Welcome to football season in America.
Which is why I steer clear of the emotional side of things. Would I rather my boys enjoy a "safer" less contact sport....like golf? Sure, if that's what they wanted to play. Do I enjoy sending them to practice and telling them to take their aggression out on the field? Absolutely. But do I want my kid to be on the receiving end of another kid's tackle? Um, it's not my favorite thing.
Sorting through my mail the other day, the cover of TIME caught my attention. Setting aside the rest of the pile, I immediately opened the magazine.
Even football's youngest, smallest players are susceptible to brain injuries. Virginia Tech's biomedical-engineering department tracked 19 boys ages 7 & 8 during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The researchers counted 3, 061 blows to the heads of the boys, 60% of which occurred in practice. None of the kids suffered a concussion, but some of the shots they took were brutal:
11 of the hits registered a g-force of 80 or greater.
"That's the level you might see in car crashes." says Stefan Duma, a Virginia Tech professor.
This statistic got my attention.
The next paragraph asked a haunting question. Would you let you son play football?
As much as the TIME article made me want to have a different answer. The reality is Yes.
I acknowledge that this is a highly controversial topic. I will do my best (without writing a book) to maintain the position that ultimately every parent and child have to come to a conclusion that works best for their family.
With that being said, I acknowledge my responsibility as a parent to protect my boys the best that I can until they turn 18. One of the largest debates of our generation is, how do we keep our sons safe while at the same time teaching them to be men? I want to protect my child just as much as the next mom does. I do not however wish to over-protect and coddle my sons resulting in inhibiting their growth from childhood to manhood. Crass interpretation of that last statement: I don't want my 20 something boys still living in my house someday because I over-emotionally parented them and shielded them from the extreme blows that boyhood slings. Not happening here.
I can hear your rebuttal now. "But, boys do not have to play tackle football to become men."
And I would say, You're right.
But it helps.
From the beginning of time, men have violently used aggression to deal with their physically charged energy. You can say what you want to counter this, but boys were not born to sit still. They weren't even born to move on their own. For some reason, they really, really get a rise out of crashing into one another. I have very personal experience with this. I live with six of them.
Also, there is a reason why football is a multi-billion dollar contributor to our culture. People love to watch big dudes crash into each other. Its not pretty. But it's reality.
Which brings me back to why I allow my boys to play football in a respectable league that upholds the integrity of USA Football and its stance on safer ways to tackle. If we don't spend the time to teach our boys the correct way to protect their own noggin, there is no way that I would be able to trust that they could protect themselves in any sport. Moreover, if I restrict their energies to "safer" sports that they are clearly uninterested in, I fear that I would run into several more risk factors than allowing them to play a game that they love.
It is imperative that our children know the rules of the game and enter into every practice and game with the knowledge of their own body's limits. As parents, we attend most practices and games and watch our children closely for signs of fatigue and injury. With my husband's medical degree I feel confident that his personal interpretation of their hits and the hits they receive is enough.
Our boys know that there is no win that trumps their safety. If they feel tired, or short of breath to the point of needing a personal time-out we have encouraged them to let the coach know and be their own body's advocate. I feel confident in their maturity and respect for themselves that they would in fact make the right choice if they needed to.
So, TIME, thank you for your article on the awareness of the dangers of the sport. I am saddened for the Stover family who lost their son while playing a game he truly loved. Awareness brings about change, and in this case, change has the potential to save lives. As for the parenting scare tactics...no thank you.