My Son Will Not Play Football

One of the first agreements my wife, and I had about our son before he was born was that we would not push him into doing anything he did not want to do. We also would not discourage him from doing things he wanted to do. Essentially we were going to see how it played out. If he wanted to play basketball, bang the drums, write poetry, or travel South America we were not going to discourage it.

Unfortunately, I think my wife, and I are going to have to break that rule. Our son will never play football or hockey.

Yesterday, former NFL linebacker Junior Seau reportedly shot himself in the chest, and died. He is the eighth member of the 1994 San Diego Chargers to die, and another in a growing list of ex-football and hockey players to commit suicide. The leading candidate for the cause of this issue is traumatic brain injury. An injury occured while playing a sport.

My son is 20 months old. I have no idea if he is even going to be interested in playing football, or hockey. I also understand that the likelihood of him playing either sport at a professional (or even collegiate) level is astronomical. The NCAA estimates that the probability of my son playing hockey at the professional level is .32%, and football a measly .08%.

You may say that I am overreacting. That the highest level my son will probably play these sports is high school, and he will be done when he is 18 years old. Sadly, newer studies are showing that these brain injuries are occuring in high school athletes, and even earlier. The speed of the game is slower, but the continual slamming of heads together is still there. Add to the fact that pee-wee football, and high school football have lower tech equipment, and fewer trained professionals watching over the action, and you have created a perfect storm for brain injuries in kids.

Things could change. The NFL and NHL could work toward providing better equipment, and training to the lower levels of their respective games, and rule changes could create safer leagues. The truth is that both leagues come up short when dealing with concussions, and continually fail to provide care for their players, especially after retirement, and during the off-season. Who can blame them? Both leagues are multi-billion dollar industries, and scandals are bad for business.The problem is that player suicides become front page news, not just sports page news, when they are happening at an alarming rate. These leagues will need to deal with it at some point.

I suppose you could argue that my son will have some sort of issue in whichever field he decides to enter. He could be a depressed poet living in a studio apartment dreaming of becoming the next e.e. cummings, or the alcoholic drummer for a crappy Coldplay cover band called The Scientists, or he could be kidnapped while hanging out in Rio. Those things could all happen, I am not denying that, but if he plays football or hockey he is almost assured of suffering from head injuries. Injuries that over time become neurodegenerative diseases, and in some cases lead to suicide.

Maybe I am overreacting, but is it not my job to keep my child safe? In fact, I am sure it is my number one job, and if keeping him off a football field, or hockey rink, ensures he is around when he is in his forties then I am OK with a bit of overreacting.


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