After watching two examples of extreme unnecessary roughness that appeared to risk permanent injury to two kids at a high school football game last night, I finally decided it was time to write a post about football and what it means to public works. Because our field is still very dependent on physical labor, it probably isn’t a surprise that many employees in the public works field played high school football. Although, I had never really thought about what this would mean until I got into management. Many of the things we do can, at times, require significant physical dexterity, exertion, and strength. And when you become a supervisor you try to monitor your staff to be sure their condition is up to any task they are assigned to make sure they are safe and will not be injured. This is why it’s a good idea to take any issues a person is having with their back, joints, or other body parts into consideration when assigning job duties. But, of course, part of the requirement for most public works jobs is to be able to continuously and regularly perform physically demanding tasks. So it becomes a balance of the employee trying to do what they can medically to remain in shape and the employer working with them as much as possible to accommodate them when they are experiencing a problem and need to recover.
While some ailments can show up as a natural part of aging, what I started to notice was that starting mainly in their 40s, the employees who played football in high school seemed to regularly have major problems with their backs, necks, joints, or other parts of their body. Over the years I heard many conversations between guys on our staff or guys out on construction in which they attributed specific problems they had to high school football – sometimes even to specific football injuries they remembered. Based on their stories, it also seemed their pain impacted not only their ability to work, but also their personal life on a regular and on-going basis. The pain and problems it caused seemed so bad for some, I had to wonder if they ever thought it was worth it. If they could go back knowing the end result, would they choose to spend a few years as a teenager playing a game and then pay the price for 20 to 40 years with regular and constant pain and challenges in completing everyday tasks? I realize when we are teenagers, it is very difficult to understand or even care about how we will feel when we are middle aged or older. And unfortunately our country embraces football like a religion so I doubt we will ever get to the point of actively warning kids about the permanent damage they can experience. But as a mother, it is definitely something I would not want or encourage for my child. I also know of other mothers whose children have been actively and regularly asked by coaches to participate in football because of their size and build, and those other families also chose to avoid the risk.
Again, because it is almost sacrilege in the U.S. to suggest anything negative about football, I have never really discussed my observations with others in the field. Nor have I seen anything in our industry literature about it. So I’d be interested in hearing from others if they have had similar observations or if they have a completely opposite outlook on this. I also wonder if people who are in non-physically demanding jobs who played high school football also suffer in the same manner as they age.