We never really get over high school, do we? Those old cliques and old resentments still rear their heads in the most unlikely places. Jocks still pick on nerds, making them the target of their jokes and their ire. Nerds, however, now fight back. Freed from the fear of being shoved into a locker, nerds are as likely to sling insults at jocks as vice versa.
I was recently reminded of this old dynamic by a couple of concurrent incidents at the end of the year.

The first was part of the lead-up to this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote. While most journalists were parsing the PED quandary, Dale Murphy’s children were making an impassioned plea for their father in his final year of eligibility. One can admire the enthusiasm. However, in stating the case for his dad, one of Dale’s sons allowed his passion to get the better of him and lashed out at nerds with their computers and statistics. It was unfortunate (it didn’t help his dad’s case). It was also inaccurate (few internet writers have a Hall of Fame vote). Yet, it also exposed the old resentments. A jock doesn’t get what he wants and blames “Nerds!”

The second incident was an end-of-the-year list in some entertainment magazine. As the author looked back over the year, they declared “winners” and “losers” in pop culture. “Nerds” were declared winners for their continued dominance at the box office and for their newfound clout on the small screen. “Jocks” were declared losers, though I no longer remember why. Maybe it was an Arnold Schwarzenegger flop. Again, it exposed the old resentments, this time, with a self-described former nerd gleefully pointing out that they finally got the upper hand over the jocks.

For some reason, I’ve never been engrossed in the old debate of jocks vs. nerds. I don’t see every superhero movie as a comeuppance for those who used to make fun of me for reading comic books. And I don’t see a nerd conspiracy in new sports statistics or analytics (as I write from my basement computer).

Perhaps that has something to do with my own high school experience. I went to a small high school. A very small high school. There were 75 kids in my school. I don’t mean my class. I mean my school. My graduating class was 13. There simply weren’t enough of us to divide into cliques. Everybody hung around with everybody. I’m not pretending it was Utopia. But our divisions tended to be grade against grade rather than jock vs. nerd. Even then, we’d still hang out with the guys who were a year younger than us (I’m now Facebook friends with a couple of them).

I was admittedly on the nerdy end of the spectrum. I got good grades. I had big glasses. Sure, the other guys picked on me once in a while. But they didn’t mock my comic books. They even seemed to admire them, asking me questions about superheroes whenever they’d creep into pop culture. Yeah, they’d pick on me but it was more in the way a group of teenage guys will all pick on each other. I gave as good as I got on occasion and I was part of the same circle.

I was also on the same sports teams. I wasn’t the best athlete but our school wasn’t big enough for that to matter. I mostly played soccer but, at various times, I was also on the baseball, basketball and volleyball teams. I played soccer in the city league as well and was part of a championship team. I never played organized hockey but I was part of the afterschool pick-up games every day (I ran into one of my friend’s moms at a conference a couple of years ago and she asked me if I remembered playing hockey in the cul de sac with her son). I shared their sports obsession- even if I remembered the statistics better than I mastered the skills.

Yeah, I was a nerd but half of my friends were jocks. And it was normal to like sports and comic books. Maybe that’s why I have a small collection of sports comics, with a Brooks Robinson book as my main prize.

Today, those jock vs. nerd debates simply don’t resonate with me. Sure, I’m pleased to see the comic book characters I loved as a kid up on the silver screen. It is a bit of vindication. But there’s no vindictiveness to it.

And yup, I’m still a sports fan. I play in a church softball league. I’m not the best athlete- never have been- but I have fun and I get occasional kudos for my defensive play. I also enjoy the intellectual side of sports- OPS and WAR and UZR ratings and those newfangled stats that seem to be the source of so much turmoil. I see them as another way to understand and appreciate the game I’ve always loved to watch and play.

I don’t care if you dress up like a Stormtrooper for the San Diego ComicCon or like a Mad Max refugee for an Oakland Raiders game. To me, it’s not a sign of superiority for one side or the other. It’s a stamp of our similarity. The chasm between jocks and nerds isn’t so great. You can like superheroes and sports. You can stand with a foot in each camp. Or, at least a toe.

The End

Views: 667

Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on February 28, 2013 at 10:13pm

Chris, it's amazing how parallel our lives are in this regard.

Thank you so much for this post. As you know, I am very much a kindred spirit. I know that so many "jocks" consider themselves to be "nerds". What's funny is that it really doesn't go the other way around. I think if more people did understand this, the gap wouldn't be so wide.

I understand that the bullies of elementary, middle, and high school can be awful, but people don't understand that at about 85% of those bullies grow up. And the rest end up delivering pizzas or 4x divorced and miserable. But most of them grow out of it and realize that they too are nerds in some way. And they feel bad about what they used to do, even if they do forgive themselves because their frontal lobes weren't even fully developed.

It can be frustrating to be able to see both sides, can't it?

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 1, 2013 at 9:19am

We had the whole “jock vs. nerd” dynamic in my high school too (plus “freaks” and “socs”), but I was apart from it. I was in the band, which was a whole different social clique unto itself. I’m glad to see nerd culture finally coming into its own, but the nerds I see exemplified on television on such shows as The Big Bang Theory and King of the Nerds are a highly romanticized version of what a “nerd” is (or was) in my experience. In my high school, the class of students currently labeled as “nerds” would have been labeled “brains.” In my school, nerds were social misfits, unable to function in (what passes for) normal high school culture and they were not necessarily good students.

There ain’t nobody championing the cause of the true nerds.

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on March 1, 2013 at 5:27pm

My high school was pretty large and it definitely had a bunch cliques going on there. I was probably closer with the nerdy group, but I got along with pretty much all of them. I had a few who were in the band, there were some jocks who like me well enough to play in their Spades game. Definitely good at computers back then (not so much now), and was a TA who helped my old computer science teacher teach her class. We had a large Vietnamese class and I knew a lot of them. In one class they thought enough of me to be a member of the student council, but that class only has about 10 people in it, so I barely count that. Even then my class was so large I probably only knew like 25% of them?

I had quit all organized sports when I got to high school (no reason why, just got lazy I guess), but I still played a ton of basketball, football, and tennis.

What did amuse me was my 20 year high school reunion about year and half ago, at the actual reunion we mixed pretty well, but probably 25-30 of us all ended up at the same club afterward. That is when you saw everyone break out into the old cliques again.

For the comic book side of things I don't recall any of my friends still into them by them time I got to high school, but that didn't matter much to me as I made a whole another group of friends on the BBS's (anyone else remember those?), and I had those guys to talk comics with. The guys from the BBS are the ones I still talk to and hang out with the most.

Fun article, Chris.

Comment by Don Collett on March 2, 2013 at 11:47am

Maybe there isn't that big a divide, but you couldn't have told me that in high school in Texas.  In my high school, it was ALL about the jocks.  Friday night football was king, and if you weren't in athletics -- or heaven forbid, you were a "brain", no one gave a flying fickle finger of fate about you.  I don't have the time or the will, really, to go through all the stuff I had to put up with.  There's only a handful of people I'd want to see again.  I really don't care what happened to the rest.


Comment by ClarkKent_DC on March 2, 2013 at 1:34pm

The most true thing I've heard about high school reunions is that the people you want to see don't show up and the people you don't want to see DO show up.

Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on March 2, 2013 at 4:47pm

Honestly, I don't have anyone from high school I care about anymore. At least no one that I'm not in contact with already. There are two of them. One is my best friend who went to Purdue with me, and we're still tight. One is actually my second cousin. Other than that, my lasting "old" friends* really came from college (and grad school) and working at a summer camp for eight years.

*These are other than my current friends who live around here and are a part of my life now.

Comment by Kirk G on March 2, 2013 at 7:41pm

OMG, I've  to hear more about your experiences in summer camp for EIGHT years... WOW!  Did Bess Myerson live near the lake? LOL!

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on March 2, 2013 at 8:02pm

...I hated the one month - in 1972 - I spent in summer camp .

Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on March 2, 2013 at 8:54pm

Haha, Kirk, it was a big part of my life for a long time. I loved the first seven years. Hated the eighth. I think I needed that so that I didn't miss it during my first year out. Anyway, yeah, eight years. Starting when I was in college and ending the summer after my first year of teaching (with a couple years of grad school and a year of "finding myself" in the meantime working year-round at the camp...). A lot of great memories. I went from being a cabin counselor to being camp coordinator for my last couple of years. It was definitely one of the things that made me what I am today. It made me want to become a teacher.

Definitely a job I could never go back to, but I'm happy that it will always be part of who I am.

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 5, 2013 at 5:05pm

Wow.  Thanks for all the comments everyone.  You're never sure which columns are going to connect and which ones miss the mark until you've posted them.  I'm happy to see this one generated a lot of reaction. 

Wandering Sensei: Like you, I'm much closer to my college friends than my high school friends.  But it was fun to find to few high school/middle school friends on Facebook and reconnect with them.


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