Have at It: Football and your child

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
11:05
AM ET
This week's Have at It was intended for mature audiences. DomDoyle was disappointed at the participation level, but I would rather have an intelligent conversation among friends (at least on this week's issue) than the chaotic free-for-alls these posts occasionally devolve into.

[+] EnlargeDave Duerson
AP Photo/NFL PhotosDoes the suicide of former Bears safety Dave Duerson affect how you'd feel about your kids playing football?
The issue was whether recent revelations about head injuries and the psychological health of former NFL players has changed your thinking on the safety of the game. Would you allow your child to play football? The suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, since revealed to have a form of brain damage present in at least two dozen other deceased players, has added a horrific local angle to this debate.

Some of you didn't view the issue as a dispute. "Football is dangerous?" wrote DLions1026. "Who knew?"

DLions1026 added: "Fact of the matter is, life in general is dangerous. There are more people killed or seriously injured driving to the store to get a gallon of milk. We, as human beings, take risks. We do what we love. If my son wants to continue to play a game that he loves, I can't stand in his way and say no because it is dangerous. Jumping out of an airplane is dangerous, but we still do it. Mountain climbing is dangerous. Surfing or just swimming in the ocean in general. Each and every sport has its dangers, everything has a risk.

"The alternative is staying at home, sitting on the couch, being afraid to go out and enjoy life, being scared of everything, to me that is the bigger danger. Live and let live. This news doesn't surprise me. Does it concern me? Sure. But it won't change anything. People will do what they love, as well as they should."

I don't disagree, although the analogies of driving cars or jumping out of airplanes don't entirely work for me. Driving is safe until something goes wrong. The same goes for jumping out of airplanes. The fear with the future mental health of football players is that it's based on the fundamental nature of playing the game -- violent and unavoidable head contact -- rather than being an outlier.

No matter the circumstances, many of you see the issue as a matter of free-willed risk. "Either play or don't," wrote Dr. Doom6. "Playing football is a choice," wrote Tearloch, who offered some suggested for making it less dangerous that included stricter safety requirements for helmets.

Players must accept the risk involved, wrote pjm901: "There is no way you are going to eliminate head trauma from football. Intentional or not guys are going to get hit in the head. You can make some improvements in technique, both on offensive and defensive players, and in helmets. Ultimately football is a violent sport and unfortunately some players are going to have long term problems once their playing days are over."

That's a sobering thought for all us. Is any game worth that sort of risk? A person could lead an invigorating and fulfilling life without playing football. The same couldn't be said of someone who, for example, refuses to ride in a car for fear of the inherent risk of a crash. Some risks are more necessary than others.

KonnerKWHSLine, for one, has seen too much. Here's a snippet: "For our family which is 60 years invested into the game the answer is 'No More'. That is the hardest thing I thought I would ever say.

"But after seeing my father crippled from six years of collegiate ball, two sons with multiple concussions and one who lost his memory and can't work, and the horrors I have witnessed as a youth coach for 20 years I changed my mind. What most football people like me never get to understand or see is the great number or affected players and former players. We are trained to hide this particular injury."

My take? This was a difficult issue for me. I always tell you what I think on this blog, but I try to avoid telling you about me. That's not what this blog is about, and it's (presumably) not why you come here. So when I posted the original question, I wasn't sure how I would address whether I want my children to play football.

That's why I was so glad to read Mjoldnir's response. He eerily nailed every thought I had, pro and con, and I'm sure you would rather read it in the words of your fellow reader than my own. In short, I'm hoping I never have to make a ruling on this issue in my own life.

Here's what Mjoldnir wrote:

"I played football for as long as I could, beginning with pee-wee, and through high school. I wasn't good enough for the college game by a longshot! But I loved everything about being on a football team: practices in the dirt and mud, the camaraderie, even the coach grabbing my facemask and screaming at me when I botched a play. Football pushed me past the point where I might have otherwise given up, and instilled the values of determination, work ethic and teamwork. Especially teamwork.

"I love how everything I did was part of a bigger picture, how a missed block on the backside of a play could wind up blowing the play up. It taught me to sweat the little stuff, to see the big picture, and to always have the backs of the people on my team. That's carried over to my career and even my personal life. These are huge life lessons that I'm not sure I could have learned as effectively from any other sport or endeavor.

"And yet I pray my son never asks me to sign a permission slip to play football, because I don't know if I could tell him no. I want my son to learn those life lessons. Maybe even a shredded knee would be worth it. But I don't want my boy -- the most precious thing in my life -- to risk damaging his brain."

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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