The viewership of the most recent NFL playoff games exceeded 35 million viewers. This means that over 20% of American households watched football this weekend. Obviously, the U.S. is in love with football. I myself played football in pee wee leagues and on my junior high teams before switching to running. Football is arguably the most popular high school and college sport in the United States.
But is the damage done to players worth it? Football’s popularity seems to make this an impossible question to answer. However, many parents are starting to think twice about letting their children play.
Anyone who has played football, even as a child, has probably had his “bell rung.” You know, that head contact that makes you see stars for a few minutes. It might not qualify as a play stopping concussion but it is brain damage nonetheless. The body has an amazing ability to recover from all kinds of injuries, however when damage accumulates beyond the ability for the body to heal, permanent problems take root. In fact, doctors have found similarities between the damage done by football and military personnel caught in explosions. Our military personnel knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve our country but it seems many football players are agreeing to potentially life ending injuries without fully understanding the risks. I know I never knew the risks when I played. To this day, I have permanent damage in my right thumb and right wrist which I can trace back to a football game I played at the age of 12.
Consider the recent suicide of linebacker Junior Seau. Did football drive him to suicide? The answer is complicated as Seau had many other stresses in his life. However, was Seau suffering from emotional and cognitive impairments caused by brain damage? The answer to this question seems to be an unequivocal yes. A study published on PubMed one year ago shows that brain damage in football players can be at least partially reversed, but not fully.
The brain damage often starts to accumulate in high school, growing steadily worse for college players and accumulating over decades for those select few who make it to the NFL. This problem is now part of a large lawsuit against the NFL, a suit which will bring more awareness of the link between football and brain damage.
With everything that people know today about the life-altering injuries that result from playing football, what responsible parent would continue to allow their sons to play football? My wife and I have had this discussion many times. I played football, our fathers played football, our brothers played football, but I know that none of us knew the damage we were doing. Fortunately, I quit when I was 14. Our young sons will never play football while we have a say, and it seems many parents are beginning to agree with us.