Dear Michelle, I happened to tune in to Sixty Minutes last night and noticed the NFL commissioner talking about concussion related injuries. I know you have talked a lot about brain trauma and how it might be connected to violent crime. Do you think there is reason enough to ban the sport and never let your child play American football? – Concerned Citizen
I also had a chance to tune in to Sixty Minutes last night but it was only after someone sent me a text alerting me to the topic. I had been watching the Sunday night NFL game. Like you I am concerned with the safety of our citizens, and in particular our youth. In my opinion banning American football is not the answer. In fact, I think that when people think about banning the sport altogether they might fail to have considered the totality of circumstances. In other words, the focus might be on the violent nature of the game, but they discount or even ignore the positives. For example, does engaging in football cause some to take a route that stops them from engaging in drugs or crime? Do some do better in school because they are involved in the sport? What positives are associated with the sport such as teamwork, charity endeavors, etc., that the media tends to ignore? Do the potential benefits outweigh the associated risks?
Also, I often wonder if people ever think about the alternatives. I do not mean to answer your question with a question, but consider the following:
Would you let your child play American football as opposed to automobile racing, skateboarding, skateboarding, bull riding or MMA?
Sometimes when a question is posed in a different way it can allow an opportunity to shine light in a different direction. In this case, it’s possible to see that just because American football is not on the table, it’s not as though there is no alternative risk. So imagine if one were to disallow American football, but youth opt for auto racing instead and are still exposed to risks, including traumatic brain injury in a collision. Did banning the sport resolve all the problems associated with exposure to traumatic brain injury in sport? Is football really the worst thing a child can do? Do the negatives outweigh the positives?
That being said, I am aware of the risks involved in playing the game and I am happy to see that the NFL is taking the steps to ensure the game is as safe as possible. This is all they can do. I know that there are allegations that the league was in denial about the risks. Denial has been said to be one of our greatest enemies.
I also know there are deaths involved in the game. However, there are deaths involved in other games, as well. When my son was younger, my biggest fear was that a car might hit him while riding his bicycle. I had read the book Edward’s Eyes, which was about a small child who was killed while riding his bike and for some reason it just stuck with me. Every time I saw someone on a bike at night I got scared. I would constantly tell my son that I would prefer he call me to come pick him up and simply leave his bike until he could go back to get it in the morning, should it happen to be dark when he was on his way home. It’s not as though I banned him from riding his bike altogether but I did ask that he take precautions. Eventually, my son said, “Mom, I’ll be careful but I do not mind riding at night.” That was all he could do. I had to remind myself that we are not in control at all times and sometimes we simply need to be mindful.
When it comes to the risks involved in American football, I think that its very important that we all pay attention to variables that can lead to injuries, especially those that can be life threatening and/or life altering. Keep in mind though that there are positives associated with the sport. For example, many kids use football to ward off aggression and if it were not for football, perhaps that aggression might be channeled in other directions which might actually pose a greater risk both individually and collectively.
My son happened to have a traumatic brain injury when he was born. It was not caused by his engagement in football. As a result of my son’s brain injury, he was enrolled at Sylvan Learning at a very young age. Therefore during the months of August when he would have been required to practice football, he was not able to do so and therefore did not join any league. If I am going to be completely honest, I was not a fan of how youth leagues forced practice in the months of August when it was so very hot. My son often expressed disappointment that I did not allow him to play but he also understands that I wanted him to focus on his studies. If I had a young child now who wanted to play football, I suppose I would go to the league, check to see all they are doing to focus on safety, and if I felt they were doing all they could do to protect the children, then yes I do believe I would allow my child to play. Living is a risk, and I think it’s important to remember that the only full proof way to avoid injury in this life is to avoid living.