For the Hate of the Game

A mom's struggle to explain Ray Rice and his assault charges to her 10-year-old football player

Phases come in and out of your child’s life. It is a part of parenting that becomes clearer the longer you’ve been at it. The problem is that it’s difficult to recognize which obsession is a visitor in your kid’s life and which one will become a member of the family. The only way to realize an obsession was just visiting is to look back once it has packed its bags and moved on. When you are in the midst of it all, you must decide whether your kids’ interests are ones you want to fuel and encourage or ones you’d like to send packing.

I was with another parent this weekend as she lamented her daughter’s love of Barbies and princesses of all sorts. Believe me when I say I get that. I can understand what that must feel like as a mother. You want your daughter to have strong goals and aspirations. You want her to be proud of what makes her valuable and worthwhile, not what dress she is wearing or how pretty her hair is. Strong role models are extremely important in forming a sense of self.  When most of us think of Barbie, despite her many —ahem — attributes, being a strong role model is not one of them.

Because that’s what we want for our kids, right? Whether we are raising a son or a daughter, we want them to have interests that we hope will help them. We want strong role models. We want to expose our kids to good values. We don’t want to spend our energy explaining around their interests, saying, “Honey, I know you love this but … ” We are happiest when their passions align with our dreams for their lives. This is especially true if their current passion feels like one that will stick around for a while.

And this brings me to football.

I’ve written before about not being entirely comfortable with my son’s love of football and my desire to respect him and connect with him over what he loves. But, recently, my relationship with the game has gone from uneasy to downright queasy.

How do I even begin to discuss rape at the breakfast table with my two young sons, a topic brought up just because one of them loves football?

Nowadays, my discomfort over cheerleaders in tiny outfits whose sole purpose is to be out there to glorify a bunch of men seems quaint. It was very easy to explain why I didn’t appreciate that aspect of the game — I could state it in clear phrases and my son could understand much of what I meant. But cheerleaders are literally on the sidelines of the game itself; I felt like he could love the game and enjoy learning about the players or talking about their achievements without too much of an emphasis on the aspects that I foud troubling.

Then, my son saw the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée out in an elevator. He told me after the fact. I would never, ever have allowed him to see that had I known it would be a part of him watching the game on a weekend afternoon.

It was my bad. I accept that. I should have been watching it with him. We don’t have cable TV for a reason, but I let my guard down and allowed him to watch a game on a mainstream network and he saw that horrifying footage. I cannot take it back. It wasn’t pretend, in a movie or a show. My son knows who that player is, what team he plays for and that the person he knocked out cold and dragged around is now his wife.

That feels like way, way too much for me to explain, but there is no going back. I did not want to have a conversation about domestic violence with my 10-year-old. How do I help him understand it? Football players are his current heroes. 

In the morning, we always listen to the radio, and today it happened again. A sports reporter was discussing the upcoming College Football Bowl games that were just announced. My son was really interested and asked me to turn it up for him. I obliged.

What I did not expect was for the discussion to turn to the rape case against a star player for one of the teams. How do I even begin to discuss rape at the breakfast table with my two young sons, a topic brought up just because one of them loves football?

Doesn’t Barbie seem kind of quaint, now?

I don’t feel equipped to field — I know it’s a pun — these questions yet. I know that this stuff happens in parenting, that we have to answer questions before we’re ready. It comes with the territory and I accept that.

But this is the second time in the span of a few short months that I have been forced to discuss a horrific topic with my young boys because of football. I’m really pissed about that. Allowing him to follow his current passion is getting harder and harder for me to allow. And I’m mad. I would love to tell myself that this is just a phase because, dear NFL, I would love nothing more right now than to send you packing.

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