Can Football Make Your Son a Better Human?

My twelve year-old son plays tackle football. He loves it. I hate to love it. But I do.

I read the articles advocating a quick retreat from the sport of American football based on its “culture of violence” and I get it. I click every headline on CNN that mentions a tragic football injury. I wonder if we’re doing the right thing to let him play. I wonder if I’m going to regret it. I ask everyone I know their opinion. Which just leads to more confusion. (My dad always says opinions are like arm pits, everyone has two of them and they both stink!)

But on the other hand, when he plays I know it fulfills something in him that feels almost primal. Maybe it’s that masculine hero thing. Or the natural tendency toward war and conquest. Possibly the spiritual draw toward a noble brotherhood. Any or all of that may be true, but it is for sure true that football is a joy for him.

And it’s a joy for me, too. When I see him make a catch I didn’t think he could make. When I see him stand on the sideline and shout support to his teammates. When I see a coach rehearsing a play with him, showing him where he went wrong and how to fix it. When every boy on the field works together toward one goal and they win. I love it.

You can understand my conflict with football. But I’m starting to develop a more sure footed sense of my real opinion, even as I acknowledge the complexities of the issue. Let’s start here. Have you seen this?

 

What gets me about this video is the wide receiver at the end, the one who tears up when thinking back on how the beautiful gesture changed him. How many times have you seen a middle school boy share feelings like that? How valuable is it that he had that opportunity to express himself emotionally in a healthy way?

This weekend my favorite middle school football team played for the league championship. They had finished the regular season undefeated. They played as sure and as selflessly as any team we’ve ever been part of. Heading into the championship game they knew it would be a battle – the opposing team was undoubtedly as skilled and as motivated. And they did battle.

But they caught some tough breaks. Even after making four straight goal line stands and holding their opponent to only 16 points (one of their touchdowns a defensive take-away), in the end it just didn’t work out in our favor. As in any game, there were things we could have done better, but there wasn’t failure for lack of competing. We lost the game by 10 points.

And we were heartbroken. And there were tears. Big, genuine, sobbing tears. From not just my soft-hearted, emotive twelve year-old, but from the big guys on the team, too. They sat together on the sideline and from my husband’s perspective, “You’ve never seen so many weeping middle school boys.”

And I love them for it. And I love football for giving them an excuse to cry. Because a good cry once in awhile will do wonders for your soul. It’s true, even the comedic philosophers of our age know about it. Once we’d been home for awhile, reminded ourselves of some of the game’s highlights (personal and team victories), my son felt better. Maybe he even is better.

Today, that’s why I’m sure I love football again. (The last time I was really sure was when I wrote this post from two years ago.)