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My husband and I have always encouraged our boys to play sports. My oldest son pulled on his first pair of soccer cleats at age two, and now nine years later, he is still playing travel soccer with a local club team. He also plays basketball in the winter and swims competitively in the summer. To my relief, he never once showed an interest in football.
But then there’s my middle son. Always wanting to pave his own way, he started begging me to put him on the football team at age five. Soccer wasn’t doing it, basketball and swimming were just okay, he was aching for a chance to juke and dive on the field. For two full years I held him off, blaming his age and the fact that I had a toddler to tote around and couldn’t devote myself to a football schedule. But finally I gave into his requests and signed him up for the football team last season. To my surprise, being a member of that team has literally changed his life; his behavior has improved, his focus has improved, and he seems to have finally found something that he is passionate about. He loves football. He loves his teammates. And I’ve had to put my own fears aside a bit in order to support him in this endeavor.
That’s not to say that I have given up on worrying about him or adopted the “kids-get-hurt-all-the-time-what-can-you-do” attitude where his safety on the field is concerned. I’ve thought long and hard about safety; the safety of the game, the way it is currently played and how I and the other parents of these players can be advocates for our children and still let them on the field every week.
I’ve become knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of concussions. I’ve been a part of two NFL supported round tables designed to help educate parents about Heads Up Football (a USA Football and CDC collaborative initiative to change the culture and practices of the game). I’ve come back into my community and begun to advocate for more education on safety and concussions for parents, and I’m working to put together sessions for players and parents to help them understand how and why we need to be diligent in our efforts to change the way this game is played.
President Obama recently said that if he had a son he would have to think long and hard about allowing his son to play football. But what I really wish the president would have said is that if he were the parent of a boy interested in playing football, that he would work tirelessly to make the sport safer for his son. That he would make it his goal to do everything in his power to ensure that his children could enjoy football in a safe manner. That he would work to help change the culture of the game so that boys could still play this wonderful sport without risking their futures.
I want America to be concerned with this issue and I want parents to be involved, educated, and supported in their efforts to effect change, because I don’t want to be forced to give up.
I don’t want to have to take away this sport that my son loves and feels so entirely fulfilled by because I didn’t try hard enough to make it safer.
Would I make him quit if he got a concussion?
Probably. Okay, TOTALLY.
But, I’m doing everything I can to make sure it never comes to that.