Confessions of a Football Mom

Confessions of a Football Mom This fall I broke an unwritten rule of football leagues nationwide: No Moms on the Field.

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Published November 1, 2013 11:08 PM
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mom-thumbConfessions of a Football Mom

This fall I broke an unwritten rule of football leagues nationwide: No Moms on the Field.

By Eileen O’Connor

football-momThis fall I broke an unwritten rule of football leagues nationwide: No Moms on the Field.

It was just taking too long for my son to get up.

As he lay on his back, three coaches standing over him, another kneeling at his side, the crowd fell silent. The players knelt reverently across the field — a tradition I have always found oddly touching, if not incongruous for a sport so intent on pummeling the other guy.

 

“Moms do not help their boys off the field. We get them to the practices and the games. We clap and cheer and wave — and brace ourselves when they take a hit.”

From my bleacher seat I could not get a read on the situation. One of the men tapped my son’s chest, and then waved his hand across his face. That was not good for me. Was he conscious? Was he breathing? Looking back, I imagine if either of those two scenarios had been the case the coaches would have appeared more frantic. Then again it’s not like it was their son, or they were his mother.

“You have to go down there,” I said to my husband. He did not budge. “It’s taking too long – you should go see.” He did not move. And why would he – facing the culmination of years of debate?

My husband loves the game. He played in high school, along with his two brothers. When we were dating, I’d tease him about his macho jock past. I was suspicious of the sport’s sense of bravado and unabashed aggression.

After we had kids, I was terrified by reports of long-term neurological damage, spinal injuries, and stories of players collapsing in soaring temperatures following the lead of overzealous coaches. Like football moms across the country, I am informed and have absorbed the massive media blitz, along with dismayed reactions of the non-football mom chorus: “You’re really letting him play? Are you okay with that?” I have even listened as a dubious President weighed in earlier this year with the hypothetical: “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard about letting him play football.”
I understand his hesitation. And no, I’m not completely okay with it.

But the argument my husband makes speaks less to a boy who must follow in his father’s footsteps and more to lessons of teamwork and dedication, and the grit and determination the sport’s physicality taught him. His coach, ‘a task master with a heart,’ remains a formative role model and his teammates among his closest friends. And then there is the simple fact that that our boys love the sport. They love playing, watching, analyzing, and reliving every moment of every game. So unlike President Obama, I do have a son — who wants above all else to play. And like football moms everywhere, I have to weigh his passion for the game against the evidence that it can be dangerous.

My eyes returned to my son, who had not moved. As the seconds squeezed by, the silence and stillness and distance took hold and, suddenly, as if possessed by some crazed maternal time bomb, I felt myself stand up, walk down the metal steps, push open a mid-field entry, and begin to jog and then run to the 10-year-old boy who spends most of his time pushing all my buttons and giving me a run for my money.

His eyes were open. His face flushed. But he was conscious and he was speaking — and he said it was his knee. That was all I needed to see and to hear. Though not ideal, a knee is not a heart or head. If one of those men surrounding him had simply stood up and announced, not unlike a ref calling a five-yard penalty: “Sprained right knee, Mom,” I might not have found myself in the curious position of remembering to breathe while standing in the middle of a football field.

I looked out at the sidelines and up at the stands. I froze for a minute, wondering what should happen next. Looking down at my son, I also wondered when he was going to ask me why I was standing in the middle of the field and could I please leave before anyone noticed. As it turns out, intense pain greatly mitigates pre-adolescent attitude and he said nothing. Before I had a chance to consider exit strategies any further, one of the coaches asked me to put an arm around my son’s waist and together we walked him to the sideline.

As we made that uncomfortable journey, it became glaringly obvious that this was definitely not part of league protocol. Moms do not help their boys off the field. We get them to the practices and the games. We make sure they have the equipment we hope will protect them. We help to secure the chinstrap, fasten the rib pads, and remind them not to forget their mouth guard. We clap and cheer and wave — and brace ourselves when they take a hit.

Whatever happens we’re not supposed to walk on or off the field. We’re supposed to trust that they will do that on their own. We football moms have made a silent pact with ourselves, our sons, our husbands, the universethat it’s okay if they get tackled, it’s okay if they fall down as long as they get back up. But if they don’t, at least for this mom, all bets are off.

 

— Rye resident Eileen Flood O’Connor is the mother of one girl and three boys.

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