Should Our Kids Play Contact Sports?

There is nothing cuter than a little boy in a big football helmet. It is fun to watch them try to run with a football that is as big as their arm. The second half is always good for a laugh because at least one of the boys will forget that their goal line is now on the other side of the field and score points for the opposing team unless tackled first. But, recent news is asking us to consider whether or not that scene is as “cute” as we once thought.

Tom Brady is the very talented quarterback of the New England Patriots. Time did an interesting interview with Tom Brady, Sr., his dad. Though now considered to be one of the most talented players in the NFL, Tom’s parents did not allow him to play tackle football until his freshman year of high school. “The first time I ever saw Tommy seriously throw a football, he was fourteen years of age,” his dad said. He believed football was too dangerous for a young child, and that was before all the recent discussions about concussions began.

The article listed these interesting facts:

  • This year, 3 million kids from the ages of six to 14 are playing organized youth tackle football, according to USA Football.
  • In one single Pop Warner football game, five preadolescent players on a team from Tantasqua, Mass., suffered serious head injuries. The boys were all around the age of ten and none were over the predetermined weight limit of 120 lb. Even though one team led by fifty-two points, the coaches left the injured boys in the game. Those coaches have been suspended.
  • Even some five-year-olds are in helmets playing in the Tiny Mite division of Pop Warner (which insists that its gladiators weigh at least thirty-five pounds).

Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman have written a new book called Concussions and Our Kids. Dr. Robert Cantu is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine. He made these points about kids and contact sports:

  • Kids are not miniature adults. By age four, the heads of kids are 90% of adult size. However, their necks are much weaker than an adult’s neck. The combination creates a danger. When a child takes a hard blow from falling or being struck in the helmet, it is more difficult to keep the head steady. The result is greater force to the brain from being jerked inside the skull.
  • Kids don’t understand the risks. This is as much an ethical as a medical consideration. A teenager entering high school can make a judgment about the ups and downs of playing tackle football. He has the ability to think through the consequences himself, not as an adult would but at least with an understanding of risk and reward. The same isn’t true of a six-year-old.
  • Much is not known about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma, especially among young children. How will these kids be affected when they’re seventy, or even fifty?
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been detected in the brains of a college football player and a high school football player.

The new movie Concussions, starring Will Smith, is about CTE and the NFL. It opens soon and is expected to bring a lot of attention to what is happening on football fields in this country. All parents will be led to think about this issue as it relates to their children. Moms and dads will need to come to common ground on the subject, and I suspect many will need to reach a truce in order to find that common ground.

We owe it to our kids to make sure that they can live as long as possible with the highest quality of life. I usually speak about that in terms of their spiritual health, but I think this topic is one to consider. I’m glad Tom Brady’s dad has told the world that his son was a freshman in high school before he threw a football on a field. No one can say a child has to start early in order to be a success on the field. Flag football can teach them everything they need to know about the game until their bodies are strong enough to stand the hits.

I also think the NFL will need to go back to weight limits for their players. I was a junior in high school, working at Taco Bell in Thousand Oaks, California. It was late and we were almost ready to lock the doors and close up when three massive guys walked in the door. They ordered enough food to feed an army and I was forced to reopen the line and make a ridiculous number of tacos and burritos. I was not thrilled to say the least, but the guys on the clean-up behind me were going nuts. Apparently the three men I served were Dallas Cowboys who had broken training camp rules and snuck out to Taco Bell for food. The NFL had weight limits in those days and these guys probably weren’t supposed to be there! I wish I had asked them for autographs that day. I have no idea who it was I was feeding that night. I really just wanted them to hurry up and eat so I could go home!

Jim and I had the “football discussion” with our two boys. They played basketball. I knew our boys were going to be tall and I thought basketball was a “safer” sport. I questioned that choice when they were in high school. It seemed like the “popular” crowd was playing football. Many of them took their child to the doctor for a significant injury. My kids took the field at half-time and marched in the band.

I can honestly say I am glad Jim and I made those choices early on in our sons’ lives. I’m not worried about the concussion stories in the news right now. I think it would be interesting to hear from all of you. Would you join this week’s discussion and let us know what you think about this issue? I’m sure there are opinions from every side and I think you might help parents make these hard choices. Thank you for helping us think through this.

Kids and sports will always cause a lot of discussion between moms and dads.