To play or not play football, that is the question


What’s a parent to do when a child wants to play football? For some, it’s easy. If a kid wants to play, let him play.

For others, you let him play, but secretly you wish he wouldn’t play, and you hope and pray that he doesn’t suffer serious injuries.

And for some, the answer is no.

Earlier this year, former Giants, Cardinals and Rams quarterback Kurt Warner created quite a stir when he said that football may be too dangerous for kids.

Warner said: “I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it’s a scary thing for me.”

Former Giants receiver Amani Toomer clearly disagreed, criticizing Warner and comparing him to “the guy at the basketball court, who, once he gets done playing, takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it’s just a little disingenuous.”

New York Giants end Osi Umenyiora sided with Warner, saying he believes there is a “strong chance” he’ll end up in a wheelchair thanks to football, and he doesn’t want his son to end up there, too.

Umenyiora said he wouldn’t stop his young son from playing football someday, but added, “If I can avoid that for my son, I will.”

He also said on Twitter, “Love Toomer; that’s my guy, but he is dead wrong for attacking Kurt like that.”

Meanwhile, New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who has been right in the middle of violence every Sunday in the NFL for the past 10 years, has seen enough and already has made his decision: He doesn’t want his 7-year-old son, B.J., playing football.

“I play football so he won’t have to,” Scott said. “With what is going on, I don’t know if it’s really worth it.”

Offensive lineman Jacob Bell surprised many this spring when he walked away from the NFL just one month after signing a free-agent contract for $890,000 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Bell’s decision to retire “was just quality of life” and “risk vs. reward factor.”

“I mean, we have so much more to look forward to after we’re done with football that, you know, to have something like the brain trauma and the CTE stuff is such a factor,” Bell said.

Chronic traumatic encepha­lopathy, or CTE, is a neurological disorder stemming from repeated head trauma that has been identified in several deceased NFL players. CTE can lead to erratic behavior also associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This summer, Pop Warner, a youth football organization, will use new rules to limit contact drills to one-third of practice time, and ban full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart, becoming the first nationwide league at any level to restrict the amount of contact players experience.

“There are times when people and organizations have to evolve, and this is that time,” said Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon and chair of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Board.

Bailes said his committee was particularly swayed by research suggesting that brains can be damaged not only from the big hits seen more commonly at the high school and adult levels but from smaller, more repetitive, sub-concussive blows experienced by players at all levels. Also, he said, most head injuries happen in practice.

So where does that leave us? Pretty much where we were before this topic became a hot potato.

Football has become America’s favorite game in spite of numerous injuries and possible long-term health issues. Some of the popularity is probably due to the thrill of the high-impact collisions that cause those injuries.

Of course, injuries can happen in virtually any sport. The question parents have to ask is whether the benefits of having their sons participate in football or other contact sports outweighs the risk.

Alas, there’s no easy answer.


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