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TIME FOR A PEP TALK DURING A DISMAL BILLS SEASON

For the past few weeks we have had a vigorous debate in our house about whether to let our children watch the news on television.

Our oldest is 8, an age much too innocent to be bombarded by the frightening images that fill TV screens these days.

But try as we might, we cannot prevent our kids from catching a glimpse of the newspaper, or hearing snippets from the radio talk shows. We can't shield them from the older kids in school and their playground chatter about the topic that's troubling our collective consciousness.

So, the question is: How do we explain to our children that the Buffalo Bills are 1-4?

Brave little soldiers that they are, our young ones try not to let their worry show. But cracks in their emotional armor break through.

One evening our third grader wandered downstairs, trying to ignore the depressing drone of commentary from Empire Sports Network.

"What are you doing, Mom?," she asked.

"Just paying some bills," was her mom's answer.

"But what about the salary cap?," our daughter shrieked, running out of the room.

We fumble for the right words. Outright denial is one option, but kids are too smart for that. When Thurman Thomas left to play for the Miami Dolphins, we told the kids that Thomas was on special assignment at the Epcot Institute in Florida for a year, working on the human genome.

They grew suspicious when Scholastic Weekly came out with its special genome issue, and it contained no mention of No. 34.

Busted!

This year, there is no way to mask the truth. But we don't have to face this alone as parents. There are folks out there we can turn to.

We polled some experts in the fields of football and child psychology, asking them one question: How do we help our children deal with the pain of the Bills' season?

If any of them had bothered to return our calls, their responses would have gone something like this:

Gregg Williams, Bills coach: "It's up to us to take our parenting to the next level and help our kids find some positives. I'm p----d off that they have to see this football team starting this way, but that's life. Did we plan to start like this? Of course not. Does this mean we will shoot ourselves in the foot all season? No way. Is the Socratic Method of asking questions the best way of teaching? My results as a teacher on the football field speak for themselves."

Dr. Joyce Brothers, TV psychologist: "There's a danger for children when they invest too much of their identity in the fortunes of a football team. Still, if the Bills had locked up Marcellus Wiley with a long-term deal before his contract ran out, we're not having this conversation today."

Bruce Smith, Washington Redskins defensive end: "I feel for what fans in Buffalo are going through, because Bruce Smith is also playing for a team that's down on its luck. When a Bruce Smith or an Eric Moulds find themselves on the rosters of lousy teams, well something's just not right. All I can tell the kids in Buffalo is, I don't know what the future holds for that particular team, but Bruce Smith feels your pain."

Jim Rome, syndicated radio sports talker: "The Bills had just a monster win over the Jags last week, but the kids in B-Lo are still staring at some very whack Sundays. Three of Buffalo's losses are in their own crib (home stadium). How pathetic is that? Still, the kids up there have to chill out. Go the mall, treat yourself to a "frogurt.' Help Dad rake the tundra outside. Don't turn every Sunday dinner into a scene from "Buffalo 66.' "

Susan Sontag, writer and anti-war advocate: "Children's attention needs to be diverted to the arts, or anywhere but football. Who's to say that defeating the team from Jacksonville, Fla., or San Diego, Calif., will make anyone in Buffalo feel better about themselves? Football is just a crude approximation of warfare acted out by a cowards in shoulder pads.

"Besides, Buffalo fans should be questioning the legitimacy of Rob Johnson as the starting quarterback. It's well known that he lost the popular vote to Doug Flutie last year, but the powers that be managed somehow to give the job to Johnson."

Fred Rogers, from TV's "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood": "Sometimes a football game makes us very happy, like after an onside kick that our team recovers on the first play of a game. Other times, it makes us sad, like when some knucklehead on our team gives the ball back on a fumble. It's best to draw pictures of the play that made you the angriest, then have Dad roll it up in a big envelope and send it to One Bills Drive, c/o Gregg Williams. He'll be very happy you shared your feelings."

Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States: "This is a good time to teach our children about tolerance. I read about one young boy in Erie County who was ostracized by his classmates for wearing a Doug Flutie Chargers jersey to school. It got so bad, the boy had to be sent home at lunchtime to change. That's just plain unfair. Flutie is a winner and the Bills are losers. Deal with it."

John Rosemond, parenting columnist: "If they whine about the Bills, they're grounded for a week. If you hear a peep out of them during that week, they're grounded for two months. It's up to parents to just win, baby!"

e-mail: gconnors@buffnews.com

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