Hi grandson! Hope you are having a great day. We’re so proud of how well you’re doing at home, in school and as member of your jazz band. Keep up the good work. I was also elated to learn that you don’t plan to play football anymore. Soccer, basketball, perhaps tennis, but not football. Smart decision.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sport of football, always have and always will. But I was horrified as I watched professional football player Demar Hamlin collapse during a game and receive treatment after a heart attack. Watching that, I breathed a sigh of relief that you’d given up playing football. (Thankfully as of this writing, young Hamlin is on the way to recovery).
Now I must tell you that the coincidence of the picture of you in your dark blue and gold football uniform taken a few years ago on the mantle right next to that big screen image of the fallen Hamlin was unsettling. As far-fetched as that may seem, the thought of that being you stretched out on a field like that was overwhelming.
Now clearly like any parent whose son wants to play football, the decision for you to play or not was not mine to make, I admit that. That’s to be decided with hopeful players and their parents. But here’s what I do know. Although the odds may be small, the risk of injury playing the game is always present.
Now to put your decision to give up football into a broader context, I’ll share some thoughts from others on this issue.
A while ago, citing the inherent dangers the game poses, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner publicly said that he did not want his sons to play football. This, mind you, from a former pro football player. After seeing what happened to Demar Hamlim, another NFL player, Hall of Famer for the New York Giants, despite his pedigree also insists that his 13-year-old grandson won’t play football.
And I recall conversations I had not too long ago with a brother of a now deceased brother who played defensive tackle in the seventies at North Carolina State University and a fellow who played running back at the University of Maryland during that time.
“I will never forget the image of him lying in that hospital bed in Raleigh barely able to talk after he suffered a head injury in a recent game,” said the brother. His brother passed away three years ago.
“I got hurt while returning a kick during a game in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas,” shared the ex-Maryland player. “During half time they shot me up with pain killers and put me back on the field. My knees have not been the same since. I have to have my knees replaced in the future.”
And here’s what a family member who played defensive tackle at the University of Virginia, the father of a 10-year-old son, had to say.
“I know from firsthand experience having played against Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, and other ACC schools how violent the game is. Although I managed not to get seriously injured, I won’t allow my son to play football at any level. The injury risks are just not worth it.”
Now the cynical side of me will say that after seeing the image of that young man lying on the field surrounded by medical professionals and kneeling, praying teammates, after the obligatory “my thoughts and prayers” to the Hamlin family, millions of us will continue to be glued to TV sets witnessing the clash of 300-pound bodies on fields across the nation. Yes, we will. The sport is just that addictive. Although efforts have been made to make it safer, the game will go on in football-crazed America.
So we will continue to hear – and, I hate say, some will actually cheer – with oohs, ahhs and amens the spine-chilling tackles administered by our favorite players. Despite the concussions, the torn ACLs, the injury reports, we will still watch the game, the billion-dollar American sport.
From safe distances, we’ll keep seeing the cuffed mouths and pained expressions on the faces of proud moms and dads when their sons are slow to get up after vicious hits. We will see the blood and the bandages from our vantage points in the stands or on our big screens between chugs of Budweiser and mouthfuls of barbeque chicken wings. We’ll continue to couch behind the rationalization that violence is just part of the game and with it the freedom of choice to play the game.
And after the game, we’ll turn our attention to another game on another channel, or on another day. Yes, with football life goes on uninterrupted with a collective ho-hum when it comes to inherent dangers in the sport.
So, to you my grandson, the picture of that eight-year-old you kneeling in your football uniform, white helmet in hand, smile on your face, is more than enough for me. That’s it. I’m good. I don’t need anymore.
But the pictures I can’t wait to see are those of you holding newly minted college degrees, walking down the aisle with your beautiful new bride and, equally anticipated, God willing, a photo of you holding my new great grandchild.
Oh, yes, one more thing. We look forward to cheering you on from the stands during your basketball game week after next.
See you then!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning speaker, writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, TheBlackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award and 3rd Place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.