Apartheid, Sweat, and Coach Grant

Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant, who seriously did bend some arcs
Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant, who seriously did bend some arcs of the universe

Had a chance to catch a few minutes of the news yesterday evening. Immediately thought of a black man of terrifying moral authority, whom I grew up admiring.

Not President Mandela, may he rest in peace. My high-school cross-country coach, Oliver Grant.

To get us into what he regarded as good shape, Coach Grant dispatched us on courses he had devised, covering huge swaths of the city. If you know northwest Washington, his names for our assigned runs—‘Ward-Tenley,’ ‘Westmoreland-Western,’ and the dreaded 11-mile roundtrip ‘Naval Medical’—these names might mean something to you. Something terrifying. We ran all those miles on a daily basis.

On especially hot days, Coach Grant, who knew no mercy, often prescribed ‘Scott Circle, with Normanstone.’ This run took us past the impressive building that was then the Embassy of South Africa. Which meant that we saw the sidewalk marches of the anti-Apartheid demonstrators and heard their chants, “Free South Africa!” Then, after practice, we would go home and listen to Bono and U2 sing rock songs against Apartheid.

anti-apartheid demonstrators south africa embassy

That was all a very long time ago. My generation and I have grown old. Coach Grant retired 15 years ago. The last time I saw him, he had mellowed enormously, and the relentlessly demanding tyrant who made a man out of me, with buckets full of sweat in the Washington summer heat—he has become an indulgent grandpa.

But the demands of justice have not mellowed. If we think that the world is a more just place now than it was in 1985, we are fooling ourselves shamefully.

1. The innocent and defenseless unborn child.

2. The undocumented immigrant whose home country has been rendered unlivable by drug violence.

Back in the 80’s, if you didn’t stand up for the blacks of South Africa, cool people regarded you as a loser. Frankly, I was much more concerned with coming out alive after one of Coach Grant’s workouts. Nelson Mandela was in prison on the other side of the world.

But in the 2010’s, if we do not stand up for the innocent and defenseless unborn child and for the undocumented immigrant who has to live a shadow-life right here in our own country—if we don’t stand up for these people, I’ll tell you what: We are losers. Whatever reward Nelson Mandela now enjoys, we will not receive it—unless we stand up in 2014 for the unborn and for immigrants.

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One thought on “Apartheid, Sweat, and Coach Grant

  1. Father Mark,

    Always interesting to see how much people care for injustice elsewhere, while ignoring it in front of their face. The line from “Easy to Be Hard” always impressed me, “Do you only care about bleeding crowd. How about a needing friend, …” Or, in full:

    How can people be so heartless
    How can people be so cruel
    Easy to be hard, easy to be cold

    How can people have no feelings
    How can they ignore their friends
    Easy to be proud, easy to say no

    Especially people who care about strangers
    Who care about evil and social injustice
    Do you only care about bleeding crowd
    How about a needing friend, I need a friend

    How can people be so heartless
    You know I’m hung up on you
    Easy to be proud, easy to say no

    Especially people who care about strangers
    Who care about evil and social injustice
    Do you only care about bleeding crowd
    How about a needing friend, we all need a friend

    How can people be so heartless
    How can people be so cruel
    Easy to be proud, easy to say no
    Easy to be cold, easy to say no
    Come, on, easy to give in, easy to say no
    Easy to be cold, easy to say no
    Much too easy to say no.

    [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeXcaRYNlSQ ]

    God presents most of us with a parade of people in His image and likeness every day. No need to seek out distant climes.

    In God we trust.

    LIH,

    joe

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