A few years ago, my younger sister and I decided take a road trip to see my two younger brothers at a big, Jesuit University where one was an undergraduate student and the other was getting his Master’s Degree. We left our hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota and headed south arriving late on Friday night. The boys had procured four tickets to see the Saturday afternoon basketball home opener in what would become an epic season for this college. On my high school teacher’s sleep schedule, I woke up hours before my siblings, who were sleeping off the alcohol they had copiously consumed the night before. Eventually, they groggily joined me one by one on the dirty, bachelor couch I slept on. After easing into the day with bad television and a few youtube clips, we started to stir.
“Well, I guess we should start looking alive. The game starts soon,” yawned my brother.
We showered and got Mexican take out before boarding a shuttle to the stadium. The bus was packed with face painted, intoxicated guys with light beer stashed in their cargo shorts and young women with Uggs, Mardi Grau beads, yoga pants and eye makeup that wouldn’t quit. The guys swore loudly and the ladies giggled forcefully. I felt old and sober.
My brothers led my sister and me into a row of seats close to, but not consumed by the sea of student fans. I sat down as the players were just finishing their shoot around, and took it all in. The Catholic high school I taught at had recently been accused of being a “plantation,” insinuating that the only students of color at the school were brought in for their physical strength to play sports and entertain the white people. It was an exaggeration, but the only student of color in my seventh period classroom was front page National news for being the number one college football recruit in the country. With these lens on, I looked around. With few exceptions, I saw a sea of white faces in the stands. A white band. A white cheerleading squad. A white coaching and managerial staff. The officials were white. Then, my eyes scanned the bench. The strong, powerful athletes drank water and wiped sweat from their faces waiting to be announced. Black players, intent on the win.
The energy in the stadium was high as a highlight tape of the team on the jumbo tron was played with flashing lights and the starting five athletes were called out onto the floor one at a time. I leaned forward involuntarily as they set up for the tip off. The home team got possession of the ball, and after sharp passing and a giant screen, a 6′ 7” sophomore, Jamil Wilson, drove aggressively toward the hoop for an easy layup. The student section went crazy, and what looked like confetti filled the air behind the basket.
“What just happened?” I asked my brother, observing some fan ritual.
“It’s tradition to rip up your ticket and throw it into the air the first time we score,” he said.
“Huh,” was all I replied.
The team was invigorating to watch. They shot well, passed unselfishly, defended strategically. They dominated the game from start to finish, and easily posted a win to start the season off right. After the game, my siblings and I stood up, stretched a bit and turned to merge into the swarm of students climbing the stairs toward the stadium exit. Immediately in front of me was a young woman who appeared to be drunk, being held up and assisted by chuckling guys on either side of her. The guys were both wearing basketball jerseys, and her blue, sequenced headband held back highlighted blond hair. When we reached the top of the bleachers, there was a line of about fifteen Latino men and women, standing with visors and rubber gloves. As we turned right to look for the exit, the girl in front of me fell on her face. The guys crouched down to laugh at her, and she curled up in a fetal position, laughing self-consciously at herself, and refusing to get up.
“Oh my God! I fell! I can’t believe I fell! I am so drunk!” she exclaimed through giggles.
I watched the workers watch her, completely expressionless. My brothers subtly shook their heads as they walked around her on either side. As I followed them outside into the warm, late afternoon sun, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stadium workers cleaning up all the little white squares on the floor.