Ok, it’s time to come clean. I’m struggling with something I have to admit I’ve never really had to deal with until now but is something I’ve wondered about with other parents. You know those folks who don’t want their kids playing sports because they might get hurt? I get it now.

This Labor Day weekend we had both our kids playing in a tournament in Denver. Thankfully they both played on the same fields at times that worked for watching both of them play every day instead of having to divide and conquer across the state to make games (topic for another post). So we all went up together in the late summer heat and the haze from late summer wildfires across the US drifting lazily across our state.

They play in two different age groups. One plays high school and one plays U13. So we’re looking at a couple of different levels of play here. The high school aged girls are battle tested and have been playing for a decade or more in some cases. The U13 players are just midway through that span, with anywhere from 5 to 7 years or so.

Some more, some less. I’m not making snap judgments here, just identifying a gap not only in skill level but experience.

Mickey, now 16 going on 17, had her first major ankle sprain a few weeks ago in another tournament. AJ, now 12, has been playing goalie for years and has an array of rough spots, from ankles and knees to shoulders and wrists. They have friends who have had knee surgery, physical therapy, and heaven knows what else.

But let me get back on topic.

My wife plays soccer. Both daughters play soccer. We’ve seen indoor, outdoor, and Futsal (another brand of indoor) in some variety every year since I married my wife and it’s only ramped up since then with both girls playing competitively since they were in kindergarten or so.

Suffice it to say, that’s a lot of soccer. We’ve had many different coaches. Most good. A few bad apples. But usually the games are more about playing hard and doing your best than anything else.

On Saturday I watched that suddenly change and now I’m both furious and terrified.

In all the years and games I’ve watched my kids play, I’ve never seen anybody carded. Yes, I’ve heard tales. Sure, I’ve seen warnings. But never an actual card, yellow or red.

Saturday, I watched the opposing team get two yellow cards. And I watched our goalie Kate, who I’ve watched grow up with Mickey and consider another one of our extended family, get hammered. Repeatedly. She was in pain. She was frustrated. And she played through it, somehow. I would have quit or tried to rip the other girl’s arms and legs off by that point. The other team was deliberately targeting her, even after she was obviously hurt and they were winning.

I also watched AJ struggle on the field, but it wasn’t at the same level. Skill and judgment errors. Learning opportunities. Not violence targeted against our players.

Sunday, I watched AJ struggle again. And I watched her hurt herself during a dive. She landed hard and hurt a shoulder she’s hurt before. And she came out of the game. She’ll be fine over time, but it was not fun to watch and less fun for her to endure.

And then I tried to watch Mickey’s team play. After I watched a girl target Kate a few times and then watched Kate slide for the ball and take a girl out with her, I had to walk away. Kate’s mom was doing everything she could beside us not to scream bloody murder. I totally understood that after watching AJ get hurt on her own and then watching Kate get pummeled and do some pummeling.

I had to walk away.

That opposing team also got two yellow cards before the game was done.

I’ve sat through a lot of games. All across the state. And I have watched these girls play hard and get hurt most years. I can’t sit and watch as another team systematically attempts to hurt them — DELIBERATELY — on a playing field. I will be at many games this year, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to watch from start to finish.

Good sportsmanship. Good skills. Playing hard. Doing your best. Those are things I admire and can support. I don’t give a crap about who wins or loses.

Playing deliberately to hurt players and take them out of the game? To hell with that.

The levels of what I can tolerate as far as deliberate violence have never been high. Sure, I have watched years of college and professional football. But I can’t watch boxing or MMA fighting, though I have respect for what they are capable of doing (especially MMA). My father and grandfather used to watch boxing together and I never had the stomach for it. Hitting someone for sport was not something I could fathom.

That hasn’t changed and now that it’s my own kids — it’s even harder.

So to those parents who can’t stand to see their play sports because they might get hurt? I have a different perspective now. And I get it a bit more.