An NFL Tight End On Talking To Kids About Football
New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson is an 11-year NFL veteran who has amassed more than 4,100 yards and caught 32 touchdown passes during his career. That makes him a busy man, but it’s nothing compared to his life off the field, where he has 2 boys and 2 girls, between the ages of 1 and 6. His is a crowded house that makes an NFL defense seem tame by comparison, and when we asked him about the Super Bowl, Watson had a more important matter to worry about: his daughter’s sixth birthday party, scheduled for the day before.
Are your kids old enough to understand what you do?
The older 2, the girls, they’ll definitely have some memories of football. Even the gets into it, as far as “I want to play football like you.” They put on their jerseys for game day, and the girls have their little outfits — custom made dresses or t-shirts, or whatever it is. They really look forward to after the game and running around on the field at the Superdome. My oldest daughter did cartwheels all the way across the end zone last year. So they definitely are at a point where they get it.
How do they handle the “people tackling daddy” part — seeing you take hits and all that?
They get defensive! If something happens, if I get tackled, they always say they want to tackle him back, or that it wasn’t fair what they did to me. What’s funny is I think kids of football players are very aware of their own bodies. I swear, my daughter will say, “I need a massage, my arm hurts.” Now why do you need a massage? You’re 5 years old. There’s nothing wrong with you.
I remember my dad telling me that once you have kids, your life speeds up. My first 5 years in the league seemed to take forever, and the last 6 years have just flown by. I think part of it is because we’ve always been having a baby, or someone is having a birthday. Kids reach milestones so quickly, whether it’s walking or crawling, or speaking or eating on their own, getting themselves dressed, those sorts of things — it just makes time speed up.
With injuries, you do think of things from another perspective. You want to be at a point where you can play with your children physically, and mentally be able to have conversations with them as time goes on. It makes you think more about taking care of your body and your mind, and understanding the physical ramifications of playing the game.
Who were your best influences, inside the football world, as you started having kids?
Teddy Bruschi in New England. He was a little older than me, and one of the leaders of the team. He was married, and had a couple of kids. I remember him saying that when he gets home, he leaves football at work. Leave work at work. If he has to sit in the driveway for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 1 minute, he’s going to decompress and let everything go. The highs and lows of football, what happened that day, what happened that week, whether you’re having a good season or a bad season. He walks through that door, and he becomes daddy and husband.
That was something I struggled with early in my career. As it pertains first to your marriage and then your kids, when I come home they could care less if we played well or won the game.
Definitely. I think it’s like anybody else’s job — people are proud of their kids. I show videos all the time. Talking about my kids all the time, the little stuff they do. Like, why do they all have to poop at the same time? Why is that? And you’re running around trying to wipe everybody all across the house. It’s ridiculous! At some point, since you’re around 40 or 50 other guys and you have 4 kids, which is more than the average, you and a couple other people end up being the “kid advisors” for the younger guys.
How important is it to be able to give that kind of advice, especially to young players, some of whom didn’t have great father figures growing up?
It’s very important. In football, you are extraordinarily close to guys. You have an open channel that’s unique to the sport, to speak life and truth to other people. We’re guys. We’re going to tell it like it is. I’ve had opportunities to tell guys it’s unfortunate, and it’s not right, but it doesn’t matter if you didn’t have that example. You can still be a great father. And I’ve heard guys say, “My dad wasn’t there. He wasn’t fair to me and my mom. I hated him for it, but I’m not going to do that to my kids. If I ever have a child, I’m going to do what it takes to make sure i’m in that child’s life, and support the child, and be a father to the child.” In many ways, I can encourage other guys that you don’t have to follow in that same negative pattern. You can break that pattern. It’s really encouraging.
Has football ever collided with fatherhood in some unexpected way?
There’s this age-old story that every football player addresses: If your wife was about to have a baby, and you were about to go play in the Super Bowl, which do you go to? Every team I’ve been on, every other year or so it comes up, and everyone has this large debate — even though it never happens! The odds of it happening are slim and none, but it’s great fodder for talking .
My first child, her due date was actually Super Bowl Sunday in 2009. I was with the Patriots, and we went 11-5. It was one of those, “Well, this might be the time where we figure out how this thing is going to work.” But we didn’t make the playoffs, and she was actually born the day before the Super Bowl. I watched it from the hospital.