Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Sad Day for the Home Crowd

Back when I was first married, my husband would occasionally watch a weekly West German football (soccer) match on PBS. This was back before the Berlin Wall fell. The announcer was named Toby Charles and he was English. Whenever the home team would lose, Toby Charles would inevitably say, "It's a sad day for the home crowd."

Last night was a very sad night for the home crowd in the annual Champion's League final. For those who are unfamiliar with the Champion's League final, it is the European equivalent of the Super Bowl. The best European football clubs play in the Champion's League tournament. The winner of the final gets glory, a huge trophy, a lot of money, and an automatic berth in the next year's Champion's League tournament. What made this year's final unique was that it was the first time that one of the clubs played in its home stadium. The final, between Germany's Bayern Munich and the London club FC Chelsea, was played in Munich's Allianz Arena. At the end of regulation and overtime, the score was tied 1-1. Chelsea ended up winning the match 4-3 on penalty kicks.

Bayern  actually outplayed Chelsea in every facet of the game.  But Chelsea played a very defensive game, which was also a successful strategy in the semi-final round against FC Barcelona. Bayern, like Barcelona, is capable of scoring a lot of goals. Both teams have many players who are dangerous goal scorers. But it's hard to score when there is a wall of defenders in front of the goalie. Bayern's scoring machine was shut down by Chelsea's blue wall (Chelsea wore blue uniforms) in front of the goal. While fans may be critical of a team strictly playing defense, it certainly worked for Chelsea.

Both teams have goalies who are among the best in the world. Bayern's Manuel Neuer is the German national goalie. He looks like he could play the part of an Aryan soldier in a World War II movie with his short blond hair, blue eyes, and tall, sturdy build.  Petr Cech of Chelsea is the Czech Republic's national goalie. He got a bigger workout than Neuer last night and can kick the ball almost all the way across the field. Cech looks like a 1920s American football player because he wears a soft helmet to protect his head (he had a bad concussion several years ago). Like Neuer, he is tall. But he is thinner and looks like he has a 3-meter arm span. Here is last night's penalty shootout, which shows both goalies (commentary is in Russian).

The main reason why the Champion's League is so special is because the European football leagues are the best in the world. Just like foreign players aspire to play in the NBA or NHL, football players from all over the world dream of playing for a European club. The best European football clubs are better than most countries' national teams. In fact, most national players from the top countries play for the best European clubs. Spain, Germany, England, and Italy have the best leagues. A club from any of those four countries is almost always in the Champion's League final.

There are a couple of things that I wish could be changed about football. One is that it's the only game where players get rewarded for faking an injury. The Italians are masters of diving and fake injuries, with the Brazilians (or any country which has a Latin-based language) close behind. With the way some players roll around on the ground and carry on with their theatrics, one would think that they just became crippled for life. The player who is closest to the diver usually gets penalized with a foul or yellow card. When the referee doesn't notice the dive, the "hurt" player gets right back up like nothing happened. Here is a video of the worst football dives. Some of the dives are very comical. Last night's game had some theatrics, but they were pretty minimal.

The other thing that I think should be changed is having a major championship, like the Champion's League final, decided on penalty kicks. To me that's the same as having Game 7 of the NBA championship being decided on free throws. I would rather see players dragging themselves on the field trying to score a goal in a third overtime period instead of playing for a penalty shootout. The Bayern-Chelsea match would have been even more exciting if the players had to play more than one overtime period.

Even though last night's game was disappointing for those of us who are Bayern fans, it was still epic. I hope that next year's Champion's League final is equally exciting. Who knows, maybe Bayern and Chelsea will have a rematch.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Male Role Models

One of the old stereotypes about gay men was that they were all child molesters. Like most stereotypes about minorities, that one is untrue. I'm sure that there is a certain percentage of gay men who are indeed pedophiles, but they are a tiny minority. Now the prevailing stereotype of all men in the States, gay or straight, is that they are perverts who are waiting for the perfect opportunity to groom a child in order to molest or abduct him or her. But like the gay child molester stereotype, there are very few straight men who are pedophiles. They are not really everywhere, like many people think now.

Fortunately the base where I work has not given in to "Predator Paranoia" and has many men who work with children of all ages, from infants through high school students. Some of these men would fit the stereotypical profile of a child predator because they are either single or older (or both). But they obviously proved that they were trustworthy enough to be around children; and they are well-liked by the kids and respected by their co-workers and the parents of the kids they work with. I'm going to talk about two of them, though all of the men who work at the Child Development Center, School Age Center, and Teen Center are all wonderful and very professional. I'm glad that the powers that be realize that boys (and girls too) need good male role models.

Larry (not his real name) is the man who runs the Teen Center. He used to work at the School Age Center, but is now strictly at the Teen Center. He is a 30-something single white man who genuinely loves working with kids, especially teenagers. Larry allows the teenagers to be independent as long as they follow the Teen Center's rules. He is a great soccer player and spends countless hours playing soccer outside with the kids. On Friday nights the Teen Center is open late and the kids can help prepare a communal dinner. Larry supervises the dinner preparation and has a way of getting even the most reluctant kids to help out. Getting my son to help me in the kitchen at home is sometimes harder than pulling teeth. But when I pick him up from the Teen Center on Friday nights, he tells me about how he helped to cook dinner with Larry. In addition, Larry helps the teens with their homework and is available to talk with them about anything.

The other man is Jim (also not his real name), who is an older African-American man with grown kids. The kids at both the School Age Center and Teen Center view him almost as a surrogate grandfather. Since most kids here have their grandparents in the States, it's great that the kids have a grandfather figure. When my son was at the School Age Center, he looked forward to playing board games with Jim. When Jim works at the Teen Center when my son is there, my son always tells me interesting stories of Jim's life or wants to show me a bulletin board that Jim made. Every year for Black History Month Jim makes special bulletin boards in both the School Age and Teen Centers. They are not the usual Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks exhibits. One year he did a bulletin board with famous African-American musicians. Another year the board featured the Tuskeegee Airmen and Buffalo Soldiers. My son was very impressed that Jim knew several German soccer legends who played on the Bayern Munich soccer team (my son is a huge Bayern fan). Jim played professional basketball for 8 years in Munich. At that time, the basketball and soccer stadiums were next to each other. Bayern Munich would play its matches in the afternoons and the basketball games were after the soccer matches. The Bayern Munich soccer players would walk over to the basketball stadium to watch the games. I think it's wonderful that the teens can be around an older man who had an interesting life.

At the base where I used to work, the only staff who worked at the various centers were women. There was one man who worked at the CDC there. But he worked strictly in the reception area taking payments and scheduling the kids who only needed hourly care. I'm glad that the base where I work has men working with kids of all ages. These men play outdoors with the kids (it's a good thing they never get tired of playing soccer), help with homework, and even cook Friday night dinners at the Teen Center. Boys and girls can see how men can conjugate German verbs, play soccer, then come in and whip up a delicious dinner. My son is very fortunate to have Larry, Jim and the other men who work at the Teen Center as some of his role models. I hope that this situation does not change.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Predator Alert!

Today's post in Free Range Kids was a link from Circle of Moms, which appears to be a site for helicopter parents (at least judging from the multiple "better safe than sorry" comments to various posts).  Here is the link: How to Spot a Child Predator. The author saw an older gentleman talking with two boys who were eating by themselves in a sandwich shop. The man went over to the boys and decided to strike up a conversation with them. He asked them normal things that any adult would ask a child: what grade are you in, where do you go to school, what is your favorite subject in school, do you like astronomy? The woman "had an epiphany" and decided that the man was an obvious child predator who was grooming the two boys with his questions. The writer decided that those questions are exactly what pedophiles ask when grooming their victims. She asked the boys where their parents were, then told a restaurant employee that she was concerned about the man talking with the boys. The woman even told the employee to call the police if the boys left the cafe with someone other than their parents. The man ended up leaving.

Did this woman actually know that this man was a child predator? No, she just assumed it because he was an older man talking to children. A man having a pleasant conversation with two boys was publicly humiliated simply because he was older and liked kids. The woman also was concerned about a stranger talking to two boys whose parents, by the way, deemed them capable of eating in a restaurant by themselves. Yet she went up to them and talked to them. But she somehow didn't see anything wrong with talking to the boys herself even though she was a stranger to them. I guess "stranger danger" only applies to men.

When did it become so crazy in the States that every man is viewed as a pervert who only wants to molest children? It used to be an old stereotype about gay men that they were child molesters. Now that hysteria has spread to all men, whether they are gay or straight. Men who sincerely love children are now becoming afraid to approach them or talk to them for fear that they will be viewed as perverts and potential child abductors.  Even the number of male teachers has shrunk to a 40-year low, one reason being that they are afraid of being accused of child abuse. See this abc news story about the low number of male teachers, especially in elementary schools. Of course a child's father should be a good male role model. But kids need to have other positive male role models as they grow up. But how can children have good male role models when men aren't allowed to be near them? It is sad that men who want to work with children are now afraid to do so because mothers like the woman who wrote the post in Circle of Moms would automatically accuse them of being pedophiles. One of my very favorite teachers was Mr. Ort, my 8th grade English teacher. He  got me excited about writing. Mr. Ort sincerely enjoyed working with junior high students. His students also liked him because they could sense that he truly loved teaching. None of Mr. Ort's students would ever have accused him of being a pedophile.

I have taught my son to talk to strangers, just not to go off with them. In fact, I have told him that when he is out by himself and needs assistance, he needs to ask an adult to help him. He put this lesson into action two years ago, when he was 11. My son wanted to ride his bike to the grocery store to get an official World Cup football (soccer) sticker book and wanted me to go with him. I told him that he had to go by himself because I was cooking dinner. I didn't really pay attention to how long my son was gone. But when he came back, he apologized for being late. It turned out that the chain on my son's bike slipped when he shifted gears. The closest adult that he found to help him fix his bike was an older man. As the man was fixing the chain, he asked my son where he went to school and what grade he was in. It turned out that the man's granddaughter was one of my son's classmates! When my son came home and told me what happened, my first thought was, "How cool that the person who helped you turned out to be a classmate's grandfather." The second thought was, "It's good that my son actually listened when I told him to find an adult when he needs some help." The thought that the Good Samaritan who fixed my son's bike was a child predator never even occurred to me.

Whenever I meet a child for the first time, I ask him things like where he goes to school and what grade he's in. Those are normal questions to ask a child. Who in their right mind would ask a child about how to solve the Greek monetary crisis?  In fact, the woman who wrote the original post sounded more like a predator to me by asking where the boys' parents were. I think that we all need to take a deep breath and realize that most men are good people who would be repulsed at the thought of molesting a child. As Sigmund Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And most men who like children are simply men who like children.