Blame Canada for the new war on dodge­ball

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - ADDAM SCHWARTZ

Oh, Canada.

You’ve given us so much, from Justin Trudeau to Justin Bieber to, prob­a­bly, some other things not named Justin. And now you’ve given us the War On Dodge­ball.

You re­mem­ber dodge­ball. It’s a clas­sic school­yard game in which, ba­si­cally, a bunch of peo­ple throw a large rub­ber ball at you. If it misses you, you keep play­ing. If it hits you, you’re out. It is not a par­tic­u­larly com­pli­cated sport.

Or so I thought un­til ex­perts in our neigh­bor to the north ex­posed the sor­did truth: One of gym classes’ most com­mon games is be­ing used as a tool of “op­pres­sion,” ac­cord­ing to a team of Cana­dian re­searchers.

This is, ad­mit­tedly, an easy tar­get, not un­like a slow-mov­ing kid play­ing dodge­ball. But re­ally.

Canada — whose best­known sport is ice hockey, in which very large men with very few teeth skate on ice with sharp­ened blades and wield wooden sticks while slam­ming op­po­nents into walls in pur­suit of a hard rub­ber disc — is con­cerned about the harm­ful ef­fects of an ath­letic pas­time in­volv­ing small chil­dren and a soft, over­sized ball.

The re­searchers re­ported that in dodge­ball games dur­ing mid­dle school, some kids as­serted their dom­i­nance over their peers, while oth­ers meekly tried to hide. They said the game en­cour­ages stu­dents to com­mit phys­i­cal harm. And they drew con­nec­tions to a po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist’s de­scrip­tions of op­pres­sion, in­clud­ing

ex­ploita­tion, vi­o­lence, and cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism. So, yeah: Mid­dle school. I don’t know a whole lot about the Cana­dian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, al­though I did write a re­port on Que­bec in a so­cial-stud­ies class. (The teacher gave me le C.) But as a sur­vivor of Philadel­phia’s pub­lic schools, I can at­test that dodge­ball was the least of my gym-class con­cerns.

For one thing, when you got hit, which was in­evitable for the less-ath­letic among us, you were rel­e­gated to the side­lines, where you could watch the rest of the game and make snarky com­ments about the other kids. That was eas­ily the best part of gym class.

And if you’re re­ally wor­ried about gym ac­tiv­i­ties that can re­sult in phys­i­cal harm, con­sider the pom­mel horse. Or the rings. Or the ropes. Don’t even get me started about the ropes. It seemed some­how metaphor­i­cal: You did your best to reach an ar­bi­trary goal, with no real pay­off other than be­ing that much closer to the ceil­ing. Then, in the event you got higher than a cou­ple of feet off the ground, came the true chal­lenge: get­ting back down while re­tain­ing at least a thin layer of skin on your palms. (Full but prob­a­bly un­nec­es­sary dis­clo­sure: I was not very good at the ropes.)

Then there was the old Pres­i­den­tial Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Test, which in­volved such strength-build­ing ex­er­cises as the “flexed-arm hang,” the “stand­ing broad jump,” and the “re­treat to the back of the gym in shame.” Best of all was the shut­tle run: You ran from one spot over here to an­other spot over there, pick­ing up a small wooden block at one end and putting it down at the other, then do­ing it all over again. At the end, you got ... noth­ing. You didn’t even get to keep the wooden block. But it was a truly ed­u­ca­tional process, in that it taught the ut­ter worth­less­ness of the Pres­i­den­tial Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Test.

The most pop­u­lar, if unau­tho­rized, sport at my grade school was a game we played at re­cess called ass­ball. It was like the bas­ket­ball game of horse, ex­cept in­stead of spell­ing H-O-R-SE, you spelled out A-S-S. And you threw a ten­nis ball against a wall, rather than shoot a bas­ket­ball through a hoop. And when you didn’t catch the ball, the other play­ers got to throw it at your rump. So I guess it re­ally wasn’t much like play­ing horse at all. But it was still bet­ter than the ropes.

But now that the dodge­ball men­ace has been ad­dressed, what’s next? Are the mon­key bars de­mean­ing to our simian cousins? Is dou­ble-dutch of­fen­sive to peo­ple from the Low Coun­tries? And what about the psy­cho­log­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of tag? I can see the next block­buster re­port com­ing: “The stigma­ti­za­tion of one child as ‘it’ in­vari­ably leaves in­deli­ble scars of iso­la­tion.”

OK, Cana­dian re­searchers, the ball is in your court. Just try not to throw it at any­one.

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