If your child does not own Patriots gear

More obligatory Spirit and Loyalty and Enthusiasm:

No, I did not send my four-year old to school in Patriots gear for “Super Bowl Spirit Day” on Friday.

Earlier in the week, I’d gotten an email from the preschool that my kids — Leila, almost 5, and Mateo, almost 3 — have attended for the last couple of years. Wedged between a reminder to “bring your patience” to pick-up (bothersome snow in the parking lot) and a request for donations for cancer research was a New England Patriots logo with the following message:

“In honor of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearance, send your child to school in his or her Patriots gear! If your child does not own Patriots gear, send him or her to school wearing red, white, and blue. Go Patriots!”

Why do people do that? Why assume that love of football is universal? Why make people feel weird if they don’t love football? Why on earth do it to four-year-olds?

The author, Kate Mitchell, replied with a note pointing out the now well-known risks of football, and that the brain is quite a useful organ. The director replied politely but said they wouldn’t be changing their plans.

I decided to follow up with a bit more information: several links to articles about the issue including a piece in that very day’s New York Times.

I added:

“I acknowledge your decision not to reconsider promoting the sport on Friday — and I respect that individuals make their own choices about whether to watch, play, or support football. However, when an institution chooses to support or endorse another institution, it sends a message (intended or not) about the values of the institution doing the supporting.

And:

Obviously, my concerns are not so much about whether or not the kids dress up in Patriots gear on Friday. I am more worried about whether we encourage fandom for the sport/league from a young age, whether kids should be playing tackle football, and how we as a society should be demanding that the NFL value the lives and well-being of young men (and families) in our society. I appreciate you hearing me out on the big picture.

She decided to write to the teachers as well.

“Our reasons for boycotting football have to do with the NFL’s rejection of science and the evidence that proves the link between tackle football and traumatic brain injuries, as well as our support for Colin Kaepernick and his efforts to call attention to police brutality. While those might seem like two separate issues, we see them as one: a decision not to value the lives of young men, especially young men of color.

Leila will not be dressed in Patriots gear tomorrow. We will have a conversation with her tonight about our family’s values and how they square with football. We will also talk with her about the importance of being respectful of different points of view on this topic.”

She explained her thinking to Leila, who picked out her own (non-football themed) clothes for the next day, including a tiara.

As we entered her school, we stepped into a sea of Patriots gear. I felt my gut churn a bit. I felt like an outsider.

Leila loves her school. We have found it to be an inclusive environment that lives up to its mission of creating a safe and nurturing environment for our children to learn and grow. I left my daughter, feeling confident that she felt right at home and that the teachers would make sure that she did not feel excluded.

But I also left feeling incredibly confused. Of all the things that educators could be encouraging our children to care about and be interested in, is a sport that has been scientifically proven to cause routine traumatic brain injuries really one of those things? And does it really merit an entire “spirit day” in its honor at a school for toddlers and preschoolers?

I get that for many, the Super Bowl is just pure fun. I get that we could all use common ground to rally around in times like these.

I am just not willing to cheer a multi-billion dollar business that values profit over safety. And I am especially resistant to the idea of an educational institution enlisting my small kids in such fandom.

Also how pure can the fun really be when the sport itself is built around deliberate violence? We frown on the Romans for going to see gladiatorial contests but we have lethal sports ourselves. It’s pathetic.

H/t Sackbut

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