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Column: I won't have serious concerns letting my son play football

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:07 PM

What seems like such a simple response for some may be a much more difficult answer for others.

I'm talking about letting your son or daughter play a contact sport, which in this case, is football.

This is in response to the comments President Barack Obama made to the political magazine “New Republic” where he stated that he'd have to think “long and hard” over a decision to let his son play football.

Obviously, Obama doesn't have to make that decision, unless his daughters Malia Ann and Sasha raise some eyebrows and decided they want to snap on a helmet and shoulder pads.

Putting myself in that same situation, with a son who will turn 2 in May and another due in mid-March, it will be a decision I will likely have to make sometime down the road.

I assume this to be true, because currently, my son, Noah, throws himself at our couch at full speed like he's a blocking fullback, so it's only a natural assumption that one day he'll pursue the sport.

For myself, it was always a no-brainer to play football. It's a sport I grew up playing in back yards with my friends since we were in grade school. As youngsters, we marveled at the older kids playing under the Friday night lights and talked about the day that it would be our turn.

My parents weren't overly frightened by the fact that it was a violent game and injuries could happen. They were more concerned about me staying active and getting out of the house.

Honestly, at that time, I never knew what a concussion even was, let alone the serious effects it could have on your brain.

Now, with new-found research and awareness, there's probably not a high school football player in the state who isn't up-to-date on the condition.

There's entire new dialogue to discuss about violent contact sports, especially in light of the recent news concerning the late Junior Seau, an NFL star who played middle linebacker in the league for 20 seasons.

Research on Seau's brain revealed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of chronic brain damage that is caused by repeated blows to the head and concussions. Players who suffer from the progressive disease have been linked to mood swings, depression, insomnia and, in later stages, dementia.

That's believed to be why Seau committed suicide in May 2012 — a shotgun blast to his chest.

Now, Seau's family and 2,000 other former NFL players are suing the league, claiming it’s at fault for the brain damage they suffered playing the game.

It's an absolutely frightening side effect associated with a sport that is arguably the most popular in the United States. I also believe it will give concerned parents more solid reasons not to let their children play football. Obviously, Obama might have been one of them.

With that said, I will not do the same.

Like my parents did, I understand the nature of the game. It is, in sense, controlled violence, but when coached properly and players execute that coaching correctly on the field, football is as safe as any other sport.

Really, serious injuries can occur in any sport. In my eight years at the Tribune, I've seen high school athletes suffer concussions in basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball, to name a few. Those sports obviously don't receive the same bad rap as football, but there are still risks involved.

In a study released by the NCAA in September, its Injury Surveillance Program revealed that during the 2011 season, there were 2.5 concussions reported in college football for every 1,000 game-related exposures. In other fall sports — soccer, field hockey and volleyball — the numbers were less, but not by much — 1.9 concussions for every 1,000 exposures.

I asked one of my co-workers, advertising director Rob Francis, his thoughts on the matter, since he has two young sons who have played youth football with the Tri-Cities Mariners. He shared many of the same views I hold.

“There is a risk of injury with most any youth sport, or activity. I find soccer, skateboarding and snowboarding to pose a greater threat of injury to kids at a young age than football,” he said. “Even our pediatrician has said that he sees more soccer injuries than from any other sport.

“We might feel differently when our boys get older. If one of my boys did suffer a concussion, I would think long and hard before allowing them to go back out in the field.”

I think any parent would share the same sentiment. The greatest concern is the well-being of their child, regardless what sport he or she is playing. If a parent feels the need to pull their son from Young Bucs football, or any other team because they suffered an injury, then so be it. More power to them.

Actually, it's a decision I may make as well, if I feel it's necessary.

But because there is such a greater awareness with concussions, and players from the youth leagues on up are strongly urged not to play through it and immediately consult a trainer, I believe football can remain on solid ground and ultimately shed its label as an ultimate hazard to your health.

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