Fire the coach

Tell me if this looks familiar.

I grew up in a conservative environment in Central Texas. I played high school football. I went to an evangelical church in my late teens (where, unsurprisingly, my political views were not warmly received). And I served in the military — and not just in the military but in the testosterone-saturated U.S. Army Infantry.

No! It doesn’t! This is opposite-me. I grew up in a liberal household in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t play football, I didn’t go to church, and I didn’t join the military. But this is a piece by Charlotte Clymer, who is pissed off at this terrible PE coach in Virginia who insists he won’t recognize his students’ choice of pronouns, because it is against his religion

Leaving aside the fact that the discussion of transgender people in the Bible is quite murky (and rather fascinating)—and thus, as more than a few social conservatives have admitted to me, it’s unclear being transgender is a so-called “sin”—we’re still left with a public employee charged with the welfare of children stating before God and Creation that he refuses to treat certain children with respect and dignity. That, in fact, is abusive.

So what’s familiar? This:

And without fail, men like Tanner Cross would—in some way, shape, or form—call me a girl. They weren’t just the first people to call me a girl. They were the only people to call me a girl or woman before I came out.

Like my 8th grade football coach who really loved calling us “ladies” during practice.

Like my freshman football coach who never seemed to tire of telling us that we “hit like girls” if he felt we weren’t going at full speed.

Like the assistant football coach during my junior year of high school who, on more than a few occasions, said some choice words about how we should try out for the girls volleyball team instead. Oh, and this mocking inquiry toward one of my teammates: “Did your mother teach you how to throw?”

Like during minute one of hour one of day one in basic training when I heard a drill sergeant scream at all of us to “get the sand out of your pussies”. And that was probably one of the more tame things I heard along these lines during my time in the military.

Yes, all those sports movies where male coaches yell at their players with some flavor of misogynistic “encouragement”? Those scenes are based in reality.

I heard that all my life in male environments, and that’s to say nothing of the numerous ways in which society communicates to boys that they shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t appear weak, be the “man of the house”, etc.

Oh yeah. It took me a while to consciously realize it, but public school physical education was all about terrible human beings put in charge of young kids for a few hours a day, where they were committed to indoctrinating us in toxic masculinity and constantly abusing us to make us tough. Coach would call us “pussies”, “fags”, “girls”, “ladies”, “girly boys”, and comment on the contents of our jock strap while doing daily inspections of said jock straps. It was several years of state-sponsored indoctrination that was highly effective, and many of my peers gladly adopted that language and attitude. I could escape Coach fairly easily, but not all my fellow teenagers who echoed that nonsense.

You know, I kind of suspect that one of the primary tools for perpetuating poisonous versions of masculinity is that our schools have a habit of hiring macho assholes like this guy, Tanner Cross. Our communities, perhaps especially in Texas, consider sports to be the whole purpose of an education, and to that end, they “need” tough guys to kick the kids into shape. All they accomplish, though, is to turn a majority of kids away from athletics.

Fire that guy. Or should I say, cancel Tanner Cross. He’s a bad teacher.


  1. says

    The worst for me was the locker room. I was endlessly bullied. That “me man male” attitude trickles down. “Locker Room talk” for me was torment as my classmates made fun of my body. My puffy lips. My absolutely gravity defying ass and my firm calves. These are things I came to love about myself later but at the time I wasn’t manly enough. Guess what. I’m in my 40s now with a full head of hair and a body that won’t stop. And all those bullies? Probably scooting around Walmart on those mobility scooters and wishing they had my hair.

  2. Larry says

    When I was in high school decades ago, almost 100% of the athletics/PE staff were not “teachers”. Occasionally, one might serve as a substitute for the history teacher but they didn’t have an academic degree nor a teaching credential. For the most part, however, I don’t recall ever witnessing bullying by any of the staff. That isn’t to say it didn’t happen but I neither saw it nor heard about it. One of my classmates, who exhibited signs of being gay (he only came out long after we graduated) never complained about it, either. It’s possible, however, that he got a pass because he was an exceptional gymnast. Who knows?

  3. cartomancer says

    My actual PE teachers weren’t anything like this. I still hated PE, because I am not a fan of extraneous movement in any capacity, or of going outside when the temperature diverges from a comfortable 15-20 degrees, but this kind of toxic masculinity nonsense wasn’t a part of my experience.

    Well… it was once or twice. The supply PE teachers we occasionally had when our actual teacher was indisposed were sometimes like this. But they were very easy to deal with. One of them once shouted at me “are you some kind of nancy-boy?”, presumably thinking it would act as encouragement for me to throw whatever ball or move whatever distance or accomplish whatever pointless action more enthusiastically. I paused for dramatic effect, then stared straight back and said “yes, actually. Yes I am. Very happily nancying my way through life, sir. What is it to you?”. I was expecting pushback, but this seemed to break something inside the strange little man, and he ignored me for the rest of the lesson. Success!

  4. says

    Maybe I’m just scarred because I had Mr Earl at Kent-Meridian High School, and he was the very archetype of the bull-necked, screaming angry patriotic Viet Nam war worshipper. Every day, it was “Ballad of the Green Berets” in the locker room while he wandered around the showers commenting on everyone’s genitalia and smacking all us wimpy wussies with his hacking bat.

  5. Bruce Fuentes says

    I am an older parent. I am 59 and my son is 12. one of the biggest issues I have is sports. He is very athletic and loves sports. The only sport I played in HS was golf. I never liked the locker room bullshit of team sports. I have had a couple run-ins with coaches already about their win at all cost, you must be totally committed, attitude. We have lives beyond sports. A baseball coach asked me how I expect him to make the HS team if we weren’t totally committed now. I laughed in his face. Since our school is small they scramble to field teams. Except for football of course. This year my son is the best player on his team. Kids his age should be working on the fundamentals, not focus on winning.
    Football starts next week. We will see how that goes. I hope he gets disillusioned and this is his last year, but I need him to make his own decisions on some things. I m trying really hard to steer him toward sports like track, cross-country and golf.

  6. christoph says

    @ PZ, # 4: He may have been hitting on you and the other kids. Lots of red flags there.

  7. says

    I don’t know if it IS all that bad, I mean the best discus throw I ever did in school was whilst being sneered at by the sports master for being wimpy. It was completely accidental, but I hit him on the knee with it and he limped the rest of the week.

  8. Bruce says

    After all the national blather about seeing “communism” — oops, I mean “Critical Race Theory” — hiding in every closet to pounce on our kids, why have we never noticed how almost every school in the country “teaches” using what is really “Critical Misogynistic Abuse Theory”? The fact that we all never notice CMAT shows how fake is the panic over CRT.

  9. says

    Daily inspection of jock straps? Perhaps it’s a small mercy that that was not a feature of my high school P.E. classes, which I nevertheless cordially despised. But it was ironic how the coaches would address us as “ladies” while leaning back to counterbalance the beer bellies that were concealing their belt buckles. Only a couple of members of the P.E. staff had any credibility when it came to promoting physical fitness.

  10. Artor says

    Coach Cross should try his bullshit with the mother of my kid. At 6′ tall with a blackbelt and a history of being mistaken for Xena, I think she might be able to show him some enlightenment after tying his flabby meatsack into a knot and throwing him through a wall.

  11. robro says

    I failed PE, basically…I think grades of “C” in PE are a fail. I even got a “D” in a touch football unit in college. For two years in high school and then two years in college all I learned in “physical education” was to hate myself. I didn’t get out of that until I was working for a tech company that had a gym on campus and for about two years I worked out with weights, rode stationery bikes, and went to aerobics classes.

  12. whheydt says

    The only–or possibly one of the few–good things H. Ross Perot ever did was to successfully lobby the Texas legislature to pass a bill ending promoting “failed” (that is, having led a less than overwhelmingingly successful season) football coaches to be school principals.

    The law required principals to have a degree in an academic subject, not just being kicked upstairs with a PE major.

  13. lumipuna says

    The notion that US physical education teachers are commonly referred to as “coaches” seems odd to me, but it fits perfectly with the general gist of all these horror stories.

  14. whheydt says

    I think I’ve menti0ned this story before… My father’s job transferred us from the SF Bay Area to the San Diego area in the middle 10th grade. My new high school was in it’s first year of operation and had made a really bad mistake. They won the local football championship during their opening semester. Needless to say, the school was all out football crazy.

    This extended to mandatory attendance at the Friday afternoon football rallies. This was a 3-year high school. The rallies were in the gym, with the 10th grade seated in pull-out bleachers on one side, 11th grade in the pull out bleachers or the other side, and the 12th grade (seniors) on folding chairs in the middle.

    So…as a senior, I sat in the extreme back row to be as far from activities as possible and ignored them to the extent possible. At one such “event”, the PE staff not directly involved up front were lined up just inside the doors in the back. No idea why. Perhaps they were anticipating a major escape attempt.

    I’m sitting there, quietly ignoring all the “Rah, rah” goings on, reading a book. One of the coaches walks up behind me and takes my book away and goes back the the staff line. I get out a second book and proceed with reading it. Same result. third book is a repeat, as well. With the 4th book, he apparently gave up.

    At the end of the rally, I walked up to him and just held out my hand. He gave me my books back and I walked out without a word.

    I found out later (after I was long gone) that a year or so later the policy was changed, and students that didn’t want to go the rallies could spend the time in the school library, instead. I’d like to think I had some minor influence on that reasonably enlightened change in policy.

  15. says

    I found it fascinating that not one erg of energy was spent in physical education classes on actual education. They would hand me a baseball stick, and I would ask “what do I do with this?” In the ninth grade, a coach finally explained what “traveling” was when I ran the length of the room with the orange round ball under my arm, whereas I thought all the bouncy bouncy when they ran was showing off. In the Infantry, the sergeant once yelled “Where did you learn to throw, Private”. He didn’t like the answer “In the Army, Sergeant!” but the school system certainly didn’t help. All they do is test for what you are already supposed to know because you are an American Boy. Luckily, I can take a punch without flinching, move very very fast, and hit really hard, so I got through it, but my PE grades dropped me to #34 out of a class of 454. The system is rigged if you are not interested in participating with enthusiasm, and you can’t avoid it. Luckily, software design pays a lot better than coaching so I can smile about it now.

  16. robert79 says

    I went to high school in the US, and while I hated it, and hated phys. ed. in general, I don’t have bad memories of my PE teachers.

    In fact, they were the opposite of the stereotype.

    I remember one time, my PE teacher (little guy, about 5 feet tall) looked at me (nerd, foreigner) completely fumbling at basketball, and realized “Hey, this foreign kid has never been taught to shoot a hoop before!” (I was basically throwing a basketball the same way you’d throw a very heavy baseball… or a bowling-ball…) and taking 15 minutes, one on one, to teach me the physics (hey, I was good at physics!!) of throwing the ball so it has the right spin so it bounces down and goes through the hoop.

    I still suck at it, but I’m pretty sure I looked a bit less ridiculous afterwards.

    The other PE teacher also taught AP European History, and while I never had PE from him, I still remember him as an absolute master in giving multiple choice quizzes (and I say this as a teacher myself now… I wish I could pose difficult 4 choice questions like he did, it would make grading so much easier…)

  17. Theodore says

    It still did happen in MN from 2000 to 2004. While it was not PE teachers during school hours. Afterwards, they let lose as “coaches”. Now: Assholes!! I feel I was lucky because I got a job at a grocery store where people liked me and I stayed with there for awhile. A look back–being liked was all that mattered my young mind. Going forward let’s focus on education and that includes proper education in PE and not ANY macho bullshit! My knees have mild arthritis and my back keeps going out every 6 months or so

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ lumipuna
    The notion that US physical education teachers are commonly referred to as “coaches” seems odd to me
    I missed that but it is weird. I must live too close to the USA. It is certainly not Canadian ussace.

    I may have missed a lot of PhysEd hassle because of my educational path. I only had formal PhysEd in Grade 12 (~18 yrs old) so I probably missed a lot.

    Besides what PysEd teacder really wants to piss-off a mix of rock-hard farm boys and army brats used to surviving a new school every 3 years. I rather enjoyed my 1 year of PhysEd.

    My cross-country coach was a geography teacher and my rugby coaches were the same geography teacher and a tech drawing instructor who had been reserve for Wales. Nobody ever thought of calling them coach.

  19. Kevin Karplus says

    I had always thought that being a sadist was a prerequisite for being a PE teacher—certainly the popularity of “dodge ball” as their go-to activity for all ages points to it.

  20. unclefrogy says

    In my experience toxic masculinity was not confined to the school PE coaches. It was around pretty generally. I was pretty much discouraged from sports by the time I left high school and there was a huge emphasis on school spirit and almost mandatory attendance at football games. it was not just in school either but in “peewee league” baseball when I was in grammar school all through a total lack of teaching or real coaching was my experience until my late teens. i have been learning the benefits of simple regular exercise lately not focused on the work and tasks i have always done . Just trying to keep some of my strength and health as I get too old for most of the work I have done. I just can’t do the heavy stuff any more nor am I as fast as I once was.
    A lot of therapy and self-talk to counter the toxic BS I learned earlier in my life.

  21. says

    The only thing remotely sport-like that I did in HS was yoga, and Coach Baker was all about the positivity and doing your personal best and maintaining your chill, while also implementing a few stereotypical consequences (running laps, burpees) for those who did try his (incredible) patience.

  22. Howard Brazee says

    The reason I don’t use the F-bomb is that at its core it is an insult that says “I treat you the way I would treat a woman”.

  23. wubbes says

    Our daughter was an amazing athlete in high school (and still is). Conference champion and MVP in soccer, all-State in track, national champion in gymnastics. Competed in track for a Div. 1 university. When she was in about 5th grade I was helping coach my son’s 2nd grade football team. (Don’t worry, he gave up football to compete in gymnastics full time.) The daughter had finished soccer practice and was reading a book on the sidelines waiting for us to finish so we could all go home. One of the other football coaches yelled at a kid “You run like a girl!”. I just motioned to the daughter to come over, and said to the guy “You and her, goalposts and back, GO!” The daughter takes off like a pony-tailed cruise missile, rounds the goal posts, passes the guy in the opposite direction on the way back, and is sitting back down reading her book when the other guy finally chugs across the line. All I said to the guy was “You WISH you ran like a girl!”

  24. flange says

    I’m old enough to have had square dancing as part of PE in grade school. I thought it was weird but accepted things as “That must be the way it is.” I learned only recently that this bullshit was promoted and funded largely by Henry Ford (racist, anti-Semite) and the government to get white people to stop dancing to music made by black people. He succeeded in forcing many states to have square dancing as their official state dance. (The school coach would “call” the square dancing, of course.)

  25. Connie Collins says

    Square dancing was grand. We treated it aa a combat form Drop your weight at the right time and you could swing your partner into the next foursome.
    Good times, good times.
    Seriously, it was less pointless than running laps, and until I encountered full-contact hole-in-the-wall, it was the most entertaining way to throw my low center of mass around I’d discovered.
    Probably not what Ford had in mind.