It is one hundred degrees, and the heat index is almost one hundred and ten. There are warnings on the radio to drink plenty of fluids and stay indoors. A furnace blast of hot air explodes as I open my front door to take my morning walk, and it is only nine a.m. My whole head is wet within minutes of being outdoors, and my dog staggers up our last hill like she has survived a month alone in the Sahara.
I think it is too hot to do anything but sit in cold water and suck on ice. But that is not what I do. It is the day of my son’s first football scrimmage, and I stand on the sidelines in the four o’clock sun. I last about ten minutes, then walk down to the shady side of the field. I can not imagine running around in this kind of heat. But there are boys of considerable intellect dressed in heavy polyester from shoulder to calf and wearing air-tight plastic helmets. They are sprinting and diving and running for their lives. They ram headfirst into one another, deafening thwacks making bystanders gasp in disbelief.
I watch my son paired up against a boy who outweighs him by at least eighty pounds; my son looks like a toddler. I want to yell at him to get out of the way, but my son charges into this mountain of a man, barely slowing him down. I see a player on my son’s team attacked by three opposing players at once. One hits him from behind, another from the side and another comes up under him. The other team gets up but our player is left lying in a fetal heap on the field. He tries to breathe in, but no air comes in, just a searing pressure on his chest. And after a minute or two, he stands up, and instead of bursting out in tears or walking over to his parent’s car or even taking a quarter off, he walks back to his position, ready to go at it again.
I don’t understand much about football. I do know it is a hard sport to play. Just getting ready for the fall season, my son’s team has spent a full week in the heat, practicing twice a day, not to mention the rigorous conditioning they went through all summer long.
There were plenty of invitations my son had to turn down this summer because of football practice. My husband, who played football, tells him it will be worth it. He says my son will have something to show for the sacrifices he has made. I doubted this. My son threw up on the field, barely able to lift his head, at the first practice in June. He moaned every time he moved after his first weight lifting session and football camp was even worse. His face was bruised, his blisters would not heal and he came home with a cleat imprint on his back.
But he did it.
All boys who play football not only have its ravages on their bodies, but they push themselves when it makes sense not to. They are strong, and not just physically. They have learned what they can train their bodies to do, and it has not been easy. They have mastered bravery in a way that cannot be done in other sports. Even before the first official game, I see my son’s sacrifices have been worth it.