Football builds men. Football builds strength. Football builds character.
Those are mantras uttered as near gospel by virtually every coach, player and official who has been around the game, for as long as the game has been played.
But if certain members of the Maryland General Assembly have their way, some of that gospel will have to change, will have to be preached through a new testament of sorts, one that de-emphasizes violence among young players.
A bill, introduced in the Maryland House by Delegate Terri Hill of Howard County, would prohibit youth tackle football at publicly supported fields until the participants reach high school.
The bill would also bar young players from bouncing soccer balls off their heads until high school as well as restricting checking in ice hockey and lacrosse.
While play in the other sports would be impacted, it’s the football crowd that has sprung into action to save their game.
To hear some coaches and players talk, you’d think that nothing short of the fate of America as we know it rides on this bill.
Towson University coach Rob Ambrose tweeted that the bill was an attack on football. Ambrose told the Baltimore Sun the bill if passed would bring on quote the downfall of the game permanently unquote.
The bill’s opponents have taken to that bastion of reasoned discourse, sports talk radio, to decry the imposition of the unreasonable alteration of football.
There’s also a petition drive to halt the bill’s progress, initiated by a local youth football coach who thinks that parents should make choices, not the government.
Already, William Smith of Montgomery County, who originally had planned to sponsor the bill in the state Senate, has backed out of shepherding the legislation through the upper house, claiming the language was quote overly broad unquote.
Here’s a question: If Einstein’s definition of insanity, as in doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is accurate, then what’s happening now on football fields?
The football traditionalists among us would have us look at the growing wealth of data linking repeated collisions to head trauma and concussions among young people and say, “Well, nothing to see here. Full steam ahead.”
Frankly, from this perspective, that seems a bit, well, insane.
Ambrose said there should be a conversation about issues raised by the bill, and that would be great if those immersed in football were interested in true dialogue.
Instead, what you hear is reflexive opposition and statements about the future of the game.
That kind of talk seems callous and insensitive compared with real talk about the long term health and well-being of millions of kids, not to mention the concerns of parents.
And speaking of real talk, ardent football supporters had better get their heads around this idea: The numbers of people who want to eliminate football entirely among young athletes is growing, not shrinking.
The football forever folks may find flag football distasteful, but it’s tough to mold men with a game that may not exist if you can’t learn to compromise.
And that’s how I see it for this week.