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Bob Ehrlich: American Lessons from My Son's Friday Night High School Football Game

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I attended a high school football game last Friday night. It was my youngest son’s school against a local rival that had beaten our team in last year’s playoffs. Our son is the starting quarterback, so, of course, my wife and I arrived with the usual sense of excitement and anticipation.

Admittedly, there was something strange about a big high school football game in April. There was no band or buzz in the nearly empty stands (only parents allowed) that would normally be standing room only. And then there was the familiar breeze off the nearby Chesapeake Bay, a sensation that typically signifies the arrival of spring — and baseball.

Still, there was a sense of relief among the assembled moms and dads. All were thankful to be back in the stands. It was (finally) a feeling of normalcy — of a return to the way things were and the way things ought to be.

Of course, the way things ought to be has been missing for the last 14 months. A toxic combination of COVID-generated pandemic, the death of George Floyd and a Jan. 6 protest gone bad is to blame. Add a strong dose of racial tension to the mix, and you have the formula for not even close to normal.

But this column is about “Friday Night Lights” — and what made last week’s night so enjoyable. To wit: I got to watch two teams of teenagers play a game … for the love of the game.

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I watched white players and black players and fast players and slow players and large players and small players and wealthy players and poor players and players from two-parent households and players from no-parent households block for one another, tackle for one another, root for one another, play for one another.

It struck me that these kids gave not one whit about the race or economic class or ethnicity of their teammates. They simply wanted to compete, win and engage the sport they so enjoy after waiting 17 long months to do so.

But there were additional highlights to my evening.

No one interrupted the game with a woke message from a corporate professional league with ties to the regime in Beijing.

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No one told me to adjust my mask while I sat outside, socially distanced from the other parents.

No one attempted to educate me as to what is — and what is not — the most appropriate way to cast a secure ballot at the polls.

No one sought to teach me that the flag we honored during “The Star-Spangled Banner” represented a racist, nativist, evil country.

For that matter, no player took a knee during the anthem.

At the game’s end, the players simply signaled their respect (no in-person handshakes in the COVID era) and went to huddle up with their coaches.

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Speaking of whom, it is difficult to describe the looks on the faces of the coaches as they returned to their zone of normalcy, doing what they do best: teaching young kids that at the end of the day the most important thing is character — a vital life lesson often learned through the prism of athletic competition.

I recall a truly great preacher named King who talked about the importance of character (over everything else) during an equally difficult (and not normal) time in our history about sixty years ago.

What was spot on then is equally true today.

And there’s nothing “new” about that normal.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.