Would I let my kid play football?
Playing football is and always has been a dangerous proposition. It involves risk. It's a dangerous sport and concussions are a serious matter from youth football coordinators to the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell.
The NFL has taken drastic steps to address concussion concerns. They have always been a proactive league in dealing with player issues and safety. The "head-slap" was outlawed decades ago, spearing (where a player would take the crown of his helmet and launch himself at a player going to the ground) was vanquished, and many other rules/infractions have evolved out of concern for player safety.
Although Mr. Goodell's motives may not be altruistic, there is genuine concern for players that have experienced the early onset of dementia or CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). The concern for players is genuine because players are the league's product. If players suffer, the league's product suffers and if the league's product suffers revenues decline…maybe dramatically.
And this is why football is currently in a state of flux.
Playing football has never been safer than it is today. Football at every level has made concussions and the prevention of concussions concern number-one. The rules and regulations swirling around concussions are more stringent than they have ever been.
The NFL has changed the rules considerably to a point where they may be treading on the very essence of the game. Players can no longer use their helmet as a weapon on unsuspecting players and, in some cases, suspecting players! Bloodsport combatants used to walk between the white lines with the certain knowledge they were NOT their brother's keeper. Determined to mitigate head trauma in the game, rule changes by the NFL over the last few seasons has changed that maxim: you ARE your brother's keeper.
Helmet manufacturers are scrambling to come up with better helmets and have even used nature as inspiration. In a new study, researchers have detailed the precise motions woodpeckers make with their heads and show how the construction of their skulls protects their bird brains from concussion-like injuries. Scientists believe equipment manufacturers might use this miracle of creation to help prevent brain injuries to athletes on the gridiron by mimicking the woodpecker's spongy skull.
Baseline tests for players are now the standard. These tests are used to help doctors quantify whether or not a player has returned to his normal level of functionality after suffering head trauma. Players that show any cognitive atrophy are not allowed to resume playing until they reach or exceed their baseline.
Which brings us back to Mac & Gaydos and the question: Would I let my son play tackle football?
Yes…with an asterisk.
There is nothing wrong with parents letting their son play tackle football when he's 7 or 8-years old. It's a personal choice. I judge nobody. But I wouldn't do it.
My asterisk: I wouldn't let my son play tackle football until he was 13 or 14-years old and it has nothing to do with concussions or the risk he may face in the future.
I want my son to be a kid and not worry about tapping into his primal-self until he's old enough to understand what that means. In addition, I don't want my boy subjected to any sort of serious injury he doesn't already face just by being a kid. And I cannot count the number of guys I played with in high school and college that had been playing tackle youth football since they were 7 that flamed out on football by the time they were 18 or 19.
I have two brothers that also played football. All three of us received full-ride scholarships to play football. My older brother, Craig, played professionally for 12 years; I played 10 years in the NFL. None of us started playing organized football until we were 14.
Life is about balancing risk and reward. As parents, we try to limit the amount of risk our children are exposed to and hope the rewards of that risk are realized. We let our kids ride in cars, get on planes, ride their bikes in the street, ride dirt bikes and get on four-wheelers. Although these things can be dangerous, the confidence, growth and benefit a child gains by doing these things are significant.
Some of us even encourage our children to enroll in Junior ROTC programs and encourage them to be soldiers because we understand the rewards of serving our country. Even though they might be placed in harm's way and face peril, we support these brave souls. The risk is worth the reward (and their risk is our reward).
Football involves risk and concussions and their long-term effects are serious; but in the Wolfley Compound the rewards of playing the game outweigh any risk, especially with the rule changes and precautions being enforced. Football reinforced everything my father ever taught me about life: discipline, work ethic, respect for authority, independence, personal responsibility and teamwork weren't just words, but deeds. And if there's a better metaphor for life than getting knocked to the ground on the gridiron and getting up and doing it again…and again…and again, I'd like to see it.
Finally, there are two types of clans in the world: those that camp by the pond and those that camp by whitewater. Once you figure out which clan you belong to you'll live a much happier life.