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No, You Cannot Play Football

No, You Cannot Play Football

By Amalah

We recently moved from a Washington, D.C. suburb to one that’s generally more embraced as a Baltimore ‘burb. Which means we changed football team territories. Now, we’ve never been a big televised-sports-watching family (I enjoy the Olympics and tennis but can really only tolerate watching if I’ve DVR’d them and can fast-forward through the commercials and filler), but football has slowly taken hold among our boys, so the Sunday games are now something we watch pretty regularly.

And football is BIG where we live now. Baltimore’s home team spirit is unlike anything I’ve experienced outside of college. (I grew up outside Philly where fans routinely boo their own teams, and I pretty much ignored D.C. football other than the occasional “just CHANGE THE NAME ALREADY!” sigh of exasperation.) And we’ve encouraged our boys to embrace and enjoy the fan culture. They have new Ravens jerseys, pennants on their doors, and my husband is super jazzed about taking the older ones to their first real football game downtown.

But no, they will not be playing football anytime soon.

Sure, toss a ball around the backyard, practice some kicks, maybe a flag/no-contact league but that’s it. My signature will never, ever appear on a permission slip for traditional football. Or any high-impact sport, for that matter.

This recent op-ed from The New York Times sums up my feelings pretty well: We didn’t used to KNOW the lasting, permanent brain damage high-impact sports (generally considered to be boxing, football, ice hockey & some martial arts) can inflict on amateur and professional players alike. Now, we know. And it’s not pretty. Repeated blows to the head, even while wearing a helmet, can damage a brain on a cellular level — and unlike other parts of our bodies, the brain cannot repair its cells. We have a set number of brain cells and that’s all we get. The damage is permanent, and even an amateur player can accumulate enough cellular injuries over a typical high school career to cause serious, life-long problems from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E.

Among those problems: major depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts/actions, drug and alcohol issues and dementia later in life. I admit my enthusiasm for watching college and professional football gets dimmed a bit every time I read about C.T.E., since so many of the current players were probably never aware of these specific risks when they started playing, and there still aren’t enough safety measures in place to protect them. A torn ACL or broken bone will heal. Your brain will not. Ever.

We sign our kids up for sports because it’s fun, it’s good for them physically and socially, because we played them as kids and enjoyed the experience. But when it comes to the high-impact sports, I can’t imagine signing my children up for something so risky to their still developing brains, especially when they are too young to understand those risks.

After everything I’ve done so much to protect their growing brains so far, be it bike helmets and car seats and obsessing over plastics and environmental toxins all the way back to my pregnancies, I’m not going to ignore the pretty clear and stern warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics about children, contact sports and the seriousness of C.T.E. just because “oh, it’s just youth football or hockey, it’s tradition, it’s culture, it’s fun.” 

If your young children want to play football, flag football remains a much safer alternative. The issue of player safety remains just as concerning, however, for teenagers who want to play on school teams where tackling is allowed and concussions aren’t always treated as seriously as they should be. Those teenage brains are still developing…for some human beings the brain continues to develop until age 25. So unless youth and high school and college teams start making major changes to protect the younger, most vulnerable players (and some are! and I’m hopeful more will, with the release of the movie Concussion and increased media attention on C.T.E)…well, my children will be sitting this game out.


Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Kelsey

    My husband played football growing up and REALLY wants our kids to play too, but I told him HELL NO. It’s just too dangerous. I WANT them to do sports, just not ones that are going to damage their little noggins irreparably. Sports were a big part of my family growing up, too, but we never did contact sports (we’re a competitive swimming family). We haven’t yet figured out what sports our kids will do (other than swimming, that’s a life skill that they HAVE to learn), but until they can legally sign their own waivers, they will NOT be participating in any contact sports. Nope.

  • Gabbi

    I’m a middle school teacher and I have seen kids who are FOREVER changed by repeat concussions. It is so sad to watch a 13 year old’s future outlook change drastically because of a sport. My kids will not play football. It’s broken my heart as a teacher to watch what can happen and I won’t allow my kids to take that risk.

  • Robin

    This is so scary.  My brother was a great football player in high school, and went on to receive a college scholarship and even play in the NFL. He now coaches football professionally.

    However, he was NEVER allowed to play tackle football when he was a child; flag only.  I can’t ever imagine allowing a small child to play full-pad football, especially when a majority of hte coaches are just volunteers, who; although well intentioned, have very little knowledge of how to keep those kids safe.  And, knowing what we know now, I’m sickened to think of the harm that has been done to children in the past.

    Unfortunately, while people like my brother are extremely contentious about protecting their players, there are others who coach who are not, and there is very little oversight.  I would love to see some strict guidelines that have built in accountability measures to make sure that football players (especially those in high school) are protected if they choose to play. 

  • Bethany

    The day before our second son was born, a local kid was injured in a high school football game. That was two and a half months ago. He’s leaving the hospital today in a wheelchair that he’s learning to push with arms that are mostly paralyzed. Barring a miracle or massive scientific breakthroughs, he will never walk again. So that’s why I’m in the “Never” camp.

  • Traci

    Yeah, I’m in the camp of do fun things but protect your brain. You simply can’t protect your brain while playing football.

    I think as a society we need to really consider what new information teaches us. My uncle was paralyzed sliding head-first in baseball in high school. He’s one of the reasons that isn’t allowed anymore.

    One thing I’m really concerned about is trampolines and the advent of these new trampoline places like skyzone. The AAP is staunchly against trampolines outside of training with professionals and I know that no er doc would buy one. My kid is 21 months and I’ve already had to say no…it’s tough. I figure the AAP doesn’t make blanket no statements very often so we should listen to this.

  • tadpoledrain

    I absolutely agree with you that I wouldn’t ever let a (theoretical, at this point) child of mine play contact sports.
    However, I’d also like to go one step further and say that I would like to stop supporting contact sports, when we know that basically we are paying these players to slowly (or in some cases not so slowly) kill themselves for entertainment. For the same reason you don’t want to just say oh it’s tradition etc. and let your kids play anyway, because now we know what we didn’t know before… well, now we know what we didn’t know before.
    And it’s maybe more complicated than that, and there’s a lot of racial and socioeconomic issues involved. But I can’t reconcile (for myself – I don’t want to seem super judgey because I think it is a complicated issue, and there’s no real tradition of football or hockey watching or playing in my family, so it’s easy for me to say) telling kids no, you can’t play because it could damage your brain forever, and then taking them to cheer on a game where the same thing is happening to others and telling them that’s fun and ok.

    • Bethany

      I agree. And I wonder if people 500 years from now will look at football the way we look at jousting.

    • Lisa R

      I’m in this camp too. Easy for me to say, but even if we leave out the brain injuries too many people hurt other parts of their body! Makes me think of the coliseum a bit…

    • Kaylan

      I couldn’t agree more about trampolines!! I’m a gymnastics coach (as are my mother and sisters), and when people ask my mom her opinion about backyard trampolines, her response was always “There are four nationally certified gymnastics and trampoline coaches in our family, and I would still never consider having one.” Of course accidents can happen even under the best of circumstances with the right supervision, but as soon as you put more than one person at a time on a trampoline and start letting untrained, possibly non-athletic kids do ‘flips’… Oh man. In my opinion that’s just asking for a serious injury. 

  • Ann

    My hyenas played football, was in the army and even before all the studies and kids he was adamantly opposed to football.
    The culture can be toxic. The fact that most of the coaches must have low level brain damage just explains a few things for him.

  • Blargh

    Brain injuries are being found in baseball players (one killed himself in 2013) and soccer players.  People don’t consider these contact sports but how can they ignore how many times people  hit a ball with their heads in soccer?
     
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/the-first-baseball-player-diagnosed-with-chronic-traumatic-brain-injury/282390/
     
    Jim Edmonds, another baseball player has had multiple concussions and I believe has been diagnosed with post concussion syndrome and probably CTE at some point.

    • Kate

      Some people do but I certainly don’t. I grew up and still live where Amy does now and if she thinks the football culture is strong just wait until soccer season starts! I don’t have any problem letting young kids play soccer because they don’t head the ball but when they get older and that’s a think I’m not sure what I’ll do. Certainly I’ll discuss it with the coaches and tell my kids they aren’t allowed to head the ball but I’m not sure that will be enough.

  • Rachel

    I have a toddler and I already told my husband I’m not letting him play football because of those reasons.  Fortunately our kiddo is pretty tiny, so odds are he wouldn’t be all that good anyways.  I’m fine with other sports (we love baseball) but the football risk isn’t worth it.

  • Marisa

    My husband played a lot of competitive soccer through high school and sustained many head injuries. He says he remembers feeling emotions differently before the injuries. Before we even got pregnant, he swore there would be zero contact sports for our kids.

  • z

    I’m totally against it.  Just play a different sport already.  I only have girls so we’re not really expecting a battle over football, but cheerleading carries a lot of risks and a high injury rate too.  And gymnastics.  It just isn;t worth it!

  • Meg

    We’ve said no, but it is SO hard.

    Our 12 year old started a new school, and he feels like all of the cool, athletic kids are playing football (He’s probably not wrong), and we have ruined his life by not letting him play. 
    We also love to watch it, so there’s the hypocrite factor…..

    I know it should be easy to say no when you’re talking about your kid’s health and safety, but when it’s your real-life 12 year old who feels like he doesn’t fit in, and it’s Your Fault, it’s just…..hard.

  • Kim C

    I have girls. Both of them are short, light weight little people who would make perfect gymnastics/ cheerleader “fliers”. And absolutely, positively hell to the no. Nobody is going to fling my kids in the air, while I’m watching with my heart in my throat hoping another kid will catch them. And if they were boys, I wouldn’t be ok with football either.

  • Renee

    Child Athlete here – was on the National Olympic team as a 15 year old (non-Olympic year sadly) in Tae Kwon Do.  Took the 13th concussion and the doctor’s advice to STOP ALREADY right before the Olympic trials.  15 years later and I realize those signs and symptoms of CTE started showing up 5 years ago.

    Here’s hoping I don’t have to be the unfun Mom who tells my girls no to something they have passion for.  

  • vanessa

    i don’t know why anyone would let their child play football at any age, and actually i would like to see more parents actively NOT supporting football. the culture is totally fucked up, toxic masculinity at it’s finest. 

  • Kim

    My husband was a Div I soccer player in college. Before he got to that level, he was a child athlete starting at age 5 with soccer and T-ball. He played baseball and soccer through high school and accumulated a total of 8 concussions with both sports before college. He added two more concussions in college. Vision and hearing problems started in his late 20’s. He has ringing in his left ear constantly and is mostly deaf in that ear. Now, at 46, he is displaying CTE. Depression, check. Memory loss, check. Aggression and anger issues, check.

    Our children will be sitting contact sports out.