I am a huge football fan, and we are a huge football family. From my high school ball-coaching husband and pee wee player sons, to my grown daughters (one a Georgia Bulldog, the other a Tennessee Volunteer), we live for Friday nights under the lights and Saturdays out in the sun. But I have to tell you, all this talk of opening up summer practice has me torn.
Right now, my husband’s after-school profession and my family’s biggest passion and beloved pastime is under some serious scrutiny as the Powers-that-Be determine what, when, how (and even whether) to get the preseason conditioning and practices under way.
My heart is so torn. I know the risks and I know the rewards.
The risks can be great. My daughter is a doctor out in Dallas. The most-serious cases in all of North Texas are treated in a COVID-unit in her hospital. She tells me how the virus ravages patients, both with preexisting conditions and without. She knows how impossible it is to predict whose body can handle a coronavirus attack and whose can’t.
But I also know the risk for high school football players is minimal. Only 2% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are children, and of those, only 6% or so are hospitalized. Even with the growing awareness of the dangerous Pediatric Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome that’s been in the news lately, the risk to our players is incredibly small.
So odds are, our boys can huddle up, knock helmets, throw passes, and swap sweat and oxygen without adverse consequences. So what happens on the practice field isn’t what worries me.
No, I am far more worried about what happens in the weight room.
These boys lift A LOT of weight. They huff and puff and pump themselves up before pressing ginormous poundage. They use spotters. And those spotters stand directly behind and/or above the weightlifters’ faces. They exhale and inhale each other’s air. Six-foot social distancing is impossible. Ingestion of respiration droplets is inescapable.
And while the boys themselves are probably going to be just fine, they ARE potential carriers who can share the virus at home with parents and grandparents — some with compromised immune systems, some without. (And again, that doesn’t necessarily predict relative safety or risk.)
Also, a recent study out of South Korea reveals over 1000 COVID cases there were linked to fitness classes, at an attack rate of 26.3%. The exhaled breath of athletes under physical exertion causes more dense transmission of isolated droplets. That, paired with unpredictable air flow, increases the contagion factor dramatically. And facemasks during heavy exercise can cause dizziness and fainting. So… not ideal.
The air in the field house weight room will be steamy and full of exhaled air, recirculating through a multitude of lungs, coaches’ included. And that is what worries me on a selfish and personal level. Coaches fall within age ranges far more susceptible to the virus. And those coaches can likewise inadvertently carry the virus home to wives and family members who may be susceptible.
Yes, there are definite variables and risks involved in starting football back up for the summer. But then, I also understand there are rewards.
The rewards for these coaches and their players are tremendous. Because football is so much more than just a game. It is a commitment and it is a calling, but most importantly, it is a family. And that family has a legacy — a legacy left by hometown heroes to current family members, who will carry and leave that legacy for future generations to come.
The tradition of football is strong: the heart, the commitment, the discipline, the family, the legacy.. these are the rewards. And to miss a season would be a tragedy. But then, so would unnecessary deaths or debilitating lifelong conditions for players, coaches, families, and fans.
I guess there are risks and rewards to be considered with every decision that comes with life. And for this wife of a football coach, teacher of football players, and mother of a physician daughter, the risks and rewards are weighing heavy on my heart. I love my family. I love my football. I love my football family.
For the time being, I’ll wait on the Powers-that-Be. And depending on what they decide, my family and football families around the nation will need to make weighty decisions of our own. May God grant us wisdom as we move into this new season of a pandemic preseason.
(And may He also guide medical science to wipe this virus from the face of the earth so that the only face-masks we have to worry about are of the 15-yard penalty variety.)