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Alex McKinnon's accident hits close to home for mums

I'm not into football, but even a non-believer like me is finding it hard not to be drawn into the tragic accident of Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon.

The timing is close to home - this afternoon, my eight-year-old begins his first rugby training session at school.

There is heavily circulating footage on news sites and social media of a tackle in which his neck is broken.

I cannot watch. McKinnon currently lies in an induced coma - his life in tatters. Who even cares that his football career is over. His family, friends and teammates are just praying he will walk.

Whether my son should play football or not has been a defining moment in my parenting experience.

My heart says no, no, absolutely not.


I said as much when he first nominated rugby as his winter sport.

"No way, stick to soccer," I breezily replied.

But he really wanted to play rugby. Really.

My husband, a committed, nay, obsessive League fan, knew better than to take me on directly on the issue in front of my son.

"If you say absolutely not then he will just want to do it more. Don't make it a bigger issue than it needs to be," he counselled me later.

After a weekend of pleading on my son's part, I began to realise I was going to have to confront my fears that my first-born wanted to engage in a contact sport with a violent professional reputation - not to mention cultural issues with which I do not wish to engage, for fear of unleashing a barrage of Twitter trolls.

I don't like football, and I don't watch it. But I buckled. And today my son begins playing it.

The deciding factor for me was advice from his teacher who said it is better to let him pick it up early, when the youngsters are supervised closely and safety is paramount on the field.

Then he can learn the skills to protect his safety – and, heaven help me, his spine.

As McKinnon's condition and the issues around such a tackle are unpicked on social media, I see I am not alone.

"How much risk do we let our kids take for them to pursue their own passions? (My son) was back at rugby training for the start of the season yesterday. He is playing up an age group this year. Then I come home and see that footage of footballer Alex McKinnon breaking his neck in a tackle and I want to vomit," says one of my Facebook friends.

When I post a picture of my son proudly showing off his new rugby uniform, my friends question my accompanying caption of: "@*#($*&$(*(!!!!".

"Do you loathe rugby culture or the possibility of injury?" asks another friend.

Both, I sniff, and why is my placid, peaceful kid so keen to start tackling people anyway?

She sagely advises me that it will be good for him to learn about what his body can do and to have that tribal bonding with the other boys.

She is right. I will have to cope with injuries as they arise, and I will meanwhile pray he avoids any of those life-changing tragedies I am currently avoiding reading about.

Meanwhile, my husband has helpfully suggested some ground rules – the first of which is that I can never set foot on the field no matter what appears to be transpiring.

That has subsequently been extended to a blanket ban on attending games.

The upshot is that I also avoid those ghastly cold mornings of standing on a front-covered field during training. You'll find me at home sipping tea and trying hard to stay calm.


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