Fowler: Football for the kids? I don't know

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Knowing what we know now, let me ask you something.

Would you let your own son play football?

It is a question parents have wrestled with for years. Risk vs. reward. Camaraderie vs. concussions. Valor vs. violence.

To some, it’s a no-brainer. Let ’em play.

To others, the brain is exactly the issue. Let ’em play, sure – but make sure it’s another sport.

In the wake of the mounting and disturbing evidence about what football does to a man’s mind and body, President Barack Obama weighed in on the topic in a recent interview with The New Republic. Obama told the magazine that he’s a football fan, but that if he had a son he would think long and hard before deciding whether to allow the child to play football.

It’s a hypothetical question, of course. Obama has two daughters.

What about you? Have you seen all these concussion-related studies? Do you know about all the former NFL players suing their own league? Do you think Junior Seau committed suicide because of the damage the game did to his brain – that’s what his family believes – or that such an explanation is too easy?

Each household answers this debate differently. I can’t tell you which way to go, but I will say you better fully inform yourself first. You know your kid better than anyone. Trust your own instincts, not anyone else’s.

In the meantime, we all watch the games with an endless, voracious appetite.

Since September 2010, there have been just 43 TV shows broadcast in America that reached at least 30 million viewers – which is a staggeringly high number in TV terms.

Of those 43 blockbusters, 30 were NFL games. Nine were telecasts from the London Olympics. Everything else put together had four.

But what exactly are we watching – has the NFL become our own minor-league version of “The Hunger Games”?

I’ve attended the NFL hall of fame induction a couple of times, and it’s quite an eye-opener. Dozens of old-time NFL greats come back each year. A lot of them have trouble walking and, sometimes, talking. And those were the best of the best. No one gets away from the game unscathed.

I have three boys who are 14, 12 and 9. They go to a small school that doesn’t field a football team. They are basketball and soccer players, and have never expressed a serious interest in playing organized football outside school.

But I have decreed that their football games in the backyard with their cousins be “two-hand touch.” They hate this. They greatly prefer to tackle, and when I’m out of town I know they sneak in a game of tackle football sometimes anyway.

You know this if you have ever raised a boy – most of them are hard-wired to enjoy contact. It’s difficult to keep them off each other.

Look, I love football. And it scares me. And like Obama, I’ve never had to make this decision. But I would come down about where he does on it, in the gray area of “think long and hard.” I honestly don’t know whether I’d say yes or no.

This isn’t a political issue. I’m talking about Obama as a father, not a politician, and I find it interesting that he’s ambivalent on America’s No.1 spectator sport.

Obama said that football fans are going to have to understand that the game will probably change over time to reduce the violence. The president says that some of those changes might make football, in his words, “a bit less exciting” – but they will make the game better for the players.

“And those of us who are fans,” he said, “maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

Those changes can’t come quickly enough. For football today is both a hypnotically beautiful and a brutally cruel sport – one that too often eats its own young.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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