The slap heard around the gym

Just what you were waiting for, right? A gymnastics coach’s take on the slap heard around the world.  Well, maybe not. 

Let me state first off that the true hero in the story was Chris Rock. His restraint in the face of what happened was admirable.  He didn’t escalate the situation nor did he file charges, and that takes a big man.

What I noticed is how Smith was laughing at Rock’s joke until his wife gave him a nonverbal expression that he should say/do something.  What Smith decided to do was walk on stage, strike another person, walk back, shout profanities to the stage, and refuse to leave.  (PS, shame on the academy for letting him stay.)

A few years ago (like 20), it was the end of a long night of training. There were a few team kids left in the gym.  I had dismissed the team gymnasts – ages 15 to 18- and was having a chat with my wife and another coach. We were all tired and frustrated by the long practice session.  My wife told me to get the kids moving as we all wanted to go home. And out of somewhere I raised my voice to a shout and told them to go. It was loud enough that they knew I wasn’t kidding around, and they hurriedly grabbed their bags and scooted out the door.  The other coach jumped when I shouted as she wasn’t expecting such a loud and seemingly angry reaction over nothing. In truth, I wasn’t either. I don’t even know where that came from.

Was it that I was tired? Frustrated? Trying to sound like a tough guy? Or was it, as Smith told us in his award acceptance speech that sometimes love makes us do crazy things.  Was my wife to blame for pushing me into shouting? No. The decision was mine. The action was mine. And I remember this like it was yesterday because I am still so ashamed of my response. 

So, back to Smith; whatever it was that prompted his reaction, it is his alone and he is responsible. It was inappropriate, out of proportion, and something he certainly regretted after having a minute to reflect.  But being regretful, for him nor for me in my story, doesn’t make it all better.

For me, I apologized to my team the next night. I explained that I overreacted and wanted to make it clear that this gym would always be a safe place for them, despite my ridiculous actions the night before.  The coach that was there with us at the time, ended up quitting shortly after. She was a great coach, and her leaving was a real loss to our program. And though I remain friends with her, I cannot help but feel, every time I see her, how idiotically I behaved that one night and wondering if I was the reason she left.

I have grown as a coach and as a human being.  I am much slower to an emotional reaction and in fact have become much more mindful of what, when, and how I say things.  Call it maturing.

We are human and prone to mistakes. What is important is that we learn from them. I will still watch Will Smith’s movies, I like a few of them, but I will still avoid his music, I never really liked it anyway. And I will give him room to make amends. I know that he apologized to Chris Rock. I know that he made a statement to his fans.  Now I hope he realizes his status as a role model to young people and publicly demonstrates how a real man behaves when a mistake is made. If he realizes it, he will admit his faults, and spend every day after being a better person.

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