Silent Soccer, or The Lady with the Look on the Blanket: a diatribe

My 9 year old daughter plays in a rec soccer league.  Twice each season the league has “Silent Soccer” weekends, one of which occurred today.  Pretty simple, really: at a Silent Soccer game, no adults are supposed to talk – no coaches, no parents. You can clap, and “Woo-hoo,” etc., but no instructions and no calling out players or teams by name.

The idea is that, by giving ALL of the vocal space to the players, they learn how to communicate with each other in game situations, and are not distracted by Dad or Granny on the sidelines telling them to get forward or how great they are. Basically it al-

“LET’S GO [TEAM NAME]!!!!!  COME ON [PLAYER NAME], GIVE ‘EM THE RAPINOE!!!!”

A spectator for the other team is exhorting her player, over and over, every time her or her team gets the ball.

I let little things bother me, I know this. I try and roll with it.  I do.  But-

“LET’S GO [TEAM NAME]!!!!!  COME ON [PLAYER NAME], GIVE ‘EM THE RAPINOE!!!!”

Even after I figured out that she was telling her player to play like Megan Rapinoe and not to, you know, start raping people (sorry, Megan, you’re amazing but that last name is dangerous in the wrong mouth) I couldn’t let it go. I walked over to where the woman sat, on a blanket with two other folks, both of whom were also defiling Silent Soccer but less often and less loudly.

She saw me coming.

“It’s Silent Soccer,” I said, calmly and without rancor.

She looked up at me with that Look, that Look I see so often from white people in Berkeley and other bastions of self-satisfaction when I break through their superiority bubbles and call them out for being entitled assholes. There’s a lot packed into the Look – a melange of patronizing, smarmy, distant, superior, all lightly varnished with a touch of politeness, and topped off with a soupçon of “I’m pretending to listen to you carefully but I’m actually just waiting to talk.” Like I said, that Look carries a lot of water.

“We can still cheer. It’s all positive, we can still cheer.”

This was untrue. The league rules clearly state that calling out any player or team by name was not allowed, and that spectators should “cheer” by clapping, waving rally flags, etc.  Christ it’s called Silent fucking Soccer lady, not Only Yell Nice Things Day.

I shook my head and walked away, muttering “cheering isn’t silence.”

“LET’S GO [TEAM NAME]!!!!!  COME ON [PLAYER NAME]!!!”

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let it go. I pulled up the rules on my phone and walked back over.

“I’m sorry,” I said. (Why did I say I’m sorry?  I hate some of the automated subroutines my brain has picked up over the years. I was emphatically unsorry.  Still said it though. Goddammit.) And then I read her the rules.

She sat there, the Look pasted on her face. Then she says, inevitably, “You know, it’s just 9 year old girls playing soccer, why make such a big-”

I kept my voice low and more or less under control. “Because it IS a big deal. They’re nine year olds we’re trying to teach the rules of a game to, so don’t you think we should follow the rules, you know, set an example?”

I didn’t wait for a response, walked back to my spot, just so, so fucking angry.

I hear the lady and her blanket-mates reading the rules off of someone’s phone. They go over them carefully, lawyerly, and I hear them crafting an interpretation that allows them to continue to yell the team name, although they do stop calling out individual players. They seemed to derisively aim some of the cheering towards me, but I could have imagined that. The cheering stood out because it was otherwise really quiet. It was Silent Soccer after all.

Why did this piss me off so much? Because she was exhibiting two behaviors that have done much to help drive this country to the brink of… whatever horrible thing we’re on the brink of this week. Let’s review, and see if any of this rings a bell with you. The Lady with the Look on the Blanket was:

  1. Working the rules:
    • She was breaking the rules.
    • I noticed and called her out on it.
    • She responded in a way that implied that, not only did she know the rules, but that her behavior was compliant with those rules.
    • When I definitively proved that she was, in fact, breaking the rules, she immediately pivoted to “well, the rules don’t really matter, right?”  No apology, no thank you for politely educating her, just smug dismissal.
    • Instead of just, you know, following the fucking rules, she lawyered them into a form that, in her mind, allowed her to somehow ‘win’ the encounter, even though she was factually in the wrong.
  2. Always fucking talking, never fucking listening
    • It was obvious that never, ever, would she have considered just being quiet LIKE EVERY SINGLE OTHER ADULT ON THE FIELD.  It would just never occur to her that one option was to just shut the fuck up for one hour of her weekend.

Sounds familiar, right? This is not Republican or Democratic behavior, it’s not left or right.  It’s American behavior, and that’s what makes me so angry. And scared.

So, Lady with the Face on the Blanket, would you tell me that it’s not a big deal? Should we dismiss the idea that the only way to teach children how to follow the important rules is for us to follow them? Should we deny that even small rules can be important, for reasons that may not be apparent when you’re sitting on a blanket and being an asshole for no apparent reason?

Well, if you did tell me any of that, I’ll tell you what I’d do: I’d listen, quietly and attentively,  The Look would not appear on my face. I might even close my eyes so I can really focus on your words. I’d let you finish what you were saying. I’d take a deep breath and organize my thoughts. I would acknowledge any truths that you had shared. And then I would, calmly and without rancor, take your arguments apart like I was butchering a chicken carcass.

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