They Must Be Taught To Do This

Floyd Patterson was a talented boy. He was athletically gifted. Yet he was also incredibly sensitive. He didn’t get what he needed from his impoverished parents…and certainly America failed him too. 

A single anecdote from his youth, told in his incredible autobiography Victory Over Myself, will break your heart. “My mother tells me that when I became a little older,” Floyd recounts, “I used to tell her over and over again as I pointed to the picture of myself: ‘I don’t like that boy.’” It was a picture of him, his brothers, and a relative at the Bronx Zoo. One day, his mother returned home and found he’d drawn several X’s over his own face in the photo. “I guess maybe,” Floyd reflected, “I liked myself so little that I wanted to eliminate myself completely from that photo.” Somehow, somewhere Floyd Patterson was taught to hate himself. 

With the distance of history and our better understanding of childhood traumas, this story indicates that some sort of abuse was probably happening. Racism and poverty played a part too, as they always have. And yet, does his story not have an eerie similarity to the stories that Pete Butteig would tell of his coming to terms with his sexuality as a young man? How he hated himself? How he would have given anything to be anyone, anything different?

Our children have to be taught to love themselves. We have to repeat to them, as Mr. Rogers did (as he had been told by his grandfather), that they make the world special just by being in it. That it’s them we like. As a society, we have to make it clear that it’s not just our kids that matter, as we’ve said, but all kids. Everyone matters. Everyone is worth something. Everyone has talents and skills. Everyone has something to contribute. 

Finally, someone did teach that to Floyd (a principal at a reform school)…and he went on to become one of the greatest boxers of all time (and a great role model too). 


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