I played one year of organized football. I think the year was 1984? Maybe ’83? Forgive my memory, been a little busy since then.
We won one game, scored one touchdown, and I was the little four-foot-nothing running back that was fortunate to have his number called. I remember it like it was yesterday. Coach Robert Smith, in the huddle, “Right 32” he said. That was my play! The fullback had to block for me, instead of me blocking for him. And what can I say, lifelong friend Loan Dollins cleared the path for a walk into the endzone! My ‘Rudy’ moment if you will. I’ll never forget it.
My family dynamic had a life change after that lone season, and I then attended a school system through high school graduation that didn’t field a football program. We played two seasons of baseball instead. I always wondered what it would have been like to keep on playing.
Would you believe me if I said that I call on lessons learned that one football season every single day of my life?
I’ll go ahead and date myself. I was 10 or 11 years old at the time, when kids are just running around clueless as to anything X’s and O’s. That age where it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but rather how you play the game. Ever heard that from a childhood coach?
See, I love football. You hear people talk about it, especially from those that played the game. They talk about how it molded them as human beings, prepared them for real life after sports. And I couldn’t agree more.
My one season of putting on the pads engrained lessons in me that I wake up with every new day I’m given. It is true, at least for me it was. Work ethic, embracing healthy competition, giving just a little bit more when you have nothing left, learning about “team,” and pushing to be the very best you can with each passing moment.
Football taught me that life is hard, but if you give everything you’ve got, you’ve always got a chance.
Fifth grade football, if you can believe it, taught me human lessons that I’m not sure I would have learned otherwise.
The sport is hard. It tests our very limits. And even though he was talking about baseball, I still quote Tom Hank’s character from the movie A League Of Their Own: “The hard is what makes it great.” I’d say that about football any time and every time.
And while I love the game, I’ve also never been so scared about the future than I am today. An assistant coach at the University of Arizona told me years ago, in reference to a linebacker, that he plays the game violently. That never did set well with me. It worried me.
We’ve learned so much about injuries in recent years. We hear stories all the time about the tolls the game has taken on so many, especially those that play professionally. I applaud efforts to police tacklers, blockers, and illegal hits as best they can. I support any and all equipment upgrades to protect players. But I don’t know exactly where I stand to be honest. Do you?
Think about it. Who’s not excited about football season? It’s a massive part of American sports culture. Summer turns to fall as high school boys all over the country do what dads and granddads alike did before them.
I was talking to a San Antonio high school football coach just last week about the preseason. I asked him how numbers were this fall. He said they had no extra locker space left.
For all the worrying about youth football enrollment taking a hit, maybe those numbers don’t reflect how people still feel about the game in the state of Texas.
Does that mean mothers worry any less here? I would assume absolutely not. Just like happiness, football is a choice. It is not required. The game is assumed risk, and I think everybody understands that.
The injury conversation swirls around the National Football League, by a long shot, more than any other level of the game. But I have heard concerns from parents at every level. Sometimes I hear that youth football numbers are down, and then other times I hear that participation levels are great.
That takes me back to a previous thought: Playing football is a choice that every family must make.
And let me be clear, with what we’ve learned about injuries, I’d never fault any parent for encouraging their child to avoid football. It’s a choice that each individual family must make. And that’s a statement that comes from someone who honors how football molded him as a man.
The game is great. But I do worry about its future.