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Should Kids Play Football? Absolutely

Football is part of southern culture to be sure. Yet more and more parents are forbidding their kids from participating.

My parents never let me play football. They were worried I’d get hurt. And so entrenched was that fact in my mind that I never even looked at football as something I was denied. Instead, it was just one of those axioms handed down from my parents: look both ways before you cross the street, brush your teeth before bed, and you’re not playing football.

Regardless of my ineligibility, football was still my favorite spectator sport as a kid, ranking even higher than sports I actually played. Growing up in Knoxville, Tn. only furthered my interest in all things pigskin, as my hometown is 100% behind their college team (like any other respectable SEC town). It’s part of the deal when you’re from the South. Football is as much ingrained in our culture as y’all and sweet tea.

So, I wonder what would happen to that culture if every single parent made the same decision as mine did?

It seems as if I might find out, for more and more parents are denying their kids the opportunity of playing football. Just yesterday, fellow Knoxvillian and close friend Katie Allison Granju blogged about her decision to forbid her son from playing football right here on StrollerDerby. And I totally disagree with Katie on this one.

That said, I know her decision was made after much research, so in that regard, it was certainly a well-informed one. She writes:

The very elements that make football what it is are potentially catastrophic to still-developing young brains…Ultimately, I realized that I can no longer in good conscience ignore the science demonstrating the dangers football poses to developing brains, nor could I any longer ignore  my own common sense…I’d made my decision no football.

The links provided are ones Katie included in her original post. The first points to an article in the Seattle Times which discusses head injuries, which seem to be Katie’s primary concern. And rightfully so:

A study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, in 2009 found that 40.5 percent of high school athletes who suffer concussions return to play before it is safe to do so, with 16 percent of high school football players who lost consciousness returning to play the same day.

Her next link is to a piece that CNN did on a condition known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). In laymen’s terms, CTE is the actual damage concussions cause to the brains. The story centered around Ted Johnson, a former NFL linebacker for the New England Patriots who suffers from sleep disorders, mental fatigue and depression. Johnson believes he has endured more than 100 concussions, but his problems can be traced to back-to-back concussions he sustained in 2002. It’s overwhelmingly likely that Johnson suffers from CTE.

So how have doctors been able to identify CTE? By studying the brains of dead athletes. And Johnson is one of many living athletes who have agreed to donate their brains to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy so we can continue to learn about the impact of concussions.

Katie’s posts also points to other articles, including one about former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman who has been quite outspoken about the need for the NFL to be much more proactive when it comes to head injuries.

So, given all that, how in the world could I disagree with Katie? Aren’t I discouraged by this mountain of scientifically-grounded, acronym-laden evidence?

NO. I’m thrilled about it.

It’s a good thing that people are paying so much attention to head injuries as they relate to football. It’s a good thing concussions are being taken more seriously than ever before. And it’s a better thing, still, that scientists are learning more and more about these injuries. It does nothing but continue to raise awareness. As do damning, first-person testimonials such as Troy Aikman’s. You think a voice such as his goes unheard? I don’t.

The NFL has recently tightened its policy on concussions and will not let any player who has suffered one return to action that same day. But not only that, the term concussion is broader than ever before. Which means more and more situations are deemed concussions — thus many who might have been playing after being concussed two years ago are now sitting on the sidelines.

Most states, too, have tightened their policies as they pertain to high school football. That Seattle Times piece that Katie cited? It mentions that Washington state will not allow players who have suffered a concussion to return to play until they receive doctor’s clearance.

Katie speaks of not wanting her son to “become a 30-year-old former high school football star who lives with learning deficits and depression.” Through the years, I’ve known countless former high school football stars of all different ages. Quite literally, I don’t know a single one who has dealt with learning defects and depression.

Regardless, Katie has ruled football out of her son’s future because of studies which focused on injuries that occurred in the past. But those studies are exactly what will make the future safer than ever before.

So would I let my sons play football? You’re damn straight I would. And guess what? If they choose to play, they’re not gonna end up like Ted Johnson. They’re not gonna suffer 100 concussions, for crying out loud. Nor will they ever suffer back-to-back concussions. Sorry, but the era of tough guys who berate their son or player for being soft just because he didn’t return to the field after a head injury? It’s left the building, folks. And if I run into a coach who makes my kid play after suffering such an injury?

Then I’ll yank my kid out of the game myself and make certain to have a formal complaint about that dinosaur of a coach waiting on the AD’s desk on Monday morning, thank you very much.

This past week, Wouter Weylandt, an elite cyclist, lost his life in a crash. But I’d let my kids ride a bike. Just a couple of months ago, high school basketball player Wes Leonard collapsed and died minutes after hitting the game-winning shot that capped off his team’s perfect record. But I’d let my kids play basketball. This past October, swimmer Fran Crippen died while competing in the FINA Open Water 10-kilometer World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Yet I’d let my kids swim. I know more people who I care to recount who have died in car wrecks. Yet I’ll let my kids drive.

Life is dangerous, folks. And there are no guarantees. It’s just part of the deal. And our job as parents is to make our children aware of such danger: to teach them well in hopes of minimizing it. Whether it’s danger that comes along with getting behind the wheel — or that which is part and parcel of the sport they love to play.

Forbidding our kids from playing football because we want to keep them safe? Hate to break it to you, but assuming you’re doing your best to teach your kids about the dangers of life, your job ends there. The rest? It’s just not as up to us as we’d like to think.

Besides, once you start letting the potential for bad things steer you away from good ones, you are no longer living life as effectively as you could or should be.

At least that’s what I think.

Image: stock.xchng

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