Hey, kids, true honor isn't easy

April 11, 2001|By Gregory Kane

THE controversy surrounding the St. Paul's School for Boys lacrosse team has raged for nearly two weeks, with a welcome consensus that a 16-year-old boy videotaping a sex act with a 15-year-old girl and showing it to teammates is wrong. That, at least, is a relief.

The consensus is not as clear on the punishment the school handed out. Most agree that expelling the budding filmmaker -- Orson Welles, he ain't -- was appropriate. Thirty students who watched the video and reported it to no one and did nothing to stop it were suspended for three days. Three others who provided the camera and site for viewing the video were given longer suspensions. Some felt that wasn't harsh enough. Others asked how anyone could expect boys that age to rat out their peers or protest the video being shown.

"How many of them, that age, are going to stand up with that peer pressure going and say, `Turn it off'?" a mother of one of the players said in an April 8 Sun article by reporter Todd Richissin.

Xavier Boone would have. It's time St. Paul's students -- and every other teen-ager in America, for that matter -- become familiar with the parable of Xavier Boone.

Xavier wasn't a big guy. He was an African-American student -- regrettably, that fact is pertinent to this tale -- between his sophomore and junior years at Cardinal Gibbons High School when I met him in the summer of 1967 at a Johns Hopkins University Upward Bound program. I was between my sophomore and junior years at City College. There were about 40 other students -- all guys, to our dismay -- in the program from a number of schools, including Forest Park, Douglass, Dunbar and -- ugh! -- Poly and Edmondson.

Most of us would hop a bus that took us to Hopkins. One of the guys had a radio, and Xavier became our favorite as he would pop his fingers in rhythm to Hugh Masekela's "Grazin' in the Grass." Xavier loved baseball so much we gave him that nickname -- "Baseball." He may have been the most popular among us, until the incident in the summer of 1968.

One evening, the program directors had taken us to a show -- I can't even remember what it was 33 years later. We rode the same bus that had picked us up to take us to Hopkins. The honchos promised to take us to another show -- the Temptations, I think it was -- if we didn't act too beastly.

The next day the program director -- a white middle-class guy from New Jersey named Earl Ball -- told us there would be no trip to see the Temptations. Ball had learned that several students were drinking while they were on the bus. No responsibility, the ruling was, no show.

Some of the guys were livid. Who had told? Soon Xavier was accused. (I learned later that the other guys had found out because they had walked up to Xavier and asked him if he had told. Figuring he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide, he said he had.) There went Xavier Boone's popularity. He became not a friend, but a snitch. He was no longer "Baseball," but, because he had ratted on some "brothers" to a white man, an Uncle Tom. Yes, Xavier was threatened with a beating.

He went from eating lunch with a group of guys to eating alone. One day I saw him in the dining room, sitting by himself, and I dredged up the nerve from God only knows where to go over and sit with him. It wasn't just that I felt sorry for him. I knew, but never said out loud, that it took courage for him to do what he did. Maybe, I figured, if I sat in his presence for just a little while, some of his guts would rub off on me.

"I'm going through all this," he lamented as we sat together, "just because I did what I thought was right."

It would have been tough for one of those St. Paul's lacrosse players to "do what's right," folks are lamenting these days.

No kidding.

Doing what's right is supposed to be tough. It's sitting in the back of a bus and sneaking a drink you know you're not supposed to take that's easy. It's sitting in front of a television set watching a video you know should never have been made -- and know you're not supposed to be watching -- that's easy.

Xavier took it all that summer of 1968 -- the abuse, the isolation, the threats, the name-calling of "snitch" and "Uncle Tom." He could have quit, but he never did. The harassment ended when another young man, not much older than ourselves, intervened.

Craig McNamara was a college student working with the Upward Bound program as a tutor and mentor. He also was the son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who was then under scathing criticism from anti-Vietnam War activists for his role in President Lyndon B. Johnson's Southeast Asia policies. Craig knew something of abuse and harassment. One day, he simply got fed up with what the guys were dishing out to Xavier.

"I don't want you guys giving Baseball any crap today," he told them bluntly. From that point on, they didn't. Over 30 years later, Xavier Boone is the guy from that program I respect the most.

Today's students would do well to be a little more like him.

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