Dorothy van den Honert: Head injuries are no 'game'

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PITTSFIELD — I had an Aunt Ella who was always a smart cookie, but especially when she raised her kids. She did what made sense whether it was the going thing or not.

Archibald, the older of her two boys, was near the top of his class academically, but back in those days in North Carolina, to be a high school star you had to get into athletics, preferably football. This meant that for a lot of kids, after-school time was spent practicing on the football field rather than in the library, Archibald was well-built, but Aunt Ella determined how he spent his days, at least while he was still in high school and under her thumb.

Head injuries were an issue back then and now, and if f you consider the seriousness of a concussion or damage to brain tissue, any injury to the head should be avoided. I once innocently thought that when my two girls were born, that at least I wouldn't have to worry about brain injuries because they both turned out to be a whiz at ballet. Their three uncles had gone into music, which meant harmless band rehearsals on the football field and not having to go to games and watch their relatives get slammed onto the ground. But then, when their sister, Kitten, was five, she somehow got a double mastoid infection behind her left ear which requires surgery, there being no penicillin at the time. The child was left with a lifelong terror of anything or anyone connected with medicine. And I was left with an enormous respect for the fragility of brain tissue.

So when my son, Kippy wanted to try out for the high school football team, his Mama put her foot down and that was that. Kip was, of course, mightily upset, and so were his brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.. But I held as firmly as my Aunt Ella had.

And the whole story has left me with a question. Why do we call an activity that rewards injuring your opponent a sport, a game or hobby? Thinking that maybe my female hormones were making the "games" sound worse than they were, I consulted my 10-pound expert, Webster's Dictionary. There it was: game, sport, and hobby were all defined as something fun you could play either by yourself or with pals. So now we sensibly had to include in our list of sports, even those activities seriously dangerous to another person, such as wrestling, boxing and, yes, football. The obvious next question was — why were people willing to injure someone else for pleasure, and the answer was easy. People want to feel superior. That urge accounts for everything from "It's mine!" in nursery school to wars. (Oh, and I almost forgot. It accounts for that swollen ego of our president.)

To discourage violence in "games" you would have to change the scoring to subtract points if any player gets knocked down anywhere on the field. But you can bet your great aunt's patootie that it will never happen.

On the other hand, the van den Honerts didn't leave the athletic field without some sort of fame. I was college champ in archery my senior year of high school.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.

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