I PLAYED my first organized game of football back in fifth grade. Every autumn until the end of high school I put on shoulder pads, molded a mouthguard, hated wind sprints with the fury of every angry god, and joined a bunch of other mostly un-athletic knuckleheads on the gridirons of the greater Beaverton area. I loved it. In many ways, football was how I defined myself in those years. You know, it was more okay to be a big fat kid if you were utilizing that fat on the football field.
In eighth grade I tackled a kid and broke both of his legs. Everyone on my team was very impressed and I was mad stoked about it, because we'd been trained to believe that breaking a fellow child's legs on the football field was a rad thing to do—as long as the tackle was clean. Again, I reveled in this glory, even though I probably only broke this kid's legs because I weighed like 300 pounds, and that kid was eighth-grader-sized... but the laudations were there nonetheless. Real caveman shit. The triumphs weren't even hushed, it was just, "YEAH, FUCK THAT 14-YEAR-OLD." It wasn't the only time I hurt another kid, it was just the most traumatic/celebrated.
I got my first concussion in my junior year of high school. We were engaged in a drill where I had to throw another big motherfucker out of the way, and then tackle a running back. I threw that big motherfucker out of the way, but the running back caught me right under the chin and everything went completely black. I fell to the ground, clutching that running back in a snuggle of desperation. I woke up a few seconds later. Everyone was going BILZNONKERS. My coach asked me if my bell was rung. Then practice was over, and I went and sat in the parking lot for half an hour waiting for my mom to come pick me up, and then my friend walked by and reminded me I rode my bike to school that day. So I went and got my bike, and headed home, except I forgot where I lived. The house I'd been living in since I was two years old. I forgot where that was. It wasn't my last concussion.
I tore my meniscus and partially dislocated my kneecap senior year. The trainer told me I just tore some scar tissue, so I could go back in the game. I played another four games that season.
I was a chubby schlub of a white kid in Beaverton and THIS SHIT HAPPENED THERE. Beaverton isn't a football factory. It's a symphonic band factory.
I am now in 420/69th grade (adulthood) and it is quickly, sadly dawning on me that football probably isn't okay. I'm not going to tell you not to watch the games. I'm not going to tell you not to let your kids play, I'm just telling you what happened to me. I'm just telling you that violence, REAL violence is the lingua franca of the game. Trauma is celebrated and an inseparable part of the culture. It's fucked, and I only have 500 words to explore how fucked it is (it's 500,000 words fucked), and it's sad that it's fucked. Maybe for you it's worth it, but I can't keep watching.