More than 32 springs ago, I was a pioneer in the uncharted waters brought on by a little piece of legislation called Title IX. Girls’ sports came to my high school with confusion and conviction and chaos. An art teacher became the girls’ softball coach, an English teacher the girls’ Basketball coach and tennis and volleyball were the purview of the traditional girls’ gym teachers who argued for the limitations of girls in sports.
In the two years in high school after Title IX took effect, I lettered in three sports and became an advocate for a new locker room, showers, uniforms, practice time in the gym, qualified coaches and equipment the boy’s teams took for granted. I was talented as an athlete who never had the opportunity to play competitive sports before. My peers and I worked hard to learn the games we were playing. I was 17 years old, an honor student and a fledgling leader. I started a newsletter called “Scoring Points” because the local paper wasn’t covering girls’ sports.
I was admired by most, for my conviction and my clarity. However there were some who wanted to silence my voice and they did so by talking to others with words like “she’s not a team player and she has a bad attitude.” My team-mates all knew differently, but a small group of adult/teachers/coaches in the school stuck together. It cost me a very small scholarship, a chance to have my name put in the sports walk of fame by the high school gym and a happy graduation ceremony. It wasn’t that I had done anything wrong; it was just that I hadn’t remained quiet.
Fast forward to 2007, I am a CEO of a not-for-profit organization and we are merging with another not for profit organization. A similar scenario in that the board of the organization with which we are merging is parochial, small and unsure of itself. The organization to which I am the CEO is growing, professional, connected and twice the size of the other. In the three years I have been the CEO of this organization, we have grown by 60%.
Again rumors are starting to fly and hateful words are being shared in parking lots and through telephone calls. This time, they are more personal and potentially damaging in the Bible belt where I now live. At first, it took my breath away. And then I remembered back to a time when I was 17.
I remember how it felt at 17 to believe in something with all my heart. It was near the end of the school year and the coach’s committee was making decisions about a small $500 scholarship. The softball coach, an art teacher, was the source of rumors. I had been a stellar catcher for her team, but consulted outside counsel to learn how to be a catcher in a fast pitch team. By finding support outside of her, I had inadvertently pointed out to her insecurities she must have felt she had. I didn’t realize that then. I was 17. I was named to the all league team, honored by other coaches, but wasn’t honored by my own high school softball coach.
If she had left it to that, not being honored by the coaching staff of the softball team, that would have been disappointing enough, but because she chose to speak to others and to spread rumors about my not being a team player, I lost out on the small scholarship and had to deal with some humiliation right before graduation.
It was during those last few weeks of school, when some of the other coaches began sharing what they were hearing with me, that I felt devastated. I remember sitting in the living room with my mom as she consoled me to hold my head up, no matter what someone might say about me. In addition, I learned then the importance of forgiveness.
It wasn’t an easy lesson to absorb, but I remember my mother sharing the importance of letting the harsh words and rumors slide off of me like water on a duck’s back. Be proud of who you are she told me, and I realized she was right.
I was lucky to find in my life, many role models for that. I am reminded that to be a person of integrity, I must stand in my truth, no matter what another might say. There have been many role models in my lifetime, people who stood with courage and conviction, four who lost their lives because of their convictions before I had graduated from high school: John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X. There were also many women who stood with the courage of their conviction: Shirley Chisolm, Billie Jean King, Barbara Jordan, and Bella Abzug were just a few of the women I admired then.
Today, it is again a person full of his own insecurities. I must remember the lessons of 17, when I first realized the importance of standing in my truth, no matter what someone might say or do to you. And, not only must I stand in the truth, but unwavering, I must move on, not to fall victim to another’s insecurities, but forgive them for those defects of character. I must continue to be the person I believe myself to be.
This, I believe.
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