What football teaches boys, and the value in learning some barbarism

Author’s Note: The point of the following essay is not to belittle single mothers and boys raised primarily by women.  Its focus is to ultimately ask questions about what happens when boys transition into manhood without the qualities they need as men.  It further visits where they learn these qualities; qualities that are arguably under attack by society today.

My first two submissions on A Voice for Men (AVFM) were very well received and I’m thus back for a third.  With me working on a book, running my blog and now having a YouTube channel of my own, it’s taken time to prepare and submit this third piece.  It comes at an ideal time as we’re early in the football season at all levels.  While it’s considered by many to be a ‘barbaric’ sport and there are health concerns surrounding it like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), in the following essay I will discuss why it’s a valuable learning tool for the boys who participate in it whether they go on to play big time college or professional football.

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“Football is a barbaric sport!”  Some of my earliest childhood memories are my mother’s words about American Football.  My parents divorced when I was three years old and so I didn’t take to baseball, the sport my father specialized in.  Due to life circumstances, there was also limited interactions with my Uncles, four out of five of whom were sports experts.  They probably would’ve exposed us to the many little leagues around Buffalo, of which there were many.  Consequently, I didn’t get a lot of exposure to football as a child and I likewise considered it an evil, barbaric sport.

That changed in middle school when my best friend received the game “Tecmo Bowl” for his Nintendo Entertainment System.  Playing it, I started learning football’s rules and nuances: what an interception was, what a run vs. a pass play was, what a quarterback was, what a ‘sack’ was, etc.  I began gleaning that there was a tremendous amount of thought and strategy involved aside from the game’s perceived barbarism.  Around that time, both my brother and I were given a Sega Master System or a Sega Genesis and started playing the original “John Madden Football” which continued my football education.

Something else happened, our hometown Buffalo Bills became competitive.  The Bills sucked for most of my early youth, but they were gradually built into a championship contender who now knocked on the door of the “Super Bowl” in the late 1980s.  In 1991, they finally broke through and made it to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, FL.

Those games on the Bills’ march to Tampa were literally the first two to three football games that I’d ever watched on any level.  At that point all I knew was that the Bills were winning, but not much else.  I saw the hitting, the tackling and all the things that made it appear to be   barbaric.  Again though, it was also a cerebral game.  The coaches and their coordinators were literally playing ‘chess’ with one another, attempting to counter and stymie the other’s moves.  The players learned whole playbooks and made decisions ‘pre-snap’ and then in real time during plays.  There was also picture study during games, and film study prior to and post-game.

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But where am I going with this discussion about this barbaric sport?  As I said earlier, I didn’t get into it until later in my youth.  I fell in love with basketball first which turned out to be a contact sport in its own way, though it didn’t have that reputation.  During my stint on my high school basketball team, some of my teammates were also football players.  As a matter of fact, when I looked around Western New York, I saw that many football players hung up their cleats after their last games and ran for the hardwood.

One teammate in my sophomore year stands out to me.  He was nicknamed “Spankey”.  I didn’t know if he was named after the “Little Rascals” character or not, but I suspect it was something else.  Either way, Spankey had an ‘extra gear’ in his personal motor, and he was fearless.  Some would say he was a little crazy too.  He wasn’t afraid to hit someone else, or to get hit on the football field or on the hardwood.  I had another basketball teammate named “Cal” in the class behind me who was also a football player.  He was fearless just like Spankey.

My high school basketball coach encouraged all his players to play fall and spring sports to keep us in shape for basketball.  At the start of my junior year, I decided to go out for our high school football team.  Now mind you, Western New York high school football was nowhere near the level of the high school football in Florida, Texas, California or Ohio, but playing on the gridiron wherever you played meant something.

How did I do at tryouts?  Well, unlike on TV, they weren’t much of a tryout.  Our football coach knew that I played basketball and was willing to let me walk on after I took my physical and went through the mandatory number of practices without pads.  I was excited that I was going to be on the football team.  It was going to be cool to wear a helmet, shoulder pads and cleats like Bo Jackson, and I was going to catch some passes like wide receiver Jerry Rice on TV.

The first and only piece of equipment I got was my helmet.  Let me tell you that I have the utmost respect for football players, just for running around with those helmets on for hours and hours especially in the warm weather states.  When I put my helmet on, it felt like I was wearing a set of weights on my head.   Running around with it felt so unnatural, and I remember my neck struggling to keep my head steady.

My dreams of running and catching passes quickly dissipated when the coaches timed me in the “40-Yard Dash”, simply known as “The 40”.  I clocked a slower speed (closer to five seconds) which got me assigned the center position on the offensive line, which I didn’t appreciate at the time.  It was also my first time doing any of the drills and they were all foreign and unnatural for me.  I didn’t have cleats yet and I recall my feet slipping on the grass when trying hit the sled.

My basketball teammate, Cal, mentioned above let me know that I wasn’t fond of contact at least initially.  On ‘seven on seven’ drill where I played defense, I recall attempting to ‘rush’ the passer.  I didn’t have any pads on besides my helmet.  Cal played offense and blocked me with his hands and or forearms on my ribs which took my breath completely away and put major doubt in my mind about playing the game.

The day I decided I didn’t want to play anymore was a Saturday morning, a cold autumn Western New York Saturday morning.  I might have stayed up too late the night before, and I wanted to stay in our warm house.  I took the bus and the train to downtown Buffalo.  When I got off the train, I felt the wind literally blow right through my body.

I might’ve been wearing shorts that morning instead of sweatpants which didn’t help.  I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to LaSalle Park on the Niagara River with the rest of the team.  I turned around and went home to our warm house.  That Monday, I turned in my helmet and set out to run Cross Country as I’d seen my brother do.  I’d grown up seeing my mother run so that was a little more normal for me.

“ANWAR YOU’RE A QUITTER AND YOU’RE SOFT FOR RUNNING CROSS-COUNTRY!”  One day as our Cross-Country team warmed up next to our school, the football players emerged and headed over to their practice.  Spankey saw me and verbally ripped me in front of my new teammates.  I wasn’t going to trade jabs with him.   As I said before his ‘motor ran hot’, so I just smiled and shrugged it off.

“YEAH WELL AT LEAST WE WIN!”  One of the captains, named Darrell, surprisingly gave it right back to Spankey on my behalf.  They were in the same graduating class.  To my surprise, Spankey just kept walking with his helmet in tow, and didn’t confront Darrell.  I wondered if I could’ve gotten away with such a rebuttal.  I was surprised and thankful for Darrell sticking up for me which was brave as he was wiry, and only a fraction of Spankey’s size.

Well, let’s go back to Spankey’s words.  Was there some truth to them?  Yes.  I did quit the football team when it got hard.  My heart wasn’t in it, and I did it (and Cross-Country) to stay in my basketball coach’s good graces.  In hindsight though, by not staying the course, I missed out on a lot of growth and toughening which is ultimately what this story is about.  By the way, while I thought Cross-Country would be the safer sport, I did get hurt running a race which contributed to ruining me and my teammates’ basketball season.  Go figure.

So, what do boys learn from playing football and why is it important to learn some barbarism?  My answers are as follows and they may all overlap:

Physical Toughness– In my opinion the football players are the toughest of all the athletes, maybe rivaled by boxers and martial artists of all kinds – the mixed martial artists (MMA) particularly.  They hit, they get hit and they play their sport mostly outside in some very, very adverse weather conditions – both hot and cold depending on the geographic region.  In order to do this, they must have lots of toughness and perseverance.

Mental Perseverance– Practicing every day, building your body up, playing with pain and playing outside in the elements takes mental toughness and perseverance.  You must learn how to keep going even in the most adverse conditions.

Mental Discipline and the ability Compartmentalize– This is related to mental perseverance.  Many football coaches are known for yelling and cursing at their players, at least they used to be.  Some would argue that today’s kids are soft and can’t take it.  Players who play for such coaches must be able to not take the coaching personally and to focus on the objective.  Many kids buckle when coached in this way, but the strong kids shrug it off and keep going.  The same is true for getting beaten on a play and mentally rebounding, quickly.

A coach once told me that he could tell how boys on his team were raised by the way they responded.  He could tell who had men in the house and who didn’t.  Likewise, just as in my case, I have a cousin and a Godson who both started the game, but eventually quit it.  Just like me, they both coincidentally needed the second two above-mentioned qualities described, and they either didn’t have consistent male figures around, or the relationships with the men who were around were estranged.  I believe that a man would’ve challenged them both to not quit and to finish, just like one would’ve challenged me.

If you haven’t seen it, look up Marshawn Lynch’s encounter with the single mother whose son was misbehaving at his football camp.  She reprimanded Lynch for trying to discipline her son.  The sometimes-volatile Lynch made news by asking the woman, “Is there a man around that I can talk to?”  Lynch’s assumption was that a man would understand letting his son take the ass-whipping from his coach instead of babying him.

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In this era of ‘equality’ of the sexes, the argument can and will be made that girls need these same qualities too.  While that may be true in some instances, we also must look back at the qualities and attributes that men are graded on, and what we use to qualify what’s ‘manly’ and ‘masculine’.  Some of it involves displays of power and strength, just like in the wild.  Some would call this “Toxic Masculinity”.  I’ll further argue that men who don’t show those qualities are frowned upon, and have a hard time garnering the respect of most women long-term and other men.

An example is the proverbial noise downstairs when a man and woman are in bed sleeping at night.  Which of the two is expected to go investigate the noise?  Which gender makes up the bulk of our law enforcement whose job is to protect and serve our communities?  Which gender has traditionally made up the bulk of our military forces which is charged with protecting our way of life here in the United States?  Which gender is expected to protect the other on the streets should danger arise?  In a more humorous sense, which gender is frowned upon they don’t get up and use their strength to help the other gender carry the proverbial grocery bags and boxes into the home after a shopping trip?  I could go on, but you get my point.

This is just some food for thought in this era where the qualities of men are being scrutinized and nefariously engineered and reshaped.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Gillette.  I, coincidentally, recently listened to a podcast by Curtis Scoon and Jason Whitlock.  Jason speculated that the recent attacks on the NFL were rooted in efforts to destroy what it stands for and it’s displays of masculinity.

Another friend says she would like to see football broken up and replaced with soccer so that girls can have a share of the money that the sport commands.  My position is that it’s the hitting, the barbarism and the shows of athleticism, in addition to the chess match taking place in every game, that attracts us.  This all comes from the male sex.

I’m going to close by saying that football isn’t the only vehicle for boys learning the qualities described.  Martial Arts such as Jiu Jitsu, Judo or any means of fighting can provide much of the same thing.  Martial artists are just as strong and tough.  As I was completing this essay, my mother pointed out that me and my brother did take Isshinryu Karate just before middle school.  We both go to the level of yellow belt. We were in part inspired by the movie, The Karate Kid.  For myself at that age, I can say that I didn’t understand the context of it, and I didn’t understand how to finish things.

In writing this essay, I’m not endorsing violence against either sex by any means.  There are certainly numerous examples of violent men in society and in some instances, we’re seeing more and more violent and uncontrollable young men.  For many, their uncontrolled barbarism is rooted in their being emotionally fragile and lacking two of the three the qualities described above.

We need to give a lot of thought about how they got that way, what can potentially rehabilitate them, and if not, who will protect others from them.  Lastly, we need to consider how our modern social experiments have contributed to society’s current circumstances, and rethink what is ‘toxic’ in masculinity and what isn’t.  In closing, some barbarism is good and necessary for men to become the ‘best’ they can be, right Gillette?

I want to thank Paul Elam for starting AVFM and AEFM, and for all the other men’s channels for creating their content.  They provide key information that many of us weren’t taught at home.  Many of us ‘Blue Pill’ men left our homes blind, and without this information, we would’ve never known what was going on or why – this is the essence of the ‘Red Pill’ movement.

I now have my own YouTube channel, “Big Discussions76” where I discuss topics like this and many others.  I also have my own blog entitled, “Big Words” where I write and publish content from guests discussing: Education, STEM, Financial Literacy and other topics.  Please stop by.  You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76.  I’ll close this with one of Paul’s usual endings and say, “Thank you for reading my essay, and I hope you enjoyed reading it, even if you didn’t.”

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