The rich smell of damp fall leaves and newly wet asphalt, crisper temperatures, slanting evening sunsets and bright stadium lights beaming for miles all herald Football Season in my family. I hear my son’s cries from the back seat as we pass the lights, “Mama! Football!”
Even before Danny was born, fall has been football season. From late August to early December, my son and I will attend almost every high school game for one team. Football has taken us to places near and far: Sunset Stadium, Harry Lang Stadium, iconic Stadium High School, Joe Albi in Spokane, CenturyLink, the University of Wyoming field, and as far as the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
We aren’t just fans; his dad is a football coach.
Indoctrination began early. At 1, Danny knew how to raise his arms in the sign for touchdown.
“What colors are we wearing?” I asked him at age 2, teaching him orange, blue, black, and white. Danny learned how to climb in stadium stands and to run on football fields. Now, he asks watching college and NFL games, “Which one is our team?”
We taught him numbers through football: What is the score? Which number is bigger and smaller?
Of course, he understands how to yell and blow a whistle at the players, just like his dad. Our Friday night ritual includes a McDonald’s Happy Meal (lots of chicken nuggets over the years), getting to the stadium early because his dad needs a good luck hug before the game. We set up our blankets away from the crowd; he has cute dimples, but people still get annoyed when we want to walk past them three times a minute.
At halftime, we make our way down the steps to give dad another high-five and hug. Danny enjoys kicking over the orange pylons in the end zone and complains about the smell in the locker room. It’s like a worship service; we know what to expect.
As a former coach and athlete myself, the daughter of a coach and wife of a coach, I’ve already drunk the metaphorical Kool-Aid. For many complex and sometimes paradoxical reasons, I love football, and I have chosen this life with my husband. I choose to share this culture and language with my son because he can connect to his father just as I have.
But I’m not blind; this is a controversial time in American football as well as sports in general. Concussions, exorbitant costs for programs and stadiums, and unrealistically high expectations of athletes with scandals abounding have besmirched the play. Not to mention the way art and music become overshadowed by the value our culture puts on sports.
I know that sports can be a life-saver for many young people, giving young men, especially, male mentors who model values that might not be witnessed otherwise. Sports, for all the controversy, can be the way a person finds meaning.
The number of perspectives on this subject provides opportunity for rich discussions, which I welcome; I want a faith that is rooted in thoughtful reflection. But because these discussions are based in our deeply held beliefs, debates and arguments arise sometimes heating up to disastrous results. I can’t change some aspects of the conversation, but I can commit to talking with my son about the meaning of the traditions we participate in.
Meanwhile, I will take my son to Friday night games. We will pick up our McDonald’s meals, drive to the stadium and take our seats on chilly aluminum bleachers. The air will be visible around our mouths. Danny and I will strain to catch a glimpse of his dad on the sidelines. “There he is, Danny!”
Danny will run down the cement steps to give his father a bear hug. For now, that is what football means to him.
Casey Silbaugh of Tacoma, an educator of 15 years, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at email@example.com.