I was seven or eight years old when I met my cousin for the first time.
I was a shy nervous kid and didn’t know what to say when meeting someone for the first time.
He wasn’t even the same age, he was a lot older than I was and I didn’t know what to say.
My cousin had just moved to Canada, so probably everything seemed pretty to new him as well.
What happened next still haunts to me to this day.
I’ll never forget sitting across from him in the mall food court as my mother and aunt spoke.
I didn’t know what to say.
We were always taught to respect everyone.
Our parents were very strict and taught us right from wrong from a very young age.
We went to church almost every Sunday, sure we may have missed some due to hockey tournaments, but we were there more than not.
Suffice to say we knew how to behave at home and in public and we took great pride in being respectful to everyone.
Our parents taught us to embrace everyone’s uniqueness and to treat everyone with respect.
As I stared across the table searching for words to say, I thought about my passion for sports.
At seven or eight years old I thought everyone played sports or shared the same love of sport that I did.
You see we grew up watching sports all the time.
It didn’t matter what sport was on, we watched it.
NHL, MLB or the NBA, if there was a game on my brother and I were glued to the TV.
“Do you like sports,?” I asked in a nervous shaky voice.
Before he could answer, I asked him a follow up question, the worst inappropriate follow up question ever.
“You must play basketball,?” I said.
My mother swiftly kicked me from under the table in the foot.
As soon as I said it I could feel my face get hot and turn beat red.
I was so embarrassed.
How could I say something so wrong, so stereotypical, so discriminatory, so hurtful.
I instantly felt ashamed of what I said.
I’ll never forget my cousin’s reaction.
He didn’t yell at me, he didn’t get angry he spoke quietly and concisely.
“I don’t play basketball.”
“I’m not really into sports.”
“I didn’t play a lot of sports growing up.”
We continued talking, a short time later we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
The twenty minute drive home that day was filled with discussion.
I felt like I let my entire family down.
What would my family think of me?
My mind wouldn’t stop racing.
How could I? What an awful hurtful thing to say. How could I have been so insensitive?
My mother had to be embarrassed, but we talked about what I said.
I felt so guilty.
I was brought up to respect everyone for who they are.
My parents didn’t teach us to act like that or say something like that.
I was just so ashamed.
Sure I was young, but that was no excuse for what I said.
You see my cousin was a person of colour.
From that day forward I changed.
I tell that story every year to my Personal Development and Career Planning classes when talking about discrimination, racism and equality.
You can always hear a pin drop in the class when I tell that story.
It’s difficult for me to share it, but I feel it’s so important for kids these days to hear it.
Recently I told this story to a great friend.
“We all have blind spots Craig, you learned about yours at seven or eight.”
To know better is to do better.
We all need to do better.
We all need to treat people equally, I learned that a long time ago, but I still have a lot to learn, I still have a blind spot.
I Was Wrong
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the anthem I thought he was disrespecting the flag, disrespecting the United States, disrespecting his country.
Growing up we were taught to respect the national anthem.
Respect our country and those that serve and pay the ultimate price.
We were always told to stand at attention, to pay our respects, standing on guard for thee meant something.
I didn’t understand what Kaepernick was doing, what his message was.
You see I didn’t ask the right questions.
I didn’t ask the right people.
I didn’t understand.
I vividly remember two of my fellow classmates at school either sitting down or going to the hallway during the playing of our national anthem.
As kids we didn’t hold that against them. Didn’t criticize them or bully them, we just wanted to know why.
Obviously it was for religious purposes.
I can’t remember how old we were or who told us, if it was the teacher or them, but once we knew that was the end of it.
They were our classmates, our friends, they weren’t disrespecting the flag or the country, it was part of their religious beliefs and last time I check they had every right to do that.
Fast forward eighteen years and I am the one at the front of the class.
It was my job, my duty to ensure students paid their proper respects to the flag, to our country and to all the men and women that serve.
From the moment I stepped into a classroom I tried to entrench that sense of respect in all of my students when it came to the national anthem.
You see I didn’t understand what Kaepernick was trying to say.
I didn’t search for understanding, I was quick to judge and clearly millions of others were as well.
I kept my thoughts to myself and rarely did I ever speak about Colin Kaepernick.
Sure I saw the negative press and reaction on mainstream media, but I didn’t see the real meaning of his message because of a blind spot.
As time went on and I saw what I was supposed to see, I now realize how critical it is to search for understanding before judging someone’s actions.
With more and more athletes around the world taking a knee it’s imperative that we are all there to listen, to acknowledge, to learn, to support, to educate and to respect.
We all have blind spots.
We can’t always see what we are suppose to see.
An obstructing view of reality leads to obscurity, confusion, hate and fear.
Eighteen years into my teaching career and I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, how would I handle a student taking a knee during the anthem?
The answer is simple, I would support them, I would talk to them, I would listen to them.
Why aren’t we being more supportive?
Why aren’t we listening?
Why didn’t we listen to Colin Kaepernick’s message?
Are we listening to the NHL players that are taking a knee?
Are we paying attention to all the athletes that are trying to send the message?
As more and more NHL players come forward and talk about their experiences with discrimination and racism, it’s my hope that those around and in game will be accepting, receptive, respectful, but most of all understanding.
With so much conformity and negativity surrounding the code of silence and hockey culture it’s
truly inspiring to see players have the courage to break that conformity by showing solidarity and support for one and another and support for our society.
The search for understanding provides clarity, acceptance and equality. But most of all, it provides support.
The search for understanding eliminates the blind spot.
To know better is to do better, we all need to do better, so we can eradicate our blind spots once and for all.