Insert Foot: Yes, kids need sports, so let them play—the right way

Let Them Play, softball, Insert Foot

Insert Foot vs. “Let Them Play.”

I involuntarily cringe every time I see something on social media about the “Let Them Play” movement.

It seems we’ve become big-picture immune. Perhaps not enough people know someone dead from COVID. Suffering is somehow still an abstract notion that’s someone’s else’s problem.

Kids do need to play. They also need to be alive, as do their families.

We all need to play: music, sports, whatever. This isn’t an age-specific thing. I need to hit drums, or something. I was so frustrated the other night, I spontaneously announced on social media that when this stupid pandemic lifts, I’m immediately starting 30 or 40 bands. I was obviously panicking and probably trying to rustle up some interest in playing music. Not having a social life sucks. Not being involved sucks, especially for my 12-year-old who missed last softball season and her 18-year-old sister who didn’t get to play her last season of competitive softball.

Sure, she could still play softball … but she’s since discovered punk rock bass. So it’s just as upsetting to think she’s not out getting ridiculous haircuts, piercings and tattoos before getting spit on at shows and bruising herself while stage-diving. The year a budding musician turns 18 is usually a year of making lifelong memories with lifelong friends in clubs, parties, rehearsal … generally anywhere one can get away with acting like they’re in a band. Though I’m pretty sure we should all be OK with doing without the punk rock spitting, post-corona.

But she’ll be OK. All of us can be OK. We just have to proceed with the right amount of respect—and fear—of something awful.

High school football is a big part of life in this part of the East Bay. De La Salle has a long legacy of producing college and pro stars (and movies about them). I don’t worry about De La Salle football coach Justin Alumbaugh and the South Bay’s Serra High’s coach Patrick Walsh keeping their players safe.

Both are spearheading the movement inspiring people around the Bay Area to show up this week en masse to rally for letting kids play sports in 2021. Both have sterling reputations as responsible molders of young people.

It’s the clueless who scare me. And the ones who are pushing sports right now for themselves instead of the kids. Because I don’t care if bored adults have nothing better to do. Learn to read.

I worry about the coach who tries fighting another coach after a game because of an imagined slight to their 8-year-old daughter she didn’t even notice.

I worry about the coach who leaves his kid in tears because she didn’t pitch well.

I worry about coaches who worry about what college will give their 13-year-old a scholarship.

I worry about coaches who can’t see the value of fun and character building over their kid’s stats and playing time.

I worry that adults with cabin fever forget that the same breeze carrying the smell of freshly cut grass making us long for baseball can also infect kids with a murderous, once-a-century virus.

If this is going to happen correctly, it’s going to take real care and more thought than goes into telling a kid how to hit with two strikes. Corners can’t be cut  anywhere. This is a great year to act like responsible adults with grown-up priorities, even for those not quite grown up and don’t have kids. Start practicing, because you never know. Once the adult stuff starts, it can be tough to cram that genie back into its 40-ounce bottle.

Sports obviously have tremendous value at any age, but especially for kids relentlessly tempted to glue their eyes to a screen until we can legally force them get jobs. Same for those of us who have to have jobs. Sports bond people for life. Sports bridge generational chasms. They give hope, optimism … if you build it, they will come because we always had baseball, Ray…

But 10 months ago, coronavirus shut our entire 2020 softball season without one game. It’s only worse now. Morgues are running out of space for the bodies. And parents are showing up in numbers to scream about sports.

I get it. We need something to look forward to. But after the past year, I’m seriously struggling with trusting people to do the right thing.

Maybe I’m a hypocrite. Last weekend I started throwing with my 12-year-old budding softball star, whom we’ll call Lucy, because that’s her name. I noticed Lucy has grown. Her arm is stronger. I remembered how she was absolutely tattooing the ball before last season got called. She was an all-star the previous year, so her dad and his own crushed dreams of glory was happily envisioning someone with “Hicks” across her back launching moonshots all over the county.

I spent part of my Friday night on a Zoom clinic for coaches, trying to remember everything I forgot about putting bat to ball. I also have some denial at work. I get it. I so want the season to start and reestablish one of the spaces Lucy and I share, no matter how much her flawed, middle-aged dad doesn’t understand anything else she talks about.

But those cheering people need to wear their masks and keep their distance. Or I’m taking my kid and going home. We all should.

The virus is no game, and yet people are complaining they can’t play. The slogan needs an extra word.

“Let Them Play Safely.”

Or go home.

People have an odd disconnect between one death being important while thousands become too much for our brains to handle. We probably began 2021 with PTSD and its just easier to focus on a dirty dish or a smudge on the bathroom mirror. Anything more is just too much.

Fine. We’re going to play ball. Let’s please be safe. And if we can’t, we shouldn’t. Until we can. Because it beats not playing because we’re dead.

Follow music critic Tony Hicks at

(1) Comment

  1. Anthony

    Whats Riff magazine? I see they let anyone post articles these days. This was a 20 min stream of consciousness article written at 130am and its evident. Do you support kids playing sports or not? Adults advocating for kids is a bad thing and selfish? You want Lucy to play or you don't? Doesn't everyone of those tweets you posted imply they want to play safely....but they want to play! Like so many others are around the country. The adults telling everyone they cant that any better? At what point do we find reasons we can play.....safely

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