I spent last Friday night with my dad. We went to see the Minnesota Vikings American football team play the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game. These days, unlike in my youth, I am not a big fan of football. Many of you can count as many reasons to not like the game, but I will watch football with my dad. Not just watch, but appreciate some of it’s finer points.
There are two things that I continue to appreciate about football.
The first is that football is one of the few places in our society where
a Black man can come close to being recognized and paid for his efforts
on par with his White counterparts. There are still hurdles of biases
that most players must overcome, but the results on the field are hard
to argue. Some try to run a subconscious and sometimes conscious
sabotage. The stumbling blocks are not unfamiliar and not unique to
football, but that sabotage often backfires in an atmosphere where any
kind of anger or animosity have a very welcome physical response in kind
that is likely to be rewarded on the field. However all the factors
figure, the field is more even than most aspects of society.
The other thing I like about football is that it is how dad went to
college. He paid his way into school on an athletic scholarship. (The
photo on the banner of this blog is dad from his college playing days.)
There was a time as a kid, when my favorite sport was whatever sports
season was in full swing. In the winter, I wanted to grow up to be a
professional basketball player and then, later a professional hockey
player. In the spring, I wanted to become a professional baseball
player. In the fall, it was football. Those fantasies added to any fun
that came with being out with the other boys, to play in the fields and
playgrounds or just play in my imagination. Later I had fun playing on
the team dad coached, a volunteer job he held for 29 years at Holy
Spirit School in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Like with so many of the boys who became men on a journey boosted by
their learning from dad, football was not so much fun after 8th grade
when I was too old to play on his team: when football came to mean less
about personal and social life and more about how important football was
to our elders.
It was not that we did not learn about football. Those who played for
dad carried with them a reputation of skill and how to play well and
safely. We also learned to practice and play with pride, with respect
for teammates and opponents, coaches and officials, and that ideally, we
would carry those ideal back home, to school and on the streets of our
community. And I knew that even as a kid who would not get his growth
spurt for a couple of years, I could still bring down a running back who
outweighed me by 50 pounds.
But unlike experiencing the game alone or with someone else or the
television commentators, talking about what happens on the field that
honestly critiques the game and not the players, talking about the
players knowing what they had to do to get there and like they are the
physical and emotional beings they are, and hoping that their experience
in the National Football League will help support them and their
families during the rest of their life time.
Friday, we watched, not “ready for some football,” like Hank
Williams, Jr., or the masses of onlookers that drive the
pseudo-capitalistic machine that paid Williams for that song that sounds
more like the soundtrack to accompany the guy with the beer on the sofa
than the majestic athletes on the field. I am not sure if I have a song
for those athletes, the ones who have been encouraged to weigh 300
pounds but are still quicker and faster than any of us watching, the guy
who will be injured giving his best to please the crowd who will forget
him a minute after he leaves the field, the tears of joy from a mom or
dad who is seeing their son on the NFL’s field for the first time or
that exceptional player who goes home every night to the love of a woman
and maybe a child–whether that week they are in the same city or not.
After I left for college, my youngest sister Jennifer became dad’s
football partner. Today, she is the biggest fan, still as cognizant of
all the social, political and cultural shortcomings, and still, even as a
resident of Chicago, a Vikings fan. She is the true lover of American
football. It is very charming, the two of them, intelligent discourse on
a brutal game. But this Friday–his time, I got to hang out with dad.
Thanks dad for taking your boy to a game.