The shocking news of the suicide of pro football legend Junior Seau has opened up the discussion about the long-term impact of playing the violent sport of football. There have been many studies in recent years showing the severe effects of repetitive traumatic brain injuries, especially regarding concussions. These injuries often lead to what is termed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) which is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head. CTE was originally found in boxers but recent studies have discovered traces of this disease in many retired football players. The tricky part of CTE is that is can take effect years after retiring from the sport so the connection to football injury is rather blurred but research is clearing up this rather disturbing reality for too many players.The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.
Now why am I sharing all this on a website for dads and parents? Well, this whole subject matter hits home hard for me and many other parents who have big, strong sons who either play football or desire to do so. Many parents across the country are having serious discussions about the decision to let their child play the violent game or not. This was unheard of only a few short years ago as playing football was as natural as playing baseball but that is no longer the case. Many parents are making the difficult choice to forbid their children from playing football and opting for less dangerous sports.
As for me, the decision was made by my own son at age 10 after participating in a summer camp session for football at the local high school. My dreams of seeing my boy on the grid iron in high school and college went up in smoke when he realized that he quite simply did not like playing the game at all. I tried to change his mind for the longest time and used every tactic available but nothing worked. He was not going to play football anymore and I was devastated and crushed. Eventually, when I slowly came to my senses I realized that this was his life and that I could not force him to do something he didn’t want to do. I did not want to be the male equivalent of those stage moms who push their little angels into toddler beauty contests. So I learned to let it go.
By the way, here in Georgia, and I’m sure across the whole south and other parts of the country, they start recruiting kids very young and as early as possible. For example, the local high school started recruiting my son Nicholas when he was only about 6 or 7. They would send their star players to the middle schools and even elementary schools and focused on making impressions on the biggest and strongest looking children with the hopes of planting the seed for playing at their high school versus its competitors. At the time I found the whole practice strange but nothing serious. However, learning about the long term effects of playing football has changed my viewpoint of this common behavior by high school football programs. It also made me feel relieved that my son made the decision to quit the sport as quickly as he did too! I was so glad that he got out before he experienced any type of head trauma or other type of injury. Sadly, injuries are a common part of the game. It’s not if someone gets hurt but when.
Just today there was news of a class action lawsuit by over one hundred former pro football players against the NFL for not sharing information they had regarding the dangers of repetitive head trauma experienced in the game of football. This brings the total to 1,500 ex-players currently suing the league for withholding this critical data. Look for many more retired players to follow suit (no pun intended). I think all this will lead to radical changes to the sport to make it safer, especially when it comes to head injuries. The NFL has always improved its equipment and rules to protect its most valuable commodities, namely its players, but it seems as if it was still too little, too late for far too many of them. Let’s hope they do everything they can to reduce the risks these modern day gladiators endure for our viewing pleasure.
As for my boy Nicky, he’s 13 now and over six feet tall and 200 pounds already. So the football recruiters were right about him. However, he prefers to play other sports like soccer and baseball and to be honest with you, I am very happy that he’s not playing football after all. The comfort of knowing my sweet boy isn’t getting his head bashed in every time he practices or plays football more than makes up for initial sadness of giving up my dream as a father of watching my son being hailed as a hero on the gridiron. His health and happiness is truly the most important thing to me. Also, he has to choose the dreams he wants to make come true in his life.