Yay sportsing! Yay football! Yay Super Bowl!
Chase likes football. He played flag football for three years and really enjoyed it; but he didn’t enjoy getting teased by his peers for it. Apparently flag football isn’t cool. You know what is cool? Spending $1,000+ a year and giving up all of your weekends to play Pop Warner and risk a traumatic injury.
I don’t want my kids – or anybody – to be tackled. I can’t think of many times in life when tackling is necessary.
Our family agreed that when Chase started middle school he could start Pop Warner. We signed him up, paid the dues and cleared our schedules. I sprung for the safest helmet money could buy. The first week was all conditioning and no contact. That was a good week.
Then came the first practice in pads with full contact and it went like this:
Pop Warner Coach: Do you have any experience playing defensive end?
Clayton: Yeah, I played it in flag football.
Pop Warner Coach: Don’t ever say that again or I’ll kick you in the nuts. Flag football is fag football.
I didn’t hear the exchange, but I could tell something was wrong as I walked to the car with Chase after practice. He wouldn’t say a word until we were in the car and on our way home; because he’s smart enough to know that when he told me, I might march myself back to the field and say something to the coach.
“Are you (bit my tongue so the eff word wouldn’t escape) kidding me?!” I said.
“I know, right?!” Chase was a little relieved that he had told me — and that I was past the point of turning the car and making my way to the field.
I tried my hardest to use it as a teachable moment. Adults shouldn’t use that language. Playing flag football doesn’t make you gay. No one should say that they are going to kick someone in the nuts. Blah. Blah. Blah.
“I know all of that. I’m straight. I just feel bad because there has to be at least one gay kid on my team and if they heard that they probably feel sad and horrible,” he explained.
My heart melted.
When we got home we filled Matt in and I have to admit that a teensy tiny part of me worried that he would say that it sucks but that’s how it is in football. That was a ridiculous worry; he was more upset than I was.
After we got the kids settled in bed for the night, I called my brother.
“That is horrible! Ugh! That makes me so mad! I knew this was going to happen. I just knew it. When I played Pop Warner, I was bullied and called the worst names because I was the little gay kid whose parents signed him up for tackle football. Chase is too good for football,” he said.
I was ready to spend the evening crafting a strongly worded email to Pop Warner backed by the effects of bullying and homophobia on LGBTQ kids, but Matt wanted to actually talk to the appropriate people about the situation. So, I wrote that email in my head over and over all night, perfecting it, because I can’t let go of words and because I’m better at writing words than talking to people.
He called the head coach who was shocked. Minutes before the next practice Matt brought it up to another parent from the team (and Pop Warner board member) with others in earshot — which always gives me anxiety because where we live there’s usually a good chance that people will brush it off or defend homophobic slurs. But, every other parent who heard was appalled. I wanted to hug them all.
Turns out that along with being homophobic at practice, he was also drunk. He was immediately excused from practice and can no longer coach Pop Warner.
Then, Chase broke his leg and was out for the season. And, I felt guilty. Like the broken leg was somehow the result of me wanting so badly for him to not play tackle football. I had to remind myself that broken legs can happen in any of the footballs: fag, flag, tackle, two-hand touch, powder-puff, etcetera.