LaVar Arrington and the 'Sissyfication' of American Boys

The former Redskins great on youth football:


Arrington, who played linebacker in the NFL for seven seasons and made three Pro Bowls, said during today's Outside the Lines discussion of the hazards of youth football that the risks associated with playing football aren't as bad as the risks associated with teaching your kids that they should be afraid of engaging in physically strenuous activities. 

"To me, it's sissification, and I think that's the only way to put it," Arrington said. "I will not go through my life scared and I don't want my children to go through life scared. I started playing football when I was 8 years old and I would never not want to give that opportunity to my children."

Arrington says he wants his son, LaVar II, to play football, and he believes that when young children are properly supervised and playing the game correctly, they're generally not big and strong enough to seriously injure each other in collisions.

I played two years of youth football. So did my son. We both had a great time and I wouldn't take it back. But I would not do it again. The thing is that's my choice as a parent. Arrington's choice is that he wants his kids to play. Good on him. What rankles is the implication those who thinks differently are raising their boys to be "sissies." (The term is a problem in and of itself.)

More than that it's the implication that the sole means to achieve toughness is running Oklahoma or Bull In A Ring. It needs to be said this particular brand of toughness, while important, is very different from the kind of toughness that all children will need to be functioning adults. Surely it takes a certain mental toughness to play in the NFL. It also takes a certain mental toughness to hold a regular job, to save money, to rear children, to be a good partner, to guard your health. It is no way clear that the kind of toughness football requires, necessarily translates to the kind of toughness the world requires. 

And the world--whether your a pro ball player or not--is always out there waiting.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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