Last night we took our son to the big football game between our beloved Minnesota Vikings and our most love-to-hate team, the Green Bay Packers. It was a big night for our son. He is a walking Vikings statistic generator obsessed fan. His love of football is around the clock. It starts in the morning with him putting on yet another Vikings jersey, throwing his football in our foyer, continues at school where he brings his football and football gloves to play a game with his friends at recess, and continues after school with more football playing, and ends at night reading statistics and talking about Sunday football, Monday night football, and Thursday night football with my husband.
He was on cloud nine when we stepped into that Vikings stadium last night. His wide-eyed stare, his toothy smile, his body tingling with excitement. I don’t think he stopped showing his left-sided dimple all night long. He loved every second of those over three hours of heated, edge-of-our-seats game play. He screamed loudly with complete elation with each touchdown. He SKOL-chanted in rhythm with his fellow Vikings fans. “This is the best night ever!” he screamed into my ear.
With every stadium game comes the adult jeerers and nasty comments about the rival team. Multiple times, the Vikings fan behind us made cracks about the opposing team’s quarterback, calling him a homosexual or gay. He yelled, “Why don’t you love your family! They will accept you for who you are!” While sometimes humorous, he crossed the line time and time again. He was so crass and loud, that it was unavoidable. My son turned and stared at him multiple times. There was no judgment in his eyes, only curiosity. As he had never heard those words strewn together and thrown aloud with such force. I heard the fan’s girlfriend lean over and quiet him trying to get him to show consideration for all the kids in the stands. “What?? Hey, don’t bring your kids to a Vikings game if you don’t want to hear the truth!” he drunkenly yelled. I did not see a productive conversation moving forward if we confronted him about this. So, I took note of his words so we could talk about it later. At one point, my always inquisitive and thoughtful son leaned over and asked me why the opposing team’s quarterback didn’t love his family. This was all news to him.
After the game on the drive home, as we came down from the high and exhilaration of a Vikings win; I turned to my son and asked him if he knew what it meant to be a homosexual or gay. He said he did not. We talked about kids that have two dads or two moms. We talked about how people can love whomever they would like, but that there are people that don’t agree with that. That though we know that you can love whomever it is you want, others who are close minded and close hearted will loudly make fun and judge people for decisions they don’t agree with. I told him that everyone is entitled to their opinions but there is a way to be kind and there is a way to open your heart to all kinds of people. I explained that that fan behind us was not one of those people that choose an open heart and kindness, and that there were many people just like him. I told him it was our job to support and show love for all kinds of people and stand up for people and their choices when they cannot themselves.
At the end of the day, I am thankful we were there to hear the truth. The truth is that we cannot shield our kids from other people’s close-minded, hateful rants. What we surely can do, is not brush these experiences under the rug. When the homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry is loud around us, we need to be louder. I don’t mean yell back and be obnoxious in the stadium louder. I mean address these truths head on. Talk to them about these hard things and equip them with the right tools to process and react to this ever evolving, dynamic world.
We cannot just think that our kids are innocent and will find their way to the best conclusions. They are listening and learning every step of the way from everyone around them–for better or worse. Make this an active process, not a passive process.
The Vikings won. My son opened his eyes to another face of humankind, and because of it, he grew a little bit more into the man he is becoming.