I Love Football, But I'm Not Sure I Love My Young Son Playing It
greats like Jim McMahon and destroyed the lives of legends like Seau. I certainly don't fill his head with bullshit about pursuing the chimera of pro football career. That'd be like telling him to make his financial plans by playing the lottery. He knows education is his path to a good life.
But he wants to keep playing the sport, even after youth ball. And even at the high school level, the danger of concussions -- and for the milder forms of brain damage that come with repeated collisions, even those that don't register on the Richter scale -- is scarily high. At some point, if my boy keeps playing the game we both love so much, the ferocity of the hits will increase. The kids will grow larger. The potential for injury will ratchet up exponentially. And I wonder whether I will have to give in to my fear.
For now, though, I won't give in. But I also won't scoff as sardonically at notions like those that recommend that football should be banned for kids under 16. I still don't agree with the idea — hell, I think cheerleading probably is more dangerous and far less regulated — but I also feel less and less capable of rationally defending my position in the face of the mounting evidence about football and concussions.
I see the same thing happening with other parents, too. A good friend of mine, whose 9-year-old son plays in the same organization as my boy, regularly sends me the latest news about concussion studies and tragic football injuries. Our communications are accompanied by exchanges of dark humor, half-jokes about our guilt and uncertainty about letting our boys continue in such a rough sport.
Recently, he finally got himself to say out loud that, the first time his boy "gets his bell rung," he will be done with football permanently. He didn't sound all that convincing, probably not even to himself, but I nonetheless believe he'd make that hard choice if forced to. I would, too.
I love football, as does my boy. And so he plays on.
But I love my son a whole lot more. So now, unlike ever before, I wonder if the day will ever come when I will have to make the playing stop.