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The other day, James came home from school with a library book titled History of The Detroit Lions. He begged me to read it at bedtime and was captivated by tales of the Bobby Layne curse, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Eric Hipple, Cocaine Wayne, Barry, Calvin, Pad Statford, and all the other characters and events from our sad history. The feeling was bittersweet: on one hand, he’s a football fan; on the other hand, he’s a Lions fan.

The genesis of this love of football for James (6) and his brother Sam (7) was this year’s epic Tennessee-Alabama game, after which they squirted mustard all over my shirtless naked torso in celebration. This evolved into watching every Tennessee game, which evolved into watching every Lions game, which evolved into watching any game that was on TV, sometimes the next day even when they knew the outcome. Most fall evenings were spent playing tackle football in the basement. The soundtrack during dinner prep: “Touchdown!” “Fumble!”, “That’s targeting! 15-yard penalty! Automatic first down!,” with the occasional thump on the wall followed by sobs and faux-apologies.

By Bowl season, they were pointing out nuances of the game a la Tony Romo:

“Dad, that’s an illegal shift.”

“Are they in a bunch formation?”

“No way he had possession with two feet in.”

Honestly, they know more about football than they know about space or geography or anything else they should be learning in school.

One night before bed, James looked at me quizzically, then stared off in deep thought. I readied myself for one of those watery-eyes moments when he says something like, “You’re the best dad in the world.”

“Hey buddy, what’s on your mind?” I said.

James paused, then looked at me longingly.

“Dad…do you think Hendon Hooker will be drafted in the first round?”

Every time I share these stories with friends, they respond in a slightly judgmental tone with some variation of “So, are you going to let them play football?”

This usually comes from The Soccer Mob, a well-intentioned group of dads who will swear they watch the Premier League all weekend but are actually at their kids’ tournaments while the entire NFL schedule is being recorded for later.

“You know, because of all of the research about concussions and whatnot.”

Look, I’m not here to bash the soccer folks out there. It’s the most universal and pure sport and all that. And full disclosure, I was awful at it. And I get it. I watched the World Cup. Messi and Mbappe are incredible. The World Cup means more because it’s only every four years yada yada yada. But when I was growing up, my dad threw me the football as I dove into a pile of wet leaves. My brothers and I played Stick in the yard until someone was injured. I played full contact through high school without helmets and pads. I cried after the Michael Westbrook catch. In 7th grade, I posted a detailed plan titled “Road to Becoming a Linebacker” next to the weight bench in my basement.

But I never played organized tackle football after 8th grade.


  1. I didn’t like getting hit hard (still don’t).
  2. I didn’t like being around large groups of naked males (still don’t).

No one told me I couldn’t play football. In fact I remember my dad encouraged it. But I think he knew once “play” football turned to “real” football I was going to slink away to the tennis court or the golf course where I belonged, and where I’ve remained since. True, there was not the research out there that there is now. But my sister-in-law did her dissertation on concussions in youth sports, and her son is playing football in high school. Because like me, and like most warm-blooded American males, it’s in his DNA.

I’m not approaching football from the standpoint of “Well this could lead to them playing tackle football in high school” in the same way I’m not approaching other activities from the standpoint of “Well, if they don’t specialize early, they won’t be good enough to play in high school.” So maybe that’s the crux of my argument. If we approach everything our kids do with an eye toward the future, are they really going to enjoy the present? What message are we sending if everything is about preparing them for the next thing?

On the day of the Rec sign-up deadline, Sam and James had to choose between soccer and flag football. I honestly didn’t have a preference. All of their friends are playing soccer and both are pretty decent players.

After much deliberation, both chose flag football.

I’m not saying they made the right choice, but it was their choice and it had everything to do with what’s the most fun right now. There will be a time in their lives where that’s not going to be the proper approach to decison-making (90% of decisions during adolescence, for example). But for now, they’re just kids.

And I kind of feel like one too.


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