By Brandi Makuski
The first cool day in August is always a signal of the coming autumn for this reporter. Upon its arrival, my mind turns to thoughts of crock pot meals, the scent of freshly-baked bread wafting through the house, warm blankets, and — most importantly — high school football.
Our family’s first hands-on experience with the game was many years ago, courtesy of Youth Area Football. Both of my sons were interested: one had runner’s legs; the other had the shoulders of a lineman nobody would mess with.
Having no real experience with boy’s sports equipment, I stressed over each purchase. I thought I had the best-equipped kids in the league. But a single-sentence email from their coach changed everything:
“Just a reminder for parents, the boys need wear their athletic supporters for every game.”
This was definitely not an area with which I had any familiarity. My ex-husband was an absent father, and I’d grown up with no brothers to educate me in sports habits or locker room humor. Hell, the only time I’d ever seen an athletic supporter was in the movie Revenge of the Nerds, and unbeknownst to me, the style and appearance had changed since that movie was released.
So I was on my own. I visited a local sports store the next day, walking briskly down the main aisle, as though I knew just what I was looking for and exactly where it was located. I quickly scanned every display I passed, looking for any sign of athletic supporters.
But this was not a grocery store. There would be no suspended sign reading, “Shin guards, wristbands, jockstraps”.
I went up one aisle and down the next, never making eye contact with anyone, trying to avoid the discomfort of an intervening staff member. I passed fathers and sons pricing out disc golf sets and young ladies picking out pink knee socks for cross country. The innocence of their own purchases made me all the more paranoid about my own; I was passing all the “respectable” purchases and heading straight for that aisle in the back of the store.
The aisle containing athletic supporters isn’t really an aisle: it’s more like an entire zip code. Row after row of plastic boxes, all disparagingly similar. I had no idea where to start.
Glancing to my left, and then to my right, I relaxed slightly, seeing I was alone in the aisle. But after inspecting the items more closely, I began to panic as I realized I would need to decide on style, color and size.
How was I supposed to know my son’s size? What, exactly, am I supposed to measure? I picked up a package labeled “Athletic Support Shorts- Youth Medium” and turned it over, hoping for some kind of sizing chart. Of course, there wasn’t one.
I brought the package closer to my face, peering through the clear plastic to see what the item looked like. All I could see where tight folds of white cloth, so get a better idea of what I was dealing with, I discreetly tried opening the box.
Let me preface this part of the story with this: there is no such thing as discretely opening a package containing an athletic supporter. It’s practically childproof: the hard plastic container is heat-sealed and then covered in tape or shrink wrap.
What, exactly, was so worth keeping secure? It’s easier to break into a car, for crying out loud.
I dug the keys from my purse and, fully aware this might get me placed on a “No Fly” list somewhere, slid my car key back and forth until the package pried open, which produced a sound not unlike a very loud, very sudden balloon pop.
I winced and froze, expecting to be tackled by the store fuzz at any moment, or even for an angry voice to come over the loudspeaker; “Hey you- drop the jockstrap and put your hands on your head…”
But nothing happened. Slowly, I opened my eyes; I was still alone in the aisle. No one seemed to notice me at all as they passed on their way to the soccer ball selection and Jet Ski displays.
With my hands shaking and heart pounding — and still very aware I could be caught at any moment — I pulled the cloth undergarment from the package, totally unaware the “cup” portion was a separate piece. It was made of soft plastic-like material that sounded not unlike an empty soda bottle when it fell from the package and hit the floor — bouncing several times before it stopped. A noticeable noise, but since I had drawn no attention so far, my confidence was growing.
I gathered the cup and empty package together, tucking them under my arm, and held the garment up to the light (as only mothers do). I inspected the front and the back. I stretched the waistband. I felt the material. As ridiculous as I must have looked, I knew I couldn’t leave the store unless I had the right item. This was undoubtedly something that would be difficult to exchange.
Then I slid the cup into the front pocket. I knocked on it, softly at first, then harder, trying to imagine how on earth this was enough of a barrier between my kid and an opposing team player’s knee or cleat.
And then I chuckled.
“Looks like a codpiece,” I muttered out loud.
Instantly I was transported to a college history class, with pictures of Henry VIII adorning the wall; hands on his hips, trying to look gallant in a colorful headdress, padded shoulders and ornate codpiece — not that unlike a football player, really. I giggled at the thought.
And then it happened.
“Uh, do you need help with anything?” asked a raspy voice behind me.
I sucked in my breath and closed my eyes. I suddenly became lightheaded; I’d been caught!
I grew up in this town! I was a member of the Boy Scout parent’s council! I still saw my sixth grade teacher every week in church! I couldn’t be caught examining an athletic supporter in a store!
I saw my future prospects crumble as I began to imagine the newspaper headline:
Mom of 2 Caught Ogling Boys’ Underwear, Cited for Disorderly Conduct; Psych-exam Pending
Oh, my God, I thought, did I just say ‘codpiece’ out loud? In public? On the same security tape showing me knocking on the — ahem — business end of a jockstrap that will undoubtedly hit YouTube later on today?
I slowly turned around, praying that voice belonged to a Marlboro-hardened 60-year-old semi-retired grandmother who would sympathize — albeit amusingly — with my plight.
But instead of a comforting Mildred with six grandsons, I encountered a 17-year-old Mike with no apparent sense of humor. Poor Mike’s bulging eyes were glued to the floor, pleading for a swift end to the exchange presumably forced upon him by his manager.
Poor Mike had shoved his hands in his back pockets and his brow glistened with sweat. His embarrassment did very little to relieve my own.
“Oh, no thank you.” I said hastily, then, feigning confidence: “I’m just making sure this is the same style my son already has.”
Ignoring my usual pride in such a swift and seamless lie, I fumbled as I tried shoving the items back into the package; then watched in horror as the cup fell — in slow motion — from inside the shorts, to the floor, then bounce from the edge of the aisle to just behind poor Mike’s feet.
I bent and scrambled to retrieve it as poor Mike stood frozen, unable to even move his feet out of my way. I finally snagged the thing, then briskly made my way past poor Mike. I attempted to carry the package with some discretion to the front counter, but that wasn’t possible: it wouldn’t close unless the shorts were folded just right and so the cup would slip in between the fabric.
I’d never been more embarrassed in my life, but I threw caution to the wind — I just wanted to get out of that store. I hit the front counter with the plastic box under my arm, the shorts wadded up in my left hand, and the cup in my right.
My savior had been sitting behind the counter the entire time. Angela, the 60-something grandmother figure I’d been praying for, had appeared behind the cash register at some point during my fumbling. On her work vest were SPASH and Pacelli buttons, along with the button of a young boy posing with a baseball bat, presumably a grandson.
She glanced down at my opened package, then back at me. The corners of her mouth turning up slightly at the site of my harried appearance and reddened cheeks, but she remained mercifully silent except to wish me a good afternoon. She even double-bagged my purchase for me.
My sons tried on their full uniforms later that day. I paced, not unlike a nervous family member in a hospital waiting room, anxiously awaiting word. I explained to the boys why wearing a “cup” was so important, but given my own inexperience, I had no idea if I’d explained it effectively. Could they figure everything out on their own? Would it be uncomfortable or itchy? Would they object to the style and color I’d chosen?
After several minutes I heard the bedroom door open. I stopped pacing, turning with anticipation to see my boys, for the first time, in a full football uniform. I fully expected to tear up with pride.
But my heartfelt moment was interrupted with a mutiny: the shorts were OK, but neither used the cup.
“Because nobody wears these things, mom,” my then-seven-year-old said. “It’s football; nobody’s going to hit you there.”
They changed their minds after the first quarter.