Better, Not Bitter:
Is Our Son Safe Anywhere?
Our Football Decision
This is my youngest son’s third year playing high school football. Before that he played six years of Boys and Girls Club football. He’s almost 16 and he’s been a football player, both tackle and flag, for two thirds of his life and he doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet.
My son loves football so much that this year he is playing both JV and Varsity at his high school. All of the news and controversy surrounding youth football and injuries, especially concussions, have caused me to think pretty hard about his safety and whether his dad and I made the right decisions. Recently, I had to think about it again.
A couple of weeks ago the JV football game got a late start. JV begins after freshman on Thursday evenings, so if the freshman game is late due to bad traffic, an unfortunate injury or lots of penalties called by the refs, the JV game can start as late as 8pm. That evening was one of those nights and we were looking at getting home with our sons around 11pm, with homework, dinner and sleep all required before starting the routine all over again.
I mentioned that I was planning to go to the Friday varsity game because my son plays special teams on varsity. One of the other parents gently questioned the decision to allow him to play TWO games per week. She advised that she thought it was too much – too many games for his safety and too hectic and hard on the household.
I thought of the essay I read a couple of weeks ago in the NY Times authored by a former NFL player titled, “Would I let My Son Play Football?” And of the fact that I’m just a regular mom and not a neuroscientist who has studied the potential injuries, although I am aware of the potential danger for injury and lasting harm. I responded that the game is safer now, and since my son only plays kickoffs and punt returns on varsity, I trust the coaches to have his and all of the player’s safety as their highest concern.
Related: Be The She-ro, Hero or Zero
I didn’t fully explain my reasoning. It really wasn’t the appropriate venue for that discussion. But the truth is my son rides a bike in our urban community, with lots of cars, trucks, buses and bicycles in traffic. He skateboards with a group of friends. Soon he’ll secure his learner’s permit (just waiting for those first quarter grades!) and become part of the massive traffic jam that is constant in the Washington metro area. He is also a young black man. An unfortunate incident engaging in any of those activities can cause him injury. Just being who he is in the wrong neighborhood in America can cost him his life.
When my son began to play football his dad and I were married and the relationship was strong. My ex is a huge football fan and Sunday afternoon eating a big dinner and watching the NFL became a fun family ritual for us. For the past five years since the separation and now divorce, football whether high school, college or the NFL, are still a constant subject in conversation when we’re together with the boys at this time of year. So with regard to our son’s football participation, we’ve weighed the issues and have decided to continue to support his dream of playing at the college level someday.
We know he could suffer an injury like a concussion. I pray at every game he and the other players remain safe. But I also pray that he doesn’t get hit by a car on the bicycle. Or fall off that skateboard. Or catch some funky virus. Or get shot by someone because he’s an African American boy at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I also pray for the mothers who no longer have the ability to go and see their son’s play football or perform in the band. Or just walk to the store to get some Skittles and an iced tea. I am sure some parents won’t see it my way. And that’s OK. My ex and I don’t agree about every point either, but we’re making decisions as co-parents based on what we believe is in our child’s best interest.
I’m blessed to still have my son and if pursuing his dreams equate to a little more risk, I’m going to support him if he has the talent and the drive. His life will be challenging on many sides so I want him to experience the things that make him happiest. And football makes him happy.
I understand why this isn’t the choice for other parents. But for this family, my ex and I agree, it’s the right choice for our son. What is the choice for your kids and football? Does the potential for harm in other areas of their lives impact your decision about his participation in football?
Wilma Jones lives in Arlington, VA with her teenage son. Her oldest son who is a senior in a nearby college, stops by with laundry and an empty stomach a few times a month. She is divorced after 19 years of marriage. Wilma is a speaker and the author of “Living Happier After: 20 Women Talk About Life After Divorce.