Why my children will never play football

This opinion piece by Ken Reed from a recent Chicago Tribune is brilliant, scary as all get out, and right on every point. To wit:

There aren’t enough safety measures we can implement to overcome the fact that the brain isn’t built to withstand the repetitive brain trauma inherent in a game built around violent collisions.

According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, in any given season, 20 percent of high school players sustain brain injuries. More than 40.5 percent of high school athletes who have suffered concussions return to action prematurely, which can lead to death from second impact syndrome, a condition in which the brain swells, shutting down the brain stem and resulting in respiratory failure.

It’s not just concussions we’re concerned about. Purdue University researchers recently compared changes in the brains of high school football players who had suffered concussions with the brains of players who were concussion-free and found brain tissue damage in both. [read the rest]

Given all that we now know about the effects playing football has on players’ brains and on their health in general, I don’t understand why we’re still allowing our children to play this game.

Of course when I say “our” I mean “your.” My children aren’t playing football and they won’t. Ever.

That impassioned, emphatic stance of mine is ironically funny and makes me a hypocrite. It’s funny because when I was a kid and wanted to play football, my dad wouldn’t let me. I’m sure at some point I uttered some version of the childhood staple, “I’ll never be so mean to my kids!” Despite my protestations, my dad wouldn’t let me play football. When I was, um, stocky and football might have done me some good,* my dad wouldn’t let me. Even when I got to junior high and my best friend’s dad – who was also my dad’s best friend – was the coach, I thought I’d found a way into the game. But my dad wouldn’t let me. His response was always the same, “When the league will sign the waiver and take responsibility for all the injuries you incur, you can play. Until then, you’re not playing.”

Needless to say, I never played. Now I’m so very grateful for his stubborn determination.

But I’m also a hypocrite. I’m glad other people’s children play it for my entertainment. The NFL season started yesterday (we’re just calling that dog of a Wednesday night game extended preseason, amiright?), tonight is the first Monday! Night! Football! of the season and I’m sure that, as usual, many millions of people will be watching. I won’t be among them. Not because of this moral objection, though. I just have other stuff I have to do. I’m interested in the action because I’m in two fantasy football leagues and several of my players play tonight.

Actually, there is one line from that Tribune op-ed I don’t agree with: “I enjoy watching football — at all levels.” I can’t say the same. The sexual abuse of children at Penn State has really opened my eyes to just how unhealthy the relationship with college football is for many of us. I didn’t go to either school, but I’ve always rooted for Iowa and Nebraska. I understand the devotion and how the football team can overtake a school. These first couple weeks of the college season I’ve discovered I can no longer stomach caring about it so much. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching the teams of children that play all over the neighborhood, some of whom practice practically in our backyard.

But NFL players are somebody’s children too. I haven’t given that up yet. I guess I know what I need to work on next…


*Don’t get me wrong. My parents didn’t let me be a sloth or anything. I played a bunch of sports and seems like the neighborhood kids were always playing a pick up game of baseball, basketball or football. While I was decent at most sports, I was never great at any of them. So I convinced myself that football would have been the one in which I could have been a star. There’s no way that ever could have been the case…but that’s how I romanticized it anyway.

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