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The Super Bowl Shuffle

Courtesy of Brian Braiker

I don't watch sports. I don't contract March madness. I don't follow baseball. And I hate football. 

I didn't know who was in the Super Bowl until yesterday, when a friend from Baltimore was talking about it. I won't be watching. Pretty sure I'll have no trouble getting reservations at any number of Brooklyn's finer restaurants, though—Sunday also happens to be my birthday. (The challenge will be finding people to eat with.) Anyway, I find the game boring at best and pointlessly brutal at worst. Sometimes I feel a little lacking in the manliness department, but at least I have shapely long legs.  

Here's what's surprising to me: a new survey of 300 fathers found that 90 percent of dads who played football at the high school level or higher—and believe they suffered a concussion—want their kids to play tackle football. In the survey, conducted by the nonprofit i9 Sports Association, more than three quarters of these dads (77 percent) feel that tackle football is safe for children under the age of 12.  

I played high school football for about two months. If I had a son, I would actively encourage him to find another sport to play—but would support whatever he ended up doing. Fortunately, I have daughters who so far seem more interested in ballet, Katy Perry and mermaid princesses. OK, fine, and gymnastics and, ahem, karate. Still, it's all safter than football. Probably. Mermaids can be a vicious lot.

It certainly doesn't bother me that people get passionate about sports—I get that way about music. But I was relieved when I had two daughters because in all likelihood I wouldn't have to worry about having a football nut of a child who couldn't fathom his dad's apathy. To be sure, I think athletics—and team sports especially—is great for kids. I loved playing soccer and, to a lesser extent, tennis as a boy and hope my girls find a sport they stick with, too. We're just going to steer clear of the Mommy and Me pole dancing classes for now though. 

But as a dude, I've always found it a bit awkward when sports talk erupts in social or professional situations. I got nothing. This has been a lifelong thing, much to my own father's chagrin. He's a total sports nut and could never understand why I just didn't care. It still rankles him whenever I zone out while he talks about his beloved UCLA Bruins. Fortunately my younger brother turned out to be the jock. And the smart one. And the good looking one. Wow, really working through some issues here today, I guess. 

Still, when I was between eighth and ninth grade, Dad drove me to school in the middle of summer and dropped me off at the first football practice of the season. I was going to be on the team whether I liked it or not. I didn't like it. At all. I also didn't have a choice in the matter. 

What baffles me to this day is why my father, an orthopedic surgeon, would put his son on a tackle football team, against his will, knowing full well how dangerous the game can be. As we all know today there are pending lawsuits by literally thousands of former professional football players who claim they suffered concussions while playing for the league. Players complain that trauma to their heads has accelerated the onset of dementia and other horrifying ailments. The National Football League is in full defensive mode. From the pro level all the way down to Pop Warner, it is trying to minimize impact to the head in tackles. 

But in 1989, I guess things were less urgently worrisome. I was placed on the freshman squad's "special team"—blocking for kickoff returns and such—where the players who weren't any good were exiled. It was supposed to have been a mutually beneficial arrangement: I won't get in the way of your little game if you don't tackle me to death. 

In the first play of the second game I was at the receiving end of a block despite being of no imminent threat to the opposing team's receiver. I went down but my foot stayed planted. I blew out a ligament in my left knee. Pop goes the joint. 

The funny thing is that my dad the doctor was late to the game and missed the play. He examined my knee on the sideline, initially determined that it was sprained, not torn and urged me to get back in the game. I declined. 

I have long ago given up holding a grudge against my old man. What would that fix? I know he's sorry. Fortunately I have an outlet like this where I can rub his nose in it a little bit. Eight or nine surgeries later (you lose count after a while), I can sometimes still be rendered speechless when he says things like "I hope this experience hasn't turned you against football," as if I ever cared for the game in the first place. 

Once he actually got angry because I couldn't name all of the schools in the Pac 10 conference. I still can't. That's ok, though. He can't name all the musicians who played on Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" or a single P-Funk album.

And for my part, I've learned to make a concerted effort to respect and honor the passions of my own daughters, even if they don't dovetail perfectly with mine (Katy Perry, I'm looking at you). In my book, that's better than a slam dunk. Or whatever it is they score in football.