Shirtless is, then brainless does


Reprinted from
May 19, 2011


Remember Jethro Bodine’s idea for a topless restaurant?
When Bodine, the hulking, dimwitted nephew of millionaire Jed Clampett on the 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies,” failed in his attempts to become a credible “double-naught spy,” he sought out another career avenue. Born was Bodine the restaurateur, who thought he’d discovered the perfect marketing gimmick for his venture.
Using his uncle’s dough to finance the deal, Jethro decided to open a topless diner. This being the swinging ’60s, the plan made perfect sense except for two things: One of his waitresses was 70-something Granny Moses, and the missing item from each female employee’s ensemble was to be a hat, not a shirt.
That was Jethro’s idea of topless. It was funny then, but when more Bodines are lurking out there and making silly decisions that actually affect people’s lives, the humor content gets drastically reduced.
And it sure sounds as if at least a few Jethros are involved in running the show at Westwood (Mass.) High School. A story that recently appeared in the Westwood Press reported that high school track coach Tom Davis was fired for not making his runners follow a you-must-always-wear-a-shirt edict.
Just to note, Davis is in charge of a boys’ team, not a girls’ one. So why was this even an issue?
Does a double standard exist when it comes to how much clothing a male can remove in public, compared to a female, without spilling over into the lewd category? Of course, but it’s certainly understandable.

A shirtless female would be assured of attracting plenty of attention, much of it likely to be crude and probably all of it unwanted. The typical shirtless guy, on the other hand, can only dream of being similarly harassed by the opposite sex.
And let’s consider the parties involved in this particular incident: They’re runners, for Pete’s sake, so they’re trim and toned. If the group in question consisted of middle-aged sportswriters, whose peak physical years were spent in the womb, then I could understand a heightened amount of public queasiness.
Interestingly, according to the newspaper account, Westwood High doesn’t have in place an actual rule prohibiting male runners from going shirtless during practices. Apparently, removing Davis was the solution decided upon by athletic director Karl Fogel and assistant principal Sean Bevan after they began receiving complaints from local residents about Davis’ bare-chested runners.
I’m curious as to the degree of outcry. Was it just one or two chronic malcontents voicing their gripe du jour? And if there were more than a couple of critics, why do I get the feeling that at least a few of them spend time watching far more prurient offerings on those premium channels they pay extra for each month?
As a general rule, high-ranking school officials are not known for handling controversial matters with deftness or a shortage of verbal vagueness. Take the statement issued by West Public Schools superintendent John Antonucci, which ran in the Westwood Press:
“While I cannot discuss the specifics of a confidential personnel matter, I can assure you that [the] decision to relieve Mr. Davis of his duties was not the result of a single incident, but rather the regrettable outcome of an ongoing discussion. It is my responsibility to ensure that our employees implement programs in a way that is consistent with the overall mission of the Westwood Public Schools.”
So making sure male teenagers wear shirts at track practice is a component of Westwood’s “overall mission?” It must be part of that famous “No shirt, No shoes, No school” policy we’ve all heard so much about.
Not knowing Davis personally, I can’t determine whether or not he’s a guy who likes to stir the pot and doesn’t mind having personality clashes with his ranking superiors. But even giving Supt. Antonucci the benefit of the doubt when he says media criticism is based on “no factual information,” we’re still left with one item to ponder:
How can Westwood High’s administration do what it did with a straight face?
No matter what kind of picture school officials try to paint, they’ve created a mess. Davis was undeniably a good coach in his sport — Westwood’s 3,200-meter relay unit had competed in the New Balance Indoor Nationals less than two months before his firing, and his 2011 squad had won its first five meets — so he couldn’t be axed for any reasons involving incompetence.
Insubordinate — well, Davis might have been that, but we’ll never know for sure since Supt. Antonucci chose to lean on that old chestnut of not being able to “discuss the specifics of a confidential personnel matter.” Since we’re provided with no additional information — even of the most basic variety — that leaves us with nothing but the obvious: Westwood administrators acted ridiculously.
As one of Davis’ runners told the Westwood Press, it’s “very noticeable about how much cooler you are and how much easier it is to run [without a shirt]. After a point, when your shirt is covered with sweat and just sticking to you, it’s just a bad situation. I don’t think people understand how hard we’re running out there.”
Hey, kid, it really doesn’t matter. You and your teammates just need to toughen up and deal with the discomfort because the only man boobs anyone should be seeing at school have titles in front of their names.
And if you can’t exactly remember who’s who in that group, don’t worry. They’ll all probably answer to “Jethro.”
Shirtless is, then brainless does