I’ve been a fan of “Rocky” — both the film and the character — ever since the first film debuted in 1976.
I don’t need to recount Rocky’s story here. Suffice to say, it’s an underdog-makes-good fairy tale. The lesson of Rocky is simplistic and, to many, rather saccharine. Even so, American society today could learn a great deal from Rocky.
In the first film, Rocky’s desire is not to beat Apollo Creed, but to step into the ring with the world champ and “go the distance.”
“Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed,” Rocky says. “And if I can go that distance, ya see, and that bell rings, ya know, and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, ya see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”
By the time “Rocky Balboa” — the seventh film in the Rocky franchise — was released some 30 years later, Rocky is still fighting life’s demons. In an iconic speech to his grown son, the main character sums up his philosophy:
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Fewer and fewer people, however, choose to face life’s inevitable “beatings,” preferring a “safe space” of their own making.
I wrote recently, for example, about students at Wesleyan University who reacted angrily, even childishly, when Bryan Stascavage wrote an op-ed for the student newspaper in which he asked pointed questions about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Washington Post writer Catherine Rampell elaborated: “Within 24 hours of publication, students were stealing and reportedly destroying newspapers around campus. In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had ‘stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,’ Stascavage told me in a phone interview.”
Pardon my insensitivity, but I read Stascavage’s piece and I found nothing in it that might make somebody cry or feel “not human.” The op-ed might question one’s beliefs, but isn’t that the very point of opinion pieces in newspapers?
And then there’s the football team at Coginchaug High School in Durham, which made news recently when the entire coaching staff resigned.
Head Coach Nick D’Angelo suspended a player for his conduct during a game in which the player allegedly “raced toward the bleachers, yelling expletives at [a] fan arguing with his father,” according to Fox 61.
D’Angelo said that “parents of seniors upset by the suspension approached school administrators calling for an investigation” of his treatment of players.
The coach said he was “one hundred percent blindsided [by the parents’ complaints], one hundred percent. They stacked the box on me. They came in with false accusations and lies.”
School officials told D’Angelo he was facing suspension himself, pending an investigation of the parents’ claim. That’s when he resigned, followed by his staff.
“Not that I was afraid of [the investigation], by any means,” D’Angelo told Fox 61. “But, I knew that would empower certain people. And I knew that I would lose my team.”
Those “certain people” are the parents. It’s an all-too-familiar story these days: Parents dislike the way a coach deals with their child, parents complain to school officials, coach pays the price.
Or, more accurately, the rest of the kids on the team pay the price.
In Coginchaug’s case, the kids lost a coaching staff and the opportunity to play the next game, which they forfeited. Fortunately, reported NBC Connecticut News, “area coaches reached out to the school’s athletic director to help” and will coach the team for its final game on Thanksgiving.
To be fair, all of the details behind the Coginchaug fiasco have not surfaced. But still, this feels like one more example of parents fabricating a life of “sunshine and rainbows” for their kid — parents who think their job is to shield their child from the negative consequences of reckless actions.
Clearly, Rocky’s words are falling on deaf ears.
But I have a suggestion. One more Rocky film is about to be released. “Creed” centers on the son of Apollo Creed — a young boxer facing demons of his own — who calls upon you-know-who to train him. Word is, the film is vintage Rocky for the millennial generation.
My suggestion is that the aforementioned college students and football player see “Creed.” With their parents. Maybe they’ll all learn that the world can indeed be a “mean and nasty place.” More importantly, they might learn how to face up to life’s challenges and “keep moving forward” because, as Rocky says, “That’s how winning is done.”
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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