When you skinned your knees or elbows, Mom was there to take care of you, to make it better with Bactine and Band-Aids. When you rode your bike, Mom was the one insisting you wear a helmet to protect your fragile skull.
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So it’s Mother’s Day weekend, and it might be time to stop, give Mom a break and pay tribute. But the job is never done. Something much bigger than skinned knees is causing broken bodies and broken minds, and it’s going to be up to Moms to take care of it.
Moms are going to have to be the ones to straighten out football’s mess.
Mothers, your babies are being systemically funneled toward football, where their heads are being bashed over and over and over. If they’re really lucky, and they reach the dream of the NFL, then there’s a fair chance that by 50, they can end up mangled, limping, confused. Or dead.
Where is Mothers Against Football Frenzy?
The game now is defined by concussions and brain injuries and ex-players with dementia killing themselves, and yet that doesn’t stop players from taking out bounties on each other. The pain goes all the way down to youth football, where studies show little kids taking huge amounts of hits to the head.
Now, look around your neighborhood. Look at your local high school stadium on Friday nights. Do you see any less insanity over football? My own school district put in a seven-figure heated football turf – the Chicago Bears don’t even have that. The high school has six football teams while the district is so broke that it’s dropping middle school soccer and laying off library workers.
And Dads in your town? Do you notice them cutting back? Be honest now: Or did they all want to be the starting quarterback years ago, the cool kid dating a cheerleader, and now dream about the same things for their boy?
Dads seem more moved, too, by the Tiger Woods effect: Take your little kid, start grooming him for a life in sports now, and superstardom and super-riches can come.
Being real, some of the popularity games of high school never go away. Some Dads are still hoping to be the cool kid around their grown-up friends just because their son is on the football team. Some Moms have the same goals, the same peer pressure.
Sure, I’m overstating and stereotyping here. The roles between Mom and Dad have changed and blurred over the years. Hockey moms can be as violent as any parent, and Dads drive to gymnastics practice. But for the most part, Moms are still the ones doing the nurturing, Dads see playing through pain as a badge of honor. (It is, isn’t it?)
The conversation about football is turning, a little. Some people are questioning whether football is the right place to put their sons. But that’s met with the classic stupid testosterone defense.
Former star linebacker LaVar Arrington, in a discussion on ESPN about the dangers of youth football, said, “To me, it’s sissification, and I think that’s the only way to put it. I will not go through my life scared, and I don’t want my children to go through life scared.’’
You don’t play football? Sissy. Yes, in some ways, even grownups are still back in high school.
Is that really the message boys need to hear, one that bullies them into this game?
The message they need is the one that came from former Super Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner on the Dan Patrick Show. Shortly after Junior Seau committed suicide, and four New Orleans Saints were suspended for the team’s bounty system – extra payments for hurting players – Warner said he would prefer his sons not play football.
“It’s a scary thing for me,’’ he said.
But former fullback Merril Hoge, who apparently has gotten the ringing out of his ears, jumped all over Warner on ESPN, calling his concerns for his boys irresponsible and unacceptable.
“Head trauma is not the issue here; it’s how head trauma is treated,’’ said Hoge, whose career was shortened because of concussions. “The game is safer than it has ever been because we’re being proactive with head trauma …
“I can’t believe that he would share that message. Because now, moms and dads that are out there, and Billy wants to play, but they are uneducated and they are unsure, and they love Kurt Warner. They’re like, ‘He doesn’t want his kids to play. Why should I let my kids play?’ ’’
Something wrong with that question, Merril? It is what every parent should be asking.
The problem is that Warner, and any guy who questions football’s damage, who stands up to this accepted Americana, is called a wimp. Or a sissy, as Arrington said.
Dave Duerson was a Monster of the Midway, playing on maybe the toughest defense ever, the 1985 Bears. He started forgetting things, turned violent at home, then shot himself in the chest. Tests showed that he had CTE, now connected to multiple concussions in football. His former teammate Jim McMahon, the punky QB, has such a bad short-term memory that his girlfriend bought him a GPS for his car and programmed in his home address in case he can’t remember how to get home. Ray Easterling, safety for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1970s, who suffered depression and severe memory loss, shot himself. You know the stories.
Look, it’s not that football needs to go away. For some kids, it offers real opportunity to get an education, to learn how to be part of a team, to learn hard work. And these concussion studies are still incomplete.
But enough is out there now to challenge this country’s football insanity, especially at the youth level, and not to keep funneling unsuspecting kids into the game.
And honestly, I’m not trusting Dads to do it. They show caring in a different way. It’s going to take Moms to start an honest conversation, cool off Dads and do the hard work of forcing the game to be as safe as possible. The football frenzy has not been passed down through as many generations to Moms.
The risks are getting bigger. And the way that Dads would solve this problem is the path that caused it. Moms, it’s your time to step up.