Sunday, January 27, 2013

Would you let your son play football? Obama weighs in

Would you -- or for that matter, do you -- let your son play football?

President Barack Obama, a major sports fan, has weighed in on football safety issues with an interview in The New Republic.

Obama told the publication that he's a football fan but that if he had a son, considering the impact the game has on its players, he would think long and hard before allowing his son to play.

It's a hypothetical question, of course. Obama has two daughters.

But what about you? Have you seen all these concussion-related studies? Do you know about the lawsuits? Do you think Junior Seau committed suicide because of the damage the game did to him, or were there other underlying reasons? Or, on a less severe note, do you think the violence is worth the risk and the reward of all that football played at any level can bring?

It's quite a debate. I think each household answers it differently.

I have three boys who are 14, 12 and 9. However, they go to a small charter school that doesn't field a football team. They are basketball and soccer players and have never expressed an interest in playing organized football anywhere else, although I have made their pickup football games in the backyard be two-hand tag (they prefer tackle, and when I'm gone they sneak in a game of tackle football sometimes anyway. You know this if you have ever raised a boy -- some part of them inherently likes contact. It's hard to keep them off each other).

I will tell you this: I love football. And it scares me. And like Obama, I've never had to make this decision, but I would come down about where he does on it, in the "think long and hard" area. I honestly don't know if I'd say yes or no.

I've attended the NFL hall of fame induction a couple of times and it's a real eye-opener, all those former NFL greats who now have trouble walking and, sometimes, talking. And those were the best of the best.

The game extracts a toll on everyone who plays it. No one gets away from the pain if they play long enough. And yet we love it.

Obama said that football fans are going to have to wrestle with the fact that the game will probably change over time to try to reduce the violence. The president says that some of those changes might make football, in his words, "a bit less exciting" but that it will be much better for players.

"And those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much," he said.

Obama also said he worries more about college players than those in the NFL because the pros have a union, are well-paid and are grown men.

"They can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies," Obama said of NFL players. "You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."

Lastly, if you are in the mood for an absolutely harrowing story, you must read this piece from Dan LeBatard in The Miami Herald about the damage Jason Taylor did to himself while becoming one of the best defensive ends ever. It is ridiculous, really, what Taylor put himself through -- but not uncommon. And he would do all of it again.


Unknown said...

Worry about fixing the national debt first, then we might give a crap what you think about football. Players get paid plenty for the risk they take every Sunday. If you're so concerned with people in danger ... don't you think the Military should make more??

Anonymous said...

i think we all should think about the future dealing with health issues before we decide to play

Anonymous said...

Great column Scott. It's unfortunate that our culture teaches us that this ritualized violence is considered normal or necessary. I loved the game, but mostly now i turn it off. I can't stand the blathering macho announcers and the sychophant sportswriters and the city councilmen waiting to give the Panthers $125 million to keep the local pugilists in our town....

America is in a trance, and the NFL and college football uses this tool to sell us stuff we don't need. Our culture would think twice about sending young men (and now women) into 3 trillion dollar wars if we did not objectify men. Go back to North Dallas 40, where Peter Gent makes the observation that pro football players objectify women because they objectify themselves first.

Women are just as guilty as men paying attention to this violence.

Anonymous said...

When I was raising my son, I prayed he would not like football and I steered him toward baseball. By the time he got in high school and several football players had died from the game --I was glad he had no interest.

While I love the game--it has become a very brutal sport--once the money became the God of football for owners then the game is not the same.

jeff a. taylor said...

First Scott, start here. VaTech and Wake Forest are just at the start of the science of evaluating helmets

It is normal that our data is based on technologies that were state of the art in in the 1970s. And techniques were radically different then too -- forearms, elbows, and the crown of the head were used as weapons. This radically different than what kids are being taught in youth football today.

The keen PR machine that the NFL is, it knows it has a perception problem across middle America. And the NFL is using USA Football as the transmission belt to get better technique and equipment to the youth level.

If I could wave a magic wand the NFL would mandate mouthpieces for all incoming players, much the same way that the NHL mandated helmets. High quality, boxing type mouthpieces (which have not been chewed to pieces by bored kids, BTW) are a necessary part of maximum brain protection.

And so are quality helmets with the proper fit. Parents have to be very informed and involved every step of the way with all of these aspects of playing football. Having said all that, take a look at the equipment the girls playing Lingerie Football are wearing (and come back.) That is what all football will look like in 10 years.

Anonymous said...

As father and coach of a six year old boy who LOVES sports (his first word was ball; he could dribble a basketball before he could walk) I know I'm going to have to address this question someday. Right now he plays soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, and although he hasn't yet asked to try football, he loves the game so it's a matter of time. I have to say I'm not against contact sports and am OK with the physical nature of competitive play, but football just takes it to a whole other level that really concerns me. When that day comes, it'll be a difficult discussion because I never want to hold him back from somthing he really wants to do. I just hope I can convince him to continue to develop his talents in the sports he already plays and loves.

Anonymous said...

Football wasn't as violent in the past. I blame much of the current violence on the media (I blame lots of things on the media, BTW). ESPN especially highlights violent plays, and the players want to be featured on Espn.

I also think better equipment has increased injuries rather than reduced them. Why? Players take more risk. Take the facemask off the helment and see who is willing to stick their face into another player's healment.

Anonymous said...

Further evidence of parents wanting to protect their children from everything at all costs. God help these poor children when they grow up...shielded from the real world at every turn by parents wanting to "protect them." That will be a much higher price for these children to pay than if they played football or not.

My child goes to public school and plays football. I know...I am an awful parent.

Anonymous said...

My son never even considered football until middle school. He went out and made the team. He love playing. He had injuries as he was a lineman. It was a great experience for him. As with all activities injuries happen. I had more concussions playing slow pitch softball than my son playing football. Injuries are a part of life. As for the NFL I could care less. That's their job. Parents should learn and understand signs & symptons. Keep informed and watch your child, if you see an issue have them examined. Talk to your child and explain if they have issue's to go to the coach. If the coach does not address it or 'say's suck it up' come to me and let's take care of it. Parents have to be educated as to all medical issues that can be involved. Know your child, know their limits. Let them have fun but know when enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

Play it by the same rules as the Pro Bowl cause that will demonstrate how to play the game without getting hurt.

Garth Vader said...

It's a sick man who'd rather put your daughter on a battlefield than see your son on a football field.

Anonymous said...

Who cares what Chicago Jesus thinks. Hey Barry if you had a son and he needed a job would you be ok with the amnesty given to illegals kids so they can get that job. Why doesnt someone ask him that or if your home was being broken in to would you rather defend your poperty with a gun or a stick or call 911 and let police pronounce you dead when they get there.

Michael Bacon said...

I largely quit watching football this year. It isn't because I don't enjoy it -- the few times I did turn it on, I was as glued to it as ever -- it's just the Junior Seau incidents and others mean I can't keep from thinking about what they guys might be doing to themselves later in life.

The only way football is going to get out of this is by some very substantial changes in officiating of unnecessary roughness and tackling technique, as well as how running backs run. Purists are going to absolutely hate those rule changes, and say it ruins the sport, but it's the only way the sport is going to survive.

Anonymous said...

Right on Garth. The only thing I can add is: put on a battlefield where they stand a poor chance as a result of our tender rules of engagement, such as not being allowed to fire while the enemy stands behind women and children.

Anonymous said...

There are moments as a father that are just about perfect. Touchdowns.

This is from your column from January.

You can't have this perfect father moment unless your son is playing. Sounds like you would like your sons to play.