Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Repost: Would You Let Them Play?


(President Obama was recently quoted by The New Republic saying, “…if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play.” His comments reminded me of a Fire & Hammer post from May 7th, 2012, written shortly after the suicide of former Chargers’ player Junior Seau. Recently Seau’s brain was examined and found to have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Seau’s family is suing the NFL and helmet maker Riddell.)

How the death of Junior Seau weighs on the mind of a football dad.

I love football but must admit the relationship has become a bit strained lately. Over the last couple of years the news out of the NFL is causing me to rethink my support of the sport, especially with what we have heard the last couple of weeks. Word of bounties and the recent apparent suicide by a high profile former player have me questioning my interest. No, I am not too soft to watch an inherently brutal sport. I have become hesitant when it comes to football because of my oldest son’s dream.

My son dreams of playing in the NFL. As a kindergartener he could not wait to put on a helmet and make his first tackle. After a handful of years in youth football he still has his dream, staying with it though he knows the odds are against him. Each year he looks forward to playing on the next level, moving from one weight class to the next even thinking about what colleges he might want to play for. So it was a difficult decision whether or not to talk with him about the recent death of Junior Seau.

Junior Seau was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We do not know, and most likely will never know, why he killed himself. Yet his death echoes that of former Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest about fourteen months ago. Their deaths add fuel to the discussion over repetitive head trauma and its effects on players in the NFL. And while most NFL players live after their carriers without showing any signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a good number do show other signs of the beatings that are an unavoidable part of football. Knowing this I can’t help but wonder if my son’s dream will leave him with a broken body or even a broken mind.

The news of Seau’s death opened the door for a conversation with my son about the health issues being faced by a number of former NFL players. I did not want to crush his dream but I believe he is now at an age where he can handle this discussion. The odds are against him ever making it to the NFL but if the opportunity does arise I want him to make an informed decision, being aware of the issues surrounding the industry. However for some parents being informed is not good enough.

I have heard fathers say they will not let their sons play football. They have seen enough evidence of the game’s physical toll to warrant their pointing their sons in other directions. On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who push their children into the sport without any concern beyond raising the next pro-bowler. For now I have left the decision in my son’s hands, keeping him informed of what goes on beyond the game. How about you? In light of what we know about repetitive head trauma are you/would you allow your children to play football?

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