Football, American style. And boys.

April 14th, 2010

There is an American football league in Switzerland and on Sunday I took Small Boy to see his first American football game. Judging from the amount of Small Boy mock tackling that went on immediately after kickoff, I may live to regret this, but it was kind of fun. I haven’t been to an American football game in – fifteen years? I went to a Big Ten university and went to some games in college, and at some point after I graduated but before I came to Switzerland I went to a Bears game with my brother, but  that’s been about it in the past twenty-odd years. So it’s been a long time.

It was surprisingly fun, sitting on the hill watching this little piece of Americana and trying to teach Small Boy about American football: my knowledge base was exhausted after about three minutes, for I have never been a football fan. I’m more of a hockey girl. I’ve been to my share of hockey games as a player and a fan, and practices, and Small Boy trainings and I know my way around a hockey rink. I don’t think anybody would say that hockey isn’t an intense game; I don’t think that anybody would say that hockey isn’t seriously physical. But I was struck by the difference between hockey players and football players. Don’t tell me hockey players don’t need to get geared up to play at top intensity for sixty minutes, but man, there is some sort of tribal testosterone-fueled intensity to football players, even these adult-league Swiss football players, that you just don’t see in other sports (and that I can’t say I’m all too keen on), including other hard-hitting sports like hockey. I’d forgotten that about football, that chest-thumping, ball-spiking (yes, even in Switzerland there was ball spiking), head-butting über-guy atmosphere. Even the fan culture was different, though that may have had more to do with the fact that the football game was being played in a public space with no security control (that bottle of Jim Beam would have been confiscated on the way into the hockey stadium): there was the alcohol in the plastic cups and there were the cheerleaders.* (They tried, bless their hearts, but I think I need to slip a copy of Bring it On into their warm-up gear at the next game.)

Small Boy was much taken with the tackling (to my credit I did at least see that coming) and after watching the game for about ten minutes he wanted to play. I play plenty of games with the boys that I’d really sort of rather not: I’ve logged a lot of hours in lawn hockey in all sorts of weather and I’ve gone “hunting” with bows and arrows, I’ll wrestle on the floor and pretend to be a dragon, but I draw the line at being tackled in the grass while wearing my only pair of jeans that doesn’t already have a hole in them as a result of all the aforementioned activities. I convinced Small Boy to play touch football with me, but he got bored with that pretty fast and he really wanted some tackling. I saw some boys playing further down the field and suggested to Small Boy that he see if he can play with them.

Bless him, and I don’t know where he gets this from because it sure doesn’t come from me, he walked right up to those boys and asked “Darf ig ou mit?” – can I play too? They said yeah, sure! (and I know it could have ended badly with a No) and the three of them spent the next 45 minutes throwing each other down on the grass (it seemed pretty no-holds barred stuff, too), chasing each other around, and playing some sort of game with knees and feet that from a distance looked a bit like “Let’s see who can break whose leg first.” They had a blast. 

Boys. I know by writing that I’m invoking all sorts of gender stereotypes and inviting comment on my invocation thereof (and comments are open as always), but seriously: boys. No, not every boy wrestles and I know some seriously dare-devil girls, but the more I watch the Small Boy with his peers, the more I watch him rough-house with his uncle and ask his grandfather to make him a bow and arrow, the more I find myself thinking about boy energy and how different it can be and how I don’t always know what to do with it, how very much these boys take me places I never imagined.

What do you think? Is there a “boy-energy,” am I gender-stereotyping, or is there a little bit of both going on? And what do you do when your kids’ favorite thing to do/play/read/watch (Thomas the Train, anyone?) makes your teeth itch?

* Okay, our hockey team has cheerleaders too.