Will You Let Your Son Play Football?

Three high school football players died last week. One is proven to be related to a hit he sustained on the field, the other two are under investigation, but all signs point to football related head injury as the cause.  On average 12 kids die each year on the football field or as a direct result of this hobby. I realize a lot of children play football, but still … 12 kids dead every year? Seem like an awful lot to me.

The majority of these deaths are due to dehydration and heat exhaustion, and happen in the South, where double practices, in full pads and high temperatures are common. Shame on them. Is a winning season worth a young life? Clearly these tragedies are avoidable. Some deaths are due to pre-existing heart conditions, which likely wouldn’t manifest fatally without the level of physical intensity demanded by the sport. The rest are due to head injuries.

Aside from the fatalities, the injuries sustained by football players are unnervingly common. You can try to forget about knees and shoulders, at least these shouldn’t impair a young man for life. Let’s talk about concussion. A high school football player has a 75% chance of getting a concussion. Once you’ve had one concussion, you are twice as, if not more, likely to have a second one. Concussions have been on the rise in recent years, and those I speak to who are in the know, believe this is due to the game being taught and played differently. Tack onto this risk all the head injury you can’t measure — all the small hits which don’t cause any major, visible damage, but which cause repeated damage on the cellular level. Consider the rage issues, dementia and personality problems career football players have. It may be America’s game, and it may be exciting, but is it worth it to let your child play?

If my boys want to play football, and I pray they won’t, will I let them engage in an extra-curricular activity that carries with it a chance, albeit a small one, of death? Will I allow them to play a sport in which they literally lead with their head. Sure, football players get to be the tough-guy boys of fall. They get the girls. They get the glory. I think I’d rather my boys get the grades and get out of high school in one piece.

So, what will I say if they beg to play this sport — a sport, by the way, I’ve always loved to watch? I don’t know. They are only four years old, so I have some time. The doctor in me, who understands the fragility of the human brain and a growing body, wants to say, “Hell, NO.” But, who knows what the American mom in me will say if the time comes? I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to raising kids. For now, I’ll just have to hope they develop an interest in music or academia. Teens don’t often drop dead in band, and no one’s brain capacity ever suffered from too much time spent in a classroom.

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