Upon reflection, I blame Walter Camp for burning a scar into the part of my brain that controls depression and anxiety. I know he never meant to personally hurt me, but when he told his Yale football team in 1878 (and I quote) “You know what, fuck Rugby, LET’S MAKE IT AMERICAN,” my great-great-great grandfather Forrest Georg leaned over to his Belgian wife and complained of a deep sinking feeling in his testicles.
I hail from the grand land of Texas. Most Texans hold three maxims very near to their hearts: 1) It was a mistake to secede. 2) The theme park Six Flags is a celebration of the six flags that flew over Texas and should be kept within the state lines. 3) Football is, and will always be, life.
I am convinced Texan children are genetically bred to play football. It is thus very tragic to note that my mother is from Illinois, my father is from New York, my adopted sister is from Washington and I was born in northern California before moving to Texas at 18 months. Though my heart is Texan, my DNA screams out repressed homosexuality.
By brilliantly choosing to be horrible at every feasible sport (including scarf juggling and the vastly complicated game of Pole Tag), I avoided football throughout my early childhood.
Middle school was a different story.
When entering middle school, a Texan boy has two choices: to play football or to be gay. And I don’t mean “gay” as in “oh, that one probably likes boys” but rather “I don’t understand what that word means but I know it has a derogatory connotation, so I will call that chubby, sickly child who probably likes boys ‘gay.’ ” Fearing social suicide, I joined the football team.
I can vividly remember the day I wanted to quit the J.L. Long football team because it happened to be the same day as the first practice. It was hot, I was thirsty, there was screaming and I was always getting blamed for problems that were not my fault, but rather the fault of the elusive “team” that never ran fast enough and wanted to go home to Mommy. While I was guilty of a vast majority of these offenses (read: all), I still felt the injustice of cruel drills like the “Circle of Love” (in which Coach Wallace had clearly mixed up the definition of “love” and “push-up until you vomit”) and the “Soul Train” (which wasn’t actually a punishment to anyone else but me). The one time I did the “Soul Train” — a drill where two people stood at opposite ends of a human tunnel and then charged forward to kill the other person via Newton’s second law — I cried. After the drill, my coach screamed at me, “HEY! WASN’T THAT BETTER THAN LEAVING PRACTICE EARLY FOR THEATER CAMP?,” to which I loudly thought back, “Oh my God, if I breathe I cry but if I don’t breathe I will literally die.” So it should be no surprise that I quit within a few weeks.
And believe it or not, I am sad that I never did football. Now don’t get me wrong, I am still the elfish chubster from elementary school that would rather play four-square than football, but I wish there were some grain in my body that liked playing the sport. I saw most of my close guy friends share the craziest and most fun moments with their teammates. They became a sort of family, united by the pain of three-a-days and the constant fear of being one of the seven annual heat-induced fatalities.
So, to the Yale football team, I salute you. You are all better men than I because the only thing I ever used a helmet for was to hide my tears. Remember that there are some brittle boys like me that envy your will to play the sport. Make a touchdown for me and my inability to “Soul Train.”
I will leave you with something my high school football coach said during the homecoming pep rally of my junior year. It has never stopped inspiring me.
“I have just two words for you: REFUSE TO LOSE.”
That’s all there is to it.