Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

“I’m going to lift weights with the football team, Mom,” my sophomore son announced at the end of the school year.  He said it in that way that teenagers have, this simple telling their parents what they are doing, no longer asking for permission, just merely informing me, keeping me in the loop on what he’s already decided he will do.  

It’s an effective tactic, really, and he’s honed it well.  It limits my choices of response to one closer to what he wants to hear.  I actually sputtered for a moment, processing what he said.  “But…” I started, stopped and started again.  “But….  Wait, you are not playing football.  We’ve talked about this, the concussions, the NFL players that have such brain injuries.  Remember the articles we read?”

“Right, Mom.  I am just working out with the team, no commitment,” he said smoothly. 

“It’s good to lift weights, you know?”  I found myself nodding, agreeing with the logic.  He continued on with his well-planned verbal game.  “And it will be good for lacrosse, too.  Keeps us in shape.”  Again, I bobbed my head. “Gotta go, Mom.  Done at 5:30 tonight.”

He had been talking off and on about football since freshman year.  When he first broached the subject, I shut it down.  “No.  Too dangerous.  And you like soccer anyway.”  I felt a bit badly that I had been so decisive, so I showed him my on-line research.  He read it, and then he sighed.

Sophomore year started, and he played soccer again–happily, really.  But when we went to a football home game, he made sure to point out to me yet another friend who was zipping around the field.  “Look, Mom.  He’s playing.”  Indeed, this friend was playing–the same one whose mother had agreed with me: football and its potential head injuries were just too scary.  “She let him play,” he noted, with just the right touch of accusation in his voice to bring up surges of guilt.

Then it was spring, and lacrosse rolled around.  He saw moves the kids who played football pulled out, weaving and dodging with the best of them. “You know, Mom, they get that from football,” he quietly stated.  

I talked to the other mother–one of those wise women whose counsel (and friendship) I value.  She had agreed back in freshman year: no football–too dangerous.  But now?  Why the change?

It was not an easy choice for her, she said.  The injuries worry her.  The potential for concussions keeps her on the edge of her seat.  The NFL record on brain injuries bothers her.

“But,” she said, “he likes it.”

This time, it was me sighing.

The summer weight lifting program started to change to football practices.  “What about soccer?” I asked.  

“Still deciding, Mom.  Football starts first, so I am still just practicing. I do like soccer.  But I like football, too.  I won’t play anyway, I don’t know anything, too new.  Dunno… ”  I looked at him carefully, and he seemed guileless.  I let it go.  

A week later, he handed me the paper.  “Here’s the football schedule, Mom.”  I remained quiet.  “And guess what?” his grin widened.  “You don’t have to worry about me getting a concussion anymore.  Coach thinks I’ll be on defense.  I’ll be the one tackling the other guys, not getting knocked down.  I’ll be the one giving the concussions, get it?” He laughed.

The world is upside down here, I thought to myself as I watched him sashay out the door to yet another practice, these guy fests that have now become all important to him and that leave him feeling so happy.  

The first three games he sat mostly on the bench… which was actually quite fine by me.  He came home enthusiastic from the team’s good efforts and the big win last weekend.  Then I found out that, indeed, there actually was a JV team formed this year–and it included him–as a starter.  

Their first real game happened on Tuesday, starting two and a half hours late because of the heat.  When they finally took the field, there was my son, standing tall and proud, and looking quite a bit older and wider than I remembered him being just that morning.  

The ball snapped, the game started. He was off, running and punting and catching and tackling … and suddenly, there he was, on the bottom of the pile.  My heart was in my throat: this is what I don’t like about this game, I thought.    

But then he bounced up, with a spring in his step matched only by his determination. He squared off and pushed through, plowing right over the defense, going straight to the ball and bringing the other guy down to the ground in a rather neat fashion.

“That’s it!” I yelled.  “Get him!  Take him down!”

I nudged my husband. “He’s doing good, isn’t he?”

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools–fifth grade, freshman and junior. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.

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