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say no! to sports

Changing at the YMCA the other day (is it necessary to add clothes, I wonder? That's what I was changing) I ran across Steve, an acquaintance of a few years. We got to talking of our children, which is what we seem to have in common (is it necessary to add that they are different children?) Steve is so proud he could burst -- his son is playing varsity football. Well done! I said, several times, since the topic kept coming up.

Takes after me, he said.

Well he would, wouldn't he, I said.

Steve looked puzzled.

I mean, he's your son, I said, going on to mention that my son Sam is also playing university sports. Frisbee, to be exact.

Steve looked puzzled again. Frisbee? he said. As if it was a concept with which he was unfamiliar, like abstract extension or string theory.

Oh yes, I replied. And not just toss-it-around-the-park-and-check-out-the-girls frisbee. He is on a team. They play games. My boy is quite the athlete.

Steve smiled down at me. Not condescendingly -- he's a nice guy.

But not not condescendingly, if you understand. That's, uh, great, he said, and headed for the showers, limping slightly on the knee he injured all those years ago playing -- you guessed it -- varsity football.

I suppose we all suffer from the excesses of youth. Choices pursued avidly in our teens and twenties can come back and bite us in middle age. Serious and unlucky indulgence in love or pharmaceuticals, food or drink or any number of risky businesses can have lifelong consequences. But sports seems to be the most dangerous pursuit of all. Is there a retired pro hockey or football player who does not wake up in pain? And these guys at least have glorious memories and bank accounts. What about the college and minor league stars who were a step slow for the pros? What about the amateurs who gave up their health for the good old school? I can't help noticing all the trick knees, bad backs, and blown shoulders of guys my age -- and how many of these chronic conditions date back to high school or university athletics. And yet these ex-athletes -- the Steves of the world, gobbling ibuprofin like candy, limping and wincing through life -- are often quite pleased when their childen take up a sport that might well land them in hospital. Chip off the old block mentality. I wonder how many ex-drug addicts are pleased to see their children following in their footsteps?

I'm being facetious, but only up to a point. I am glad that Sam is having fun and running around the frisbee field. But at the risk of offending Steve, I am very thankful that my son is not playing varsity football, or rugby or hockey or lacrosse. I've heard some mighty scary stories about field hockey too.

Of course the genes are against Sam. I have no athletic glory to look back on. Mind you, on the plus side, I don't hobble or take pain killers, and my dad still jogs dozens of miles every week.

That's a block I am proud to be a chip off of.


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