I love Thanksgiving. Comfort food and gratitude are a great combination. I also enjoy football and prefer watching a big game instead of washing dishes after the big meal. And if you have children, watching football with them can provide some important teachable moments, especially lately.
I am not an athlete and don’t pretend to understand every rule of any sport. But I can appreciate superior athletic performance, fierce competition and the joy of winning a hard fought battle. But sports battles should remain on the field and should be clean competitions with competitors and teammates who show respect for one another. Or at the very least, don’t abuse one another on or off the field.
And as fans, we should have enough respect for the players who provide for our entertainment, to not wish them harmed.
I cringe whenever athletes are injured and remain anxious until they are on their feet again. I explain to my sons the potential severity of some injuries. How careers can be ended and daily lives complicated. And when the shenanigans of a certain NFL locker room came to light, I reiterated to my sons that love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are a priority everywhere, even in, especially in, the locker room.
Same goes for all sports. We once took our boys to an NHL hockey game. We live in Minnesota. So it seemed like the thing to do. It was fine at first. A family-friendly crowd enthralled by an impressive display of speedy, stick-wielding talent.
But then a fight broke out on the ice. The crowd leapt to its feet, fists pumping the air in unison with their chants of “fight, fight, fight.” Little tikes, as young as three years old, emulated the bloodlust behavior of their dear old dads. My stomach turned.
I’m not delusional in desiring a risk-free life. We encourage our sons to play sports and understand that getting hurt is part of being alive. But I do not accept disabling injuries or unnecessary brutality as ‘just part of the game.’
In a speech delivered by Jon J. Miller, author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, Miller quotes an 1895 letter from Roosevelt saying, “Rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage…no fellow is worth his salt if he minds an occasional bruise or cut.”
Fair enough. But encouraging players to fight, deliberately targeting opponents for injury or brutalizing the minds of teammates with despicable locker room hazing is not honorable. These behaviors detract from all that is great about sports such as character building, physical fitness, teamwork and overcoming adversity.
If we try to remember this whenever we watch, participate in or coach youth sports. Maybe then, football can be saved.
My Thanksgiving Day Picks: The Lions over the Packers, Raiders over the Cowboys and Ravens over the Steelers. And if you can’t be a good sport, you should be banished to the kitchen to wash the Thanksgiving Day dishes.