Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Keeps Me Up at Night

As a kid, I always thought it was a bit irrational that my mother wouldn't let me play hockey or football. I mean, sports can be dangerous. You run at full speed, sometimes straight at someone else. You can turn an ankle and not play again. In 4th grade I took a baseball to the temple running into first (I was safe, and got an RBI). In eight grade, I broke my nose playing basketball in the basement of my house. (Don't ask. Just. Don't.)

Then again, I was invincible. I wonder if Jack Jablonski thought the same thing. His high school team, Benilde-St. Margaret's is in the Class AA Finals. It makes for a feel-good story. Jack's life changed in December when he was checked from behind into the boards. A spinal cord injury later, the medical consensus is that he will never walk again. His team is in the finals, Jack will be there to cheer them on, and if they win, don't be surprised to see Jack on the ice with his teammates.

Just last year we learned the tragedy of  Derek Boogaard's story, how he suffered from chronic traumatic encephelopathy, leading some to wonder what, if anything, that had to do with his death. Even if it had nothing to do with his death, the results aren't pretty. Unlike Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak didn't to my knowledge suffer from CTE, but did, like Boogaard, suffer substance abuse and depression. All three were known as enforcers. Boogaard's story is that he grew up idolizing Wendel Clarke and learned in Juniors that in order to make his NHL dream come true, that he had to fight. And fight he did. He was good at it, to the point of breaking Todd Fedoruk's face.

And, as my Wild confederates know, Pierre-Marc Bouchard may never play in the NHL again. An intelligent and talented playmaker who sees the ice better than most fans in the upper deck do, he's been hampered by concussions. In three seasons (09-10, 10-11, and 11-12) he will play a total of 97 games, less than 40% of the schedule for those three seasons. Every time the little guy goes into the corners, Wild fans cringe. Every time the Wild plays Vancouver, Wild front office e-mail servers are bombarded with demands that Matt Kassian fight Alex Burrows every time Burrows steps onto the ice.

So what's a parent to do when their kids loves hockey? My son watches hockey, he's learning to skate, and he's got a nasty wrist shot (seriously, it's way better than the slapper he prefers to use). At daycare the other day, he was pretending to ice skate in his boots on the ice. His skating ability has blossomed this winter in the few times we've been able to get out with him.

One option is to simply refuse to let him play hockey. But I also know that making something contraband simply increases the value placed on it by those who want it. So I'm not convinced that's the way to go. I could get him into auto racing, but I gotta say, that after I let him watch a NASCAR race last week, I still have nightmares about the atonal national anthem to which I had to bear witness. I'd rather be strapped down and forced to watch the 24-hour Rosie-in-Assless-Chaps Channel than listen to that national anthem again. And all the country music they play. Ugh.

I think in the long run, all I can do is support my son in what he wants. By no means would I ever push him into anything to fulfill my own dreams (ok, fine, I could see myself encouraging him to join the Math Team). But the kid is also sharp as a razor, so I think my responsibility will be to educate him as much as possible and let him weigh the costs and benefits.

I think my mom would approve of that.

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