Plain Daler: A Lasting Impact

September 19th, 2013

This past Tuesday, I was reading The New York Times online and a headline caught my eye.

The question: will I let my son play football?

Immediately, as if by reflex, my right shoulder sent a tiny shooting pain all the way down to my fingers.

Former New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was almost poetic in his article, detailing his struggle to balance his love for the game and the lasting pain he will likely endure.

Like countless others who have played football at any level, I have to answer that same question.

I was never a great football player; but I was good enough initially to start on my high school’s freshman team, which was my first year of organized football.

I loved every minute of it. Until  football became dangerous.

A new regime took over before my sophomore year, and with it came a new mentality. The idea of leaving the field with an injury seemed like career suicide.

When I tried to rip through the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle one day, I felt a series of pops followed by a burn in my right shoulder.

It was only natural that I would sneak back on the field after the trainer popped my shoulder back in.

Throughout that week, my shoulder progressively got worse from taking a beating. It got to the point that I couldn’t lift my arm over my head.

The numbness that came after the pain told me to go to the doctor.

I underwent surgery soon after to repair a shredded labrum, but nothing could fix the nerve damage.

To this day, there are mornings when my shoulder does not want to cooperate. Sometimes it’ll be five minutes before I can lift anything.

Some days at work this summer, it took me two tries to lift a dresser or wardrobe in a dorm room.

The question in the end is: do I regret it? Not for one solitary second.

Quitting football was, in my doctor’s words, the difference between holding my kids or not.

And I’m blessed to have one of the more minor injuries a person can suffer. The men who live with post-concussion syndrome are walking reminders of the game’s dangers.

To answer Mr. Fujita’s question, if my future son wants to play football, I will go out to the store and buy him a football that day.

Football taught me discipline, teamwork and the willingness to work until your last breath to achieve a goal.

Quitting football led me to join my school’s newspaper. Our adviser was the one who encouraged me to go into radio at John Carroll.

In a way, I owe my career to football, even if it didn’t end with me wearing pads. In that way, the sport gave me much more than it took away.