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Not Quite Ready for Some Football

August 24, 2012

I spent last Friday night with my dad. We went to see the Minnesota Vikings American football team play the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game. These days, unlike in my youth, I am not a big fan of football. Many of you can count as many reasons to not like the game, but I will watch football with my dad. Not just watch, but appreciate some of it’s finer points.


There are two things that I continue to appreciate about football. The first is that football is one of the few places in our society where a Black man can come close to being recognized and paid for his efforts on par with his White counterparts. There are still hurdles of biases that most players must overcome, but the results on the field are hard to argue. Some try to run a subconscious and sometimes conscious sabotage. The stumbling blocks are not unfamiliar and not unique to football, but that sabotage often backfires in an atmosphere where any kind of anger or animosity have a very welcome physical response in kind that is likely to be rewarded on the field. However all the factors figure, the field is more even than most aspects of society.


The other thing I like about football is that it is how dad went to college. He paid his way into school on an athletic scholarship. (The photo on the banner of this blog is dad from his college playing days.)


There was a time as a kid, when my favorite sport was whatever sports season was in full swing. In the winter, I wanted to grow up to be a professional basketball player and then, later a professional hockey player. In the spring, I wanted to become a professional baseball player. In the fall, it was football. Those fantasies added to any fun that came with being out with the other boys, to play in the fields and playgrounds or just play in my imagination. Later I had fun playing on the team dad coached, a volunteer job he held for 29 years at Holy Spirit School in St. Cloud, Minnesota.


Like with so many of the boys who became men on a journey boosted by their learning from dad, football was not so much fun after 8th grade when I was too old to play on his team: when football came to mean less about personal and social life and more about how important football was to our elders.


It was not that we did not learn about football. Those who played for dad carried with them a reputation of skill and how to play well and safely. We also learned to practice and play with pride, with respect for teammates and opponents, coaches and officials, and that ideally, we would carry those ideal back home, to school and on the streets of our community. And I knew that even as a kid who would not get his growth spurt for a couple of years, I could still bring down a running back who outweighed me by 50 pounds.


But unlike experiencing the game alone or with someone else or the television commentators, talking about what happens on the field that honestly critiques the game and not the players, talking about the players knowing what they had to do to get there and like they are the physical and emotional beings they are, and hoping that their experience in the National Football League will help support them and their families during the rest of their life time.


Friday, we watched, not “ready for some football,” like Hank Williams, Jr., or the masses of onlookers that drive the pseudo-capitalistic machine that paid Williams for that song that sounds more like the soundtrack to accompany the guy with the beer on the sofa than the majestic athletes on the field. I am not sure if I have a song for those athletes, the ones who have been encouraged to weigh 300 pounds but are still quicker and faster than any of us watching, the guy who will be injured giving his best to please the crowd who will forget him a minute after he leaves the field, the tears of joy from a mom or dad who is seeing their son on the NFL’s field for the first time or that exceptional player who goes home every night to the love of a woman and maybe a child–whether that week they are in the same city or not.


After I left for college, my youngest sister Jennifer became dad’s football partner. Today, she is the biggest fan, still as cognizant of all the social, political and cultural shortcomings, and still, even as a resident of Chicago, a Vikings fan. She is the true lover of American football. It is very charming, the two of them, intelligent discourse on a brutal game. But this Friday–his time, I got to hang out with dad. Thanks dad for taking your boy to a game.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim M. permalink
    August 27, 2012 12:31 pm

    As a kid, I also shared football with my dad. He provided the encouragement to play, and I followed him in choosing to play center and other offense line positions. His “sacrifice your body” line is the only paternal advice that I can quote directly, even as I knew that he didn’t mean the full “win at any cost” impression that it might give an outside observer.

    Regardless of my father’s encouragement, and the fact we both played football, sports did not define our relationship. I dropped football after the 8th grade, and Dad never questioned the decision once. He did not live vicariously through my sports “career”, and it was clear his interest was broad and supportive, but not deep. When I was done, so was he.

    What I find interesting is the place that sports are starting to have with my own son. He is not even in school, yet I find myself interested in ensuring that he experiences baseball, soccer, football and basketball. Most of my life, I have lived the antithesis of a jock life, but I find myself just as interested in my son improving his batting skills as I do in getting him to read and do math.

    I wonder if that would be true if he were a girl – I don’t really know. I don’t consciously make this decision, but find that seems a natural way to navigate my ongoing relationship with my boy.

    Thanks for the article.

    • August 27, 2012 1:10 pm

      Thanks, Jim. We spend a lot of time thinking of making sure that our kids get good grades, have the right music lessons and the right clothes and the right status, but we don’t often think about how important it is for them to find good, healthy things to do with their bodies. We forget most of the specifics we learn as a kid in school, but do we ever forget how to play the games we learned on the playground or in gym class as a kid?

      How well we do in math is important, but not as important as how we start and continue to take care of our bodies, and find those physical activities that we want to do, make us happy and keep us healthy. Some of it is sports. Some of it is games. Some of it is just being in the great outdoors. But it’s about our health, it is about how we view, love and care for out bodies.

      We have to feel good about our bodies and we will put good things in them and take care of them much better if we get those lessons early. Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” to all of that stuff that we don’t want kids to do pales in comparison to kids and young people who know, care about and respect their bodies. I think it’s even more important for girls. Title IX can’t be taken lightly. I look at how superior the U.S. women’s basketball team was to the rest of the world, how the other teams looked more like high schoolers from 20 years ago. We did that on the public/social plane. We have to make it personal. Girls aren’t just to look at.

      And children should be seen, heard and celebrated for their play.

  2. Willie Mae White permalink
    September 21, 2012 11:05 am

    You are an awesome son and writer

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