No, it’s just not worth the risks
Just be informed. That’s the most important thing. If you’re a parent considering whether your child will play high school football, please educate yourself. Read as much as you can on the prevalence of concussions and the dangers.
Understand the risks involved to your child, not just as a teenager, but the devastating and debilitating future health risks that concussions can cause later in life — from CTE to ALS to Alzheimer’s to dementia to not being able to get out of bed or perform routine daily functions without crippling pain.
Protecting your child means not giving in to the instant gratification of something harmful or even dangerous just because the child wants to do it right now. And it should not at all be about what you want as a parent because you love football and desire some shared bonding experience with your kid.
Football is incredibly dangerous. That is 100 percent indisputable.
So, consider this: One study shows high school football accounts for 47 percent of all reported sports concussions in this country.
Other studies show: 1) At least one player suffers a concussion in every football game; 2) There are 67,000 concussions diagnosed in high school football each year (plus many more that go undiagnosed); 3) More than 15 percent of football players who suffered a concussion return to play in the same game; 4) More than 50 players have died from head injuries playing high school or youth football since 1997.
A concussion, by definition, is an injury to the brain. Why on earth, then, would parents want to subject their child to an activity that includes such a remarkably high risk for brain injury?
One of the answers is simple: Human beings are sadistic. Our species has enjoyed barbaric activities for as long as we’ve roamed this planet. We love violence, always have and always will.
Football feeds into that primal instinct.
If you were around in the 1980s, you probably loved seeing NFL highlights or VHS tapes that showed one vicious hit after another. And truth be told, you probably never once considered how much physical damage was done on those plays – to both players.
So many fathers and grandfathers fell in love with football back in the day and want their kids or grandkids to play the sport now. After all, football is king. If you play football in high school, you have status. You get to wear your jersey to school on Fridays and be recognized. Girls may like you more.
Look, I get it. Those things are attractive and important to a teenage boy. Football also teaches them about hard work, dedication, camaraderie, leadership and other extremely positive elements.
But kids can learn all of those things, gain popularity in school and enrich their lives by doing activities that are far, far, far less violent and dangerous than football.
We now know, thanks to all of the medical advances, much more about how dangerous concussions are and the links to football. But give it another 20-30 years, and we will know 100 times more. Yes, equipment should get better, helping safety some, but the athletes will be even bigger, stronger and faster, making their hitting power more vicious.
Youth participation in football is already down substantially over the past decade, and studies show high school participation is down about 10 percent. Give it more time, with more education and a more cautious, wiser society, and the numbers will continue to drop.
Dads may still want their kids to play high school football, but moms are really the key. Moms didn’t play the sport, usually don’t love it as much (in large numbers) and often aren’t as willing to let their kids take such a risk.
I’ll close with this: My son turns 6 this week, and I do not want nor will I encourage him to play high school football down the road. But my son already is a good athlete who loves playing sports and hopefully will continue down that path, so it’s very possible that he will come to me someday and say he wants to play football.
I’ve already learned as a parent that my kids often do what they want regardless of what my wife and I tell them, so it’s our job to inform them how to make good decisions about the present and what those decisions will mean for their futures.
My advice would be that playing high school football is just not worth the risk. But if my son decides to play anyway, we will make sure he’s informed of the risks and the importance of always doing everything he can to protect himself.
Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CoryGiger.