There’s an old adage – or perhaps not quite so old, but true nonetheless – that “there is nothing easier than raising someone else’s kids or coaching someone else’s football team.”
We’re not trying to do either. Click here to read The Tuscaloosa News’ special report, Should Your Kid Play Football?
The role of a good newspaper isn’t to tell you want to think. Instead, the best journalistic work is done when you present as many facts as possible on an issue, clearly and understandably, and let the reader decide for himself or herself. That’s especially true when the determination affects children who aren’t yet in a position to make fully-informed decisions. That was the purpose of the report in the special section that accompanies today’s edition: to present data that parents can use to make decisions, instead of telling them what the decision should be.
Every decision in life involves some weighing of risk against reward. An adult can make those decisions for himself or herself, as long as no one else is put at risk. People can go bungee jumping or cliff diving or rock climbing. They can race go-karts or swim in the Arctic, if the thrill of icy water outweighs the perils of killer whales and hypothermia in their own personal equations.
Youth team sports are different. A person could always decide to take up football or ice hockey at the age of 23. They might find an adult league and become a part of a team. But to be proficient at the highest level of most sports – football or baseball, hockey or golf – a person generally must start at a relatively early age, which means a parent or guardian must make the call. That doesn’t mean a child’s love of the sport can’t be a part of the equation. We’ve all heard stories about mothers and fathers who were reluctant to let a son or daughter play a sport, only to relent to a burning desire to be a quarterback, or a gymnast. In every case, the risk – the risk of football injury, or getting beaned by a fastball (in baseball or softball), of tumbling off a pyramid while cheerleading – is a factor. When the sport involves full-speed contact, as football does, that adds to the need for careful thought.
Because this is an opinion column, I can talk about what my decision can be. If I had a child that wanted to participate in football, I would encourage it. Over the past 40 years, I have seen a tremendous amount of football. From birth, I’ve seen the effects, positive and negative, that it had on my dad, who played at the major college level. He had a “football knee” for his entire adult life, but no lingering concussion trauma that ever manifested itself. He loved football, and that would probably affect my thinking on the issue.
I would also think about men I’ve known, wonderful guys like Ken Stabler and Kevin Turner, who – in my personal opinion, which is not medical or scientific proof – were profoundly impacted by brain injuries related to their football careers. And I would think of hundreds of others who have found football to be richly rewarding. That means financially rewarding in a few cases of players that combined skill, hard work and, quite often, genetic blessing and became millionaires. Others are millionaires not because of size and speed but lessons in teamwork and perseverance. Football teaches those lessons.
I also think the nature of the risk in football has changed over 40 years. We’ve come a long way from the days when a player would be knocked out on the field, given a dose of smelling salts and sent back out to play again. Concussion awareness is far higher. Equipment is better. It may be 20 years before we can quantify the effect of those changes. But change continues. In fact, the greatest danger to the future of football may come from some who “love” the game but refuse to adapt to the necessity of change.
Ultimately, my opinion is just that: my opinion, shaped by unique circumstances. Others might look at the same set of experiences and make the opposite determination about the risk outweighing the reward. No opinion is “right” or “wrong,” and I respect parents who guide their children in directions away from the football as much as I respect those who allow their children to play. The best way to make either decision, though, is with factual information. That’s what our staff has done its best to provide.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.