For many high school football teams across the country, football practice begins tomorrow. As someone who spent his share of time dreading the torture of two-a-day practices, I now spend time as an older person thinking about a different-but-related question: should parents be dreading them as well?
If you pay attention to the facts, you probably should.
I don’t agree with everything in Steve Almond’s important book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, but it is well worth reading…particularly the chapter titled ‘Their Sons Grow Up Suicidally Beautiful.’ In this chapter he successfully argues the violence and commercialization of the pro game (which I wrote about here) has now infected the high school game. It brings with it more than 65,000 annual concussions…with many, many more unreported and un-diagnosed. High Schoolers, in part because they are less experienced, get even *more* blows to the head. And these blows are even more damaging because their brains are still developing.
It is one thing to play football yourself. Or to watch it on TV. It is very much another thing to encourage or permit your child to play. There are consequences for playing that children simply aren’t in a position to understand or weigh–especially given the massive social pressure which so many children face in light of the “Friday Night Lights”-style idolatry of the game.
Brett Favre cannot remember his daughter’s childhood and has publicly said that he would not allow any child of his to play football. President Obama has said the same thing.
Keeping them out of practice might be a difficult parental decision. It might bring with it significant resentment from the child and even from the local community. But it may very well be the right thing to do.
American football was the focus of my childhood from age 5 to 15, and I probably learned more from it than almost anything else in school, except perhaps the ability to read.
But, I have to agree, it’s just too dangerous. Especially given that there is an excellent alternative available, the kind of football the rest of the world plays.
And of course American football is still available in less violent forms, ie. flag football.
Take the conversation a step beyond whether Mom and Dad should allow football. If you served on the board of a Catholic school, would you allow football as a school-sponsored activity?