The story of twelve-year-old Elijah Earnheart, who, at six-one and 297 pounds, was recently told he couldn’t play in a Mesquite Pee Wee football league, ended up as a top story on ESPN’s home page. It also found its way to Deadspin, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and many other news outlets.  

Richard Ray and Tracy Delatte of KDFW Fox 4 had the original report earlier this week (watch Ray’s TV piece, above). 

The six-foot-tall Earnheart spent three weeks practicing with the Mesquite Vikings before being informed, after the pre-season weigh-in, that league rules prohibit any seventh graders who are over 135 pounds.

Earnheart could instead play in a school league, but he’s actually fairly new to the game, and therefore possibly not ready for the school level.

“I don’t want to play in school right now because it’s people that’s had experience and I want to get some experience first and then start playing,” he told KDFW. “I just want to play because my teammates are my friends. I know them. I don’t want to go play for somebody else I don’t know.”

Elijah’s mother, Cindy Earnheart, has made signs and shirts that say, “Let Elijah Play.”

“We’ve got little boys that play against him that are 85, 95 and 100 pounds,” Mesquite Pee Wee Football Association President Ronnie Henderson told the Associated Press’s Linda Stweart Ball. “We have to look out for all the kids, not just him.”

“There are legitimate safety reasons for keeping Elijah out of games where he’d be playing tackle football with kids less than half his size,” wrote Barry Petchesky of Deadspin. “Someone’s going to get flattened, completely accidentally, and someone’s going to get sued. But Elijah shouldn’t have to turn to his only other option, a school league, because that’s full of experienced players, and he’d probably get hurt, or at least never get off the bench.”

Karin Klein of the Los Angeles Times took more of a tough love approach, writing:

Elijah isn’t just a few pounds beyond the limit. He’s more than twice the weight of the kids he’d be playing with, and in an aggressive sport like football, that could be a real danger to other players. Elijah may outweigh them, but his dream of playing Pee Wee is outweighed by the right of other players to be relatively safe from injury. This would be true even if there were no other options for Elijah — and there are.

The question is whether Elijah’s dream is big enough to overcome his fear of playing with older boys. He could be a real asset to a school team and might learn all the faster by being surrounded by more knowledgeable teammates.

It’s hard to be different from other kids one’s age, and there’s probably no harder age for that than 12. But that’s not too young to learn that the needs of others sometimes take precedence.