Tuesday, April 22, 1997
Brawl shows enlightenment only skin deep

The Cincinnati Enquirer

On Thursday afternoon, a dozen members of the Woodward High School baseball team went to Mount Healthy High, to apologize for assaulting at least four Mount Healthy players after their game Tuesday.

''We made a terrible mistake,'' they said, ''We're sorry.''

''It's done,'' the Mount Healthy people said. ''Let's learn from it and move on. No hard feelings.''

What's that? Didn't happen? Oh. Sorry. Must have been dreaming.

Here's what really happened:

Students at Woodward suggested their players must have been provoked.

Students and faculty at Woodward worried about the school's image.

Parents at Mount Healthy pondered lawsuits.

Callers to The Enquirer wanted it known that it was black kids beating up white kids. (Would the children have been any less injured if other white kids had hit them?)

Callers to radio talk shows spewed their own peculiar brand of racial hatred.

And nobody said a thing about healing.

I'm starting to think we like staring across our racial divide, fists clenched. We must enjoy this constant tearing at each other. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it so much.

I used to think high school was the last, best place for athletics. Kids could learn sports and life lessons while doing nothing worse to each other than splitting a lip on a goal line stand. I don't think that anymore.

Now, what I think is, sports' last refuge rests with the kids leagues, and the parents are doing their best to screw those up, too.

A racial society

''Look at the simple makeup of the teams,'' Mike Hicks was saying.

He's the principal at Woodward. Thursday afternoon at 3:30, he stood in front of his school, directing city buses picking up students. Hicks is a big man, a four-year offensive lineman at Marshall University a few decades ago. This brawl business had him stooped over Thursday, looking old.

''We live in a society where if it's black, if it's white, then it's racial. It could be I disagree with you or I just don't like you. Skin color may not have anything to do with it,'' said Hicks, who is black, if it makes a difference, which it doesn't.

He didn't believe the brawl was racial. Neither did anyone involved.

''We were on a pretty long losing streak,'' said Antwan Peek, a Woodward player not involved in the brawl. ''We were getting frustrated.''

That theory, though unrefuted, wasn't good enough. It couldn't have been that a bunch of unsportsmanlike knuckleheads cold-cocked several members of the winning team, anymore than it could have been that Fuzzy Zoeller simply made a stupid remark about Tiger Woods' preference in foods.

No, not in 1997, when everything is racial, and we all seem to prefer disliking one another.

Proving that he is truly a champion, Woods on Thursday accepted Zoeller's apology. Would it be that we all were so forgiving.

The easy way out

It should be enough to say, ''Let's get on with it.'' But we can't. We never have, really. It's easier to hate than to forgive, so we stare across the divide and count our losses.

At Mount Healthy, it was four players taken to the hospital, one with a broken jaw, another with a broken nose. At Woodward, it was players killing their own hopes, with their own actions.

Mike Hicks talked about a sophomore player, ''the best I've seen. This kid had promise,'' Hicks said. ''He would do anything in the world if he could take back what he did. It tears me up for him.''

Sometime soon, Hicks will sign a paper recommending this player be expelled from school. The school district will accept it. So much for promise.

You could say the kid deserves it, and maybe you're right. But no one is better for it. And the next time something occurs between blacks and whites, we'll all be just as unforgiving.

But here's the thing: Tragedy honors no color.

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your calls at 768-8454.


Related stories