Parents Share Thoughts About Potential Brain Injuries Caused by Football

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The conversation about football and brain injury (including dementia) took an interesting twist recently. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay reported that Tom Brady Sr., the father of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady Jr., has commented that, due to the continual reports about the effect that football head injuries on long-term brain health, he’d be reluctant to let his son play the sport if Tom Jr. was a teenager today. Retired National Football League MVP Kurt Warner also expressed concerns about the sport’s impact and is not sure whether he will let his sons play.

    So how are other parents approaching this situation? I polled several friends who have roots in football-crazed Texas this weekend about their young sons’ participation in football. Some are taking a “wait and see” approach while others are pointing their sons toward different sports. And for some, other factors -- like lack of interest and time constraints -- come into play. Their responses are really interesting so I wanted to share them.

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    It turns out that S. and her husband had just discussed whether their sons would play football.  “My husband is Australian and we were talking about the difference between Aussie rules and American football,” S. said. “He (being an athlete himself) said that our sons won't play. Too many concerns about concussions. This is hard for me since it's so part of our Texan culture...and my brothers all played football from a young age through college. But with our soccer and swimming connections we will probably encourage them to do activities like those (Olympic sports).”

    Another friend said her son, age 10, loves tackle football and will be playing again this fall.  “Well, I should say that he has played 'organized' football since he was 7 - he's actually been tackling us and his older brother his whole life,” J. explained. “He loves football - gets up and turns ESPN on in the morning to watch stats, acts out plays in the living room all afternoon, and plays with his friends at recess, kids klub, and after school in the street or back yard. If he did not play on a team he would still be playing it somehow.

    “I do worry sometimes about him getting hurt, but at this point the kids are still grouped by size and they really aren't capable of hitting that hard yet,” J. said. “Not sure what we'll do as he gets older - we just take it a year at a time. I have heard the hype on the news, but I guess my thoughts are that you could get hurt doing almost anything - jumping on the trampoline (which we have), swimming at the pool (heard about a kid who was running, slipped and hit his head and died), riding bikes (yes, I still make them wear helmets), soccer (heading the ball) - it goes on and on. Jacob gets such joy out of playing and his league is so regulated that right now I guess I feel like the rewards of watching him enjoy himself and learn teamwork and sportsmanship outweigh the risks. Like I said, we re-evaluate every year though!”

  • Some friends aren’t as worried because their sons are opting for a different version of football. For instance, Kelli said her teenage son has just started playing 7-on-7 touch football and hasn't tried tackle football.

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    Other friends have sons who opted not to play due to a combination of a lack of interest and parental concerns, even though there was some peer pressure to play. “When our son was 4, a little kid followed us into the eyeglass store,” Inez recounted. “His dad hoped we would sign him up for youth football. I told the boy our son was too young. He came back and said, ‘Dad says 'Next year?'' Next year never came. Our boy got bigger and bigger, but a combination of his dislike of organized sports and my worries about injuries prevented him from football. He played soccer, t-ball and basketball growing up, but never football. Had he played, it would have been as an older boy, and now that he is 15, he is not interested. I saw my brother play football and deal with injuries his whole life. Not interested.”

    Time commitments have been behind some of my friends’ decisions to hold out their sons from football programs.  “Bennett has not played yet but not because we've ruled it out,” Shana said. “Rather, we both work full-time and prefer to keep our kids' activities limited for now -- we'd prefer to reserve that precious evening and weekend time for us.”

    So basically, my friends have mixed views about football, which brings me  to close with the lead paragraph from a thought-provoking article about the sport's future by Grantland’s Jonah Lehrer:  “If the sport of football ever dies, it will die from the outside in. It won't be undone by a labor lockout or a broken business model — football owners know how to make money. Instead, the death will start with those furthest from the paychecks, the unpaid high school athletes playing on Friday nights. It will begin with nervous parents reading about brain trauma, with doctors warning about the physics of soft tissue smashing into hard bone, with coaches forced to bench stars for an entire season because of a single concussion. The stadiums will still be full on Sunday, the professionals will still play, the profits will continue. But the sport will be sick.”

    Sources for This Sharepost:

    Gay, J. (2012). Football, fathers and the future. The Wall Street Journal.

    Lehrer, J. (2012). The fragile teenage brain: An in-depth look at concussions in high school football.

Published On: June 04, 2012