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Should Kids Play Football? More Parents (and ex-NFL players) Saying "No"

By Katie Allison Granju |

In recent years, the question of whether tackle football is safe for kids and adolescents to play has become a hot debate for parents. As evidence mounts demonstrating that the very elements that make football what it is are potentially catastrophic to developing young brains, more American parents are taking the still-unpopular position that their own sons will not play this most American of American sports.

I am now one of those parents.

My 7th grade son, E is an athlete, through and through. He’s physically gifted, and he has excelled at every sport he’s played. E is active in competitive lacrosse, basketball, soccer, and for the past two years, middle school tackle football.

I’ve written before of my ambivalence around the issue of whether E should play football, but until recently, I just didn’t feel that the medical evidence was clear enough to deny my boy the chance to participate in a sport in which he seemed  interested. So E played football in 2009 and 2010. During those two seasons, I tried to educate myself about the pros and cons of his football participation. I attempted to evaluate the evidence without any bias in one direction or the other. I watched him play without commenting on  how many times my child  got whacked in the head during regular practices, and with even greater frequency during games.

As I observed and pondered, I also kept reading the growing body of emerging literature on the risks of  football for kids and teens, all the while trying to remain openminded.  I read what legendary NFL players like Troy Aikman are saying about why today’s game has grown unacceptably dangerous, and also about whether their own sons will play football.

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. At a certain point, I realized I’d made my decision – no football. Following this decision, I sat down just a few days ago with my very athletic, very competitive 13 year-old son E, and I explained to him that he willl not play competitive, team  football until my legal consent is no longer required.

My son E is distinctly displeased with my decision.

However, after educating myself, this is one debate where I am comfortable taking a stand. The evidence is clear, compelling, and becoming harder to ignore: youth and teen football players are at unacceptably high risk for subtle yet potentially life altering brain damage. And I’d much rather deal with a 13 year-old who is majorly annoyed with me now than watch my son become a 30 year old former high school football star who  lives with learning deficits and depression.

How about you? Where do you come down on this surprisingly emotional issue, and why? Would you let your sons play football? Why or why not? Have your views evolved over time? Talk about whether kids should play football in the comments below.

UPDATE: After writing my original blog post, a commenter sent me information on an organization called The Sports Legacy Institute. This non-profit is raising public awareness and research funding related to the danger of brain injury inherent in sports which guarantee repeated incidents of head trauma. Here’s a very clear explanation of what this type of repeated banging on the head does to people’s brains. The damage often doesn’t manifest as actual symptoms until up to a decade after the last game played, but forensic researchers have now found physical evidence of this condition in the brains of football players as young as 18 years old.

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About Katie Allison Granju

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Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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62 thoughts on “Should Kids Play Football? More Parents (and ex-NFL players) Saying "No"

  1. Rosstwinmom says:

    Would it be inappropriate to be excited that you linked to a picture of Troy Aikman? I just love him is all.

    I think you are right Katie. When you first talked about E playing football, I was very nervous. He’s pretty small(though cute as heck and just awesome in every way), and with all the parents who keep their sons from starting kindergarten at 5, the boys can get big at that age. I see my sons dealing with that too–they are skinny little things! One twin is obviously very gifted (at age 3, so you know, totally proven) with sports and loves to run and play. I know he will ask to play football one day. My answer will also be no.

    As you know, a Momma knows best! Follow your gut.

  2. Dayna says:

    This debate is currently raging in our household… my son is 12 and approaching 6 ft. tall and is over 200 lbs. He has always been athletic and is a talented baseball and basketball player. Through the years, we’ve been encouraged to allow him to play football and now, of course… he wants to play and lets us know as much pretty regularly. I hear from other parents (mostly dads…) that we are doing him a disservice by not allowing him, as he’s “built for football”. His body is big but his brain is as fragile as anyone’s and I am just saying no way. In addition to brain injury, it’s also concerning to me the number of kids who end up with torn knees, broken collarbones, arms, etc. Not great when your body is growing. It also ruins their opportunity to participate in the other sports they love.

    As an aside, he plays baseball with a girl who also participates in the county football league… full tackle and no weight restrictions. I do not often judge other parents’ decisions for their kids but I have to wonder what these people are thinking.

  3. Jerry says:

    YES!!! For crying out loud people!!! If you don’t want your kid to play football then don’t let him but don’t tell me I can’t allow my kid to play. Be responsible for your own actions! Kids can get hurt doing ANYTHING. Teach your kids how to play the game safely… To many people want to put their nose into other peoples business because, in their mind, they know better.

  4. bobbie says:

    It’s your decision, but I do wonder…..what is safe to do? The bubble isn’t big enough to protect our kids from everything. No wonder they are inside watching tv and playing video games all day…..

    I truly don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Trying to protect them from everything isn’t my parenting style.

  5. Lisa says:

    With all due respect, what does E’s dad think about this? Was this as unilateral a decision as your article makes it out?

    1. Responding directly to commenter Lisa:

      E’s dad does not agree with me on this one. Since I was the one writing the blog post, I only addressed my own position. I don’t feel like it would be my place to explain his. All parents occasionally have specific issues on which they do not agree – whether they are married or not. This is one of those (pretty rare, actually) times for us. Our general approach has always been that if one parent or the other holds a much stronger opinion on something, the other parent defers. We are having that discussion right now. – Katie

    2. Responding directly to commenter Lisa:

      PS – It’s a unilateral decision in the sense that I am only writing about my own decision and opinion, and I am just one person – a “uni,” if you will ;-)

  6. Sarah says:

    We have had this discussion. My husband and I are in agreement – no football – (um, our son is 1 1/2 years old right now, so its not an issue) but I wonder if when the time comes, if he really wants too, will I actively discourage him, or will I just say “no”. We live in Ohio right now, which is HUGE football country – people who don’t have kids follow their high school football teams. This is kind of new to us b/c we are from Michigan, and it just wasn’t as big a deal there.

    I wonder with the science on football really starting to come together, if more parents will be making that decision. Will football become less prominent, or more prominent, as fewer people choose it?

  7. SL says:

    I think that’s a great decision. You can’t protect them from everything (or even most things), but you can put your foot down and tell them they’re not going to do something that has a pretty high chance of giving them brain damage.

    So what if he’s pissed off? Life is unfair, kid.

  8. Ellie says:

    You should tell E. about Dave Duerson, a real tragic story http://www.miaminewtimes.com/content/printVersion/2773551/

  9. m says:

    I don’t think Katie is trying to protect her child “from everything” or keep him in “a bubble.” If there’s something that has an obvious risk, and is completely avoidable (it’s not the only sport out there) then it’s up to her (and fine!) for her to keep her son out of it. It’s not as if she’s trying to get football banned at her son’s school or anything (although other parents might like to know some of this information, if they’re not aware of the risks), she just made a decision that’s right for her. No need to be so judgemental about it.

  10. Anjali says:

    Have you seen the series of articles in The New Yorker? Very compelling stuff.

  11. Dayna says:

    When you are talking to mothers who begin their conversation with “my child plays baseball, basketball, hockey, lacrosse… etc.” the outraged cries of “WHAT IS SAFE?!” and speaking of bubbles and playing video games all day hardly hold water. My son doesn’t have enough time to play video games. When he’s not practicing and playing, he’s out in the field by our house playing two hand touch. The issue here is tackle football and the high incidence of concussion in developing childrens’ brains. It’s a choice and you get to pick how at risk you will allow your child to be. Football is brutal and as long as I get to pick… he can keep risking himself around 70 mph fastballs instead.

  12. ADAM says:

    I agree with you on most things, but I disagree with you on your decision. I would love to see your information that helped you form this decision. There are very good helmets on the market these days. There is actually (or was when I was in college) a great helmet testing lab on the campus of UT. Its on the hill in the back of one of the new buildings. They do a lot of concussion research and impact testing on helmets. I did a project in college on football related head injuries. I had to go through a lot of stuff to read. One of the main contributors to the head injuries was the method in which the athlete tackled. I have since been a champion of trying to make it required of every coach at every practice to walk kids through the proper tackle form. Football can actually be a safe sport if played with correct form. I think you should let E play, but only after he can demonstrate that he knows the proper technique for tackling.

  13. Sara says:

    It seems to me that the associations should move to flag football until high school at the earliest.

  14. Steve K. says:

    Kate — if E is really upset by this decision, my dad (or brother) would be happy to chat about his 30 years on the sidelines dealing with neurological injuries, and the terrible problems that he’s seen his friends deal with decades after their football careers were over. Seriously, it will be very convincing.

  15. Steve K. says:

    Or E’s father, for that matter.

  16. FL Mom says:

    Glad you made an official decision. I don’t think for one minute that you’re trying to protect E from ‘everything.’ He still plays other sports and goes on overnight trips with his friends, among other things that kids do. As a parent, it’s your job to draw the line somewhere whether your kids are ecstatic about it or not.

  17. Lauren says:

    I totally agree with you Katie. The evidence is there and those young brains are way to precious to risk. My son will also be refraining from football. He is young now (19mo) but my husband and I have already had this conversation after watching the PBS Frontline on football. There are plenty of other sports to chose from.

  18. Rona says:

    My boss has a younger brother who played Pro Football for a few years. He now supports his brother, b/c there are weeks when this 45 year old man can’t leave his apt, from all the the damage that football did to his brain. He’ll sit for weeks with his shade drawn, deep in a depression and unable to function. The NFL just awarded him $3000/month for 10 years, which to my boss says that they don’t think he’ll live for 10 years.
    My son will never play football.
    Anjali, that New Yorker article was very interesting. The player they started the article off with used to play with my boss’ brother. It’s horrific what can happen to a body with that type of impact over and over.

  19. Christina says:

    That must have been a hard discussion with your son. Thank you for writing about all these things because it helps me think about what I’ll do if I find myself in the same position someday. My daughter is only 3 so I don’t have to deal with this yet but whenever I read about another competitive cheerleader dying or breaking her neck, I wonder what I’ll do if my daughter shows an interest in it. I really want to allow her to take her own path but I think I’ll nudge her towards soccer or volleyball or something.

  20. Jenna says:

    I think you have to consider how your child feels about this. We know a family in NY state that had a son playing lacrosse and was hit in the chest with the ball. It threw him into cardiac arrest and his died. A freak accident. We know a family here in Ohio that had son playing baseball and a wild hit caused a tramatic brain injury (he was the pitcher) and has spent years recovering. My point is, if football is a passion for your child, then maybe they should have the opportunity to play because all sports have risk. I think in football, a lot of the attitude about how far things will be pushed in practice and training come from the coach. I have seen coaches who want to use the sport to build character and coaches that don’t think illness, family vacation, or Grandma’s 85th birthday are a reason to miss a practice.

    I have a son who is eleven and is a huge kid. He is constantly asked if he plays football. He does not because he doesn’t want to hit people and plays rec soccer and basketball instead. If he came to us and could verbalize that he loved the sport and it was a passion for him, we would probably let him try it.

    Jenna

  21. Kathleen says:

    My husband wanted to play football, but he’s tall and lanky and light and isn’t really built for the sport. My boys don’t get the same kind of pressure that some do, as they’re on the tall and lanky side themselves. I’ve been a sportswriter, though, and I’ve talked to plenty of gifted amateur and professional players. My 15-year-old has no interest in playing, and if he did, I would share my experience and the evidence.

    Frankly, though, I think the bigger issue is that something that was allowed is now being denied, which is why the kid is more upset.

    There’s also the fact that comparing the NFL to a middle-school team isn’t really completely fair — NFL players take much, much harder hits. The NFL game is *much* faster than even a Division I college game. Of course, the players are older than teens as well. So, it’s a complicated decision.

  22. Jen says:

    We are having this same debate in my household. My son has played flag football for a couple of years now and really wants to play tackle next year (he is 10). I have been on the fence about this for quite some time but some of the very recent studies and research that have come out in just the past few weeks is really steering me towards not allowing him to play. My son plays other sports and would rather play outside with his friends any day than stay inside and watch tv or play video games. I understand I cannot protect him from everything and in fact my son got a broken collar bone from playing sports outside with the neighborhood kids when he was 7 but still gets out there everyday and plays with them. I don’t have a problem with a broken bone or sprained ankle, that’s life, but I do have a problem with permanent brain damage.

  23. Rosstwinmom says:

    @Adam–It’s not just E who needs to learn to tackle correctly. Katie would have to know that every other kid on the field knows as well. If you’ll read the links Katie has, you ‘ll see that one problem is that the helmets are touted as so great that the athlete thinks it will protect them from everything no matter what they do.

    @Jenna–Yes, all sports have risks, but the question is, why let them do one with a very specific and increasingly alarming one, especially considering it is head injury?

    You can Google the topic and find lots of research about it. Here is one I found relevant though it is from 2007.
    http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20070706/high-school-football-head-injury-risk

    I found this hypothesis from that article to be interesting “High school football players may more vulnerable than college players to severe head injuries because their brains are younger. Or perhaps high school players are more likely to have poorly fitting or substandard helmets, note the researchers.”

    I know the helmets and pads used at the middle school I taught at are used over and over and not regularly checked by staff.

  24. LS says:

    football isn’t a big thing were we live (fortunately) but rugby is. it seems pretty rough. My older son played one season and my younger would like to play but there wasn’t a team offered this year
    ‘ What do you all think. BTW- my kid is an avid snowboarder – he wears a helmet and I worry. He also wants to take up boxing which I said no to.

  25. Anna says:

    I realize that you are doing what you feel is best for your son, but have you taken a moment to consider that the past year might be factoring into your choice? You lost a son in a terrible way, and now, after reading this, I feel it has translated into you becoming overprotective in other ways.

    Football is dangerous, yes. It can result in injury. So can every single sport out there. Are you going to ban him from soccer, tennis, swimming, lacrosse, horseback riding? You may as well, because everything active can potentially cause major injury. Football is aggressive, yes, but so are many other sports.

    Every time you put your son in a car, you risk his life as well. I have always respected your opinions, even thought I sometimes do not agree with them. This is one choice that I had to speak up about. Don’t let losing a child cause you to start making overprotective, neurotic choices about what your other kids can and cannot do. It’s not fair to them, really.

    1. Responding to commenter Anna:

      Anna – I expressed serious reservations about football long before my son Henry became ill and died. The two are totally unrelated. My reservations have grown into a decision based on a rapidly growing body of clear, compelling, legitimate evidence that tackle football is inherently dangerous in a very pernicious, invisible (til it’s too late) way. The difference between football and the potential for major, irreversible brain injury in other sports, or from riding in a car is that if an injury occurs in one of those contexts, it’s because something went wrong. It would be an accident. The evidence that convinced me that football isn’t safe indicates that the injuries players at every level receive are not due to something going WRONG, but are due to the very nature of how the sport is played when everything is going RIGHT. That’s a major difference. – Katie

  26. Candice says:

    There’s a huge difference between “any sport can cause random injury” and the nearly guaranteed injuries of tackle football. As much as I love football, I do not believe I will be letting my son play unless some major changes happen (he’s only a year old now). My brother has a degree in exercise science and follows football-related brain injury stories closely, so we’ve talked about it a lot. To me, it’ll never be worth the risk.

  27. Amanda says:

    My husband played college football, and I think I would let my son play in the future, but not until he’s well into his teens. Tackle football for pre-teens is out of the question, in my opinion. The activities that scare me more are things like riding dirt bikes, four-wheelers, etc. I would not let my son ride those as long as he is under my roof.

  28. lolismum says:

    I love it when someone says,
    ” No, I will not let my child learn to jump off of Golden Gate bridge” and someone is guaranteed to say ” Well, you cannot keep in a bubble you know. He could injure himself brushing his teeth. Will you ask him to stop brushing his teeth as well?”. Another good one is: “I have made this decision for my child’s safety, and she/he is upset I won’t let him do [dangerous] thing.” and someone counters with ” Have you asked him how he feels about it?”. Well no, just like you don’t ask a toddler if he is enjoying the choking hazard he inserted in his mouth, or enjoying the sand in the kitty litter box he is eager to dig around in, or leave the choice up to them to use/not use a bike helmet in your backyard, as a parent, if you decide to make a safety decision, you do not need to consult your child. You are the parent. Make an informed decision, lay down the rules, stick to it. That’s what Katie is doing. And so what if her decision about E’s potential injuries are influenced by what happened to Henry? Of course it will be. Having gone through and continuing to go through that awful heartbreak, she is entitled to be very protective of her kids. If I were her, I would find it hard to fight off the desire to shackle each of my children to my body and never leave them out of my sight after Henry’s trauma.

  29. marta says:

    Around here there’s no football. But there’s rugby and it’s growing bigger everyday. My husband and I would never allow our two boys (or girl, for that matter) to play it. We know far too many youths and grown-ups with serious, lifelong injuries (knees, shoulders, neck) who have played rugby, but none with injuries sustained in other sports.

    I think – and I’m a lay person in this, just using some common sense – there are two main differences between rugby/football and most of the other sports mentioned above: 1) the head (and the brain) are continually assaulted during regular practice and games; not by accident but because that’s how the sport is. 2) football/rugby injuries (brain or otherwise) last for a long time (for life, even), much longer than compared to other sports’ injuries. Again, the nature of high impact, high contact sports – boxing and all its variants included – seems to be the reason.

    Of course Katie is not putting the kid in a bubble. If she did she wouldn’t let him get involved in other sports. From where I stand, and reading some of the above comments, it seems almost un-American to not allow one’s kid to play football. Come on, people!!!

    Marta in Lisbon, Portugal

  30. Kathy says:

    Katie,

    I think you are absolutely right. But I am amazed at the number of people who want to equate all risky activities as the same. Being killed by a lacrosse ball in the chest, while tragic, is a freak accident. But the punishment to the brain that comes from playing football is a basic part of the game. People can rationalize their decisions to allow their kids to play football, but they should be able to use logic and admit that there is significant evidence of the problem. NFL players (and hockey players, too) are providing tragic evidence every season.

  31. Alexicographer says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I think I’d do the same thing, though I was enthusiastic about one of my stepkids playing ice hockey and I myself regularly hop on a horse (as I know one of your daughters does) — with appropriate headgear, of course, though there are no guarantees. But as you and some commenters have noted, football seems to be unusual (even in comparison to high school / college hockey, I think) in that we are discovering the injuries are basically intrinsic to the way the sport is played.

    I won’t have to make this decision myself for at least another half decade or so, and if I do need to make it will look at the research current at that point, but as I say based on what I know now I think I’d do as you have.

  32. Hammy says:

    @Marta
    Rugby does not continually assault the head; rugby players do not wear helmets and hence do not have that (false) feeling of protection that football players do. Only in football is there a call for running your head into someone – “spearing”.

    Rugby also requires that you fully bind someone to tackle them and take them to the ground; it is illegal to “hit” someone like in football. So, when you are looking to tackle someone in rugby, you have to be very conscious of your body position, you can’t just run into them.

    Yes, there are exposures for head trauma in rugby, but the stats (even those from countries where it is played more than football) don’t bear out the numbers that football does.

    Former rugby player/coach/administrator

  33. Leah says:

    I wouldn’t let my child play football, the risks of head injury are too great (almost likely) and the potential for serious harm is also too great, broken bones heal, a bruised brian can cause lifelong depression, personality and memory issues.

    However I’m not locking my kids in a box, they play ice hockey and soccer, ride horses, swim and may start basketball soon. It’s not about locking your kids in a bubble or being unwillingly to take risks, it’s about giving sound parental guidance about risks that are difficult for a child to evaluate – a repeated small brain bruise isn’t like a broken arm, the child won’t understand the implications of that injury until he’s 30 and it’s much too late.

  34. heather says:

    I commented on the previous post about this as well. My husband was an all-state and all-conference football player in high school, received a football scholarship in college and is, in general, an overall sports afficionado. He and E would get on famously :-) His distinction is between contact sports (soccer, basketball, lacrosse) and collission sports (football, rugby) and that he will not, under any circumstances, allow his children to play the same collission sport that he excelled in. He tells many stories of hearing the question “are you hurt or injured” with the assumption being you can always play “hurt.” Now, does a 13 or 14 year old really know the difference? Specifically when it comes to something like a concussion or brain injury, they absolutely do not. There is a great interview with Chris Nowinski here http://www.npr.org/2011/01/20/133053436/brain-injuries-haunt-football-players-years-later where he talks about his crusade to educate the public about the danger of repeated concussions in football. Nowinski is a former college football player and professional wrestler. The interview is long, and worth it, but one point that resonnates with me is that in child and high school leagues coaches and trainers are not trained nor qualified to diagnose concussions or know how to treat them. This leads to repeated traumatic brain injuries. That’s scary stuff. His take is that an adult can make the decision to “put his head through a table” (he was a former WWE wrestler) but a child should not.

  35. Shandra says:

    Katie, I just wanted to say that I think it would be too much to ask you to risk the fear of a head injury right now anyway. Yes, it’s unfair. Let’s hope he becomes a star in a different sport.

  36. Amy says:

    Katie – Like you, my second son is an athlete (he’s 12). Unlike you, I came to the “no football” decision much earlier and stronger! The decision might have been easier for my husband and me because we are from the midwest, so growing up, football was just not the big deal we have found it to be here in Atlanta. I know there are arguments about other sports being dangerous and that is true! Every sport has its risks, but they can often be minimized. For example, my son, who is a pitcher, wears a chest guard and still has the face mask on his batting helmet (many kids have taken theirs off). We feel pretty good about the risk of baseball-related injuries with those measures in place. But the risk with football on a growing kid’s body and brain just seemed too much for us.

    Amy

  37. TC says:

    My daughter is a soccer player, and let me tell you, I can’t imagine that’s a whole lot easier on the head than football is, what with one of the main strategic moves being to hit the ball with your head to move it forward!

    I think Katie has every right to make whatever informed decisions she wants for her child. Duh. We all do. Would I make the same? I don’t know. Neither my daughter or my golfer son are going to put me in the position of having to make it. On the other hand, soccer…I had to think long and hard about that one, and in the end, I’ve let it go because it wasn’t ONLY about heading the ball. It was about weight control, physical exercise, passion for this game and ONLY this game (unlike E, who plays several sports), and a bonding experience for her and her soccer-fanatic dad.

    To me, the title of this post is misleading: It’s about whether E should play football, not about whether my kids should. And that is as it should be. Katie gets to make her choices for her kids; I get to make mine for mine.

  38. Laura says:

    Katie, I think you made the right choice. My brother has a chronic back injury from a teammate hitting him during practice (basically being an a-hole kid) that ended my athletic brother’s high school sports career. and that doesn’t even touch on the head injury issue. Honestly, I think the culture that has grown up around football is appalling. I do not plan on letting my son play, although so far he doesn’t seem interested in team sports.

  39. Claire R says:

    Having raised two daughters, I cannot speak to the football debate directly, however, what I do know is that whatever decision you make, with the best interest of your family as your cornerstone, is the right decision for you.

  40. Michelle says:

    Katie, I swear, sometimes I think commenters don’t even read your whole article, let alone the linked information. As a mom of four boys, I’m firmly in the NO camp when it comes to football. As a Canadian mom, though, it doesn’t raise nearly the same kerfuffle amongst friends when I talk about this as it would in the South! ;) Other commenters have said it already, but it bears repeating – kids and football is just knowingly taking on a Very High risk of injury. So high it’s almost certain, due to the nature of the game and it’s maneuvers. Now, I’m off to hand my toddler a grape and some Brazil nuts. What?? He frowns if I say no.

  41. Ellaree says:

    I was riding in the elevator of my city’s children’s hospital a few months ago when a mother and teenaged son got on. I couldn’t help but glance at the piece of paper she was holding which was a typed letter from a doctor stating he would need extra academic help due to concussion injury playing football. He couldn’t have been more than 15. Yikes. That stuck with me. I have to say I’m going to start listening to the research and testimony. We learn new things about the way we live all the time. Because of research, I don’t smoke and I wear a seatbelt. Is that living in a bubble?

  42. Amy K says:

    I am lucky in that my son has zero interest in football. But, both my husband and I agree that we’d never consent to his playing. I don’t understand the point or the benefit of football; other sports do more to develop skills, teamwork, and health. Many other sports (tennis, swimming, baseball, soccer, volleyball, track) can translate into a life-long activity, but football cannot. The risk of permanent brain damage outweighs the benefit. Good job taking a stand! That’s what parents do.

  43. ChiLaura says:

    There was recently a PBS Frontline on h.s. football players. My husband and I hate football and have always said that we won’t let our boys play (the oldest is 5). After watching that, I am even more adamant. It was enlightening, showing some of the research about how many tiny knocks to the head can injure the brain. If you have time, watch it online. I’m almost of the opinion that it should be required viewing for all parents who are thinking of letting their kids play — parents should at least know what habitual engagement in this brutish “sport” can do to their children’s brains. My kids will only play football over my dead body. (No boxing either!)

  44. Snarky Mama says:

    I’m a “no football” mama, although my boys don’t seem very athletic anyway, so I doubt I’ll ever have to enforce my stance.

    Ironically, though, in high school a schoolmate was tackled during a football game, severely enough to need a trip to the hospital. During an x-ray (or something), it was discovered that this boy was born with only one kidney–which nobody knew about until then. Furthermore, there was something wrong with the kidney, which they caught early enough to fix, solely due to the football injury. Go figure.

  45. susan says:

    Yeah.you!!!! Playing sports properly is one thing. However, risking head injuries is quite another. You can teach your son the correct way, but there is certainly no guarantee other kids will know. It’s very competitive. Yes, your son (and husband) may not agree with you, but someone has to take a stand and error on the cautious side. I applaud you and really who gives a flying f what other people think. This is not about putting your kid in a bubble, people. Read the statistics…………….

  46. kokopuff says:

    Those of you with daughters…better not let them be cheerleaders. That sport actually has one of the highest injury rates among all of them.

  47. marta says:

    @Hammy,
    Thanks for the clarification – I have to say I really don’t know the rules of either sport. And no, I don’t know anybody who’s played rugby with brain injuries.
    But I do know a boy who will always have a limp because of a knee injury. And a man and his brother… and a guy who broke his neck and is in a wheelchair… not because of accidents, because of regular rugby practice.
    Reading around American mom blogs, you do get the idea every so often kids get head injuries playing football… I think high contact sports should be for adults only.
    Marta

  48. Cath Young says:

    This one agitates me. I have one who loves football ever so much. His favorite sport by far and his favorite pasttime. Wajts to play high school and he is a beanpole. It tears at me as to what to do because, I too have read the stats, and have lived high school football for years through my other kids.

    A bit unfair to write that he will not be play football when the final decision with his father involved is really still pending. Is this article ok by his dad?

  49. Artemisia says:

    Katie, good for you x 1000. I don’t live in a state where football has cult status, so it’s easier to say no. With the latest research, I know I’ve reached the point where it would take some serious mental twists and loops to justify allowing it.

    My boys have survived just fine playing every other sport plus running and swimming and triathlon-ing.

    And, Lolismom, excellent comment.

  50. Jenn @ Juggling Life says:

    I was no football with two athletic boys as well. What I did was steer them very early toward another fall sport–water polo. They took too it wonderfully–in fact my younger son is going to play in college next year. Even though football is popular in Southern California it is nothing like it is in other places, so that did help. This is definitely a parenting decision–I hope you work it out with E’s dad.

  51. Tel says:

    I always find it interesting that people are sure you are parenting your child incorrectly. I don’t have kids, but I would assume that you know yours best. I applaud you standing up for your beliefs with your kids, even it if is the unpopular call.

    I certainly don’t agree with every decision my strict parents made raising me, but I do know that each and every one of those decisions was in what they considered to be my best interests, and I can respect that. Hopefully E. can do the same (note, it may have taken a few years :) )

    As for football, I have been an EMT at football games. The only local sport where they always have an ambulance on standby for games. I have backboarded a few players as a precaution after hard hits to the head and neck. It is the only high school sport I have had to do that for.

  52. Jenny says:

    We lived in TX for 14 years. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and football is no exception. We are also OU season ticket holders. I love watching the game. And my answer is “No, I do not plan to consent before my son is old enough to give his own consent”. Even I know that the game has become bigger and more violent over the years. At college and pro level these athletes are trained to be machines, to hurt and play hurt. That trickles down to all ages. Besides that, you’ll always find a parent in the audience encouraging their kid to “take that kid out”. No, thanks.

    Troy Aikman was my celebrity crush until he and I married (other people). I met him a few times. He doesn’t brag on it much but back in the day he spent more than a little time volunteering at the Children’s Hospital. I had a crush on his looks and body but I respected his spirit. He spent real time talking to the kids there, never cutting them off to rush out. Thanks for the link to a handsome man.

  53. jzzy55 says:

    Katie, you already lost one son to brain trauma (granted under very different circumstances than playing competitive contact sports, but still). I do not see why you have to spend one additional moment worrying about what could happen along those lines to your other son. E may not understand or appreciate your choice now, but one day he’ll be a father, too, at which point he’ll get it, and then some.

    I hope E’s dad is standing with you on this one. That should make it easier for E to swallow.

  54. myla says:

    hi take

  55. Melissa says:

    Katie – I very much respect how you parent, in general. We have many similarities. However, I disagreed with stopping boys from playing football, commenting on an earlier post on the same subject. My son is 10, and has played for a few years already. He loves it and is very good at it. I did not want to deprive him of that based on my own nervousness. Now…after reading this post, and the linked articles….I am not so sure. I feel a very heavy burden to say NO, that I have not felt before. This summer should prove interesting, it will be sign up time soon, so I need to take a stand soon. TY for sharing.

  56. QoB says:

    Just to chime in about rugby: yes, it is a contact sport, but it is less dangerous than American Football. Players wear only very mild shoulder padding: no helmets, no body padding, so the rules are very strict about what kind of tackles are allowed. High tackles are swiftly punished by the refs (at least in the pro games I watch) and there is no such thing as tackling a player with your head (!!!). I agree with you, Katie: given current evidence, someone E’s age should not be playing full-on American Football.

  57. K. C. says:

    To the people saying don’t keep your kid in a bubble because anything can happen anywhere, I am pretty sure that Katie of all people is fully aware of that.

    My MIL sent my husband to private school 25 years ago because the school was too small to
    have a football team. He has never regretted not playing football, not once. Kudos to Katie for
    protecting her son now from something that carries a risk of preventing him from living a full life as an adult.

  58. Kelli says:

    I am a USA Gymnastics Certified Professional Coach. I am very concerned with youth sports these days, in particular, football and cheerleading. In order for me to coach gymnastics, I had to be qualified and take a series of comprehensive tests. Even after growing up in a gym, I still had to spend many years as an assistant coach before I was able to command my own class. I have never had an injured child (besides a minor rolled ankle or something of the sorts), BUT I was properly trained in spotting them, understanding/respecting their limits, and the dangers of over-working them. The problem I see with football and cheerleading starts with coaching. Most youth coaches are unqualified and are little more than a parent or teacher who may have played the same sport when they were in school. There are freak accidents that can occur with anything. That’s not a valid defense to allow your child to be purposefully body slammed on the field or dropped from a pyramid on the sidelines. I absolutely cringe when I see improperly trained cheerleaders doing stunts where their bodies are inverted or hoisted into the air without proper spotting. I have no answers for football, but I would suggest a crackdown on the hits, regardless of the improvement in helmets and pads. You don’t purposefully, repeatedly expose developing bodies to that. As for cheerleading, start your kids in gymnastics so they have some sense of safety. Or put them in a program at an actual gymnastics academy where they are trained by licensed coaches. My gymnasts are rarely disciplined, but if they don’t use the safety techniques I teach them, they do push-ups, run laps, or any other unpleasant activity I can inflict on them to make them understand I will not tolerate it. As with any sport, watch the coaches. You have instincts, use them. Kudos, Katie.

  59. Deborah says:

    I agree My ex husband and I are in a dispute over our 11 year old playing football, I try to put it to him like this I was an athlete growing up now at 36 I have knee, back and neck aches from all the cheering, track ect…. All for the schools or leagues to be the best…. Now what I did my time full of injuries? Nothing take the pro’s you get hurt and you are out of play they let you go no more bread winner and they replace you for the next, I’m not willing to sacrifice my Childs safety for other peoples benefit.

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