May 12, 2011
It’s really strange how violence is so woven into the social fabric of manhood.
Yesterday was my little cousins 9th birthday and since he thinks he’s practically grown I wanted to get him something memorable. So I paid for him to try out for the local youth football team. It made so much sense to me because he’s already been playing baseball for three years and he hates it. He can’t really explain why he just knows that he doesn’t like the sport. Then there is his living situation. He lives in a house with my aunt (his mother) and his 4 sisters. Needless to say he feels very alienated at times, therefore when I pitched the idea to my Aunt she thought it sounded great and he did too. But now that I’ve given them the gift I’m having serious reservations.
I can remember the first year I tried out for football in the 6th grade. I remember showing out in practice, instantly being one of the fastest players on the team, and having ambitions of being a star running back, until we actually got the pads that is. Once we got those 8 lbs of gear— which in my case included a helmet that was way too big with a bar going down the middle of the face mask that was awkward as hell, and not to mention big bulky shoulder pads that bounced every time I ran—and started hitting it was like a completely different game.
The first day of tackling practice coaches noticed that when it was my turn to run the ball I would avoid contact by slowing down or stopping right before my teammate hit me instead of lowering my shoulder and trying to run him over. It was a basic instinct for me. I mean why would I just let some kid plow right into me? After about the third time I did this I overheard one coach whispering to the other that I was soft.
“That’s O.K.” the other coach responded. “I got something for him.”
With that he made all the boys on defense get in a single file line so that the line leader was 5 yards across from me staring me dead in the eye. He instructed the other players to run at me full speed each time he blew the whistle. Then he instructed me to make each tackle. Before I could fully process my fear the whistle blew and the ball runner knocked me flat on my back. When I got back to my knees he blew the whistle again and I was back on my back.
“Faster! Faster!” He screamed before blowing the whistle again.
This time I grabbed the runner’s jersey but before I was able to wrestle him down he blew the whistle again and a player rammed his helmet right into my shoulder knocking me backwards but I didn’t fall. I grabbed my shoulder in pain and he blew the whistle again. He blew the whistle again, and again, and again, until he felt like I was no longer afraid of contact, that I could tackle, that I was no longer soft.
After that practice my shoulder was purple and my neck was aching. I kept at it and eventually I became a pretty solid little hitter. I impressed the coaches so much that they gave me a spot on the starting defense. In retrospect I’m still glad that I made the team but I can’t help but to think that on that first day of hitting I lost something that I have never gotten back.
Now I’m stuck wondering whether or not it’s the best decision for my little cousin to lose the same thing at an even younger age?