My son Caden is approaching 3 years old in June. Yet, at an early age, I have already thought about and discussed with others: “Should I let my son play football when he gets older?”
The reason for the discussion and the debate is the recent discovery of concussions in football and the after effects on football players after they retire from the game. Even President Obama stated that he would not let his hypothetical son play football.
I am a football fan, even though my two favorite teams growing up were the Cincinnati Bengals and Indiana Hoosiers. I played basketball, baseball and football growing up and played basketball in high school. Both my father and brother were high school football players; my brother’s team played in the Indiana High School Football championship game. So my take is not based on a person that never played sports.
I recently read the book League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wadaand Steve Fainaru. The book details concussions suffered by former NFL players Steve Young, Merril Hoge and Gary Plummer among others and the tragic deaths of DaveDuerson, Andre Waters, Junior Seau and Jack Lambert.
The book detailed that Duerson, Seau and Lambert suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease, resulting from repetitive head trauma, that some believe causes symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression and depression. For decades, this disorder was only associated with former boxers — its original name was “dementia pugilistica,” or “punch drunk” disease.
Of course, since the Major League Baseball strike in 1994, football is now America’s most favorite sport. It brings joy to fans on weekends (and now weekdays), tailgating, fantasy football, gambling and fan allegiance. The NFL made nearly $10 billion last year alone.
However, will the NFL be in trouble because parents begin to ban their sons from playing football? In the book, Joe Maroon, one of the NFL’s first brain specialists, lays out the threat to the league: “If only 10 percent of mothers in America begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football.” Here are some of the recent findings and factors:
- Boston University researchers estimate that the average high school football player absorbs 1,000 blows to the head per season.
- A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)suggested that pro football players were four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's disease.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.
- At youth football games, there is no medical staff to do concussion testing. They depend on volunteer coaches to make the call on whether to allow a kid who may have suffered a concussion to go back in the game. Many high school teams are lucky to have an athletic trainer or doctor on the sideline during the game.
- Another doctor featured in League of Denial, Dr. Robert Cantu, stated that "no one under 14 should play tackle football because both their brains and bodies are still developing and therefore more vulnerable to serious injury."
After reading League of Denial and the reports of potential long-term effects of repeated head injuries, I am finding it difficult to believe that football is 100 percent safe for children. On the other hand, I am against “overprotecting” and “bubble wrapping” our children.
I understand that there is a slim chance that my son will play college football or will have a future in the NFL. When Caden reaches the age of wanting to play sports, it will be an interesting discussion on whether to allow him to play football or not. However, why let him risk a brain injury in youth or high school football when he will not likely play college or pro football? Hopefully, he will choose to become a runner, baseball player, swimmer or volleyball player instead.