I always thought football was just permission for grown men to hurt each other, and that youth teams trained young boys to do so.
Over the past decade, my opinion has changed dramatically, but my transformation was hard-fought.
As a kid, I never bothered to think about football strategy, which helped my neighbor Richard greatly during games on a toy that would be much too difficult to describe here. (Let’s just say it involved a small light table and sheets that each side would overlay for plays.)
In my teens, I steered clear of football players, thinking they were “dumb jocks,” and I never actually watched the high school games I attended. Like most of my girlfriends, I was in it for “the social.”
At a Big Ten college, games provided an excuse to wear the school colors and “party.” My aversion to football players amplified while watching my dorm-mate Marlin, a 300-pound lineman, down six cheeseburgers at lunch (yes, we counted).
When I lived in New York, the Super Bowl was all about the ads, the beer and the camaraderie; in fact, my friends in the ad business threw fabulous parties for the occasion. (I am still grateful that we traveled via subways and on foot, instead of in cars, in the city.)
Since I was attracted to tall, lean men, I was certain to avoid football fanatics.
Or so I thought.
When I met my husband, I couldn’t guess that he had played football. On our first date at the Cedar Tavern, we discussed running, biking skiing and fly-fishing, which all became hallmarks of our life together.
But before long, he was telling me about his youth, which – from ages seven through 21 – was focused primarily on football. The sport was even his ticket to college.
So, when we married and started discussing children, the soccer-versus-football debate began.
I prayed for daughters – which is probably why I got three sons in three and a third years. (Our daughter, a singing-and-dancing princess, came three years later.)
When the kids were very small, my husband – a management consultant – often worked out of town at client sites all week, which gave me ample opportunity to brain-wash the kids.
Under my tutelage, they would become gentle spirits who loved animals, only watched PBS shows with purple dinosaurs and talking aardvarks and learned to play soccer.
Seriously, what mom really wants to send her son onto a football field, where he would risk concussions and other serious injuries? I wanted to become a suburban soccer mom.
A nearby YMCA offered a soccer class for three-year-olds, which helped steer my oldest in the right direction. Our local Boys & Girls Club organized a youth soccer league for kids starting in kindergarten, and all of #1 son’s friends played on a team with him.
My other sons followed suit, so our Seattle Saturdays were spent running from one rain-drenched soccer field to another; Sundays were spent washing soaked, muddy jerseys, socks and shin guards. The mini van reeked of fertile earth and wet grass.
The B/G Club also ran a youth football league, but kids needed to reach age and weight requirements before they could play. My first two are young for their grades and very lean, so they couldn’t play as soon as they (and my husband) hoped.
However, when they finally qualified for “rookie” teams, I knew it was all over.
The boys instantly loved the sport, and forged new bonds and vernacular with their father. The mini van’s stench grew stronger.
I kept praying for soccer players, but they all bored of the sport. It was much more fun to wear shoulder pads and have permission to knock other kids down.
Flash forward a few years, and #1 son was playing under the Friday Night Lights. The game gave him focus, kept him in shape and nearly provided a route to a highly academic college (at the last minute, he opted for a Pac-12 university, where he could wear the school colors and party during football games).
Number 2 son was right on his heels, so it was time to raise the white flag, get involved and figure out what the game was all about. I joined our community’s Football Boosters Club (as secretary and “communications specialist”) and actually took notes during a “Football 101” session for “Grid-Iron Moms.”
Finally, I began to understand the strategy, finesse and athleticism the game required, and started paying attention on Friday nights. My old friends would laugh to know I contracted to back up the local sports reporter, writing articles about games she couldn’t attend.
Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that football requires more than the drive to tackle and even harm opponents. Through the sport, my sons learned about respect, teamwork and loyalty, and realized that hard work reaps many rewards.
Last Monday night, during my second son’s senior-year football banquet, I fought back tears for four straight hours. Listening to the coaches talk about how much the players had grown as young men, hearing the kids verbalize what their coaches had taught them about life and sitting with the “football families” we had grown to love, I felt grateful for the journey we have all experienced.
I’m a little disappointed that, with our third son running cross country, we won’t have any football players to cheer for next fall.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 10 December 2012
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- Football vs soccer: the verbal battle continues (digitalbullpen.com)
- Concussion Fears Shrink Youth Football Participation (pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)