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Telling Tales out of School

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Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

  • Student protests and oodles of other stuff, even some that's relevant

    I’ll be away the next two weeks, which we hope will be full of kayaking, hiking, swimming, reading a book every day.

    Anonymous trolls, you’ll either have to save up your invective, or maybe just go after one or two of my colleagues. MA or Bartley tend to be somewhat provocative...

    Meanwhile...

    You may have seen my story today on the protest at the University of Manitoba Thursday, in which international students accused the faculty of engineering of discrimination.

    That’s a pretty serious charge.

    U of M says that engineering isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been university policy for decades, that the university by policy treats Manitoba and Canadian students differently than it treats foreign students.

    Foreign students already pay higher tuition, up to three times as much, which is supposed to cover the taxpayer subsidies to a university education which foreign students and their parents obviously don’t pay.

    The contentious issue that allegedly justifies the charge of discrimination is that because engineering is in huge demand, and U of M guarantees it will take 10 per cent of enrolment from qualified foreign applicants but has a target ceiling of 12 to 15 per cent, then foreign applicants tend to get in with higher average GPAs than domestic students.

    What it comes down to, and which student leaders would not address, is whether foreign students have an inherent right to compete for spaces in a Manitoba university on the same level playing field as do Manitoba students.

    U of M Students Union president Al Turnbull declined to comment.

    Zach Fleisher, Manitoba chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said CFS has not yet set a policy on the issue of equal access for foreign students.

    Yet both Turnbull and Fleisher, and the associations they head, vilified U of M with the accusation of discrimination.

    I might suggest Fleisher go on-line and check out the reports published publicly which show voluminous reports and policy papers on both the board of governors and senate websites. He hasn’t been reading them, particularly the dozens of pages about enrolment strategies, said Fleisher.

    As for the 50 or so chanting students...the chants were much more clever back in the 60s, when I don’t recall that student protesters could afford, or would ever even consider showing up with, dozens of specially-printed t-shirts and sign shop placards. That would have been proof back in the day of rampant bourgeois attitudes.

    I know that there are vast differences between my generation and the current one, with the anonymity of the Internet and social media and all, and our sense that you put your name on what you say or write. And I know that my attitudes may be totally invalid and are certainly out of date.

    Nevertheless, if you chant discrimination while brandishing a sign that says "I have a 4.0 and I can’t get in," then people of my generation will read that and interpret it as meaning that you personally have a GPA of 4.0 yet have been rejected by the faculty of engineering. But each of the students whom I approached who was brandishing such a placard said that, no, he or she did not personally have that experience, but was merely holding the sign to support someone whom someone else taking part in the demonstration knows.

    What part of ‘I’ is so hard to understand?

    Moving on.....

    A whole bunch of things has been piling up here, some of them involving my getting grief from grown-ups who sign their real names and take responsibility for what they say.

    A caution now that I’m about to wander all over the map with all kinds of things, and that my train of thought will switch tracks with absolutely no warning. It’s doubtful anyone will stick with me to the end, although if I refuse to rule out saying anything about education property taxes, maybe Colin Craig will hang in there...

    Let’s start with the mother who’s sent me four exceedingly lengthy diatribes blaming me for her daughter’s ongoing woes, which would have been resolved long ago had I only put the situation in the paper.

    Her daughter is 27 and has an issue with student loans in connection with her studies at a community college, whose name most astute readers would recognize. And each time this woman writes to me, I tell her the same thing which I tell those handful of postsecondary parents who want me to write about problems with their children’s schooling: your daughter is an adult, if she wants to talk to me for possible publication, she is free at any time to do so.

    Moving on....

    I’m glad to see that those little kids in Interlake School Division had their science project sent into space and performed on the international space station. I wrote quite a few articles over a couple of years on the project, which involved hundreds of kids in grades 5 and 6 from eight schools having a lot of fun while learning a lot about science and other subjects.

    I thought the articles were all quite positive, though it’s often the positive ones that get you into far more trouble than the controversial hard-news stories.

    Suffice to say that the attacks on my competence and character and integrity over two of those stories were in any top 10 list of the most scathing signed attacks I’ve received in recent years. The more recent of the two, which was copied to me but sent to Big Editor (not his real name) accused me of having offended NASA so deeply that the American space agency would kick the Interlake kids out of the program and leave them heart-broken.

    Sigh.

    I know St. James-Assiniboia school trustee Ed Hume is less than thrilled that I have not seen fit to pursue some issues he’s raised with me.

    At the Manitoba School Boards Association convention, Hume proposed that the trustees use some kind of clicker device to vote on resolutions, rather than holding up a voting card from their seats. He lost, and afterward came over to ask me if I would be writing a story about his idea — he seemed genuinely taken aback that I wasn’t going to write about it.

    Speaking of MSBA, I segue, and this time it’s from that well-known correspondent, anonymous...someone who didn’t sign his or her name sent me a copy of some minutes of the MSBA regional minutes, with reference to some changes in the ways that regional reps would be chosen, and that this could be the end of the world. I didn’t follow up and write about that; acknowledging that I can often be quite dim on things that seem obvious to others, you’re going to have to email or phone me and explain to me why this is a big deal.

    Same with an anonymous letter about a school division that’s been in the news, and not in a good way. You challenged me to publish the allegations you sent; if you are indeed an educated person, you might have some inkling why I would choose not to, nor would Big Editor allow me, to name people and then say that they are corrupt and incompetent and bereft of integrity, without a single shred of substantiation.

    Otherwise, yes, it might be a story if you could prove it was true...

    Me: Tweeeeet!

    Player: What was that for? I didn’t do antyhing.

    Me: You certainly didn’t. I called it on the girl who fouled you.

    Player: Oh. That is sooooooooo embarrassing.

    Oh, sorry to digress here, but I always take note of July 12, which would have been my father’s 92nd birthday. I didn’t notice any King Billy activities or events that day — what happened to that tradition of celebrating sectarian hatred from the Toronto of my youth?

    And changing topics....

    Many of you think I’m neurotic, and now I’ve been diagnosed as such. How did my neurosis manifest itself? As a child lay writhing in pain, I asked the coach to come on the field and tend to his player...then when there was no compliance, asked a second time...then asked a third time, at which point the coach dismissed me as being neurotic.

    And on another topic....Recently, a school trustee asked me if he/she should run again. I replied that, as a reporter, this trustee’s activities were the gift that keeps on giving. As a citizen, whose children had been in the school system for most of this trustee’s time in office, I was non-committal.

    Which segues into the recent Ontario provincial election. I covered five of them to varying degrees back in the day, two full-time on the bus, and this was the first time I looked at one with a real interest at stake. Whoever won in the past, when I lived in Upper Canada, my world would not change all that much.

    Child the younger has hopes of pursuing further postsecondary education and a career, most likely in Ontario. She is passionate about nature and the environment, and looking at the party platforms, I thought that both the Liberals and NDP understood that government jobs are not the source of all evil, and both parties understood that nature and the environment are good things.

    I’ve seen a lot of politicians and back-room advisers in my time, some brilliant ones who kept the Ontario Conservatives in power for 42 years by always occupying the centre, John Tory and Hugh Segal among them, but who in the world told now-former Tory leader Tim Hudak that chopping 100,000 public sector jobs would get his party elected?

    Meanwhile....I can’t believe all this hogwash about the loyalty shown by LeBron James in returning to Cleveland, where he will accept bazillions in salary and endorsement money to play basketball. It’s a job, and sports are a business, and James is one of the few professional athletes whose talent and free agent status allow him to call his own shots.

    I’m reminded of what some people said when Buck Pierce came back to the Blue Bombers as an assistant coach, about how few athletes repay loyalty, and that somehow Buck was repaying loyalty.


    What loyalty? They’re paid for their work, and when they get hurt, or get older, or are half a step slower than someone earning less money, they’re unemployed. Loyalty? Players obliged to pay back somehow? The Blue Bombers released Will Ford this week. Anyone know where Fred Reid is today, or Ian Logan, or any of the dozens of other young men who were history the instant they were no longer of use?

    If that’s too vaguely-Marxist for you, you know how to send an anonymous vitriolic reply.

    Sigh.

    Here’s another very convoluted segue. I saw all the stories ridiculing the guy who’s suing for $10 million after he was shown and trash-talked about on TV when he fell asleep at a baseball game.

    But it reminded me of something about which I’ve thought numerous times, but about which I had yet to blather here, when we pay a lot of money to attend a sporting event, are we agreeing implicitly that we are agreeing to the possibility of being humiliated?

    I’m thinking specifically of people’s being shown on the kiss cam. What about all the people who don’t want to make a spectacle of themselves, and are held up to derisive laughter? What if they simply don’t want to kiss for the entertainment of 15,000 people, or maybe they’re siblings, or it’s their first date, or she’s with the guy on her right but they’re showing her and the guy on her left, or they pick on two complete strangers who happen to be sitting next to each other? And has anyone ever seen a same-sex couple on the kiss-cam?

    Speaking of humiliation, as another seamless segue appears...

    I wrote several stories when Dakota Collegiate brought in Ken Carter for a fundraiser for its new athletic field. This would be Coach Carter, who’s built quite the public-speaking and camp/business empire on the basis of five years of coaching high school basketball and having Samuel L. Jackson play him in a movie.

    I had a lot of trouble with the one incident at Dakota, when a kid asked Coach about the importance of winning, and Coach stared down the kid in absolute seething bewilderment, then told the entire school that winning is all that matters.

    You’ll never convince me that winning is all that matters — though what do I know, especially compared to Coach with a capital C? — but I always thought that winning, especially in high school sports, is a product of all the good and positive things that go into being a member of a team. Jump in here anytime you want to get my back, Morris.

    Which gets me back to that kid who got put down in front of the entire school, then was punished with 50 pushups. Coach did that to a lot of kids that day; back in high school, I couldn’t do 50 pushups, and I’m betting not every kid in that Dakota gym could do 50 pushups. What happens if one of those kids gets double the humiliation, being put down in front of the entire school, then be unable to perform his or her punishment?

    Yes, I know, you’re not supposed to ask such questions.

    All together now, pointing at me: Loooo-zzzer!

    Staying tangentially on high school sports, I was watching TSN with child the elder and partner when I was in Victoria for law school graduation, and there was a mini-documentary on BC running back Andrew Harris, who was at Grant Park the same time as my kids, though I don’t think Harris knew them.

    Anyway, TSN was reporting how Harris had overcome problems back in the day, and the documentary showed him flanked on either side by two young men or boys, just as the narrator said that Harris had fallen in with the wrong crowd. There was no context for the photo shown, nor did the show blur out the clearly-identifiable faces. The inference was that those two were part of the wrong crowd. No, Big Editor, I would never do that.

    Briefly recalling that this blog is supposed to be about education:

    You may have seen the story in Tuesday’s paper about the efforts to save an inner city training centre that provides Grade 12 academic completion and carpentry courses to aboriginal young people. No one pitched that story to me — I came upon it through Twitter, a tool that we senior citizens use, one of the social media in which we old people are quite conversant. Some of you young people out there may want to check it out.

    Changing topics...

    I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the Romans and the Vikings, who seem to have received a pass for slaughter and slavery that have vilified most other races and states throughout history.

    My ancestors in Northumbria being among the people slaughtered, raped, and enslaved.

    So we were at the Royal B.C. Museum, a fabulous place, and the travelling exhibit was Viking artifacts.

    The exhibit allowed as how, yes, the Vikings raped and pillaged and slaughtered and enslaved and stole, but said that everyone they attacked did the same, so it was OK.

    Oh.

    And the exhibit explained how the Vikings enslaved people who’d survived the slaughter, and described what duties the slaves then performed. It was all quite dispassionate and not the least bit judgmental. And I was standing there wondering, would it have been handled the same way if the exhibit had been on another group, let’s say white plantation owners in Mississippi circa 1858?

    Sigh.

    Keeping in mind that both my children are cyclists, I was driving home along Academy Road, passed a really fast adult cyclist in the curb lane, and getting most of a block ahead, signalled that I was going to pull over to the right and park in front of a store. But I looked in the rear view and didn’t like the body language that I was seeing, that this guy was leaning to the right as he rapidly closed the ground between us, and I stopped in the centre lane and watched him swoop by on my right between me and my parking spot...I’m really hoping I don’t read about that cyclist as the victim in a police news release one of these days.

    Sigh.

    Just to keep you off-balance, back to education.

    I got a call at home this week for a young man who said he was a researcher for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging at McMaster University.

    He immediately launched into a question, and I interrupted, telling him that the appropriate place to start was to ask me if I was willing to give him my time, and also advising me how long this would take.

    He told me five minutes.

    I know a lot of people, among them postsecondary types, who figure I’m not too bright, but the point of a longitudinal study is that it takes a tad longer than five minutes.

    I pointed this out, and told the guy that I’m well aware how academic research works, that I’ve been an interview subject in several projects and watched numerous projects conducted, and I know that there are forms to be filled out and confidentiality of human subject agreements requiring my signature, and all sorts of stuff required by his ethics review committee.

    He was quite obviously uncomfortable with being knocked off script.

    He told me that all of that would be sent to me, and that he had my contact information right in front of him. How do you have that, I inquired, and if you have that right in front of me, then tell me who I am.

    Huh?, he responded.

    You phoned me, I pointed out, and you say you have my contact information in front of you, so tell me who I am.

    He stumbled for words, told me he was putting me on hold and would be right back, put me on hold, and a few seconds later disconnected the call, and didn’t phone back.

    But I went on-line, found McMaster’s Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, found it to be legit and very impressive, and seeing that I fit into the demographic — apparently, Mac can guarantee I last until at least age 85, so I don’t skew the data — I contacted the researchers and have volunteered to be an interview subject.

    Longitudinally.

    I seriously doubt anyone has stayed with me this far, but pretty obvious I need a vacation, eh?

    I need to rejuvenate and rest up for the non-stop excitement and drama and intrigue of what may very well be my last school boards election campaign.

    And a crackerjack of an election it will be. Coming to work today, I saw a re-elect trustee Mark Wasyliw sign on Academy.

     

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  • Missed my chance with The Prince of Pot

    I’m seeing on Twitter that Marc Emery, whom the Globe and Mail is calling the Canadian Prince of Pot, has just been released from jail in the U.S.

    Emery has been a crusader for legalized marijuana for quite a while now, and ran afoul of the constabulary in the States.

    Back in the day, Emery ran a really good used bookstore in downtown LondonOnt just a few blocks from the London Free Press office, and would occasionally start up a new political party or two, which could best be loosely described as Libertarian in principle.

    And back in the late '70s he also started up a weekly newspaper in competition with the Freeps, one that was not the voice of the overdog and was not beholden to The Man.

    He had put out one issue, maybe two, with the editor being a guy who was active with Greenpeace and who despised the Freeps and The Establishment, of which there was a lot in LondonOnt. As Bob Rae once said on a provincial election campaign, looking out the bus at an entire block downtown taken up by the multi-storied insurance empire, "The man who is tired of London Life is truly tired of life itself." But I digress.

    Emery called me up one day and said he wanted to have lunch and offer me the job as editor of his new paper.

    Seems he’d already fired his editor.

    Emery was someone with whom most of us at the Freeps had dealt with at one time or another, and I told him that I reckoned that there was not much if anything we agreed on politically, that I was quite happy at the Freeps, and that job security didn’t seem to be one of the features of his new paper.

    But he persisted, and asked me what I had to lose by having lunch with him.

    So I went to the restaurant at the appointed time, ate lunch alone, and then went back to the office. Something had come up, and this being the dark ages before cell phones and email and texting, and calling the restaurant to leave a message for me having apparently not having been an option, Emery didn’t show, and I chose not to reschedule. I missed my chance at the big time.

     

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  • In which I presume to know more than Mr. Webb

    Sepp, those guys you’ve got refereeing at the World Cup are making it pretty tough on those of us whistle-toting zebras who have to officiate local kids and listen to their parents yelp and chirp and holler.

    I’m not talking here about the keeping score part — the sponsors and advertisers probably are forcing you to keep score, and anyway, you think Lionel and Robin and Neymar wouldn’t know what the score was even if you didn’t put it up on the board?

    btw, is Wayne Rooney getting a little self-esteem cup at the team wind-up party? But I digress.

    I’m talking about stuff they’re letting go such as the incident late in one match in the round robin, can’t remember which teams, but the team that was ahead had a guy down in agony, looking like a sell-sword who just tried to take on Brienne of Tarth. He was rolling around on the pitch, the clock was running, and over came the keeper from the team that was trailing, and grabbed this guy by various appendages and literally dragged him off the pitch and unceremoniously dumped him out of play. All of this happened without a single consequence — no foul, no card, no stern words from the ref.

    Now, Sepp, what do you think would happen if I was reffing 15-year-old boys driven mad by testosterone and one of them tried this stunt? Do you think the injured kid and his teammates would just let the keeper drag him off the pitch, and do you think I should let it go without consequences? Because whatever I do, there’ll be players and parents reminding me in that conciliatory and oh-so-understanding tone they invariably effect that, after all, as you might remember, there was no consequence for an identical situation in the World Cup.

    Sigh.

    Meanwhile, let’s see how your lads are handling the Laws of the Game. That’s the rulebook, the one that has your name as FIFA president right up front before you even get to the stuff about rules and regulations and such.

    Looking at Law 12, which is where you get into cards, there’s one in there about a caution for persistent infringement, which in lay terms is a yellow for getting way too many fouls in one match. So how come your guys aren’t giving a yellow to Matt Cooke? Sorry, I mean to Nigel de Jong?

    Sticking with Law 12, Sepp, have you ever noticed the one about a yellow for failing to give the yards, or a yellow for delaying the restart? This is an important one for me, because I get in a huge amount of trouble with this one while refereeing kids.

    The whole idea is that on a free kick, the defending team is required to give 10 yards and give them immediately, defenders are not allowed to stand over the ball to prevent the attacking team’s taking the free kick as soon as the ball is set on the appropriate spot. There’s nothing in the rules that says everyone has to wait around while the defence sets up a wall, nothing that lets the defenders stand on top of the ball while the referee is compelled to mark off 10 yards and then everyone waits until the ref clearly demarcates it with that can of shaving cream they’re all carrying.

    Sepp, read that Law — the onus is on the defence to give the 10 yards, and to give them immediately. Sure, the offence can kick it while the defence is still vacating the 10 yards in all directions, but the point is, there’s a yellow if the defence does not give the yards and thus deliberately delays the restart.

    And that’s what I call over and over and over again. I generally give a verbal warning or two or three, getting crankier and grumpier with progression, but I have carded on occasion when it’s particularly egregiously deliberate. And what happens? Parents are hollering at the kids, some of whom have been coached to stand over the ball, telling the kids to go ahead and prevent the kick because they can stand there as long as they want, the parents are bellowing to the kids that I have to mark off the yards before they’re compelled to move. As one parent expressed it one evening, "Ignore him, girls, he’s an idiot."

    Sepp, how am I supposed to enforce that rule when no one can take a kick until the ref has done his thing with the shaving cream and the defenders have finally moved back into legal position at a slower pace than winter turns into spring in Manitoba?

    Sigh.

    I know you’re already tired of my bringing up your own rulebook, but bear with me, Sepp. Back to Law 12, the part that talks about players not being allowed to leave the pitch without the consent of the referee.

    Those goal celebrations...every time someone scores, it’s like all 11 going completely squirrelly, they all run off the field into one corner, the subs come off the bench and jump on the pile, there’s probably one or two of those people in there who like to sneak into other people’s photos, Waldo is probably in there somewhere, and the whole thing looks the way I imagine — note that I said ‘imagine’, not ‘expect’ — Bay Street will look like when the Maple Leafs have a Stanley Cup victory parade. Come September when I’m doing kids’ rec and there’s an 11-9 match, what do you expect me to do when those kids emulate their heroes after every goal?

    Still with me? Look, the Blue Bombers will tell you how tough it is to get 10 yards, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when you can just carry the ball 10 yards from where it’s supposed to be.

    Over and over again, I keep seeing guys take a free kick from wherever they like, instead of back where the foul occurred, or when taking a throw-in, it’s three steps from where the ball went out, pump fake, take two steps, throw.

    Back here in Winnipeg, Sepp, I whistle down those plays and send the players back to where the ball went out or where the foul occurred. And you know what I get, don’t you, especially from coaches at the premier level? I get, "Let the kids play the game, it’s not all about you!" Why, those silly things, it is all about me, of course, but, still, you restart the match where the stoppage was called.

    Sigh.

    Finally, Sepp, I’m just wondering, does Howard Webb ever get told that he’s the only referee in the world who enforces the rules and regulations about players being absolutely forbidden to wear jewellery, incuding earrings and metal studs in their ears and noses and other places way too icky to think about, forbidden also with a piece of tape over it? Does Howard expect Argentina to present him with the mandatory roster sheet showing that Messi and his posse are all duly registered, and if Argentina doesn’t have one, will they give Webb grief and accuse Howard of being the only ref who asks to see it? How does Webb handle it if Philipp Lahm says the rules don’t apply to him, and he wants to wear sunglasses during the match? How about if Cristiano Ronalsdo tells Howard that he left his player card back in Lisbon, does he still let him play? Or what happens if Felipe Scolari says he left his coach’s card in his other pants, does Howard Webb just shrug it off as inconsequential that Big Phil can’t prove he’s registered, can’t prove he’s gone through the coaching clinics and taken the Fair Play course and been cleared by the registry abuse checks and isn’t currently suspended?

    Sigh.

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  • Punting into the wind on objectification

    I was covering the post-game activities at the football game, when I suddenly found myself back in the 60s.

    And not the good part of the 60s, the civil rights, anti-war, great music and films part.

    I was back in the part of the 60s whose objectification of women included go-go girls.

    There above the Rum Hut, amid flashing strobes and pounding music, two young women were up on a ledge space doing what I suppose was dancing.

    In some ways sports have come some distance, particularly in dealing with racism and homophobia — some distance, though by no means remotely far enough, not when homophobia is still rampant and when teams in Washington, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Kansas City among others still delight in depicting racial stereotypes.

    I know that many in professional sports still believe that objectifying women is necessary to appeal to the demographic they think buys tickets; many in professional sports undoubtedly don’t even think of it as objectifying, because it’s part of their world view of how things are. But even some beer companies have realized they can convince people to buy their beer without demeaning women in the process.

    And yes, I know, we’re talking about consenting adults here.

    Interesting that while the Blue Bombers have a gender mix in their cheerleaders, there’s a distinct difference in the amount and type of clothing that the genders wear.

    Yes, I know I’m punting into the wind here.

    I remember when child the younger told us that there were restaurant chains that she would not patronize, because of the way that they make the women on staff dress.

    Back when I was coaching boys’ soccer, there was a suggestion that we hold the wind-up party at a restaurant chain which was widely believed to hire women based on the size of their breasts.

    I told the team that if the majority opted to go to that particular establishment, that I had no right to impose my values on other families, but would not organize the party and would not take part.

    I had no intention of being any part of validating some other men’s belief that men have the right to judge women’s value on any basis, let alone on the size of a physical part of their body, nor would I be a part of inculcating among the boys on our team any notion that society accepts and expects men and boys to behave in that fashion.

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