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Steigerwald: Keep America Tough, Let Your Kids Play Hockey



Kids Hockey by Evan Delshaw |

It happened again Saturday night.

I left a kids’ hockey game pissed off. Not by anything that happened in the game but by what I missed out on as a kid. I graduated from high school in 1966. The Penguins showed up in Pittsburgh in 1967. I didn’t know one kid who played hockey. Of course, I didn’t know anybody who played soccer or lacrosse, either, but when I watch kids playing those sports I don’t feel like I missed all that much.

It first hit me when my son started playing hockey about 35 years ago. I would leave his 4:30 a.m. practices thinking about how much I missed and how lucky he was.

I’ve been watching my grandsons for the last 10 years and it bothers me even more, but, as I watched two bantam teams playing at the Mt. Lebanon Ice Arena Saturday night it also occurred to me that there is an opportunity for the people who are trying to grow hockey and get more kids to play.

And it’s because of CTE.

That’s the abbreviation for the brain injury that is scaring parents away from football and terrifying the NFL. had quotes from Bob Costas and Mark Cuban this week saying that they would never allow their sons to play football.

(By the way, the NFL is fortunate that Howard Cosell isn’t around anymore. He would be crusading for the elimination of the sport.)

I can’t decide if the hysteria over CTE is justified or just another example of the wussification of America. But there’s no denying that it’s real and it could be the beginning of the end of football.

I thought of that as I watched the under-15 kids from the Mt.Lebanon Hornets play the Panthers from the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association. There were several hundred people in the stands making lots of noise. The Hornets scored two quick goals to make it 2-0. SHAHA pulled their goaltender and scored six unanswered goals. But it was the pace of the game and how much fun it looked like the kids were having which jumped out at me. Again.

There was plenty of contact and one kid had to be helped off the ice after taking a hit to the head.

Hockey is the Perfect Alternative to Football

There was a time when, because of the danger, anybody who played hockey was considered a little bit crazy. Now, I think it’s become the perfect alternative to football.

CTE apparently is a result of repeated blows to the head that could begin as early as seven or eight years old when kids first put on the pads. There are some violent collisions in hockey and a chance for serious injury, but the odds of suffering serious brain injury would seem to be a lot less than they are for football players.

Football has always been a good sport for character development. It toughens you up. Teaches you the value of teamwork. But, what good is that if it eventually leads to serious mental problems and early death?

Hockey toughens you up, too.

Facing and conquering the challenge of learning to skate may be the best learning experience in sports. Hockey costs a lot more to play but that’s mostly because of the school districts’ refusal to support it the way they support football, basketball, and baseball.

Football became the most popular sport in America for boys because of the speed and the violence. It’s the perfect American game. There is no doubt that, in 2017,  huge numbers of parents are afraid to let their kids play it. Not only because they don’t want to see their sons get hurt but also because of what the neighbors may think.

Yeah, justifiably or not, parents have now been put in the position of defending their decision to let their sons play football. It used to be something to brag about.

The continued popularity of football at all levels proves that boys still like rough sports.

But, if the fear of long-term brain injury persists, parents are going to be looking for an alternative. Let’s just hope it’s not soccer. I doubt that we would have won World War II if soccer had replaced football a hundred years ago.

Lacrosse and even baseball require some degree of toughness and boys need to be toughened up. Basketball is great but only five kids play at a time and the rosters are small. Hockey combines the speed and hitting of football, the movement of basketball and the hand-eye coordination of baseball.

If football’s days are numbered, and I believe they are, let’s keep America tough. Get your kid or your grandkid a pair of skates.

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John has over 40 years experience doing just about everything you can do in Pittsburgh sports, including work at KDKA (TV and Radio), WTAE, the Tribune-Review and many more. Author of Just Watch The Game. Columnist and opinion writer here and at Pittsburgh Sports Now. You can regularly find John on Twitter and Facebook.

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4 years ago

I don’t know if football will end as a sport but hockey is a great sport that a lot of people under estimate. And the hockey playoffs are usually better than footballs.

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