Football in America

Posted: Sep 02, 2003 12:00 AM

It's September and that means not just the start of school but the football season. When I started writing this syndicated column, the one subject I vowed I would never write about was football. I'm going to break that vow and write about my favorite sport not just because I am excited about watching both amateur and professional football, but because I am excited for the thousands and thousands of kids and their families (including mine) who are getting ready for their football seasons.

I know there are concerned moms out there reading this article and shaking their heads thinking, "No way would I permit my child to play such a dangerous sport." I must admit, as someone who will be attending the kickoff of the NFL season this week in Washington, D.C., I know I will be amazed at the size, strength and skill of today's professional football players. So I can understand your concerns. However, as someone who has played professional football for 13 years, as the father of two former professional quarterbacks, and a grandfather with five grandsons currently playing amateur and collegiate football, I honestly believe those fears are misplaced.

I don't want young kids today to miss the joy and thrill of competitive football and the opportunity to experience the blocking, tackling, passing, catching, winning and, yes, losing, because of misplaced, and in some cases irrational, fears.

Now, my friend and fellow columnist George Will once defined football as "organized violence punctuated by committee meetings." He probably said that because he is a baseball fan, and baseball is passive and pastoral compared to football. I believe the rewards of playing football far outweigh the risks.

You don't have to take my word for it. In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic on kids playing football between ages 9 and 13, researchers concluded football injuries do "not appear greater than risks associated in other recreational or competitive sports." Similarly, the Little Scholars Program at Pop Warner Football found organized football is safer than riding a bike or skateboarding!

No, I don't believe football is a panacea, and it certainly isn't perfect. Too many coaches yell and curse, too many players jive and taunt opponents in the end zone, and too many parents can't control their egos and emotions. There is no other sport I know of that combines the physical attributes with the mental challenges, as does football.

Of course football is not for everyone, but everyone who participates in football can learn a great deal about themselves, about life, and about getting along with people of other races, religions and nationalities. Besides we need more places for our country and communities to help build the leaders of tomorrow and with the proper structure in place the football gridirons are outstanding training grounds for doing just that.

I love the words over the gymnasium at West Point, written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, which read, "Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory." These words were right then, and they are right today as they refer to all sports, but particularly to football. I believe that by competing on the friendly fields of the gridiron youngsters can learn important values that will not only help them in competitive athletics, but in life as well.

I believe so fervently in the benefits associated with youth football that when asked by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL Players Association Executive Director and Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw and USA Football Executive Director Dave Ogrean, I proudly accepted to serve as chairman of the board of Directors of USA Football.

The National Football League and the NFL Players Association established USA Football in December as the first national advocacy organization to represent all levels of amateur football. USA Football's mission is to promote youth and amateur football and the invaluable lessons participation in the sport teaches. Safety is one of the most important aspects to the work of USA Football, but much greater is the development of spirit and courage that results from our children's participation in athletics.

So, I'm ready for some football, especially kids' football. Although I'm not sure who first penned the words "baseball may be America's pastime, but football is America's passion," I couldn't agree more.