Teach Your Children Well
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When I was a boy I remember driving by some Rec fields in my town and seeing a bunch of kids playing football. In pads and helmets no less. And they were only a few years older than me. It was glorious.
Right then and there I decided my fate. "I'm going to play football," I proclaimed with as much cocksureness as a pre-pubescent boy could muster. "I'm going to play football."
I was one of the fastest kids in my class. I had great hands and could catch any Nerf ball thrown my way. This had to translate to the football field. I was going to be the next great white wide receiver in the NFL. I was going to be the next Phil McConkey (I guess I wasn't a Cris Collinsworth kind of kid). My path to athletic glory had been sealed with that one decision.
Until it wasn't. My mom said no. My older brother, a soccer player of some skill and repute in the area, said no. If I wanted to play sports I was going to play soccer. So my mom and I left our lives in Ghana behind and moved to suburban Maryland in the United States of America to prepare for my professional soccer career and international acclaim.
That last part wasn't me, was it? But the rest is true. I was not allowed to play football as a kid. I was a soccer player. When I argued for a chance to play, they explained to me that it wasn't because they thought I'd get hurt, it was because they knew I'd get hurt.
The reply I got, which I remember to this day nearly word-for-word was something like, "do you know who coaches pee wee football? Parents. Parents coach those kids. And those parents are nuts. Not only are they nuts, they don't know the game well enough to teach kids fundamentals of how to play the game. We're not letting some nutjob parent get you paralyzed."
Or something like that. The wording may have been a bit less severe, but the point still resonated with me. My brother, who would go on to break his legs more than five times in his athletic career (and once jumping over a fence but that's another story) was concerned that I would be hurt playing football.
And looking back on it now, he was right. A parent coaching football is no different than a parent coaching swimming. Would you let your kid swim on a team that was run by a guy who has no training, but 'we have a big pool in the yard and I was a decent swimmer when I was a kid?' Ah.....no. You wouldn't because your kid could die.
It's no different in football. Kids can get paralyzed. Kids can break bones. Kids can get concussed. Helmets are too big and heavy for most kids, already putting a strain on their necks. Players aren't taught how to properly tackle so they become six and seven year old missiles to try and knock down the opposing player. Every year you see old-guard analysts like Mike Ditka lament the fact that players don't know how to execute a proper tackle these days. Players think the best way to knock a player to the ground is by knocking him out, not by wrapping him up.
This lament is often followed by a highlight package of the top hits of the week while the other analysts yelp and high five during each crushing blow. Sometimes they even add sound effects to make the hit seem even more bone-crushing and devastating.
Fans like things that are thunderous. We love watching highlights of dunks in basketball. We like watching long home runs in baseball. And we like watching a man run at full speed into another man, hoping only one man is left standing in the end.
There isn't much the NFL can do at their level. Fining a player for hitting another so hard his brain gets momentarily scrambled is ridiculous when you think about the fact that the hitter has been taught for 15 years how to scramble the hittee's brain. Now you're going to fine the guy? It needs to start earlier.
Sure there are new advancements in helmet technology. People are always trying to find ways to protect the brain inside a helmet. But it has to start with teaching kids playing the game the safest way to play.
People crush the NFL for not making their own referees full time. The NFL should pay to send their referees out to every small town in the vicinity of the city they'll be working in during game weeks and in off-season, along with properly trained medical staff members, conduct mandatory certification seminars for all coaches and referees within America's organized football ranks.
Or just show the bone-crushing highlights on your league-sponsored network (and other networks) then fine the guys after the fact. One of those things should work. But until its the former, my kids are playing soccer.
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