Dear Athletic Support: We’re rolling into the third week of the high school football season here in Arkansas, and all across the country, there are college athletes who aren’t playing at all. That doesn’t make sense to me. My sister lives in Louisiana (home of the defending National Champion LSU Tigers!) and they still haven’t started their high school football season. Seems like over half the colleges have cancelled or postponed football until the spring. All this brings me to last Friday night. Sitting up in the stands, watching my son take the field, I had the strangest sensation wash over me. It felt like we were the only ones left in the ocean, swimming with sharks darting all around. Like the lifeguard was blowing his whistle but we just wanted to play so bad, we couldn’t hear him. I mean, I guess it hasn’t been that crazy so far. A few surrounding schools have had to “forfeit” (I’m not sure that’s the right word) games after having players test positive for COVID. But other than that, it’s just been football, and masks, and preordering tickets before the games, and sitting spaced out in the bleachers… Who am I kidding, it’s been really weird! But is it dangerous? Am I putting my son at risk by letting him play? That’s what I want to know.
— Corona Ball
Dear Corona: Football is a dangerous sport. If this were any other year, I’d be answering questions about concussions, heat illness, and all sorts of other issues that come along with a full-contact game. Instead, I’m discussing states allowing teenagers to play ball despite a deadly, worldwide pandemic.
And let me be very clear: I’m not condemning or condoning the continuation of high school football this fall. I’m just stating the facts.
And the facts are that there’s some serious stuff floating around in the air. Serious enough to have cost us nearly 200,000 American lives.
Another fact, however, is that football is important, especially in the South. It’s more than just touchdowns and game-winning drives. Some towns’ entire cultures and economic centers revolve around Friday night.
But at what point do the possible health risks outweigh everything else?
Well, lucky for us, Corona Ball, we live in America. And we get to choose what we’re comfortable with, the same way each state was given a choice about what to do with football this fall.
Truth is, there’s no way to know the right answer. If you ascribe to conspiracy theories, you’re liable to end up letting politics get in the way and cloud your vision. Don’t do that. Don’t believe something as pure as high school or college athletics — amateur sports — could be tainted in that way. Have faith in the ones who’ve had to make the hard decisions, and remember there are no right answers.
All you can do is go with your gut. What feels right for you and your son in this moment? It might change from day to day. And that’s okay.
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author of the BOOKS MAKE BRAINZ TASTE BAD series. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact page on elicranor.com.