TIME society

See the Sweet Way a Straight Teen Asked His Gay BFF to Prom

A heartwarming 'promposal'

The Internet is buzzing about Jacob Lescenski of Las Vegas Desert Oasis High School, who asked his gay best friend and Student Council president Anthony Martinez to prom in front of the whole school.

Here is a photo of how he asked, which has racked up thousands of retweets and favorites:

‘Tis the season for “promposals,” in which high schoolers ask each other to prom in elaborate ways, from the massively successful stunts shown on Jumbotrons in sports arenas to the massive fails like fake bomb threats that lead to week-long suspensions.

(h/t Logo)

TIME society

Student Suspended After Wearing Fake Bomb During Promposal

He will not be attending the event

A Washington state high school suspended a senior for five days Wednesday because he asked a girl to Saturday’s prom while wearing a belt with fake explosives, The Columbian reports.

In the cafeteria of La Center High School north of Vancouver, Wash., Ibrahim Ahmad, 18, stuffed the pockets of the paintball vest around his waist with red tubes and wires and held up a sign that read “I kno it’s A little Late, But I’m kinda…THE BOMB! Rilea, Will U Be My Date To Prom?”

Ahmad, who won’t be going to prom, told The Columbian, “In ‘promposals,’ you’re supposed to go big.”

School superintendent Mark Mansell told the newspaper the suspension was appropriate because “I want all my kids to feel safe.”

TIME society

Watch This 102-Year-Old as She Looks at Old Footage of Herself as a Young Jazz Dancer

This is beautiful and amazing

Alice Barker, now age 102, was a chorus-line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s and ’40s and danced with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

She danced in many movies, commercials and TV shows but had never seen herself on film.

With the help of Mark Cantor of Jazz Film and David Shuff, researchers managed to dig up three “soundies” — the music videos of the day — that Barker appeared in and were able to go to her nursing home and show her the incredible footage for the very first time.

“It makes me wish I could get out of this bed and do it all over again,” she says.

Read next: Queen Elizabeth Turns 89 As She Awaits Fifth Great-Grandchild

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Allow This Man to Remind You That People Can Be Surprisingly Generous

Sometimes New Yorkers are completely selfless

Two years ago, a woman posted a touching video of an emotional moment on the New York City subway. Now, after being posted on Reddit, the clip is making its way around the Internet once again.

It shows a woman selling roses on the 6 train for $1 each. A man begins to inquire about buying in bulk and offers to pay $140 for the entire bunch. Instead of taking the flowers with him, though, he tells her to do him a favor and just hand them out for free. The vendor agrees and then the anonymous man gets off the train and disappears. Then the woman bursts into tears.

“[I think] she started crying from the relief of someone actually being generous,” Maria Lopez, the bystander who filmed the exchange, told the Huffington Post. “This one little gesture of humanity is so huge. It’s a testament to the lack of love and lack of generosity in the world. I think people are yearning for that.”

 

 

TIME Education

Why Student Athletes Continue To Fail

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The problem’s not the NCAA. It’s players’ expectations of their peers

Seventy-four college underclassmen have been declared eligible for the NFL’s upcoming draft, but Ohio State’s quarterback Cardale Jones won’t be among them. A few days after winning the national championship game in January, Jones shocked fans and football analysts by saying he wasn’t ready to go pro, that it was important for him to graduate from college first. What made the announcement all the more surprising, beyond the fact that Jones may never again be as desirable an NFL prospect as he is the year he won a national championship, was that his previous claim to fame was a notorious tweet posted two years ago in which he complained about the “college” part of being a college football player. He wrote that he’d gone to Ohio State to play football, not “to play school,” and that classes were pointless.

Jones now regrets and disavows that tweet. Earlier this month, he was tweeting that nothing is more important than education, under the hashtag “StudentBeforeAthlete.” It’s hard to know how sincere his attitude adjustment has been, or how sincere his initial dismissal of academics was. What is clear is that Jones and his conversion represent a messaging coup for his university and for the NCAA, which has maintained for decades that its primary goal is to help scholar-athletes receive an education that would prepare them for life beyond sports.

Despite the NCAA’s insistence that it is concerned about student athletes’ academic growth, it often feels as though “student” plays second fiddle to “athlete.” Indeed, on a typical day, a visitor to the NCAA homepage will be overwhelmed by the articles (and videos) about athletics but will not find a single article (or video) about the academic achievements of the athletes.

This also seems to hold true for many of the NCAA’s member schools. The University of North Carolina and Syracuse are just two of the most recent universities to be under the spotlight for academic scandals involving student athletes. UNC offered a “no show” class for student athletes (where students received grades for phantom classes that they didn’t attend), and Syracuse allowed academically ineligible athletes to compete. And while these cases are the ones currently grabbing headlines, they are hardly unique; The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that 20 additional schools are being investigated for academic fraud.

And what about the student athletes themselves? Student-athletes tend to take easier classes and get lower grades than non-athletes. This is not only true for schools from power conferences in big-money sports, it has been observed in Division III liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, neither of which even offer athletic scholarships.

It’s tempting to believe that student athletes care only about their sport, and not about their schoolwork, as many popular commentators have suggested – and as Ohio State’s Jones once tweeted — except that in the dozen years that I’ve been teaching in university settings, that hasn’t been my experience at all. I’ve taught hundreds of Division 1 student athletes at several different schools, and they have been among the hardest working students I’ve encountered. The student athletes I’ve worked with have viewed their sport as a complement to, not a replacement for, their studies.

My observations were hardly unique. One of my students, Josh Levine, ran a youth hockey clinic and was upset by the widespread perception that the students he worked with did not care about school. After several conversations about the issue, we decided that the only way to find out the truth was to run a study. And so we did, surveying 147 student athletes (including some still in high school) involved in various team sports from football and basketball to lacrosse and golf about how much both they and their teammates cared about sports and academics.”

Here’s what we found: When student athletes were asked how much they care about athletics, they rated their interest a healthy 8.5 on average, on a scale of 1 to 10. But when asked the value they place on academics, the result was higher than 9 on average. If anything, the average student athlete cares more about his studies than his sport. #StudentBeforeAthlete indeed.

So why do they underperform in their classes?

One possible and intriguing reason suggested by our study is that student athletes don’t think their teammates take academics as seriously as they do. When asked to assess how much their teammates cared about athletics, the athletes were close, guessing 8.8. However, when asked to evaluate how much their teammates cared about academics, those same athletes guessed only 7.8 – far below the 9+ average.

Why is this important? Because when an athlete thinks that the rest of the team doesn’t care about academics, that athlete tries to fit in by pretending not to care either. In a perverse form of peer pressure, Cardale Jones’s tweet about classes being worthless may be what student athletes tell each other in an effort to fit in, based on the mistaken belief that if they care about academics, they are in an uncool minority.

All of this creates a distressing and self-perpetuating cycle. Tight-knit student athletes will seek ways of fitting into a culture that they perceive as neglecting academics (by defaulting into majors of dubious merit and spending less time doing homework), knowing that their habits are observed by teammates. When their teammates observe those habits, it reaffirms the (false) conviction that caring about academics is an unfortunate aberration, best suppressed.

One of my co-authors on this project, Sara Etchison, has described this process particularly well: “There are student athletes who want to excel in the classroom, but think their teammates would judge them for it, so they study a little less, or take an easier major. And it turns out, that’s how virtually everyone on the team feels, but there’s never an opportunity to realize, ‘Oh wait, all of us really care about what’s happening on the academic side.’”

This is a phenomenon that psychologists call “pluralistic ignorance” – when private preferences differ from perceptions of group norms. It leads people to engage in public behaviors that align more with the perceived norms than with their true preferences. The tragedy is that the norms are false – in reality, everybody would be happier if they just behaved in line with their true preferences.

Pluralistic ignorance has also been shown to underlie the phenomenon of binge-drinking on campuses. A study conducted at Princeton University revealed that a majority of students who drink excessively did so not because they wanted to, but because they felt that was what their friends wanted to do. Once they all had a more accurate assessment of what the group norm was, the amount of alcohol consumed declined.

This suggests that helping student athletes do better in the classroom may be as simple as letting them know that their teammates care as much about academics as they do. Many of them care deeply about the education they are receiving, and should care, because financial success in professional sports will elude the vast majority of them.

As the NCAA and the media focus more attention on athletes’ academic performance, one of the best ways to improve the education of student athletes is to give them license to pursue their academic goals by making it clear that their teammates, and society as a whole, support them in their academic endeavors. For this to happen, we will need many more stars like Cardale Jones speaking out about the importance of education, instead of tweeting about the pointlessness of going to class.

Daniel Oppenheimer is a professor of psychology and marketing at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed journals, and several books, including Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System that Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well. In addition to numerous awards for his teaching and research, he won the 2006 Ig Nobel science humor award. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Maybe We Should Negotiate With Terrorists

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How should the United States act during hostage situations?

In November of last year, news broke of President Obama’s order to conduct a comprehensive review of how the U.S. government handles hostage situations involving Americans taken by terrorist groups abroad. The policy review, which is still underway, launched in the midst of frustration and criticism from the families of American hostages—some of whom ISIS held and murdered—over the government’s response to the plight of their loved ones. After the horrific deaths of (among others) journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and human rights activist Kayla Mueller, critics have pointed to the fact that several other—mostly European—hostages were recovered from ISIS after officials paid ransoms for their safe return.

“Kidnapping has been on all of our minds since the terrible events perpetrated by ISIS,” said Gary Noesner at a recent discussion of U.S. hostage policy at New America, “but it’s a crime that’s been around quite a long time.” Noesner, former chief of the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit and author of Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Negotiator, has helped deal with over 120 overseas kidnapping cases involving terrorist groups from South America to the Middle East—including the cases of the U.S. defense contractors held by Colombian FARC fighters and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Noesner pulls no punches with where he stands on negotiating with hostage-takers, even when they’re terrorists, and rejects the idea that negotiation implies “capitulation or acquiescence.” In fact, given that military rescue presents the highest risk of death for the captive, “I’m a big believer in negotiations…Negotiation– although for some it has become a dirty word—means dialogue. It allows us to gather information, buy time, develop other options and resources and sometimes actually resolve…the situation,” he observed.

“There’s an interesting distinction” that the U.S. government makes, said New America International Security Program Director Peter Bergen, who moderated the discussion and has worked extensively in countries where high-profile abductions have occurred. “They say ‘we will negotiate, but we won’t make concessions,’ which I think is largely a distinction without a difference, because what negotiation begins with the idea we’re not going to give you anything? That doesn’t seem like much of a negotiating position.”

If he were making recommendations to the President about how to change government policy, Noesner said, he would suggest tamping down the rhetoric of “no negotiation with terrorists” and supporting (with information and resources) the efforts of families and companies to negotiate. Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, an American journalist who has been missing in Syria since 2012, agreed with Noesner’s assessment. “We should not let our desire to punish terrorist kidnappers cloud our judgment and restrict our options,” Tice declared.

“I am known as the mother of a hostage,” she said, whose life is now defined by “determining who is holding my son and how to bring him safely home.” Tice and her husband have worked tirelessly since 2012 with American and foreign governments, journalists, and groups like Reporters Without Borders in their quest to recover Austin safely. And yet, said Tice, until news of the President’s hostage policy review became public in November, she and her family were completely unaware that such a policy even existed.

“Though it has informed every moment of our lives for the past 966 days,” Tice marveled, “we still have never seen this policy, because it is a classified presidential directive and we do not have clearance.” She cited a senior government official (who also reportedly threatened family members with prosecution if they negotiated with and paid a ransom to ISIS) who told them that getting the necessary security clearance to review the policy and get further information about their son would cost over $100,000 and take more than 15 months. “What we have not been able to overcome are the twin obstacles of protocol and culture” within the government.

More than anything else, said Tice, “every hostage situation is unique” and requires “a desire to be creative, a desire to be flexible,” when determining courses of action. She believes such an outcome can only occur if the President creates an entirely new policy that allows for a “thoughtful and measured response” on a case-by-case basis. Drawing upon the knowledge gathered during her family’s ordeal, Tice recommended that any new policy require the President to designate a “single point of accountability,” such as an interagency hostage recovery coordinator, whose “singular mission [is] securing the soonest and safest return of the hostage.”

Tice’s suggestion seemed to resonate with Barak Barfi, a journalist and New America research fellow who served as spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff. Barfi noted that he had seen firsthand how bureaucracy and a “lack of cultural understanding” about the region became barriers to forward progress in Sotloff’s case. Barfi also spoke to the role of intermediaries in hostage situation, which Noesner emphasized is “very critical particularly when we’re talking about the jihadi groups.” Barfi, who acted as a go-between for the Sotloff family, was acutely aware that as a journalist, he lacked the access and relationships that an intermediary from the intelligence community might bring to the table.

Journalists do, however, play pivotal roles in bringing information to light in exactly the places where Americans are most likely to fall victim to kidnapping– the “dysfunctional countries” (as Noesner called them) where violence and chaos are a daily reality. “By definition, journalists [like NGO and aid personnel] are going to be in dangerous places,” noted Bergen. So how should we address the commonly-held but controversial view that Americans like Austin Tice who travel to risky parts of the world like Syria should somehow have expected what happened to them?

Tice quietly acknowledged that she receives emails to that effect: “Free country, your son made a choice, not my problem.” Noesner categorically dismissed this view, pointing out no matter what may have precipitated the kidnapping, all Americans—from a drunk businessman to a deserting soldier—deserve their government’s best efforts to get them out, even if they face prosecution or consequences after their safe return.

In describing Austin and his decision to travel to Syria, Debra Tice said of her son, a former Marine and law student: he has “always been interested in the big wide world.” Barfi squeezed her hand as he described Austin’s efforts to provide “very crucial information” during an important time of upheaval in Syria in 2012. Because the U.S. intelligence community did not have appropriate assets in place, said Barfi, “it was people like Austin who were getting that [information]. He was doing a great service to his country and we have to do everything we can to get him out.”

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine,The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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See Lucasfilm’s Sweet Letter to a 7-Year-Old Boy Who Wants to Marry as a Jedi

Young Colin Gilpatric, who has autism, wrote the studio with a very specific question

For most Star Wars fans, the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the highlight of their week. But one Star Wars fan is more excited about the letter he received from Lucasfilm.

Colin Gilpatric and his mother Peggy wrote a letter to the film company saying he wants to become a Jedi Knight, but “I want to get married without becoming a Sith. Please change the rule.”

Lucasfilm said yes, in the voice of a Jedi. Here’s the full response:

The letter was cited in a New York Times article to show how Lucasfilm takes the time to personalize letters as part of a larger story about how the studio engages with fans, from the biennial gathering “Star Wars Celebration” to promoting exclusive information on its social networks.

TIME society

My Lawn Is Worse Than Yours

Gardeners remove grass plants trimmed ahead of planned watering reductions in Beverly Hills, Calif. on April 8, 2015.
Damian Dovarganes—AP Gardeners remove grass plants trimmed ahead of planned watering reductions in Beverly Hills, Calif. on April 8, 2015.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

What's a Southern California homeowner to do with high water bills, a historic drought, and no consensus on what to plant instead?

Forgive me for bragging, but my front lawn looks a lot worse than yours.

As the drought deepens and the state water board revises its plans for mandatory restrictions this week, California’s lawn culture has flipped, dirt-side up. With outdoor watering being called a society-threatening scourge, your local community pillars, once celebrated for lawns and gardens even greener than their money, run the risk of becoming social outcasts.

On the other side of this flip is your columnist, who is allergic to lawn watering and pretty much all other forms of lawn maintenance. Now, at the dawn of this new and drier California era, I find that I have become—quite unexpectedly and unintentionally—fashionable. Not to mention an accidental avatar of civic virtue. It used to be that if you didn’t keep your lawn a pristine green, you didn’t care. Now, you don’t care if you do.

“More and more people want to move away from having to spend weekends mowing lawns,” Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips told KQED recently, thus heralding my own allergy to lawn care as socially progressive. She also said: “It’s sort of a learning moment for all of us.”

And not just because we hate thinking of water as finite, but also because of the fervent devotion so many Californians have to beauty and design. I hope my own story can serve as beacon, parable, and perhaps comfort to those who may be wondering whether life can go on when their green grass turns to dust.

When my wife and I bought our home in South Pasadena nearly four years ago, schools for our little kids—not lawns or drought—were on our minds. The house itself was, and remains, a mess. But we also inherited several lovely fruit-giving trees and an unpretentious Bermuda grass front yard served by an automatic sprinkler system. For our part, we put in grass behind the house where a collapsing garden shed had stood.

Then came the water bills—they were shockingly high, nearly $200 monthly. We cut back on watering to twice a week. We installed low-flow toilets and a new washing machine. But the bills stayed high. The problem, as it turned out, was our small city, which had neglected to update its aging water infrastructure for decades. To replace that failing infrastructure, the city has increased rates more than 170 percent over the past seven years.

So at about this time last year, I stopped watering altogether.

Money was the biggest motivator. Lack of time was another—with three kids and a demanding job, lawn care was never going to be a priority. The drought provided a justification for a shut-off. And my own travels through this water-stressed state, particularly in the Delta and the San Joaquin Valley, reinforced my determination to avoid watering my Southern California lawn.

As a descendant of Okies, I was prepared for the outside to go full Dust Bowl, but that didn’t happen. In back, the new lawn has survived just fine, with some bare patches. (To keep trees alive, I’ve given them bath water). In front, the changes have been dramatic. On the south side of the lawn, the grass still grows, still green, protected by shade from a neighbor’s trees and a magnolia on the street. But the sunbaked north half slowly turned yellow, before giving way to dirt patches. Weeds—some carrying beautiful yellow flowers, some with nasty stickers that hurt my hands when I pull them—have gotten a foothold. Relatives and neighbors agree: My lawn looks awful.

At first, I felt guilty. But that didn’t last. Two people across the street sold homes for well over their asking prices, so clearly my lawn wasn’t hurting property values. My 6-year-old, who has deeply absorbed all the water conservation messages in the California media, began taking note of all the homeowners with sprinklers pouring water onto sidewalks and streets on his short walk to kindergarten; I didn’t want to turn the water back on and risk his wrath. And my bills have come down, though they still remain high by the standards of many Californians—about $70 a month.

Now, with the full force of the State Water Resources Control Board and Gov. Brown’s mandatory 25 percent reduction behind me, I feel pride when I look at what’s outside my front door. When the state disclosed that my city had some of the highest water use rates in the state, and would be required to cut down by 35 percent, my pride swelled into moral superiority. Some of us need an intervention, but not in my household.

Yes, I can hear the horrified screams of the gardeners and the horticulturists and the homeowners associations and the good neighbors across our state: Not watering at all is not an answer! You can’t just let your lawn become an eyesore! I know. I know. The change in lawn culture will require more from me.

But what exactly is required? And how on earth am I supposed to balance my responsibilities to my neighbors, the state water supply, the environment, and the family pocketbook?

After a couple of months of investigating the possibilities, I have no clear answers to those questions.

Official and expert opinions contradict themselves. Many water agencies want to pay Californians to take out their turf and replace it with drought-resistant landscaping, which sounds good. Except that the reimbursement rates cover only a fraction of the cost. And if you do what’s most responsible and aesthetically pleasing, it could run $20,000 for even a small lawn like mine, which is about $19,500 more than I can afford to spend on this.

There are some very cheap options, but those typically replace your lawn with unsightly landscaping and hard surfaces that can add to the “heat island” effect of cities. To confuse things further, some experts argue that the right kind of grass, maintained with very low levels of water, can be better for the environment than some drought-resistant landscaping.

Reading the fervent and contradictory advice, one can see that the arguments during this shift in lawn culture will be as much about ideals of beauty and neighborhood as about water. That’s fine, but for the legions of us who don’t care about looks and don’t have time, the water worthies need to get their stories straight and give clear guidance. How do I—cheaply—keep the front of my house presentable and water-wise?

If no answer is forthcoming, I’m perfectly happy to keep the water off. Let others bemoan the eyesore I’ve created. I’ll be celebrating my civic-mindedness.

Joe Mathews wrote this Connecting California column for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square.

Read next: California Could Become a ‘Dust Bowl’ Like 1930s Oklahoma

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TIME society

Why I Quit High School Football

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

We need to realize the game’s dangerous potential and make changes to an ultra-competitive culture

I wore football pads, real pads, like the pros wear, for the first time when I was 12 years old, walking out onto the practice field at the start of my seventh grade season, moms and dads cheering the entire team on before we ran our first wind sprint. I felt so much anticipation before heading out on to that field. I made sure the foam guards fit snug around my knees and thighs and that the contraption wrapped around my shoulders and chest wouldn’t give. I saw the world through a facemask when I put my helmet on, something I’d only experienced through toy helmets up to that point in my life.

All I could think about was how I had waited my whole life for this. I could feel the glory of doing something big, making some catch or tackle in a varsity game in the years to come. I had no idea that I’d be done with football only four years later, that I’d leave the game by my own choice before I finished high school. I quit organized ball my sophomore year without giving any reasons to my coaches or ever really coming up with one for myself.

It wasn’t until the weeks leading up to my graduation from college in 2012 that I found my reason, something I think I knew all along. One of my favorite players, one of the most energetic and enthusiastic linebackers of all time, Junior Seau, was found dead after taking his own life. It sparked a national conversation about the physical toll the game takes on players, especially on professional players who dedicate years to what is potentially killing them. For me, it was a realization of how much I hated the pain everyone experiences playing. Of course, Seau experienced a lot more pain than I ever did. Tests revealed he suffered from CTE, a type of chronic brain damage that was later found in many other players, most likely caused by repetitive hits to the head. But I was finally honest with myself. I quit playing football all those years before because I was afraid of getting hurt. I couldn’t tell anyone at the time, including myself, because of the stigma against quitters, against those who couldn’t take the pain required to play, especially in the conservative part of rural Minnesota where I grew up. There’s so much ritual, so much rite of passage associated with playing junior high and high school football, that quitting is almost akin to leaving a cult.

With how important football is to my family, I remained a loyal fan of both my college and professional teams, but I never played another down. In a family ingrained with football culture, that is especially difficult. My father loves to tell stories about the game. From watching his favorite team, the Browns, as a kid growing up in Ohio to attending some of the greatest games in the Orange Bowl when he moved to South Florida as an adult. Even more, he loves telling stories from his days playing.

My older brother, who also quit before he finished high school, likes to talk about the time he broke the leg of the coach’s son in a tackling drill during a summer practice his final season. Though he’s in his thirties now, I can see whenever he tells it that the story still carries a sense of achievement for him.

These two men taught me the game, my father who threw me routes in our back yard, who told me to always come down with the ball whenever it was thrown too high, even if it meant a terrifying hit from a defender. And my brother, who chased me all through the house, picked me up, and threw me down wherever he could, always trying to hit me hardest so I’d be ready for the real thing someday.

Yet I have no football stories to tell, at least no stories of personal glory, no big games that I helped win or hard hits I put on other players. The only memories I really have of the game are times I felt terrible pain, times I really questioned why I even played at all.

The first time was eighth grade, in a game we lost by some large margin, which was how most of our games turned out. I ran with the ball towards the sideline when an opposing player dove and caught my shoulder pads at the back just below the neck, what’s known as a “horse collar” tackle. My full sprint stopped immediately, shoulder pads pulled up to my throat, the full weight of the player cutting off the air in my windpipe.

When I popped up in front of my coach, gasping for air, eyes already watering from the sudden pain, he knew immediately that I wanted to sit out the next few plays.

Frustrated by the score, maybe misreading how hurt I actually was, he yelled, “Fine! Get on the bench!”

I walked over, gasping, trying to breathe through thick mucus that had suddenly formed in my throat, what I thought was blood. I started to cry. To this day, I can’t remember if I played again in that game. I do remember an odd wheeze in my throat for a week or so after.

Still, I pressed on for two more years, that dream of playing in a big game taking me back to the first practice each summer, until another incident when I was a player on the junior varsity. It happened during tackling drills we ran as a team with the older juniors and seniors. In one line was the offense that, one by one, picked up a ball and sprinted over three tackling dummies before trying to avoid a single defender on the other end. The defense, in the other line, took turns popping up off their backs after the whistle, trying to tackle the guy coming at them with the ball.

Somehow I paired up with one of the biggest defensive seniors on the team. He was, I remember, always a nice enough guy outside of football, but turned agitated and mean with the excitement of the drill. After the coach blew the whistle, I only made it to the last dummy. Trying to take the last step over, I caught this senior’s shoulder pad in mid air just above the chest. My helmet popped half off, the chin guard caught on my throat. The world went black for a second and, once I staggered to my feet, I “saw stars” for the first time in my life. Head ringing, I stumbled back to the end of the line. For what it’s worth, the coach complemented my bravery getting back up.

A year later, I tried to forget the whole thing as I sat at home alone while another round of summer practices started a new season. I never wanted to feel pain like that again.

Reflecting on this aspect of my past after Seau’s death and the national discussion on head trauma that followed made me realize that I am part of the last generation to play football before its serious injuries, especially head injuries, were ever a consideration. Between 2010 and 2012, years that coincide with what many consider to be the “concussion crisis” in the NFL, participation in the youth football program Pop Warner dropped 9.5 percent, according to ESPN. I graduated high school in 2007. As someone who really does love the game, it’s difficult to see the number of young players entering high school drop across the country. It’s even more difficult to know I was one of them.

But if the game is going to survive, it’s important to realize that people like me do have stories to tell, just not the ones of glory and triumph. It’s not to make accommodations for weaker players, but to realize the game’s dangerous potential and make changes to an ultra-competitive culture that desperately needs it.

I don’t think you can ever make football entirely safe. I don’t think you ever need to. But a game isn’t enjoyable when it becomes something more than a game, especially something that leaves so much destruction and defeat behind.

Rian Bosse is a graduate student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He no longer plays the game, but he enjoys watching and rooting on the Minnesota Vikings. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME viral

Google Doodle Celebrates the Pony Express With a Game

There once was a time before Gmail

Before there was Gmail to deliver our messages, there was pen and paper. And before that, at least in the United States in the 1800s, there were ponies.

In honor of the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express on Tuesday, Google created an animated Doodle game that commemorates the mail delivery service. If Googlers click on the Wild West-themed Doodle, they can help a pony deliver mail across America. (Just watch out for cacti).

In the video above, animator Nate Swinehart explains the history of the Pony Express and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the Doodle process.

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