While baseball may be America’s pastime, Football has become America’s game. It is a game that Americans love to watch, and whether it is the NFL, NCAA, or even just high school, people turn out in droves to watch young men compete. It is a game that is unlike anything else in world. It is controlled violence — one of the last gladiator sports. Yet, unlike wrestling, MMA, or any other individual combative sport, there is a team element involved. It is this element of team that can be learned in very few other areas of society. These young men sweat, bleed, and ache together. They do so because they trust the man beside them is doing the same. He is sacrificing of himself so the team may have success.
The concussion issue in the NFL has changed this feeling. No longer are parents feeling a sense of pride for their sons playing a physically and mentally demanding game. They worry that there will be life long ramifications due to injury. Some parents have begun questioning if it is still in the best interest of their son’s long-term health to play. The simple answer is YES. Sure with any collision sport, there will be inherent dangers, but do they outweigh the potential benefits of life lessons that can be learned on the gridiron? Those lessons are learned in the adolescent stages of development, on hot summer days, with your teammates and life long friends. But the question remains is it worth it?
Football is a game I truly love. It has given me so much and taught me lessons that may not have been learned any other way. The lessons of sacrifice and teamwork were forged on hard dirt fields behind Lancaster High School. My friends and I discovered how to push through the pain of exhaustion and training with the ultimate goal of becoming better players and more importantly better teammates. A long time has passed since those hot two-a-days. Through the midst of a long football career I nearly forgot where my lessons were learned. This fall that all changed. Those feelings came rushing back as I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer coach for Lancaster’s football team. It’s not only my alma mater, but also my father’s.
This edition of Lancaster’s team was not the most talented team I had seen. In fact there wasn’t a star among them, but rather young men who had devoted and sacrificed so much of their high school experience for the good of the team. In the midst of trying to coach in any way I could, I learned something I had nearly forgotten. This team had given so much to each other, sacrificed for their friends, but on a cool fall evening their season was over. There were no champions to be crowned… no banners to be hung… but there were lessons learned. After the game, as I walked the locker room and shook the hand of every senior, I was overcome with the same feeling that I felt over a decade ago. It is the feeling of despair, knowing your high school career is over. All of the hot days on the field and those painful days in the weight room with your childhood friends are finished. Seeing the pain and tears allowed me to remember that these young men were no different than me nearly 15 years ago. Those young men started off as boys, but were transformed into men by the season’s end. Although the season ended in disappointment, they will be better prepared for life than they will ever know. Life, as in football, is all about investment. Investing in hopes and dreams that may never be realized. That was the feeling that permeated the locker room. These players were finally understanding that life isn’t fair. It will knock you down far more that it will help you up. The tears experienced after a season ending loss on a crisp fall night will prepare these young men more than they will ever realize.
In high school football there aren’t the mega contracts or legions of cheering fans filling stadiums. Young men play because they love the game and their friends who toe the line with them every Friday night. That’s why I love the game of football, not just for the sport, but also for what it has taught me in my life. It prepared me to handle those tough and terrible events that blindside you on a random Tuesday. It will help these players do the same. So as this high school season wraps up, there will be locker rooms filled with cheers and tears, but even in the saddest of locker rooms, lessons have been learned and that is what sports are all about.