I’m supposed to be sitting on the beach, reading a Steven King novel. Instead, I’m scanning Twitter for any signs of how my son is doing in college football camp in the middle of a heat wave. This is what it means to be a football mom.
I pray the boys— men, really—are practicing indoors, but I know they will not be. Games are played in over 90 degree heat. I felt for all the boys this morning as I jogged along the boardwalk, the sun beating down at a mild but muggy 80 degrees. I had no pads. No helmet. No turf to radiate more heat. I only had the ocean breeze, stifling enough. So as I jog, I pray.
I pray that my son keeps his spirits up. I pray that he doesn’t lose too much weight this month. He drops eight pounds a practice in sweat. He doesn’t want to eat after, because who wants to eat when it’s that hot out. But he has to, if he ever hopes to play. I pray that he doesn’t get pushed too far, like Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland O-lineman who died after practice. I pray for all the boys.
It’s hard, sometimes, for me to get my mind around this thing called football. If someone is, say, in the marines, at least I can console myself that they are sacrificing their bodies for their country. But for football, it’s only for the love of the game. I read about a Michigan State player who declined the opportunity to play for a fifth year, saying how it’s both mentally and physically tough.
My son is a pack person. Always has been. I call his high school friends the football bro’s. But college is different. Every teammate is a brother, but also a competitor, looking to take your spot. It’s a question of who’s hungrier, smarter, stronger, tougher. I wonder about the anxiety such a mixed sense of bonding must bring my son where every teammate is a member of his pack but willing to sacrifice him if it means they will get more play time.
And yet, my son will tell me about a teammate, who came from nothing, who sends his stipend checks home every month; my son says this teammate will have his back if he ever gets caught in the bad corner of a city or some difficult situation. I want him to bring these boys home, because I am a mama bear. But he doesn’t want to. He thinks we look too rich.
My son knows that I largely put myself through college and would live off a box of pasta and packet of hot dogs for the week tuition was due. But current appearances don’t reveal that back story, and he’s right, our house looks cushy.
Does the fact that I have saved my whole life for my son’s education make him just the little bit softer on the field? Gosh, I hope not, but that damage is already done. My son has options, choices; most of the other boys do not.
I understand with college football, there are lines I cannot cross, questions I cannot ask. Even on the closed, parents-only Facebook page, I don’t express my worry about their practices in the heat. I don’t ask if anyone else read about the autopsy on Washington State quarterback, Tyler Hilinski. He was 21 and had a brain of a 65-year old. At most, we ask who’s tailgating or who’s going to fan appreciation day. Or on birthdays, does anyone know how we can get some cupcakes to our sons (as long as it’s a son not having to keep his weight down.)
My husband, a soccer and rugby player, seems better able to handle the pressures. I guess it’s a guy thing. My son sends him the occasional video of him throwing up after a weight lifting session. They think it’s funny.
Can we go back to flag football, where the whole town cheered for both sides, and at most, I worried about grass stains on the uniform? Where we raised money for local charities at the annual Milk Bowl? Now, it’s millions of dollars at stake for a major network TV spot. I can’t even make my next hair appointment because the game time will only be determined last minute based on TV ratings (and trust me, my hair color leaves no wiggle room for last minute scheduling!). I watched my son’s snaps on TV, comparing his to the other center’s. My role as football mom started when my son was five, the first time I let him stay up to late enough to watch the Super Bowl halftime show. It was the same year as Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. I should have known then that football would push the boundaries of a mother’s heart.
This is my son’s dream. His journey. I am just the silent supporter. So I read my Football for Dummies book, trying to keep the differences between intentional grounding in the NFL versus college football straight. I try not to think too much about the darker sides of the game, just like every other football mama. I suspect the prayers of all football moms are largely the same.