Somehow I ended up giving birth to a bunch of athletic kids. All three of my children (two boys age 19 and 12, and daughter 16) have been capable, if not gifted, at nearly every sport and physical activity they’ve chosen to pursue. My youngest son’s first word was “ball”. As soon as he was able to get his baby-self into a seated position, his favorite way to pass the time was to hurl any object vaguely resembling a ball across the room with amazing speed and accuracy of aim. He and I recently sat down together to select his 7th grade electives. On the list of options was PE, and he looked at me and said in all sincerity “I don’t understand why anyone WOULDN’T want to choose PE!” Clearly he inherited his PE genes from someone other than me. He has obviously never been a victim of the sort of PE humiliation I endured back in the day. I still cringe when I remember the sing-songy chanting of “Red Rover! Red Rover! Send Chrissy right over!”. I can vividly recall sprinting on my skinny toothpick legs to bash myself in vain against the linked arms of the opposing team. One of the kids in my 4th grade class actually broke an arm playing Red Rover! And don’t even get me started on the sinking feeling that comes with waiting to be picked for a kickball team, or the horror of undressing my scrawny, still boobless, prepubescent, middle-school body for the showers after gym class. Terrible.
So now it’s football season again. My oldest son never formally played football, instead opting for soccer in the fall. After my younger son’s first-grade soccer team was coached by two overly aggressive fathers who took what should’ve been a fun, easy-going soccer season and turned it into a Will Farrell-esque parody of kids sports, my younger son declared the following year that he would play football. I was quite reluctant at first, even though I, like any other red-blooded small-town American female, frittered away too much time in high school at the football field watching the boys bash into each other in their tight pants. As an adult however, I have been largely disinterested in the game and often disgusted by the culture surrounding football. I’ve also had plenty of reservations about the real dangers posed to my son by repeated blows to the head. Likely because he’s my third child, and partly because of the soccer spectacle the year before, I decided to let him play. Also contributing to this decision was the fact that his coach was a neighbor and friend. He assured me that not only was he committed to safety, but that he would help my kid learn the game. Then there was the clincher. He could drive my child to pretty much ALL of the practices, and there were a LOT of practices. At that point I didn’t care what sport it was or where he was going.
My child was 8 years old this first season. He was so excited the day he was given his first uniform that he wore it out to dinner that night, pads and all. He practiced five nights a week all through that August and again the following three seasons. He was totally committed and his body and spirit showed it. He was, as my father said, a “tiger” on the field. He described tackling as if it were a spiritual experience. I was totally charmed.
In his first season I was reacting to my recent split from his father and my first son’s rocky transition into adolescence. I dreamed of handing my younger son over to a tribe of men who could guide him on his perilous journey towards manhood, a subject I felt ill-equipped to handle, and one which seemed fraught for my older boy. I was determined to keep this kid on track, and football seemed to offer some elements that were important and appealing with this goal in mind: physical fitness, discipline, time spent with older, possibly wiser men, etcetera.
My boy is now 12-years-old and will enter the seventh grade this school year. Last football season was good for him, but it ended on one of the lowest notes I have ever witnessed as a parent involved in kids sports. My friend who had volunteered to serve the football league for years as coach, board member and equipment manager, and his wife who also helped sell merchandise and who is possibly one of the nicest people I know, were dismissed from their volunteer jobs abruptly and with no discussion or announcement to the league community. New board members seemed to have elected themselves secretively and without any acknowledgement of league procedure or policy. A meeting was arranged to support this coach and his family and it turned into a showcase of embarrassing, bizarre adult behavior.
The new, possibly self-elected president of the board opened the meeting by rambling on in a vaguely patronizing tone about how “this franchise” is not a “winning franchise” and what he and other board members believed should happen to make it so. He passed around some sheets of paper with complicated computer-generated graphs comparing the wins and losses of our team to the other teams we competed against. The mortifying rambling continued on for about 30 minutes, until one ballsy woman stood up and bluntly attempted to re-direct the subject towards the original purpose of the meeting, which was to show support for our friend and his family. From there, it all devolved into an awkward, and at times aggressive and hostile display of insults and hurt feelings. Adults who were formerly friendly acquaintances were now shouting at each other, while others tried to smooth things over by making long awkward, hokey speeches. I sat by with my mouth literally hanging open, trying to read between the lines, and left before it ended, wondering how I could ever return to sit on the bleachers with some of these people for another season.
Now it is fall and football season again, and after weeks of back and forth as to whether or not my son will play football for his fifth year in a row, it appears we’ve reached a consensus. He will NOT play.
His older brother was listening to us debate and discuss these matters while we were together on vacation last week. He glanced at his younger brother and shook his omniscient 19-year-old male head and said “Football is a lower-consciousness sport, you should do martial arts or something“. After we returned from vacation my younger son was told that the new coach of the team had put a moratorium on skate-boarding for the remainder of football season.
At this point, there was no need to go further with the debate. Ain’t nobody gonna tell my kid he can’t skate except perhaps me or his father, and even that’s debatable at this point. Perhaps he will return to his football “career” (as he once called it) again, or perhaps he will find a “higher-consciousness” physical endeavor, such as martial arts or yoga (hey, a mom can dream!).
He did try to convince me during our football debate that he would opt out if I would buy him some golf clubs and a new tennis racquet. I’m not so sure about golf as a higher-consciousness sport. When I asked my older son if he wanted to hit golf balls with his grandfather while on vacation he stated “I’m trying to balance my chakras, and golf is too one-sided“. Seems to me there are some parents involved in the world of junior football that could use a good old-fashioned “chakra-balancing” if you know what I mean.