I didn’t watch one entire football game last year. Not college. Not the Steelers. Nothing.
My husband would turn on a game on Thursday or Saturday or Sunday or Monday night, and I’d read a book or go to bed early or simply leave the room. He noticed my absence, but did not question me the first few times I neglected to hoot and holler from the couch. By the time he realized I hadn’t watched a single game, the season was over.
If you know me, or have known me in the fall, or have read the blog, or even flip through the blog archives in fall months of previous years, this lack of footballing comes as a surprise. I love football. Or rather, I loved football.
I wrote about my general disappointment regarding sports stars in the past, but the last year and a half of horrific news out of Penn State pushed me past the point of disappointment and into the realm of utmost disgust, of anger, of fear. I couldn’t bring myself to sit and watch; it made my stomach hurt, my heart hurt. Children shouldn’t be harmed in this way.
Years ago in a LiveJournal community, someone asked the question as to why grown adults with no children playing a given sport would go to a local high school game. The general consensus of the near hipsters blamed this obviously immature act on being too attached to their high school days, of never growing up, of not having anything better to do with their time. I wanted to argue, but couldn’t find the proper words to argue my point.
Over the past year, I’ve found my words.
When I attend the local high school football game with my boys on a Friday night, I sit in awe of the talent these young folks have, of the passion they have for the sport. While I cheer as they run and pass and tackle and get tackled and win or lose, my jaw often drops. “Did you see that one? Wow,” I say to my husband over the top of little heads in between us. The talent oozes off the field from both teams and I’m forced to wonder if these children will be able to harness this raw talent and turn it into something real, use the gifts they have been given of speed or of accuracy or of brute strength and make a life for themselves out of the confines of the only county they’ve ever known. I used to hope that they would make it, be big stars so that I could say, “Oh yes, I knew them when.”
My husband and I watched a number of games of the Little League World Series. Talk about some jaw dropping moments. I watched these 11- to 13-year-old children throw, hit, and run with my mouth hanging open. I watched as Michah Pietila-Wiggs turned two like it was nothing. Every game I was privileged enough to catch on TV, I felt an overwhelming awe.
Soccer season started up around these parts, and I’ve been sitting in between the U6 and U8 fields, watching my sons do their thing. The absolute cutest thing to watch is U6 soccer, as they just run around the field in a pack, chasing the ball and falling down and having the time of their lives. Something happens between that age of 5 and the age of 6, because the kids on the U8 field aren’t just running around and being cute; they’re playing soccer. My heart leaps into my throat — with pride, with fear — when BigBrother steals the ball away from the other team and begins dribbling the ball down the field — properly. With purpose. With an understanding of where other players are and what to do and how to execute a goal. I watch his one teammate with the curly hair and know, without a doubt, that this kid has some mad skill.
I attend local high school sporting events for the same reason I watch the Little League World Series and cheer along at youth soccer games and t-ball games: It is an honor and a joy to watch these children play so well, hone their talents, and do so without all of the hype, without all of the general negativity the professional sports heap upon these now-adults who were once just kids with some talent and a dream. I’m not claiming that our youth sports aren’t with issue, that there aren’t coaches on power trips or illegal substances or kids who go to drinking parties and do the absolute unthinkable. It happens, and I won’t pretend that it’s okay.
But I’m so tired of professional sports and the players and coaches who think that they can get away with abusing drugs, with abusing others, with murder, allegedly or not. I’m tired of these sports stars thinking they are above the law. I’m tired of the general hype and hoopla. Penn State broke me, in so many ways and for so many reasons. As a mom of two boys who show an interest in participating in team sports, I just want to take the whole system, turn it upside down, shake it around, and fix it before we harm our children more.
When I see the pure joy of the sport in the eyes of a four-year-old soccer player or an eleven-year-old baseball player or a 17-year-old varsity football player, I want to somehow capture it, bottle it, and feed it back to the professional players who have lost the plot, lost the spark, lost the joy of the sport, the game, the thing that brought them to the point of fame. I want them to remember — players and coaches — that pure, unadulterated love of the game that made them practice all kinds of stupid hours and push themselves beyond what their friends or coaches or parents said or thought they could do with all that talent. I want them to remember the little kid that they were with a dream in their heart. It’s not even that I want our professional sports players to be perfect role models; I just want them to remember the love of the game, the child that they were, the work they have endured to make it to the place that they are today and then act like the grateful human being they should be.
Because, if they took the time to remember, I feel that they’d act a whole lot differently.
Or maybe not, but I like to live in the place where we don’t hurt children or ourselves or other adult human beings. I like to live in the place where we love and respect other human beings simply because they’re human beings — including ourselves. Maybe I live in a dream world, but I’ve seen that dream in the eye of a small soccer player, a teenage football player. I’m not the only one.
And so, I hesitantly am returning myself to the couch to watch football this year. At the very least, I will watch my Pittsburgh Steelers (when they’re on our TV; oh, Ohio). I struggle, even writing this post now after having written it 87 times in my head, with sitting down to watch Penn State. Maybe I need another year off of college football. Or maybe this is the year I find a new team. I don’t know. But I will sit on the couch with my sons and watch some football this year. I will sit in the stands of our local high school football games and look for the dream in another child’s eye. I will say a prayer and make a wish and hope against hope that the young sports lovers of today may keep that spark, that joy…
…that love of the game.