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I'm starting to wonder if I thought about it enough before encouraging my son to play football.
The risk of playing football is a hot topic. Even the great quarterback Kurt Warner expresses reservations about whether he'd want his sons playing football. The suicide of Junior Seau, the attention to concussions in the game and the general examination of the sport's violence has us all thinking.
I realize I haven't just allowed my son to play football, I've encouraged it.
I played football in high school, and have nothing worse than a faint scar on my chin – the result of plastic chin strap meeting old-school forearm shiver – as part of the downside. I remember, more vividly, the camaraderie of the team, the thrill of catching a pass and the sights and smells of Friday night football.
My son, Reggie, wanted to play football by middle school, fueled by watching the NFL, college and some high school games, and it seemed natural to me. I'd like to say I weighed the pros and cons for days before reaching a decision. But I was flippant, barely giving Phyllis, my wife, a chance to weigh in.
Our decision went something like this:
Son: “I want to play football.”
Wife: “Are you sure he should play?”
Me: “Yeah, don't worry about it.”
The fact of the matter is, so far, my sophomore-to-be son's worst football injury was a jammed finger, twisted and swollen after he caught it in the shoulder pads of a player while making a tackle.
As far as head injuries, his most memorable hit was a head-on collision. In middle school soccer.
But with the topic of the dangers of football again on the front burner, I've been forced to reconsider the subject.
There's a real temptation to say forget about football. Concentrate on baseball or basketball during the high school years. Yes, injuries happen in other sports. How many hoops stars have undergone torn anterior cruciate ligaments? It's not like health is assured in other sports. They all come with risk of injury.
Still, the other team's players are intentionally slamming into my son and trying to knock him down as hard as possible. Hitting in football brings more potential harm than hitting in baseball.
At 15 or 16, athletes can't truly weigh the risks vs. rewards. The maturity's not there. So we, as their parents, have to advise what's best. It's not an easy call.
I appreciate the strides made in equipment. I'm thankful this is the era where coaches know you don't punish players by withholding rest or water. I appreciate the fact athletic trainers and, in turn, coaches, take head injuries seriously.
I also know there's no guarantees against injury, no matter how great the equipment or how cautious the coach.
I'm still OK with my son playing football. He wants to play, and I'm all about making the most of opportunity in the formative high school years.
Yes, I hold my breath when he gets hit. But, as a parent of three, I've learned that holding your breath as your children grow – in football, and in life – is forever part of the deal.