“Excuse me, coach, can I have a word with you?”
I was getting in my car, about to leave the recreation park after coaching a 9-10-year-old football game a few years ago, when the cordial young lady asked to speak to me. By her pleasant tone, I thought she was going to congratulate us on our impressive victory, or me for my coaching performance, or me, for wearing socks that matched.
“Sure, what can I do for you?”
“Well, one of your players told my son he was going to kill him,” she said, suddenly unpleasant, head bobbing side to side, hands on hips – what I now know as the “Karen” posture. “Yeah, that’s right. He said he was going to kill him. What kind of sportsmanship are you teaching your kids? This is kids playing football. What kind of ...”
I held up my hand.
“Wait, ma’am, are you sure about this? What player said what, and when?”
“Your No. 5, the smallest player on your team, told my son he was going to kill him during the game. What kind of person are you, teaching that kind of sportsmanship? And, another thing ...”
I had to interrupt. The smallest kid on our team, my son, who was No. 2, was in the back seat of my car, as was our No. 5, and they are two different people. They had heard everything she said, as had everyone in the parking lot.
“Hold on, ma’am, I have No. 5 in the back seat of my car, and our smallest player as well,” I said, looking into the back seat. “Guys, be honest, did either of you say anything close to what she said to her son before, during, or after the game?”
Our No. 5 was a soft-spoken, well-mannered kid. I knew he would never do such a thing. On the other hand, my children are guilty until proven innocent.
“No, sir,” said No. 5 and my son in unison, with my son adding: “I’ve never seen that kid before in my life.”
I can tell when my son is not telling the truth. His eyes dart from side to side. His eyes were sure and steady.
“Daddy, nobody on our team said anything like that to that boy. Look at his jersey, and I think ...”
“Hold on, that’s all I need to hear,” I said, giving him the halt sign.
“Ma’am, is it possible there’s been a mistake, that ...”
“No, your No. 5 told my son he was going to kill him,” she said. “What kind of sportsmanship are you teaching? I know you’re from Homerville and you think your (curse word) doesn’t stink, but ...”
“Whoa, now, let’s not cuss in front of kids,” I said, which prompted her to utter some more profanity, at which I offered a silent wave and closed my door.
I then quickly, but safely, put my car in gear to exit the parking lot. On the way home, perplexed by the experience, I offered some follow-up questions to the boys in the back.
“Hey, guys, do you remember anyone on our team saying anything to anyone on the other team. You know, that was mean or a threat or anything like that?”
“No,” my son answered matter-of-factly. “But that boy wasn’t on the other team.”
“That boy had on a blue uniform,” he said. “We played a red team tonight. The blue team played in one of those other games.”
“Wait, I thought that woman said her son played against us?”
“The cussing woman’s son was standing next to her, daddy. He was wearing a blue jersey.”
I hadn’t looked at the boy. My view was blocked by the woman getting in my face. Karen had cussed out the wrong coach.
“So, she didn’t even notice that I wasn’t the coach of the team her son played? Geez,” I said aloud, shaking my head.
“And you didn’t even notice her son was wearing a blue jersey,” my son added. “I tried to tell you.”
When you assume, when you assume.