Sunday, October 24, 2010

Helmet Head

It would not be an overstatement to say that in our house, we're a bit football-obsessed. I love the imperfectly emotional and dramatic play of college ball, even the BCS system  and all its flaws (more of a love-hate thing). C loves the precision, speed, and force of professional football. Well, he loves the Redskins, and he loves fantasy football, and loves the game itself. Thus, he loves the NFL, just maybe not all of its virtues and policies. With the birth of our son, I think it was forgone conclusion that Baby H too, would be indoctrinated into Friday Night Lights, College GameDay, and Any Given Sunday.

So, with the near constant presence of games and SportsCenter at our place, it's no surprise that the great helmet debate would enter our worldview. (In case it doesn't enter yours, four players suffered concussions Sunday from helmet-to-helmet hits - i.e., when one player runs into another's head with his own. These incidents occurred a day after a Rutgers University player was rendered quadriplegic as a result of a similar hit.)

Thinking about this from a mama perspective, I have to admit that I'm a little shocked about reactions, both fans' and players', to the NFL's new ruling (suspension for any helmet-to-helmet hits) . For the ruling's hypocrisy, sure, I understand the indignation, but not for its substance. This is not about pretty-boy QBs who prefer to not touch (except for between the center's legs) or be touched while playing football - this is about violent head butts laid with launching force. These fans and players, presumably most are parents too, cannot possibly be thinking about it from their childrens' perspectives, can they?! Look, I am no perfect parent - I do something wrong and second-guess myself daily. I learn from those mistakes, and continue to try to do right by and what's best for my son. As I noted before, I would be kidding myself if I said that I didn't want him to play football. As a result, I cannot pretend that he will not be without pressure to do so (no, not the kind of "you have to play" pressure, but more of the "I know my parents love football, and I love my parents, so I want to play football"  internal kind of pressure).  

In my imperfection, my little guy falls and gets boo-boos. Every single time, it nearly kills me. I cannot imagine the pain and fear I would experience if ever I saw the little man (though he would not be such a little man at the time) go down from a helmet-to-helmet tackle. 

NFL players are paid a lot of money to take on the risks of the violence of the game. I get that. I also get that many of these players are paid the bug bucks to lay down severe hits that hurt to even watch. But, they are also being paid to be role models, whether they like it or not. Yes, the NFL may profit from their violence, but it doesn't change the fact that little kids idolize these players and every thing they do. Kids want to do what the big boys do, including tackling with debilitating force.

I don't pretend to know if the solution should be the NFL's new policy of suspension, safer helmets, or as crazy Mike Ditka proposes, no helmets. But, of one thing I am certain - I'm glad Baby H will not be donning a football uniform for almost ten years. Maybe by then, I won't have to choose between love and safety to allow him to play a game I know he'll adore.

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