Is Football too Dangerous for Your Child?
There are opposing views on whether the number of head injuries seen in youth sport leagues are acceptable when it’s our children’s safety at risk. After all, football is a contact sport and is renowned for its dangerous nature.
Many people believe football forms part of the American culture, and that to put any form of ban or restrictions on it would be unjust, and cause irreparable damage, both socially and economically. On the other hand, parents are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers the sport can present, and fear for the safety of their children when playing such a notoriously rough game. It's no wonder that parents would question, "Is football too dangerous?"
The Numbers Are Stark ...
The fact is that 21% of traumatic brain injuries in children are caused by sports, with contact sports like football leading to the highest rate of injury.
The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council released a report in 2013, which concluded that number of youths with concussions were on the rise, and the football represented a leading cause. Presenting related results is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who estimated 2.7 million young people and children under the age of 20 were treated for sports and recreational injuries over a five year period.
… But So Are the Alternatives
So, would removing it from school curriculum be considered? With our country being faced by an obesity epidemic, both in adults and children, would it be wise to make restrictions on football; a game which not only epitomises the American sports culture, but encourages an active lifestyle?
Football is a brutal game at the best of times, but it’s not just brutality on the field. The pressure to remain playing, even when injured, can be intense. When playing for any team, it is hard to not feel you let the team down if you ‘cry off’ as injured. Breaks, concussions, and smashes are all part of the sport; as is playing through injury.
With the mental and physical pressure piling on as players progress up through leagues, is that a prospect a parent wants their child to go through? Of course, being the controversial topic it is, there are parents who actively encourage their children to play football. After all, it is a form of exercise, and supports healthy knowledge of and experience of being a team player. But, more than anything, is their physical safety more important?
Children’s Football In the Media
In November 2013, ESPN reported a drop of 10% in participation of Pop Warner, the largest national youth football program, suggesting perhaps the effect of media coverage and continuous football injuries on the interest of playing the sport. Some claim football is safer than previous eras, with introduction of modified rules and new equipment, but despite any modifications, the game remains an often vicious game with a core element of risk running through.
The new film Concussion, starring Will Smith, is addressing this long-contested question of football safety in regards to children. The story follows the career of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist who was the first person to diagnose a former NFL player, Mike Webster, with a brain disease.
Omalu argues that children should not engage in playing football until their brain is fully developed- between the ages of 18 and 25, claiming that the repetitive blows to the head experienced by an athlete while playing football leads to a higher risk of permanent brain damage.
Other scientists, however, disagree with this strong standpoint, and fear this kind of media will only further stoke the unsubstantiated claims. Dr. Julian Bailes, medical director for Pop Warner disagrees with Omalu, and believes children should be allowed to play contact sports like football.
Ultimately, You Have to Decide
It must be noted that despite contrasting opinions on the science behind concussions and other football-related injuries, many experts have pushed to make changes to football in order to make the sport safer for kids. For example, some have recommended teaching safe tackling techniques, whereas others call for a total tackle ban until middle school.
At the end of the day, allowing your child to practice any contact sport will come with its dangers and risks. If you are questioning if football is too dangerous, it is ultimately up to you to decide whether that risk is serious enough to warrant a total football restriction. Football injuries will happen regardless of the safety measures in place, and with the link between traumatic brain injury and football still murky, science may not be able to provide a solution just yet.
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