As it happens, there is an official term for the act of one man teasingly slapping another man in the crotch. It’s called a “sack whack.”
I suspect most people first become acquainted with this odd male phenomenon—generally engaged in by the drunk, the immature and the stupid—on a playground or in a locker room.
I first learned about it in court.
You see, I recently served on a jury at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston—my first such experience—and the case to which I was assigned hinged on what you might call a sack whack gone awry.
The plaintiff, one Robert Blacker, alleged that he had been fired from his management job at a Honda dealership because he had complained one too many times about having had his nether regions inappropriately handled by a coworker at a party. Far from addressing this (admittedly unusual) claim of sexual harassment, the Honda boss instead mounted a campaign of “retaliation” against Blacker himself that ultimately led to Blacker’s termination.
Once the trial had concluded, the judge—a kindly, soft-spoken man in his 60s—stopped by the jury room to gather our impressions about the whole experience. One of my fellow jurors asked, “When they started talking about ‘sack whacking,’ how did you keep a straight face and not burst out laughing?” Surveying the room with a grin, His Honor responded, “Well, how did all of you?”
Jury service is perennially cited as a central tenet of a fully-functioning democracy, and so it is. Our judicial system stipulates that a person accused of doing wrong, or thinking himself wronged by others, be given a fair and open hearing by a court that treats everyone as equal under the law, and ultimately have his case adjudicated by an impartial group of strangers.
To be a trial juror is to shoulder the awesome responsibility of personally and directly upholding the avowal at the beginning of our Constitution that it shall be the object of the United States to “establish Justice.” In every case, it is a burden that must be undertaken with the utmost seriousness and consideration.
Even in a case that is based on a sack whack.
As the trial progressed—in all, it saw four days of testimony and a fifth for closing statements and jury deliberation—it was uncanny the way all parties involved came to resemble cliquey schoolboys who never quite grew up.
The essence of Blacker’s suit was that his complaints about his coworker grabbing his crotch led to him being effectively shunned from the cool kids’ table at the office, having to fend for himself against a gang of bullies who seemed fixated on orchestrating his downfall. (Blacker’s boss was a drinking buddy of the sack whacker himself, hence the reluctance to discipline him.)
Several of us jurors expressed our amazement, after all was said and done, that such a silly schoolyard brawl was ever brought to trial. Was the plaintiff really so incapable of asserting ownership over his own person, and the defendants so prideful not to consider reprimanding the crotch-grabber and moving on, that this unfortunate business could not have been resolved without legal papers being filed?
The defense, for its part, maintained that Blacker was fired from Honda because of old-fashioned poor work performance. The crotch-grabbing was inappropriate and unprofessional, but also completely beside the point.
From testimony by several former coworkers, Blacker was revealed to have been a bona fide pain in the patoot, berating and manhandling his underlings, prone to sloppiness and mood swings, and generally not much of a team player. Cutting him loose, insisted one witness after another, had been “long overdue.”
And so my first direct encounter with the American court system was a reminder that not all cases brought to trial concern such high-minded, fundamental matters of principle as those splashed across the front page of the newspaper and endlessly debated on Internet message boards and TV news programs.
On a day-to-day basis, the average courtroom in the United States is more likely to be considering the sort of petty, small-scale grievance that I and a dozen of my fellow Bostonians considered this week. We, who had five days of our lives upended because some grown man, in a moment of boozy thoughtlessness, jokingly grabbed another grown man’s crotch.
What we decided in the end (in case you wondered) was that Blacker had sufficiently proven his case, and we awarded him $260,000 in damages. God bless America.