We realize that we are taking on a sacred cow here, and right in the heart of the season. But there are some things that need to be said about football, and some things parents need to consider as they decide whether their kids should participate.
We are actually glad for this whole Miami Dolphins locker-room bullying incident because it makes everyone think about some things that need to be thought about.
Here we have huge lineman Richie Incognito reportedly bullying and berating teammate Jonathan Martin to the point where the second-round draft pick from Stanford left the team.
The worst part of it is the way some have tried to justify it by saying that it is just the “locker room culture” and that outsiders and non-players can’t understand it.
Really? What is hard to understand about bullying? About using racial slurs? About verbal abuse? Do people really think it only happens in the locker room and that it doesn’t influence what happens on college and high school and little league teams and on the playground?
More kids imitate these hulking “heroes” than we can imagine, and they are pretty much the opposite of the role models parents are wishing for. It is frightening a lot of parents, and for some of us, the worry progresses step by step:
We start out worrying that our kids might get injured in football.
We hear about concussions and their lasting effects.
We see colleges exploiting and making millions off of players who end up with nothing but beat-up bodies.
We read about coaches who abuse players verbally and sometimes physically.
We hear about locker room cultures that resemble war cultures — full of racial slurs and bullying.
We wonder if football is a second way of legitimizing violence (video games being the first).
We worry about the inequality of football, with the quarterbacks and receivers getting the recognition and the nameless, faceless linemen smashing each other play after play in the “trenches” on the line of scrimmage.
Which leads us to wonder if the game and the culture is a little too militaristic with generals sending privates to the front lines to be slaughtered.
Now, let us back off a little and acknowledge the other side of the argument. There are some great role models in football. There is some positive culture and leadership and discipline to be learned. We happen to love Peyton Manning. We spoke on the same program he did at a conference and were as impressed with his character as with his pinpoint passing and leadership.
Some of our best LDS missionaries in London, where we served in a mission presidency, were young men who gained much of their discipline and work ethic from football.
And there is nothing better than BYU or Utah or Utah State football on a crisp autumn Saturday afternoon. It often draws families together. Football has taken over for baseball as our national pastime, and there is much to recommend it.
But frankly, as parents, we need to be wary and cautious and well-informed. If we do choose to let our kids participate, we need to know the coach and the culture of the team. We need to have some long talks with our kids about what matters and what doesn’t; about what’s good about the game and what’s not so good. We need to be especially careful about starting them too young in a bruising, contact sport. And we even have to be a bit careful about our own example and not letting over-baked rivalries or our comments about less favorite teams give our kids the impression that it's OK to hate or malign those we don’t agree with.
Weigh the time commitments, too. Football can become a full-time job and crowd out everything else, even other sports. We all need to look for balance for our kids — and for ourselves.
We know parents who, though they wouldn’t admit it, prioritize football over academics and talk about “my son, the quarterback” more than "my son, the student" or "the musician" or "the Boy Scout."
The main thing, as always, is to know our kids as individuals and to work to understand their needs and their gifts, and to discover the right combination of activities and interests for each unique, one-of-a-kind child.
Only you can know.