Geek Dad Report: Football, Concussions, and a Fathers Fears
I don’t think it’s anything new that I’m kinda the resident former Letterman’s Jacket wearing Jock here at WPR, I shall dispense with something that’s been rattling in my skull for a while.
I love the game of football, I’ve always followed it, played it in the backyard against my little brother in an uncountable number of matches. (most of which ended in a tie, that’s what happens when Dad is QB and trying to keep the peace) I didn’t start playing on a team until I was in Seventh Grade, I wanted to start earlier, but my Mom always won the battle saying I’d lose more of my hearing if I got hit to hard. Eventually I couldn’t be held at bay anymore, and when I started playing for my Middle School, it created lasting memories I’ll always have. All the way up until a most memorable Senior year in High School where we turned around our program from two consecutive one win seasons and only lost a single league game, and just barely missed going to State. I don’t know what it is about the game of football that creates the bonds between teammates and stories of bravado that us Men like to retell. I’ll be honest, I still have dreams of playing under the Friday night lights, the faces of my teammates still fresh, the crisp voice of Coach Collins still audible from the sidelines though I had both of my hearing aids out. Looking into the eyes of Trevor McGuire as he relayed our defensive play and breaking the huddle. Getting into a three point stance, the grass and mud sinking my dirty white sports taped fingers a bit. My free hand clenching and unclenching as I stared into the eyes of my opponent, the ball snapping and everyone crashes together in organized chaos. It’s all still vivid to me, it’s been some 13 years and still I remember it all. It seemed so harmless aside from having a finger nail ripped off, so fun, so carefree, so much of a release of emotions for me. Yes, Football was my emotional release from the world, the shy kid that stalked the sidelines, pacing up and down, cursing a storm, eyes wild to just get out there and push myself harder, knock someone down, lay out a big hit.
As my son is now Five, and enamored in the world of Football, he’s approaching the age where he could start playing. So, why do I find myself hesitating? How much has the stories, the sad tales of players, especially in the NFL having such horrible disabilities and brain trauma from concussions really effected how I hesitate to full on get excited to watch him play a sport I’m so passionate about. Even though I got to experience what I did, a part of me wants to shut my son out of it for fear of what could happen. As much as I put on a show to my wife that I can’t wait for our son to play, there is a part of me that is afraid, just as my Mom was for me. Concussions and their effects are real, it may not have been as prevalent when I was playing, but it was there. I remember my senior year, we beat the seventh ranked team in the state, just pounded them on their home field. After the game, one of our players kept asking if we’d won and we all knew why he kept forgetting. He’d gotten numerous concussions during the season, nobody told the coaches, nobody told the trainers, everyone just shrugged it off, made sure he got home alright, and played another week. He’s fine now as an adult, I still talk to him, but sometimes I still wonder if it could have been worse. In middle school we were taught a chant, “If you put your head down?” the coach would shout. The correct reply? “You DIE!” Simple, effective, ignored in the thick of a game, but still, shocking to think back on after all these years. Lower your helmet during a tackle and you suffer life ending spinal injury, not a bad lesson for a bunch of kids to know.
I’ll always love the game of football, it’s a special pride of mine, that my loving wife, hated everything dealing with it when we first started dating. Though, she now roots for a NFL team that is clearly not my chosen favorite, she’s been learning the game at a level that has me scrambling back and researching to keep up with her football knowledge. I’m sure that we’ll eventually cave in and let our son play, every hit, every crunch, we’ll wince, our heart will beat a little faster and like so many parents out there, we’ll watch out kids go through pain, trials but more importantly, bonds with their teammates that will last them a lifetime. It’s hard to shelf a fathers fears, especially in the fast paced world that is sports these days. It’s even more hard to ignore the big stories, the people who have life altering injuries, is it worth it in the end? Is it truly? I hardly doubt that Junior Seau’s family, would say so, I doubt that all the players from any level, high school, college, Pro, that have some kind of injury they’ll have to carry for the rest of their lives will say it was worth it. Some will, most do, it’s that weird thing that comes with being a Football player in America that is hard to explain, hard to understand unless you’ve been down in the trenches.
So, when my wife and I will most likely eventually relent, and let our son, hell, even our daughter if she wants to, play the sport. I may be a wreck after every game during the season, but I can’t hold back on them what I’ve been able to experience. I just can’t. As stupid as it sounds, and how it goes against everything as a parent that is protecting their child from harm. I’ll just have to hope that they follow the fundamentals, follow their coaches teachings, and try in every way possible to get myself as a coach to ensure the players around them are learning the game safely and correctly.
Thankfully, I still have a couple more years until that fateful day, for now, we can just have fun in the backyard.