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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Peterson: Education and a helpful community can heal wounds of hatred

Fans in the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium demonstrate a new tradition of waving to children inside 
the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital at the end of the first quarter of Saturday's home 
game against Wyoming.
Fans in the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium demonstrate a new tradition of waving to children inside the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital at the end of the first quarter of Saturday's home game against Wyoming.

In the summer of 1979 I was living in a dormitory in Gainesville, Florida, while taking classes and serving a news service internship at the University of Florida. My roommate was a freshman African-American student from rural Florida. The Deep South.

Another freshman on the floor, an African-American from Brooklyn, New York, chastised my roommate one day for not responding “properly” to a slur uttered by a redneck student in the dorm cafeteria. He asked him why would he just sit there and take it?

My roommate had to explain that where he grew up, if you make the wrong decision in a moment like that, your life could end.

THAT is the reality of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Today’s kids are a little more removed from that terror felt by my roommate. So, the picture of Creston kids that garnered so much social media and mainstream media attention Wednesday, as wrong and hurtful as it was, probably didn’t involve youngsters fully understanding the meaning of what they thought they were portraying. At least, I hope not.

Yes, it’s important that there is an appropriate response to strongly deliver a message that this is wrong, plain and simple. And, in this case, it would probably help if the community knows what measures were taken. Otherwise, people may not let it go, or make assumptions that it was “swept under the carpet.”

But, let’s be clear. This does NOT represent the school, its football team or the community, despite what you might read somewhere. It was a stupid, disturbing stunt by some young boys.

It may cast a shadow on all of us for a few days, until the media moves on to the next “big thing.” But if education and discussion results from it about why this is wrong, then we can garner something positive out of it and move forward.

And, coaches I’ve talked to have already used this as a teaching moment about the powerful dangers of social media, especially dumb things done for shock value or twisted humor. The repercussions could be deep and long-lasting.

The school responded quickly, as did Southwestern Community College, to assure their students that they work hard to see that everyone is welcome here. I’m sure some SWCC parents from other places were alarmed at the news generated out of Creston Wednesday. Their fears were addressed in a statement released by college officials Wednesday afternoon.

A friend’s post on social media sums it up better than I could:

“You can have the best parents, best schools, best community...but trust me ..Even the best make poor decisions...it takes a village to raise a child....and that same village can totally tear down a child when they make a mistake. Yes, they are old enough to know better. Yes, they probably come from decent, wonderful families.Yes, they will be punished. And if they are good and decent they will learn from it. And their decent, wonderful family will love them and guide them. And their school and community will discipline them appropriately and not judge them. Creston is not a bad place, Creston is a great community. I hope those of you who are parents never have a child do something you deem as ‘pathetic’ or ‘horrible.’ Be careful not to fall into the category you have all just placed these boys.”

•••

The incident comes on the heels of Monday’s Rainbow Rally: Creston is No Place for Hate march, as a response to some of the anonymous hate mail directed at people the sender identified as being associated with support for homosexuality.

I’ve been the recipient of those letters, because this twisted individual chose to turn a tribute to a young person I coached in the aftermath of her death into an issue of sexuality and gender identity. His mind went there, the published statement did not.

But, I’m not receiving them anymore since the federal postal inspectors and local law enforcement authorities are confiscating them as they build their investigation. I’ve heard encouraging news on that front.

The sad thing is that with someone evil and cowardly like that, I have (likely) written positive things about their family over the years and been nothing but supportive.

Why would somebody do this? Someone on Facebook pointed out it could easily be a pent-up closet case with conflicting religious and internal feelings about the issue, resulting in a delusional obsession with it. Federal charges could cure that in a hurry.

•••

I prefer to focus attention on some of the more positive things in our lives, such as the local students generating support for victims of Hurricane Harvey showcased in Wednesday’s News Advertiser. And, the incredible experience I had with family members Saturday in Kinnick Stadium.

There was positive national attention, on ESPN SportsCenter and NBC’s Today Show, for example, on the new tradition of fans in Kinnick Stadium waving to children inside the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital at the end of the first quarter during home games.

I got goosebumps while waving to the upper floors of the hospital Saturday. A writer for Black & Cardinal Divide online wrote about a youngster in that hospital, Parker Hopkins, and his family. Parker is a big sports fan, diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2016. He was cancer free for nearly a year and now has to undergo a bone marrow transplant in October upon the return of cancer.

He looked down on the stadium full of fans waving and it was a cool moment for his family. Then, a few minutes later, he went to sleep because he’s been weakened by a recent fever. His favorite player is Josey Jewell and he got to see much of the first half from a window high in the new hospital.

Heartwarming stuff like that reminds me that there are good people everywhere. Hate doesn’t have to rule the day.

•••

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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