When I was growing up, every sport besides golf came naturally to me. I thoroughly enjoyed playing pickup football with friends, and when I was eight or nine, I asked my parents if I could join my town’s youth team. They begrudgingly agreed, but to their relief, I decided not to go through with it. The older I’ve gotten, the more I've realized why my parents did not want me to play. Players' safety is inherently jeopardized by football, which is why I probably won’t let my child play the game.
Concussions and head and neck injuries have affected far too many players over the years, from professionals playing in the NFL to children playing in youth leagues. We have begun to see the cumulative effects of head injuries in professional football players, whose lives are too often cut short. Over time, the concussions sustained by players result in a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of brain damage that robs athletes of their later years. While players have only recently begun to be evaluated for the condition, CTE has been confirmed in postmortem autopsies of at least 18 former football players.
CTE isn't just found in older or retired players. Owen Thomas, a 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania lineman who committed suicide, was found to have early signs of CTE. The NFL is now trying to protect its players, especially after the league paid a $765 million settlement to 4,500 former players, many of whom suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and depression, and believe that blows to their heads during game play are responsible for their conditions.
Youth football governing body USA Football has been attempting to teach kids the "proper" way of tackling from an early age, and to make sure participants are aware of the signs of a concussion. The organization is also showing parents how to properly fit players for helmets, to further limit injuries. USA Football's efforts are laudable, and I do not want to be the kind of parent that prevents my kids doing what they truly want, but the inherent risk for head injuries still seems too great. I don't think I can, in good conscience, suit my son up and have him launch himself around like a human missile.
And head injuries aren't the only problem. In the interest of safety, strict penalties have been put in place to deter players from targeting heads or leading with their helmets. However, as players move their focus away from head hits, more and more defenders are starting to go low, increasing the risk of season-ending and career-ending bodily injuries.
Given the prospect of brain injury and countless surgeries to repair physical damage, I have to say no. My child shouldn't risk a life filled with pain to just play a game.