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Should My Son Play Football?

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Jan 31, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Tyler Seau represents his late father

Junior Seau

(not pictured) during a press conference to introduce the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees at Symphony Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent retirements of Chris Borland, Jake Locker and Jason Worilds while in their primes, the stories of the horrors that former NFL and college players endure after their careers are over, and the knowledge that modern science learns about the effects of concussions on the brain, I had to ask myself whether I should let my son play football.

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Borland retired after one year with the San Francisco 49ers and turned down the opportunity to replace Patrick Willis because of his fear of what life would be like after football. At least he was honest. Worilds, the former Steelers linebacker, stood to make 7-8 million per year as a free agent and decided to walk away to pursue a more “spiritual” career. Locker, a running quarterback, quietly retired in the offseason after Quinton Coples of the Jets nearly decapitated him in a late season game.

There’s also the settled lawsuit in which the NFL and the former players suffering from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).  This is a disease that according to this Boston University article entitled “What is CTE?” is defined as:

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.

The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.

According to a PBS Frontline article (found here), 76 of 79 brains of former NFL players examined by the nation’s largest brain bank were found to contain CTE. That’s 96% of the subjects. Of the 128 football players (including high school, college, semi-pro and professional) 101 had CTE, which is 80% of the brains.

That number is not representative of all players because CTE can only be identified in deceased brains and most of the donors suspected that they might be suffering from the disease when they donated their brains but the numbers are still staggering. Dave Duerson, formerly of the Bears, was so affected when he eventually committed suicide he shot himself in the chest so his brain could be preserved for study. Junior Seau’s decline and eventual demise shined an even brighter light on the subject.

But as great as I think my son is, he is not likely to become a professional football player so does that mean he’s safe? No, he is more likely to be the undersized wide receiver in junior high school or high school that has to take the shot going across the middle and/or the one who has to be a gunner on special teams.

A study released by the Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth, reported in this CNN article from October of 2013, stated that high school football players were twice as likely to suffer a concussion as their college counterparts. The study went on to say that the helmets and equipment made little to no difference in preventing them.

So my answer to the posed question is no, I will not let my son play football because in my mind, and his, the risks outweigh the rewards. A few years of fleeting glory would not justify the possibility of years of pain and a slow descent into madness. That’s not an answer for everyone, though, as every family needs to sit down together and discuss their feelings on the subject and reasonable minds may differ on the subject.

I know where I stand on the subject, where do you stand?

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