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A week of optimism shrouded in sadness

We must do better.

Mass Shooting At Elementary School In Uvalde, Texas Leaves At Least 21 Dead Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

When I was 8 years old, I told two male classmates I was going to be a professional team sports athlete. They laughed in my face.

“Girls can’t do that,” they told me, as I insisted I would do it. “It’s not possible, only boys can do it.”

In the end, they were half right: I was nowhere near good enough as an athlete in any sport to turn pro, but there were in fact pro women’s leagues popping up just as I was coming of age. I was 14 when the WNBA’s first game was played, and 18 when the first women’s pro soccer league, WUSA, played its first game. It turned out, had I had enough talent, luck and drive, I could have turned pro after all.

On Sunday, I finally got to cover an NWSL game in person, as San Diego Wave FC beat the North Carolina Courage in Cary, North Carolina. My daughter is 8 now, and it feels full circle, the possibilities endless for girls compared to the limits of my youth, when two boys could ridicule a girl who wanted to find glory in sports.

I thought about writing this story on Monday, and at the time, I feared it would be too saccharine. If you follow or cover women’s sports, you know the trope of “inspiring girls” is a crutch in media coverage at this point. Frankly, I do feel like women’s sports are still something to treasure, given the ups and downs of the various soccer leagues over the decades and the days before it was conceivable. We all know women’s sports do not get the coverage they deserve, the funding around all parts of it is paltry, the sexists are all too happy to find a put-down where they can. And yet, the appetite for more, better, is there. The NWSL expansion teams this year appear to have not only taken off in a good way so far but may be helping to push the league, which is a survivor but far from perfect at this early stage, forward.

Wow, so uplifting, you said you were going to be sappy, but you seem pretty measured here.

Well, on Monday I was afraid of being too upbeat about inspiring girls and now on Thursday I’m mostly alternating rage with sorrow.

What changed? The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. 19 elementary students dead. Two of their teachers dead, who did what they could to protect those kids before being gunned down themselves.

I look at the faces of those kids, nearly all with Latino last names, and think of my daughter, almost the same age, with a Latino last name, too. The footage of those kids, high-fiving the graduating seniors who paraded through the school shortly before the massacre started. That parade’s supposed to be a valediction for those graduates, a chance to reflect on the journey that brought them to an ending, the promise of a new beginning. For the elementary students, it’s a chance to see the hard work for the older kids come to pass, to stay in school and do your best to get an education, there are rewards on the other side.

Nearly a classroom’s worth of kids is dead and that graduation ceremony will never happen, either. The innocence is shattered anew, the progress is done for so many.

All mass shootings are very bad but killing kids in elementary school is just too much to comprehend. Who would do this? We don’t know the full motives of this particular shooter, but the patterns of mass killers in these situations has become tragically familiar.

Almost as importantly, who would let this happen?

Let me tackle that second question, with a blind fury. The people who let this happen are the ones who do not believe in the common good, in a true society. They believe this world is eat or be eaten, who think everything is a zero-sum game, who believe some people are naturally better than others and deserve more as a result. They don’t want to confront systemic factors that keep the world unequal — they refuse to actually grapple with the legacies of slavery in American society, in denying rights to people of color, non-men, LGBTQ+ populations, the working class and poor. They believe a rotten principle is worth more than the lives of children, at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Oxford, Uvalde and hundreds of other schools over the years.

These are the people who are letting these massacres happen.

They are scared of truly working for a more equal society and have decided that in response to women having reproductive rights for the past 50 years, it’s time to roll back those rights. How far? We’ll see! They think trans people shouldn’t exist, they think queer people should be ashamed of themselves, they are galled at people of color demanding equal protection under the law, which ultimately should be the most sacred principle in the U.S. Constitution. Speaking of the sacred, they are unwilling to respect the freedom of religion clause and instead sow division across faiths and creeds, they want everyone to be just like them and it’s literally impossible for many to do that. They’re not only willing to dismantle gay marriage but interracial marriage is a big problem for many of them, too.

These are the people who will tolerate the intolerable of mass murder.

They don’t want you to vote unless you are part of their hateful coalition, and they will try everything they can to stop you. They are spineless and refuse to speak up on your behalf when your metaphorical house is on fire because they are beholden to groups and companies that bankroll their campaigns. You are just a statistic to them at the best of times, so if you’re not on the side of the polling that gives them power, then forget you.

These are the people who cause the conditions to allow mass murderers to flourish.

They are dismantling the components of society, one by one, and have been doing it for decades. Public health was a disaster during a pandemic, now they’re trying to put the final nails in the coffin on public schools, too. You can’t teach kids about critical race theory (which is not taught until graduate school, if ever), you can’t read this book or that one, slavery is uncomfortable so let’s gloss over that, the Civil War was actually about state’s rights, they say, the same argument they’re using now on all these social issues and civil rights. Sex education makes a few parents uncomfortable so let’s scrap it, they say. Let’s give kindergarten teachers firearms in the classroom, some say. What could possibly go wrong there.

These are the people setting the groundwork for why nothing ever gets done to fix this problem, who stand in the way of progress that would truly benefit us all. The simple progress of not being affected by a school shooting.

I started the week full of enthusiasm for the world my 8-year-old daughter was going into, and three days later I wonder if I’ll send her to school one of these days and never see her alive again. Forget those dreams about playing pro ball and inspiring young girls, let’s see if we can just get through this single day.