The most important question in the wake of Junior Seau’s suicide, the question that brings the issue down to the local level, is this: What do you do if you’re a parent?
Sure, we are learning more and more about the dangers of football at the NFL level.
We read about the suicides of three former players in the past 15 months, each death linked at least tangentially to repeated brain injuries.
We read about a study linking head trauma to effects that are similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
And we hear about the NFL facing numerous lawsuits from former players who claim the league did little to protect them from such injuries.
Make no mistake: The NFL has a problem.
That’s the reason why the league came down so hard on the New Orleans Saints for bountygate.
That’s the reason the NFL is desperately trying to improve player safety without legislating big hits out of the game.
But the problem goes well beyond the immediate threat of lawsuits and a disconcerting public discussion. It goes to the future of the game and the issue of head trauma for younger players.
So, what do you do if you’re a parent and your youngster wants to play football?
Thousands of people have played football over the years with no long-lasting effects. On the other hand, logic tells us that repeatedly banging your head into a wall has to carry some consequences.
As Jason Scukanec says: “There’s a dark side. When you play football, your body’s a credit card and you just charge it and charge it and charge it. And eventually, that bill comes due.”
Scukanec, a Portland sports-talk radio host who played at Brigham Young and had a cup of coffee in the NFL, refuses to let his son play football, at least until high school.
And while that might or might not be the right decision for others, the news from recent years should give every parent pause.
Me? I don’t know what I would do.
I have a 9-year-old boy and a 3-year-old boy, and I secretly am hoping they don’t show an interest in playing football.
Sure, I love to watch the game. Sure, I understand the benefits of challenging yourself in a sport and being a part of a team. But I don’t know if I could handle watching them get hit on a football field or suffer an injury. I don’t know if I could rationalize the long-term risk of having them repeatedly ram their head into people.
Earlier this year, researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest published a study of youth football players in which sensors were inserted into helmets to measure impact. The study found that some hits, albeit infrequent, were equivalent to “some of the more severe impacts that college players experience, even though the youth players have less body mass and play at slower speeds.”
Some of this, I’m sure, will be viewed as an indictment of football. Much of the discussion of Seau’s suicide, I’m sure, will be viewed as an indictment of the NFL.
That’s not necessarily the case. What this is, hopefully, is a call for parents and players to understand the risks and make an informed decision about whether to play football.
The benefits of the sport can be profound. But so can the consequences.