The obligation of context
NFL head coach of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan, powerfully influences both adults and kids. When Ryan speaks about injuries, we listen—especially when he’s speaking about his son, Seth, a high school football player who suffered a major concussion last season. During his interview on Costas Live, Ryan seemed to discount the significance of his son’s injury, “I want my son to play. Obviously, if he had another concussion or something like that, I’d address it then.” He goes on to say, “I look at it as, of course he’s gonna play football, and I’m proud of the fact that my son plays football.”
Powerful Influence of a Professional Coach
Perhaps Seth has fully recovered and medical experts have cleared him for play; it’s hard to say since Ryan didn’t mention it. By omitting concern for his son’s long term health and safety, he may be powerfully signaling a lack of concern.
Rex Ryan isn’t invited to speak because he’s Seth’s father; he’s expected to show up as a professional NFL coach and talk about the business of winning football games. Unfortunately, we listen to him as fans and parents. If he seems to dismiss his son’s concussion, parents and kids are influenced. If he insinuates that only the tough and courageous are special enough to play football, parents and kids are influenced.
Powerful Influence of Amateur Coaches
Often it’s a generous parent volunteering his or her time as a coach that makes youth sports possible. Many school districts require completion of some basic training, but in the end, most of the coaches who powerfully influence young athletes are parents. These amateur coaches are the very parents who are influenced by the Rex Ryan’s of the world.
In the words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben,
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Though I personally believe Rex Ryan and others like him have an obligation to help us understand the context of their comments, whether they do or not is out of our hands. Therefore, parents must continuously remind themselves to filter what they hear. You are listening to a business person speaking about business. Whatever is said in that context bears no relationship to Pop Warner football or any other youth sport.
Business is Business
Special people play this sport; not everybody can play this game for whatever reason. But it’s physical, I think you’ve got to be tough to play it, you’ve got to be tough-minded. – Rex Ryan speaking on NBC Sports Costas Live
Doing Nothing is Hard
After suffering a concussion, patients are told to rest quietly. They aren’t supposed to entertain their brains with TV, music, or computers. This is the critical break from activity that allows an injured brain to heal. It’s hard enough trying to keep kids down without adding the worry that they may be harshly judged as weak or not special.
Keeping the Promise
Parents and the coaches of youth sports are obligated through the promises they made to the kids they coach. Team sports are heralded as learning and growth opportunities. We’ve promised to create an environment that teaches sportsmanship, team work, discipline, courage, respect, and other vital life skills. Keep in mind, encouraging or allowing kids to play through a concussion or other injury doesn’t make good on the promise.
If you find yourself influenced by the comments of a business man, stop and ask yourself how the decision you’re about to make measures up to your promise. I’m confident that when you do, you’ll choose wisely.