Health Interviews Parenting

Youth Football and Concussions: Is the risk worth it?

day of play 3My 9 year old son is athletically gifted (or so I’ve been told) and has naturally taken to every sport he has tried. I’ve always supported his athletic endeavors, stood behind him, and even coached him. Lately though, I’m not sure I can support his latest desire — to play football.

The fact is, with all the medical research connecting concussions from playing football with mental illness and brain impairment later in life, I don’t know if I can sit back comfortably and watch my son collide with other kids. The NFL and NCAA have recently implemented rules forbidding head-on hits, no doubt a partial response to the multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by former NFL players against the NFL over brain trauma (a $765 million settlement was just announced in that case). Yet, head-on collisions still happen in almost every game.  And now new studies have discovered that children are not immune to the damage – the hits they take are equivalent in magnitude to the hits college and professional players take and more than 25,000 children end up in the ER each year with concussions from football. 25,000.

So with all of these concerns, I’ve been struggling with the question of whether I should let my son play youth football.  I’m not the only one; last year future Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner stated that he wasn’t sure he’d want his kids to play football.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Hall of Famer Harry Carson and current New York Giant Cornerback Terrell Thomas at a Worldwide Day of Play event on board the Intrepid in NYC. We were discussing the importance of health and fitness when our conversations turned toward youth sports. I brought up the risk of concussions and asked both of them why I should let my kids play football.  Here’s what they said.

Harry Carson:  You have to ask yourself how important it is to you. Ask yourself why you are willing to put your kids into that situation. Brain injuries are serious. They can’t be undone. Are you willing to have your kids damaged for life? Ask yourself why you would want to do that.

Terrell Thomas: There are possibilities for injuries in every sport. In soccer you can blow out a knee or an ankle. In baseball, kids can hurt their shoulders. Every sport has the potential for someone being injured. That’s why it is important for parents to look into the leagues. Leagues need to have the health of the children the top priority.

After I spoke with Mr. Carson, I looked up his history and discovered that because of depression caused by concussions, he contemplated suicide. So like Mr. Carson suggested, I asked myself, “how important is football to me” or for that matter, “how important is football to my son?” And I realized that the answer to the question for me was “not important enough.”  My son could blow out his knee or shoulder playing soccer, but his chances are much better that he’ll keep all of his mental faculties.  He may be disappointed now, but I have no doubt that he’ll lead a full and rewarding life even if he never plays football.  I’m just not ready or willing to take the chance.

With Hall of Famer Harry CarsonTerrell Thomas


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