Friday, May 11, 2012

Boys And Tackle Football

Contact sports are really taking a beating. Hit hockey and tackle football are all over the news. Concussions are the story. People get hurt. Why play a dangerous game? Why not just take the hitting out? Why not choose a nice sport like lawn bowling or something?

The trouble is we don't want to teach our boys to always be nice. God has given boys the impulse to be warriors. They want to compete hard. They need to go beyond nice, polite competition. They need to be aggressive. They even need danger. The important thing is to be able to do all that and stay in control. They need to avoid letting their anger get away and doing something stupid. They need to play hard and play smart at the same time. They can't be afraid to get hurt and can't be afraid to hurt someone else. They need to play within the rules but if the rules allow you  to hit someone hard then you hit them hard. Christian men are not supposed to be soft.

When they get into business or get into politics or whatever they do in life they need to be moral but they can't be afraid. If they have a chance to destroy an opponent they need to be able to do that. It does not typically involve violence but it is a type of aggression. You don't want to raise wimps. Christians need to walk into a danger zone and not only overcome their fears but be able to make the other guy afraid of them. You don't break the rules but you play the game hard and you don't apologize for it.

There are a ton of important life skills learned in a team sports. The importance of hard work. How to perform when you are exhausted or in pain. How to accept leadership. How to deal with more talented teammates and with less talented teammates. How to help each other stay focused and hold each other accountable. How to work with guys you don't like. How to perform when everyone is watching. How to work hard when nobody is watching. So many skills that translate directly into any area of life. But they are learned in a very physical way. There are lectures but they are constantly backed up by the undeniable physical reality of getting hit.

Fr Barron talks about boys becoming men. Rites of passage are needed. Boys need men other than their fathers to push them. To signal to them that they are men and they can take on the world. This is one place where that happens. You go after something that other people want very badly and you try and take it from  them. The winners will be overjoyed. The losers will be bitterly disappointed. Bring it on.

Everything that is worth anything in life needs to be fought for in that way. To many Christians think their job is to just be nice and God will make everything just work out. There is a reason why one of the major Christian virtues is courage. How do we instill that virtue in our boys? I think contact sports help a lot.


  1. And I'd say soccer is a good middle-ground. It's a physical sport, where contact is acceptable and legal. You know this of course since you coach your children. I broke three bones, including my nose, playing soccer from 5 to 18 years old, including at the varsity high school level.

  2. There are a bunch of sports. Didn't go into that. I think one reason why football and hit hockey appeal is because very few women play them. Males rites of passage need to be things women don't do. In our society those are hard to find.

    The other problem is that it is very hard to try a bunch of sports. the time commitment each sport expects gets quite high, quite young. Hockey and football are the highest profile sports here in Canada. So that is where we went.

  3. I agree with your premise, that males need certain rites of passage, but I think our modern notions of what makes a man masculine are out of balance. For example, it is common to identifying being "a man" if you play football, drive a truck, and be able to "score" with your girlfriend. These are all really confused ideas that point to realities that truly do make men masculine. For example, playing football corresponds to the idea males are to be hard workers, especially outdoors; driving a truck corresponds to the idea vehicles are tools to get real things done with, like farming, and not just for show; and having sex obviously corresponds to the need for males to be fathers and leaders of families. But until this real message gets through, males will continue to follow these false types (e.g. identifying masculinity with being able to hurt someone on the field).

    In reality, fighting the battle against porn, abortion, and Catholic Social Teaching, makes someone far more of a man than any sport could. A while back I wrote an article called "Sports Mad America" which you might be interested in. The basic idea is that sports have taken on a pagan like status in society (both on TV and real life) and has not been properly subordinated to the more important things. To use St Paul's "milk before meat" analogy, our society is stuck in the "milk" phase.

    For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim 4:8)

  4. Like anything else, sports can be overdone. It goes without saying that when we participate in it we need to do it without neglecting other matters. School is the one that gets the most attention and for good reason. Nobody wants kids to fall behind because they spend so much time on the field. It does happen.

    I don't think scripture and tradition are negative on sports at all. They are mentioned but not typically as sin. The verse you quote from 1 Tim 4 is a good example. Sport is good. Faith is better. That is more the theme.

    You look at the magisterium and you find many bishops that are sports fans. We have one that plays hockey.