“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.