My son played in his first varsity football game last night. We beat the other team 31-0 so by all measures it was a success. Sean played on kick-off coverage and was put in for the last seven minutes of the game at Cornerback and Wide Receiver. Not bad for a kid that had never played football until his freshman year of high school. He will likely be a solid starter next year as a senior.
But I digress…
I fought his participation in football tooth-and-nail as he grew up. He played baseball but every year he would ask me if he could play football and I would say no. All of his friends were doing it (which makes his current achievements all the more impressive) and he understandably wanted to join them. By the time he entered high school, I couldn’t say no. The social pressure on him, and by extension..me, was too much. I said okay and held my breath. He has played two years now and so far so good, injury-wise. I have become the definition of a “fanatic”…eagerly anticipating each game. But I do so with profound sadness and guilt.
In high school, I played ice hockey…a sport considered by some to be more violent than football; I disagree, but that’s another post. But while I was playing ice hockey, a classmate named Greg Cole was killed during a varsity game at my alma mater. When I got married and had the privilege of raising a stepson, he suffered a broken collarbone and two concussions for the same team Sean is playing on now. In fact, he was on his way to the neurologist to be cleared for his senior year of football when he was involved in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic and ultimately took his life. Obviously unrelated but tragically ironic nonetheless.
Last year, my son’s best friend was taken off the field by ambulance after suffering a neck injury. I was physically ill, but fortunately he suffered no nerve or spinal injury. When that same young man came back a few weeks later, on the third play he suffered a nauseating hit to his knee that broke his femur and severely damaged his ACL and MCL. He has yet to return to football. This is a kid that LOVES football and to see him on the sidelines breaks my heart. His love of the game tempers my fears somewhat but now this: my son is on his way to his other best friends house to offer his consolations…this other young man, clearly destined to be the starting running back in his senior year, suffered yet another concussion last night and was dazed and vomiting in the locker room after the game. I was horrified when I heard this. His football career is over. His quality of life is my main concern at this point.
Why do I let him play? Life is about risk. Life is about passion. My son had demonstrated a passion for this and I will not be a barrier to that. All I can do is say a prayer for him and every other player each time we are asked to stand for the opening kick off.