It’s hard to even say the word right now because it sounds pretty optimistic, right? Yet we need some optimism, even if it’s misguided. So I’ll ask the question on many minds, are we really ready for some football?
I know I am, no matter what it looks like, but I wasn’t always so enthusiastic. To provide a little context, I have a complicated history with football. Many years ago, the silver lining in a global pandemic would have been the cancellation of not just football, but ALL sports. Yes, that’s a true and difficult confession, but it’s an important chapter in my story.
For a large part of my life, I actually hated sports.
In elementary school, I hid behind trees in the outfield during recess softball. In middle school, some overly demanding (ok… brutal) P.E. teachers exposed my complete lack of athleticism in basketball drills. Literally, it has taken me years to resist flinching at the sound of the scoreboard buzzer in a gym. Truth be told, the only thing that made P.E. bearable for me was the square dancing.
As I child, I managed to generate some sort of family loyalty to the Crimson Tide because that’s what you do when you grow up in Alabama. But deep down, I didn’t really care. I just didn’t want to hear about Auburn beating Bama for weeks in the hallways of school if God forbid, the Tide lost the Iron Bowl.
In the South especially – and not just Alabama – football is a larger-than-life passion that is shared in some way or form by almost everyone. It is a place where community happens, emotions are elevated, and talents of all types are on full display. Love or hate football, it would be hard to deny the strong and colorful thread it weaves through the fabric of our country.
Football is a uniquely American experience.
So that brings me back to the now of football and IF we’re going to have a now 2020 season. So far, there is promising news on all fronts, but I don’t want to jinx it. For my family, fall represents only one reality that remains firmly planted somewhere between two goalposts. I did not choose this sport and this life of first downs and touchdowns (I know the difference now, okay!?). Through my circumstances, it chose me. That’s why I can now say that I love football, and here’s why.
I am married to a high school football coach. I have two sons who play football. One plays for his Dad in high school and one plays in college. Football has given us security, a large extended family that transcends towns and schools, and a banner under which our family unit will always be on the same team. It has given my husband a way to process a difficult childhood into a worthy calling to influence and shape boys into men.
I have seen the literal transformation of players who couldn’t even make eye contact develop into young men who stood taller than they were and pushed themselves beyond their abilities. I have seen giant guys let down their defenses and weep into each other’s arms following the big wins and losses. I have seen tender, young hearts choose Jesus and embrace that new relationship in baptism.
Football has gifted my sons with equal parts confidence and humility and always with perfect timing.
It has built their physical strength and mental fortitude in a world that too often celebrates and justifies weakness.
It has taught them responsibility and strategic thinking far away from their phones and video games.
It has served up accountability and resiliency in the place of blame game theatrics.
It has allowed them to have a healthy and appropriate place to channel their adolescent aggression.
And football has given them relationships and a brotherhood that can only be found through adversity and teamwork in the trenches.
Yes, I acknowledge and am very aware of the risks of this high impact sport, but I live with that. I choose to leverage those risks against the rich blessings that have been showered on them on this path.
Has football been the great cure-all for our family and made my sons, who won’t cut their hair or keep their rooms clean, into perfect children? Far from it. But like any good football parent, I know that our years have been far more meaningful with it than they would have been without it. The same would hold true for all sports and activities that build character and develop confidence in our children.
So to clarify, I know it’s unlikely that my words would ever sway the votes of lawmakers and educators and officials for football or in-person school. I don’t pretend to understand the data. Who can interpret something that changes almost hourly it seems? I DO value our safety and health and I pray daily that some intersection of knowledge and common sense will serve our schools and students well.
For my sanity and for my people, I just needed to say these words out loud for all the boys and coaches and fans and cheerleaders and band members and families and anyone who occupies some kind of space on or near the gridiron. I had to offer up one small rallying cry from someone who has also been transformed by football. That someone is me – a (still) proud band and theatre geek who is also now a football geek. Yes, it’s a thing. I am proud to be that combination with cowbell in hand, and I’m not afraid to ring it!