When you tackle someone in football, you’re supposed to keep your head up. Tackling with your head down, also known as spearing, is a good way to injure people--yourself and your opponent. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that it was banned at all levels of the sport in 1976. Despite the ban, it’s a practice that persists, in large part because coaches fear that teaching their players the correct way to tackle will curb their aggressiveness. It seems a startlingly large number of coaches actually go the other way, teaching their players to use their helmet as a weapon, despite the fact that it dramatically increases the risk of serious injury on both sides of the tackle--like, permanent, crippling injury. It’s such a big deal that the NFL addressed it again in 2018, making a rule that spearing can lead to a 15 yard penalty or even ejection from the game.
We’ll set aside for a moment that there are grown men teaching children to permanently injure other children just to increase the number of wins under their belt and secure their jobs. Because if I go down that path, it’ll just turn into a tirade. A blinding rage, mama bear tirade.
My youngest is nursing his second concussion of the season. Second. Both are the result of the other team intentionally playing dirty and intentionally inflicting a head injury. I’m struggling to wrap my brain around this on so many levels. How one human could harm another just because, how a grown man could teach children to harm each other, how a grown man could knowingly endanger a child’s entire future just to pad his own ego… again, mama bear tirade. There are a couple of football coaches in the St Louis area who should probably walk the other way if they see me coming. But I digress.
What I really want to talk about today is not about the entitled sleazeballs, but about my son’s football team. About the coaches who put the kids first and go out of their way to teach them how to play the sport safely. About the programs out there that care about the kind of humans they’re shaping these young men to be. About the men who stepped in as father figures to my son and how very lost and angry he was before he found football.
I want to talk about the fact that my son’s team held their heads high even when things got rough. They played with courage and grace and heart no matter how dirty it got out on that field. The fact that there are still teams like that, still young men like that, gives me hope for our future as a society.
Because life sucks. People don’t fight fair. They pay unfair wages even when they have the means to do the right thing. They step on each other for the sake of greed, pride, and pure meanness. The playing field of life is not level. And while I am killing myself to give my children a boost up because I hope their road is easier than my own has been, I’d much rather they learn to keep their heads high no matter what life throws at them. Someone else fighting dirty isn’t an invitation to get down in the mud with them, it’s a call to rise above.
There are a few reasons my blog and books have been largely silent the past couple of years. In part, it’s just been the reality of life. I’m a single mom working multiple jobs and shuttling teenagers. There’s not a lot of time or brain power left at the end of all that to be creative.
But I’ve also been struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. As my friend Jesse puts it, “We’re not talking to Happy Heather right now…” It's hard to write about hope and love when my faith in both has been shaken to its core.
After years of silence, the words inside me are starting to shake loose again. The book they’re producing is different. It’s not part of Throwaway’s world. Jesse also told me to stop worrying about how it fit into the platform and just to write it for me, so that’s what I’m doing. And, as usual, the words are helping me process, to find healing. I’m not sure where they’re taking me, but I believe it’s somewhere better.
And I’m realizing that like my son’s football team, I want to keep my head high, even if those around me don’t. Because it’s not about winning a game, it’s about who I am as a person. And I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t believe in love, the person who’s lost hope.
It feels like the entire last year has been one dirty tackle after another, but there’s been a lot of good in it, too. So I’m gonna spit the mud out of my mouth, pick myself up, and keep playing the game with my head high.
I’ll also be figuring out what to do about dirty high school football programs and my platform (and books) might be a bit cheekier than my long-time readers are used to, but my head’ll be high...
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