American parents are being forced to decide whether they want to let their kids play amateur football, an increasingly dangerous sport with possible long-lasting effects. See how one parent struggles with this decision, and how he decides to confront it.
“The Spread Parenting Offense”
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” President Obama said. Sal read these words in his head and then repeated, “I would have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”
He sipped his coffee, sugarless, dark and hot, and looked at the words again. “If I had a son,” he said. He had something like a son, a stepson. If the President had a son, he wondered, what would he do?
He continued to read Obama’s quote, trying to find an angle to use later. “It will be a whole lot better for the players, and for those of us who are fans maybe we won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much,” Obama said. That’s a good line, Sal thought. He had examined his conscience before regarding this. Obama continued to say that the risk and issue is with the young, not the pros.
He thought about his stepson. What powers did he have with him? His stepson, Frankie, looked almost like a man at 16. He was gaining the type of body that reminded Sal of his own age and lessening strength. Frankie was in the high school football team–he had the cleats, the gloves, everything. He had already broken his arm during his freshman season, so Sal’s conscience was well examined.
They had continued to let him play after the recovery. They wanted him to have a sense of control over his life.
But in the sports world, two stories were becoming increasingly common. It was either a former athlete being accused of substance use, or a former NFL player suing the league for physical and mental damages related to the dangers of playing football.
It was no different at the start of 2013. Lance Armstrong had just Oprah’ed himself into a possible apology to the American people. Alex Rodriguez sent out statements in January to disclaim the investigation that connected him to performance-enhancing drugs during visits to a Florida clinic. And on the brink of Superbowl weekend, Ray Lewis, the hall of fame linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens claimed to have never used some moose antler spray something or other, and that he has always told the truth, so help him God.
Sal didn’t care too much about this first issue. He didn’t care about what A-rod stuck or didn’t stick in his body. He liked Ray Lewis in spite of any allegations. But he was also hoping Ray would be found guilty so that he could see him on Oprah too. Sal could see himself placing over-under bets on the number of times Ray would say Lord or Jesus during each Oprah segment. Ray had already said that the accusations were the trick of the devil, and Sal smirked at this thought.
On the other end there were the more tragic stories, like that of the late Junior Seau. Junior surprisingly committed suicide in 2012 in Oceanside, CA. It came out in 2013 that his family filed a lawsuit against the league, on Seau’s behalf. The lawsuit, like hundreds of others, claimed that the NFL did not properly message the health risks to Junior, and that the league was therefore in part guilty for the death.
Sal read other unrelated articles that morning, but he couldn’t let go of the idea of football being dangerous to Frankie. He had tried convincing his stepson into basketball, but it hadn’t worked. He had discussed Frankie’s tackling techniques with him, had asked whether the coach made security an issue or if they had discussed it at all. Frankie said everything was fine. He said he didn’t lead with his head. Many mornings before games Sal had prayed for Frankie’s day to go well by visualizing himself getting home at night and seeing Frankie whole.
Sal sipped his coffee again as he waited for his day to start. In a few moments his stepson would be waking, showering and coming out for breakfast. When Frankie came out, Sal was still on his iPad. He had moved on to checking e-mail. His coffee was done, the dog had been taken out, his lunch was ready. Frankie came to the table to eat cereal. The new school semester had just started and the football season at the high school was in recess.
Sal looked at Frankie’s growing shoulders. “Frankie,” Sal said, and sighed.
“Yeah?” Frankie had a spoon on one hand and his iPhone on the other.
“Want to go play basketball this Saturday?”
Published Feb. 2, 2013. Image courtesy of Clappstar.
For your reference, links to the real-life news stories that inspired “The Spread Parenting Offense”: Obama’s Opinions of Football and Youth, Lance Armstrong Apologizes on Oprah, Alex Rodriguez Linked to Doping in FL, Ray Lewis Accused of Doping