As parents and caregivers, we try to shield our children from the perils of life while still providing them with challenging experiences so they can learn and be daring and prosperous later in life. The question is, where is the boundary line?
When is a certain activity too hazardous that it is not worth the risk?
A few years ago, back in saner times, President Barack Obama was interviewed by the New Yorker magazine and he conceded that while he loved football, if he had a son, he would not have let him play the game. I am in full agreement. As a parent, it occurred to me that Lev, my 7-year-old son, may want to play this popular game down the road and I was horrified. The fragile, growing, developing brain of a young child should never be subjected to repeated blows to the head.
I find the research that anchors this conclusion to be compelling, substantial and growing in scope. In 2016, an NFL representative finally admitted in a congressional hearing that a connection exists between CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and the game of football. More specifically, recent research from the Boston University School of Medicine found that children who take up football early are at greater risk of brain damage resulting in emotional and cognitive difficulties.
While I focus on health-related arguments in suggesting that kids should not play football, the game’s defenders often emphasize the many virtues of the sport in building character, camaraderie and time-management skills. Others argue that injuries are an inherent part of any sport.
I do not dispute these points, but these arguments fall to the wayside when contrasted with the demonstrated mental and cognitive health risks associated with playing football. Brain trauma is fundamentally different and far more serious than other types of bodily injuries.
Building character, camaraderie and the rest of the virtues gained through sports can be acquired through playing other sports. And if other sports are found to be equally dangerous to the brain, they should also not be played early in life.
Efforts to reform football are many, from limiting full-contact practice time to enacting stricter concussion protocols. But at their core, they are futile because, in this game, as opposed to other sports cited as potentially harmful, contact is not incidental — it is the essence of the sport. The human toll of playing the game, especially for the young, is just not worth it based on what we now know.
One of the common responses I get when I voice my objections to kids and teenagers playing football is that the sport is so enmeshed in the American way of life that this effort is pointless. I disagree. I think that as the evidence mounts about the dangers of the game, it is only a matter of time until a new consensus emerges. Much like public opinion about smoking, for example, this transformation in regards to football, I believe, is inevitable.
As parents, it is incumbent on us to keep our kids safe. Allowing them to play football goes against this obligation and is extremely negligent.