Even after all the frightening news, one mom decides to let her son join the team.
I'm definitely one of those “safety-first” moms: My kids ride their bikes with helmets. l regularly tell them the dangers of talking to strangers. I still like to keep an eye on them when they're in the pool, even though they're 11 and 13. And from the second my son was born, I declared I would never let him play football. I’d heard stories from friends who have chronic pain because of an old high-school football injury. I saw the movie Concussion and learned all about CTE, the football-related brain injury, and I’ve read all the scary articles on the subject. I've watched enough of the brutal, sometimes bone-crunching sport on Sunday afternoons to know that I did not want my son involved in it at all. My husband and I were in agreement: We were going to stick with the much safer sport of baseball.
And yet, we just signed our son up for flag football so he can prepare to play for his middle school football team next year. Why the change of heart?
Despite all my fears, my son loves the sport. He plays it with his friends at gym or on a playdate, and rushes home to tell me about a great block he made or a touchdown he scored. He’ll come home laughing, all sweaty and excited, ready to share a play-by-play of the game. I know that more than half his grade will wind up being on the middle school team, and it will be a great bonding experience. I don’t want to take that away from him.
Also, funny enough, we’ve decided to let him play because of baseball. He’s been playing since the age of five, and I’ve been blown away by the life lessons he’s learned. I’m excited for him to see what lessons he can learn from another team sport—for instance, how eleven people can all have very different but critical roles in achieving the same goal. And I realized that all these years I’ve been wary of football, I’d been watching kids get injured playing baseball! I’ve seen a kid get whacked in the face with a baseball bat during a game, and I’ve heard many stories of high-schoolers having Tommy John surgery because they’ve injured their shoulders from too much pitching. Plus, my son has broken one bone in his life—and that was while playing soccer. Despite the risks, there’s no way I would ever tell my son he can’t play baseball or soccer anymore just because he might get hurt. With youth football, I now feel the same way.
Of course, I’m still a nervous wreck about him playing. I hate when he ever gets a tiny scrape or bruise, and I know that’s par for the course with football. I don't like the idea of other kids literally smashing into my youngest child, and I know watching his games will be not be easy for me at all. But we didn’t make this decision blindly. I’m used to researching the heck out of everything—so I certainly did my due diligence on this one. My husband and I talked to one of my son’s future middle school football coaches, and he told us that in middle school, he sees more concussions in soccer and more broken bones in cheerleading than in football. He also said the school takes a lot of precautions for football: They have a tackling dummy for practices, the helmets are safer than ever before, and the coaches teach the kids tackling techniques that focus on not using their heads.
And though the studies about brain injuries still scare the heck out of me, I realize they focus on professional athletes. The silver lining to all the scary news is that youth football is now safer than ever.
So we’re going to start with flag football this fall. Then, if our son still loves the sport, he’ll try out for his middle school team. Personally, I’d like his football career to end there, but I know that if he does well, he’ll probably want to play in high school as well. For now, we’ll just take it one season at a time. And I’ll be cheering him on from the sidelines—while I cringe and cover my eyes.