a zombie apocalypse. The aliens secretly running the world won’t allow it.)