Football Helps My Son Find His Own Identity



“Mama, mama, I want to play football!”

This became a common request in our house. Every time my middle son asked, he got the same reply, “In our family, football isn’t an option. Pick a different sport.” I work in injury prevention and recognize how dangerous youth sports can be, especially ones with a high risk of concussion. It’s a risk I swore I would never take. 

My kid was insistent. Finally, he quietly shared with me why he wanted to play football.

“Mama, the kids who look like me play football, not soccer.”

He wanted to be around people who look like him, other Black children. I know this is important for him, so I am not sure why I was surprised to hear his reason. He was right, he was the only child of color on his soccer team and he noticed. His desire to play football was about finding his identity, his place in the world. 

After a little bit of searching, we found the perfect team. We signed him up for a few conditioning sessions so he could see if he liked it before we signed on the dotted line. At that first practice, my normally nervous, slow to warm up kid was in his element. He jumped right into the warm ups and new activities. He liked this team. He found his people

Although he had a steep learning curve for the mechanics of football, he finally had a peer group that he could easily navigate. When we asked him to reflect on  the season, he said his favorite part was playing with other kids who looked like him. He didn’t love the yelling from the coaches. He didn’t enjoy the tempature extremes. He tolerated the equipment. But he loved his new friends.

My dislike for the risk of injury that comes with football has quickly taken a backseat to my son’s happiness. Like so many other things in parenting, my opinion established before I had children didn’t fit my kid’s needs. So we’ve adopted a nimble attitude toward football. I don’t love it, but my son sure does. His smile and hard work tell me everything I need to know. 

football helps my son


  1. Thank you for sharing Abby. In a similar way, football saved my son’s life. He is a freshman at Marquette High School and struggling with finding his own identity. There’s not only a lack of racial diversity there but socio-economic status as well. My son has low self-esteem due to normal teenage acne but despite that he is still a very handsome child. He got picked on in middle school when he had braces and started getting cystic acne. He suffers from depression and became very introverted. He was scared to start high school at a place where nobody looked like him. He chose this school to challenge himself academically, but realized quickly that most kids not only didnt look like him but didn’t live the same kind of life he did. The time came to chose a club or sport. They had a Latino club where he could meet other Hispanics (most of which he already spent the last 8+years of his life at school with) and share in the Hispanic culture, etc. That would’ve been an easy choice. He watched the varsity football team practice after school and noticed how diverse it was, even more than in the classrooms. He decided to join. It was not easy. They practiced 6 days a week for 6+ hours a day but it was worth it. My son felt like he was a part of a team, a family, so to speak. Every member looked out for one another. He met other kids black, white, Hispanic that came from River Hills, Elm Grove, Brookfield and just a neighborhood over. Some whose parents were lawyers, doctors and some who came from a single parent home. He found a place where he fit in. Where your color, income, religion didnt matter because at the end of the day they all wore the same uniform. They all worked together as a team towards the same goal.

    He’s got a lifelong group of friends, or as he refers to them, a family and memories that were well worth the long practices and hard work. If your son wants to do football, or any other sport, I say let him do it. Be there to be supportive and push him to give his all. My son wanted to quit 2 weeks into practice but I refused to let him give up. I knew he wasnt giving up on football but he was giving up on himself. He didnt think he was good enough. I said after the first game he played in if he still wanted to quit then I would let him. In the end he loved it too much to give up and now he has a new family. A group of boys his age who can relate to him in ways that I can’t. They can reach him in ways I can’t. It hurts as a mother to see your son suffering and there’s nothing you can do to help. Kisses and hugs no longer work for a teenage boy. He was withdrawing from his family and talking wasnt helping. He found himself in football. It gave him new meaning and purpose. It taught him a valuable life lesson too.

    I hope your son finds football to be more than just a sport and that he learns how to embrace the challenges in his life head on even when he has doubts or feels like giving up. Good luck Abby! I’ll keep your boys in my prayers!


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