The AJC’s Steve Hummer wrote a piece on Sunday looking at the heated debate about whether it is safe for kids and teenagers to play football.
“Hundreds of former players — their numbers seemingly swelling by the week — are suing the NFL. They say the league mishandled their head injuries, leaving them with long-term brain damage.”
“Within just the past month, two former pros, Junior Seau and Ray Easterling, have committed suicide. Had their minds been shorted out by football? Were they martyrs to our lust for violent sport?”
“The answers to those questions could fundamentally impact America’s chosen game.”
“At the household level, it comes down to one intimate question:”
“Should my child play football?”
“The question has been asked by worried parents since Pop Warner was coaching the single wing and is being posed even more so now here in the Age of Concussion Angst.”
” ‘I just got off the phone with an old friend whose son is starting ninth grade spring football practice. We talked for a half an hour about that very issue. It’s on everyone’s mind,” said Bruce Hagen, an Atlanta attorney who is co-counsel for more than 200 players who have filed suit against the NFL.’ ”
“Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner stirred the pot last month when, asked if he preferred his sons not play football, he candidly responded, “Yes, I would. Can’t make that choice for them if they want to, but there’s no question in my mind.”
‘He has since backed off that stance, but didn’t until some of his peers roasted him. Included among them was ESPN’s Merril Hoge, whose own playing career was cut short by chronic, devastating concussions. He called Warner’s opinion ‘irresponsible and unacceptable. ‘”
“A couple of years ago, Adam Cohen, a general counsel for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, wrote an essay for the New York Times about his 10-year-old son’s reaction to a concussion he suffered during a youth game.”
“Young Will Cohen no longer plays. He instead runs track and cross country. And dad is hardly heartbroken.”
” ‘I was ecstatic [he quit football],’ Adam said. ‘I am a football fan, have been a Philadelphia Eagles lover for 35 years. But I learned very quickly I had no desire to be a football parent, to have to vicariously worry about the sorts of permanent damage he might be doing to himself.’ ”
“The testimonies of players who have come forward with tales of headaches and memory lapses and depression have so affected Cohen that he’s reconsidering his relationship with the game as a fan.”
” ‘It brings up a great deal of conflict within me,’ he said. “Am I somehow complicit when I switch on the game on Sunday or we fly back [to Philadelphia] and go to Lincoln Financial Field and root on a big hit by Trent Cole? I wonder, is this something morally I need to step away from?’ “
So what does the medical community say? From the AJC:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 55,000 cases of traumatic brain injury — concussions mostly — per year throughout all of high school football. More awareness has meant more reporting of concussions, and the growing numbers have prompted the CDC to declare sports-related traumatic brain injuries an epidemic.”
“Facts sometimes fail parents who are looking for a definitive to-play-or-not-to-play solution. Any long-term damage done by playing football has not been quantified.” “In fact, the CDC’s Institute for Occupational Safety and Health just released a records-based study of more than 3,400 NFL players who were in the league for at least five years between 1959-1988 and found that they had a lower death rate than the general population. That included death by heart disease, cancer and, yes, suicide. The Institute plans to similarly study the incidence of early Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues.”
“Dr. Steve Kroll of Georgia Sports Medicine estimates that he has seen more than 1,000 concussion cases in the past two years. Maybe 20 percent of those involve football. Other sources may surprise you.”
“One in particular is cheerleading,” he said. “They don’t have pads. They don’t have helmets. And they actually suffer quite a few concussions.”
I absolutely think in Georgia (and probably in most of the South) there is a greater pressure than in other regions for kids to play football. I think it comes from parents and the other boys. While kids play football in Arizona, I definitely do not feel or see the same mania about the game as in Georgia. (Those ASU fans think they love their team but they have never been to a Georgia game!)
So what do you think: Do recent news stories about players make you rethink your position on the sport? Do the medical stats worry you or do you feel like they don’t support there being a great risk?
Is the risk worth the reward of playing? Can kids get the same team building and “man building” experiences through other sports?
Do you worry/pray if you son is playing? Is head injury a constant worry? Do you feel that way during other sports?