This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project.
From a young age, I understood that groups of boys were often dangerous. And I don't mean dangerous to girls. That is also true. But the danger I am talking about here was to me. Groups of boys are dangerous to boys in those groups.
What if boys were comfortable enough to cry and stand with each other against the cruelties of life?
Masculinity is a daily test, and it was among groups of boys that the testing took place. Who was the biggest? The fastest? The strongest? Who was the smartest? Who could get the most girls? How much do you bench? How big is your penis? Can you dunk the ball? Hit a home run? Throw the ball the farthest? Who looks the best? Whose family is the most "normal"? Who’s the richest? How can you prove your masculinity to the group each and every second that the group is together?
This is why I quickly learned to dislike camps and sports and locker rooms—places that were sure to be masculinity testing grounds. And, so, I often avoided these places not because I doubted my masculinity but because I didn’t want to have to constantly prove it to others.
But what if groups of boys were a place of safety and acceptance for boys? A place of love, a place where the word love could actually be used, and said out loud about a group member about another boy.
What if boys were comfortable enough to cry with one another and stand with one another against the cruelties of life?
In two recent and powerful videos making the rounds on the internet, this fantasy has become reality.
In the first video, we learn the story of a middle school football team in Olivet, Michigan, that, without the knowledge of their coaches, designed a play for their learning disabled teammate so that he could experience the joy of scoring a touchdown. As one of the players, Nick, explains, "we really wanted to prove that he was part of our team and he meant a lot to us."
And while the teammate in question—Keith—learned how awesome it is to score a touchdown, that is not the most profound part of the story. Justice Miller, the team's wide receiver, was perhaps most impacted by this team decision. While Justice admits that he would never have thought of designing the play, he tells us through tears how this experience made him think about caring about others, about "trying to make everyone’s day and everyone's life."
In the second video, we learn of Danny Keefe, a six-year-old boy in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, who has a speech impediment and wears a suit every day, both of which have made him the target of bullying. His school's football team, for which he serves as water boy, came to his defense. They decided to have a "Danny Appreciation Day," where the entire football team dressed like Danny so that, in the words of the team quarterback, Tommy Cooney, they could "show Danny that we love him, that we love him very much." The team calls themselves a "band of brothers."
I hope the boys in these videos are starting a trend. Maybe an internet meme. Perhaps boys everywhere, especially those on teams, will start telling one another that they love one another. I am certain that these boys' parents and coaches have taught them well. But it was so important that the boys themselves were strong enough to lead, to work together, to love one another, and to show us all that masculinity does have room for compassion and love.
The fact that the boys in these videos are football players is fascinating and wonderful. That they could love and protect one another this way while playing a violent "manly" sport is amazing. This is a lesson that many professional football players—and I am thinking of Richie Incognito here—should learn.
I sincerely hope these boys continue to lead the way. I, for one, wish they had my back when I was their age. I could have used a band of brothers.