You can feel the change in the air and in the sun. The afternoons are warm but there is a different heat to the sun, there is a crispness to the morning fog that matches the first leaves that have fallen to the ground. All the children are back in school, there is a consistent rhythm to the day that draws you up early and starts to snug you in faster in the evening. Baseball stops being the only thing on the front page of the sports section. Autumn is near and that means football comes back.
Football seems to be one of those sports that you either love or hate. I don’t know many people who are in the grey area on it. Sure you know people who don’t really follow the sport and are happy to come to a big game to chat and eat the snacks but I would suggest that falls into the love category as a social component. Football bringing people together to enjoy and afternoon, that’s a good thing. And there are the people who hate football with an internal violence as great as that which they vilify on the field. It is gladiatorial they say, dehumanizing, the worship of pain and suffering and they’re not even as good athletically as [fill in the preferred sport here]. Well some of it is true and some of it is not and there is a lot of good even in things that need to improve.
Football is the most popular sport in the US (futbol of course being the most popular sport in the world), and so they have quite a lot of influence over the way the rest of us deal with certain issues. Did Roger Goodell handle the Ray Rice issue well? No. Did he provide an absolutely terrific example of how to apologize and correct your mistake? Yes he did. How hard is it for most people to say they screwed something up and that they were committed to changing? This is a very public figure and he very publicly said, “I made a mistake.” Kudos to him and let that be an example to everyone about how to just simply own our own behavior: don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and do something different! I didn’t like the first message that a two game suspension sent: domestic violence is well you know, I guess something we have to respond to. I do think the revised approach is a message we can and should all get behind: domestic violence is not okay, will not be tolerated and you will not be protected just because you are an elite athlete. Everyone is accountable for the consequences of their actions, that’s a good message for society. Let’s think positive and hope that the NFL walks as well as they talk.
As a parent of student athletes (and now a college athlete) I would also like to acknowledge the influence of professional football on youth sports and safety. Football is hard, it involves lots of injuries, people hurt and get hurt. You hope that it is not violent but sometimes you get a bad apple who doesn’t quite understand the difference between playing hard and playing to hurt. And while professional football has had to be pulled kicking and screaming while hemorrhaging money they are certainly acting like the message is getting through with respect to head injuries. When you sit with your family on a Sunday afternoon watching the game and Mr. Big-Tough who can take on anything gets pulled from the game because of a suspected concussion it becomes okay to not have to tough it out on your high school team, it becomes okay to say you are seeing double and that you need some help. It forces the NCAA to say, “oh yeah we’ll take care of these young people in body and mind,” even if they aren’t doing so for entirely altruistic reasons. The big guy doing something different creates strong ripples in the pond.
The professional football season starts on Thursday. My son’s first high school game was last Saturday. The fall is creeping in on us and I love this time of year. Apples and colored leaves, shorter days and cooler nights (well not really in the Bay Area where this is usually a warm time of year but psychologically maybe), sports with heft and urgency and physical struggle that we can use as a metaphor for the condition of the coming season. You don’t have to like every class you take in life, you don’t have to like football, but you can almost always learn something new about people, about the world and about yourself when you sit down to watch a game.