Football was my first sports love. As early as age eight I was in the front yard playing out an entire NFL season with all 28 teams, by myself. I even had playoffs.
When I stopped playing football in high school, my love for watching football never waned. It has continued to this day, and I find myself semi-obsessed with Sooner football on autumn Saturdays. My wife is somewhat taken aback when her usually laid-back husband transforms into a loud, animated freak yelling epithets at the crimson-clad warriors of my pridelands.
Maybe it’s because I’ll be expecting my first child in September (yes, I’m getting an OU onesie), but Frontline’s excellent report “Football High” had a strong effect on me. It is a must-see. For those that haven’t, it details the passions that boys, parents and high school administrators have for football. It also documents the inescapable trauma inflicted on young men’s brains by years of repetitive collisions throughout their playing career.
The evidence is compelling. Every ex-NFL player who had allowed their brain to be analyzed post-mortem showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The worst part of CTE may be that it’s symptoms – memory loss, aggression, confusion, depression – can surface decades later without the player having ever been diagnosed with a single concussion.
I came from the school that tells kids to suck it up. Anyone not able to keep up is just too weak or not an athlete. I accepted that mentality for myself and relished it. I wanted to win. Anyone who couldn’t help that cause was better off not on the team.
However, now that I’ll be responsible for another human being, I wonder if the effect our country’s sports culture has on our youth is healthy. Specifically, what effect will my love of the game have on my child?
Contrary to my intention that he pursue whatever he chooses, will my son, witnessing his father exalt in an OU defender laying waste to an unsuspecting receiver, believe that’s what makes his father proud? Will he grow to watch and love football and believe the pursuit of football glory is his path to becoming a man?
I loathe shows that glorify superficial housewife drama queens and vow to restrict that shallowness from my daughter. It’s hard to admit that violent athletics may too be just as harmful to a boy trying to prove his manhood as those reality shows can be to a young girl trying to achieve liposuctioned, airbrushed adoration.
I know the instances of deaths from football are extremely rare, but death need not happen in order for one’s body to be negatively impacted by the game’s effects. Football should bring together people on Saturdays. It should empower young men, allow them to reap the rewards of hard work and teach the lessons that can come from disappointment. That’s the ideal.
I don’t want to give up football, red meat or my Chevy pickup. Suggestions that those things I love may have a detrimental effect on my planet or society results in an automatic recoil, but I believe we as a society must have enough humility to look inward at our predilections to determine if what we covet is really an exercise in healthy self-expression or instead self-absorbed entitlement. What ramifications result because of our passions for football? Is it responsible that so many fans’ hopes and dreams, not to mention millions of university dollars are dependent on the athletic performance of 18-year-old kids?
The next generation looks at us for direction. Let the youth not learn that their body was just a vehicle for booster dreams and coaches’ paychecks. We must, at times, be big enough to recalibrate what we view as important. Every fan must do their little part to ensure that college football reality actually is that ideal we imagine in our mind.
(E-mail Native State at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Native State on Twitter: @NativeState.)