While reading the Sept. 25 edition of Lagniappe, my 2-year old son and I were sitting at the kitchen counter casually debating the best metal album of 1990. Whereas I made a strong case for “Seasons in the Abyss,” he took the easy pick with “The Black Album.”
There’s no debating him. His favorite word is “No!” Right when I threw “Persistence of Time” in the mix, I came across Ken Robinson’s column, “A Father Fears the Football Field for His Young Son.” My son watched in amazement as my head turned a complete Linda Blair-style loop.
Upon further reading of Mr. Robinson’s column, I tended to agree with much of it. He wants to wait a while before allowing his son to play football due to the risks involved. However, it’s the current tone of the football conversation that bothers me. Football has always been dangerous. It’s nothing new. I suppose every family is different. I would never tell a man how to raise his child, unless he lets me. I hate to be hassled, but I can certainly give a good eye-rolling lecture. Thanks, Mom.
My son is my only boy, and I love him dearly. His name is Alzado Lawrence Taylor Butkus Lynch Atwater Lott Walsh. We call him Ric Flair, for short. While most toddlers watch shows like “Little Einstein,” we watch highlight reels of LT, Alzado and Butkus.
Many parents dream of their son throwing the winning touchdown, but I’m more of a goal line stand guy. Sure, Ric is a pretty boy and constantly cries for his mama, which makes him perfect quarterback material, but I want him to play linebacker. We’ve been working on it. He’s on a steady diet of raw meat, sometimes-live animals and gunpowder.
The late, great NFL Hall of Famer Deacon Jones described Dick Butkus as a “well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery.” Calm down. It’s a metaphor … I think.
The NFL would probably expel a player for even talking like that nowadays. I am not insensitive to the recent deaths and severe injuries plaguing football, but it’s time to either ban it or shut up about its violence (on the field). It is an integral part of the game.
I don’t know what’s worse – the penalties for big hits or the commentators crying about the hits. I can only hope someone describes Ric like Deacon did Butkus. One day Ric will understand that there’s no greater feeling than coming off the end and seeing a quarterback standing with his back turned like the Statue of Liberty. You think to yourself, “Does life get any better?” BOOM! It just did. Looking down at the contorted quarterback, you use a great Mike Singletary line. “We’re gonna be here all day, baby!”
Mr. Robinson’s column praises the NFL Head’s Up youth safety program, which allegedly teaches safe tackling techniques. Ric will be playing in five years, so I’ve researched it thoroughly. While much of it is sound, I take particular issue with some of the techniques.
The “Buzz” actually teaches kids to slow down and stutter step prior to making a tackle. This may be fine for purely open field tackles so as not to miss the runner on a simple juke, but at the line of scrimmage, a running back will separate your son’s ribs from his sternum as he steps over him on the way to the end zone. Earl Campbell comes to mind. Head’s Up also teaches kids NOT to wrap up. No lie.
In 2012, I wrote a letter to Lagniappe touting football’s violence and the passion of the game. The current conversation is designed to make one feel guilty for enjoying it. It’s a transparent attempt to remove the testosterone. However, more than a few people called pumped up about my letter. After reading it, a vice principal I know was disciplined for putting a Cerulo mark on a locker. A Wall Street executive was arrested for pulling a Lattimer in his parking deck. “Starting defense … place at the table!”
I dream of the day when I can tell Ric to go “play like a bunch of crazed dogs and have some fun!” Who am I to deprive him of glory, or at least embellished glory, later in life? Did you know I played the entire fourth quarter of the 1991 Davidson game while blinded in both eyes and missing a foot? Hopefully, McGill will still have a need for a 5-foot-7-inch, 185 lb. linebacker in 2029.
Starting Thursday, Ric will whip himself into a mental frenzy thinking about Friday night’s game. As I walk down the hall to his room to tell Ric his spaghetti dinner is ready, the music is deafening. Like any good Catholic boy, he’s blaring “Holy Diver.” I walk in. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, head down, elbows on his knees.
“Hey son, dinner’s ready.” He glances up through his long hair, giving me a hair-lipped snarl. (Although my wife disagrees, Ric can grow long hair only if he looks like Arnold from “Conan the Barbarian” or Howie Long, rookie year, and of course, the Nature Boy, circa 1983. The Winter Soldier look in the new Captain America movie is also acceptable.) I back out of the room, calling out to the Mrs., “Honey, Ric’s working out some pre-game demons. Cover his plate! He may be awhile.”
So when will Ric be ready for football? I think it will be when spankings have no effect. I vividly recall my last one. I was 7 and in trouble for something. My four older brothers had ruthlessly taunted me about the harsh spanking I was going receive when Pop came home. My father pulled out his best whoopin’ belt. It was two inches thick with rusty nails protruding from the end. After the session, I looked up tearlessly as if to say, “Ain’t nu’in butta thang.”
Two things happened. I never got another spanking, and I played football that fall.
Tom Walsh is an attorney who lives in Mobile and listens to way too much Slayer.