I have always loved football. When I was a young boy, I wore replica jerseys with my name on the back, ironed-on by my mom. My room was a shrine to the game. NFL sheets and curtains. Helmets and footballs. Trading cards and posters. I never played organized football, except for one season of flag football, but I played in pick-up games with my neighborhood friends every chance I got. I also thoroughly enjoyed using my younger brother as a tackling dummy whenever I could.
My mother encouraged my love of the game. She grew up near San Francisco and was a life-long 49rs fan. When Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott were dominating pro football, my Mom would drape herself in the Scarlet and Gold and cheer her Niners to victory from our land-locked Missouri home. I’m convinced that the primary reason my mother went into the car business is because dealerships in Missouri are, by law, closed on Sundays—allowing her to watch her beloved football games.
My dad and I spent many Friday nights in the press box at Hannibal High School where he let me help him operate the scoreboard at Pirate football games. Decades later, I would end up in the Southern Boone press box announcing Eagles games—a couple of which Dad got to witness first-hand while watching his grandson Alex play on the offensive line.
Watching my son play tackle football from third grade through middle school was a source of pride, frustration, and concern. I was proud of Alex for taking on the challenge of playing such a physically and mentally demanding sport. However, I will admit that at times I became frustrated with his antics on the practice field. I became one of those helicopter dads who yelled at his kid from the sidelines. Eventually, I realized that I was embarrassing my son and myself, and I wisely shut up and let Alex’s capable coaches do their jobs.
When Alex decided not to continue his playing career in high school, I was not disappointed. Although I loved watching him and his teammates play, I was always worried about someone getting hurt. Luckily, Alex never sustained any injuries worse than a sprained ankle, although several of his teammates suffered broken bones, torn ligaments, and concussions.
The concussions are, of course, the scariest aspect of the game. Football is a brutal and violent sport. Players smash head-first into one another on every play. Despite new rules meant to curtail helmet-to-helmet contact, serious brain injuries continue to plague participants in all levels of football. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma to the brain—including blows to the head experienced by football players. Symptoms of CTE include disorientation, confusion, memory loss, dizziness, poor judgement, dementia, impeded speech, tremors, slowed muscular movements, deafness, and a decreased ability to concentrate. Sufferers often experience psychotic disturbances, erratic behavior, social instability, and suicidal thoughts or actions. There is no cure for CTE.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2017, CTE was diagnosed in the brains of 110 out of 111 deceased former NFL players. The disease was detected in 48 of the 53 former college players in the study and 3 of the 14 high school players as well. Out of 202 former football players’ brains studied in all, 177 were diagnosed with CTE.
I started to become aware of the impact CTE has on football players when my son was still playing the game. I shoved those worries into the dark recesses of my mind because of my love for the sport. Even after Alex’s playing days were over, I continued to support his former teammates by announcing their home games and pulling for each of them as I would my own son.
However, because of my growing concerns about player safety, I feel it is time for me to step away from football, the game I have loved for my entire life.
It has been an honor to call myself “The Voice of the Eagles” for the last several years, and I would be remiss if I failed to thank athletic director Pat Lacy for giving me the opportunity. I’ve had a lot of fun sharing the booth with Pat and my other partners in crime, John Petralia and Price Nichols. As the public address announcer for Southern Boone, I’ve had a bird’s-eye-view of some of the most successful seasons and biggest moments in school history. I will treasure those memories forever.
I have many treasured memories of football, including those of staying up late to watch Monday Night Football with my parents when I was a young boy. On those occasions, my mom never uttered the words, “Go to bed.” Instead, when announcer “Dandy” Don Meredith sang the Willie Nelson song “The Party’s Over” as the game clock expired, Mom would simply sing along, and I would retire for the evening.
The lyrics seem appropriate now as I retire from announcing football games: Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
They say that, ‘All good things must end’…