Football season is here again. To many it means the excitement of school rivalries, cheerleaders, bands, pep rallies, flags, pom-pons or the fun of just watching the game with friends and talking about the plays.
Unfortunately, to some it means bruises, strains, pulled muscles, torn ligaments, broken bones, or concussions. It is reminiscent of young men marching off to war with flags flying and bands playing, testosterone and a sense of purpose fueling their rush into a potential meat grinder.
Why do we want to play football, risking injury? Why do people want to watch violent, competitive sports? Why did gladiators fight? Why do we box and wrestle? Why do we fight wars?
I have had a brush with both worlds. As a teenager I went out for football four years in a row. I was not good enough scholastically to actually play in games, other than the annual Blue and White game, but in practice I did the same things and took the same hits as the first team players. In fact I played against the first team. Some of them were my friends, and would encourage me. We all suffered through hard scrimmages after a loss to another school, especially after fumbles and other mistakes.
During the Cold War, serving on a destroyer, I had several close encounters with death in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic. I saw other sailors, and pilots, die in accidents. I saw a destroyer torn in half by a collision with a battleship. I saw a fatal plane crash a couple of hundred yards in front of my ship. Some sailors in our fleet were swept overboard in high seas. A few took their own lives by jumping overboard at night. Most of us just scratched our heads and soldiered on.
So, back to football, I have pondered why we wanted to butt heads with our friends, or anyone, for that matter, over and over?
I believe that it it is in our basic, instinctive nature, like bucks banging antlers. We talk so much about intelligence, scientific thinking, and systematic decision-making — yet we are strongly programmed to protect our families, to seek adventure, fame and fortune, at whatever cost — while we are young, and rational thought takes a back seat.
Then, with older, wiser heads, we sit back and watch the young make the same attempts and mistakes that we made — and cheer them on.