We rely on the opinion of “experts” to point us in the healthiest, safest, best direction in life.
When our children feel ill, we turn to pediatricians for medical advice; we listen to the instructions of dentists to improve their dental hygiene; we follow the suggestions of their teachers to further their education. But who do we turn to for advice about safety in their athletic future?
Over the past year, we’ve kept a close eye on the ups and downs that seem to be plaguing youth football in the media, tracking the declining participation rumors, to the blockbuster movie release about CTE, to the most recent claim that youth football participation is on the rise.
While the NFL continues to function under this harsh microscope, current and former players (who some might consider “experts” on the subject) have begun speaking publicly about their stance on youth football.
The true test for these athletes comes in the form of one singular question: Would you let your child play youth football?
The Hard Pass
The following professional NFL players, both current and former, all stand firm in their resolution to encourage their children to consider other, less dangerous sports before football. Although the game has brought them success, the current discoveries about the chronic brain disease, CTE, has proven to be a discouraging factor.
“I think that we’re at a real crossroads, as it relates to the grassroots of our sport, because if I had a 10-year-old boy, I don’t know that I’d be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we are learning from head injury.”
“If i had a son today, and I would say this to all our audience and our viewers out there, I would not let him play football.”
“I cannot in good conscience allow my grandson to play knowing what I know. Now, his father might want him to play because his father doesn’t know. But knowing what I know, I don’t want him to play.”
“I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
“I would be real leery of him playing football. In some respects, I’m almost glad I don’t have a son because of the pressures he would face. Also the physical toll that it could possibly take on him, not to mention if he never made it, he’s gonna be a failure in everyone’s eyes. But more the physical toll that it could take.”
“I’m not going to let my kids play just cause of the things I’ve been through in the game…They can play tennis, golf, and all of that, soccer.”
“I don’t want him to. He doesn’t have to play any sport, as far as I’m concerned, but if he does get into it, football will be the last thing I introduce him to.”
“I don’t want my son to play football. I play football so he won’t have to. With what is going on, I don’t know if it’s really worth it.”
“It’s different when you put on a parent’s hat. And yeah, I want my kids to play and I want them to be healthy and I’d love them to have a great long career. I’d love all that. But as a parent I can’t avoid the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, and it’s a violent sport.”
The Middle Ground
Some take a much less stringent stance on the issue. Many professional players believe that although they wouldn’t necessarily agree with their young kids taking part in the sport as early as possible, they could see the potential for football in their future once they’ve grown.
“At a certain age, I think it’s appropriate. I think you can be too young to go out there and strap on a helmet.”
“We don’t have an age minimum for our boys, but I think we’ll wait until at least middle school and maybe even high school. It’s not set in stone, but I don’t think we’re going to go the little league route. We’re going to have them well-rounded in sports and the arts, then if they still want to play once they’re a little bit older, we’ll allow them to do so.”
“If my son wants to play, it will be his decision. But i’m definitely going to make sure he doesn’t play until he’s, maybe, 12 years old. I started at 6 and I’m definitely not going to allow him to play at that age.”
A handful of professional players have begun backing Flag Football as an alternative to tackling at a young age until players have further developed their skills and their bodies.
“Personally, I think it has a lot of merit. A lot of kids’ necks at 10, 11, even 12, may not be in a place to fully …It’s a violent game. It’s very important in football to make sure we are teaching the proper technical aspects of the game. This needs to happen with proper coaching and also kids who have the physical maturity to handle the proper techniques.”
“People talk about poor tackling being an issue in contact football. Everyone wants to fix the tackling. Well, tackling in contact football involves hitting each other and hitting your head on the ground, which means more trauma to the brain. But in flag football, obviously you don’t have that.”
“By the time (my son) gets old enough to play, it’s going to be flag anyway, so he’s not going to be able to tackle. With the direction it’s going, it’s just getting less and less physical, so I think by the time he starts playing tackle, there won’t be harder collisions. He’ll be just fine.”
The Strong Supporters
After years of playing their beloved game, it comes as no surprise that professional players are also speaking out in support of football. The following gentlemen take no issue with enrolling their kids in the game – a game that has meant so much to them – and many even have children currently playing.
“I would (let my son play football). I would just be a little bit more concerned about certain injuries. When I was playing, my whole mentality was that if I could walk I’d play. Obviously there’s been a lot done for head injuries. They know a lot more about the brain and head trauma that can be created because of being knocked unconscious so many times. The game is still a great game. It’s football.”
“Well, I have a 4-month-old — almost, soon-to-be 5-month-old — son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then (there will) be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older. That’s the first thing that jumps into my mind, if other parents are thinking that way.”
“I would indeed allow my children to play football. And you should, too! Like football, life is a dangerous game. We drive cars, fly in airplanes, get drunk, fall in love. We go to great lengths to ensure our own safety and the safety of our loved ones, but deep down, we know that we are never truly safe.”
“I have a son. I am not forcing football on my son. If he wants to play it — I can’t make decisions for him. All I can do is say, ‘Son, I played it so you don’t have to.’”
– Ed Reed
“I think organized sports of all kinds are good for kids. (My son) started at a young age. He plays because he enjoys the game and that’s what he wants to do; he’s at one of the finest universities for being a student athlete now and I couldn’t be prouder. The thing about the game now is we’re much smarter about how we handle head injuries and how we monitor concussions so I think we’re in much better shape than we were before.”
“Football will probably be one of the first sports (my son) plays. I don’t know too many 6, 7, and 8-year-olds that are just full-speed running into each other, getting concussions. Crazy injuries happen in any sport, but there’s also a lot of positives that come along with this game. Football teaches you discipline, helps you develop a sense of leadership and courage and camaraderie amongst your friends and teammates.”
“Football, I get nervous just like any other parent. And I’m concerned for him just like any other parent. But his goals are his goals, and my job is to help him reach it and protect him when he needs protection. And so to take another kid’s passion from them is just not right.”
“It would have to be his choice. Football isn’t for everybody. If my son came to me and said, ‘Dad, I want to play football,’ then I would let him play.”
After reading the opinions of NFL players, have you been swayed one way or another? What are your feelings on letting your children play youth football? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.