Peace in Paradise

Peace in Paradise

Football athletes today will never have to endure the “Old School” mentality of water being for the weak or being expected to play through getting your “bell rung,” better known as a concussion. The emphasis of player safety has increased exponentially over the past 5 years, especially with a better understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and the effects it can have on the brain. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in individuals with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The disease has been linked to Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia and is presumed to be a cause for athletes’ suicides. Retroactively, from Pop Warner to the NFL, the powers that be have instituted rule changes to protect players, but inherently the risks still remain. Consequently, I’m repeatedly presented with the question of if I will allow my sons to play football.

The quick answer is a resounding yes. I realize things aren’t etched in stone, but continue to evolve as more information becomes available. And as a parent I’m constantly trying to assimilate the information to figure out what's fact and what’s fiction, and make sure my decision is based on wisdom and not arrogance or fear. So why yes, when everything out there says football is dangerous?

Honestly, it’s because I’ve had a great experience playing the game. Nowadays the sole focus is on concussions, CTE and what might happen as result of playing football, but there are so many other things, positive things, that come to mind. Being from a low income household, football afforded me the opportunity to attend and graduate from UC Berkeley, the number one public university in the world, and a means to provide for my family and community. But more importantly, football helped lay the foundation of the man I have become by organically reinforcing lessons like teamwork, accountability and perseverance taught by my mother.

Secondly, my oldest son is passionate about football. I'm not sure about my youngest son yet, but if he loves the game half as much as his older brother does, then he’ll play too. And how can I blame them? They are my children and have witnessed daddy train in the offseason, go to work, and play on Sundays. They have been in NFL locker rooms and on the field and have had personal interactions with many of my teammates. They have had the ultimate fan experience without even knowing it, which has created an intimate relationship with football subconsciously. So who am I to tell them they cannot play when everything inside of them says, “I want to play”?

I imagine some people are screaming at their screens right now, “You’re their father, Stupid!” And I understand that sentiment, but we probably have different perspectives on how we ought to parent. As a parent, my job isn’t to dictate every moment of my child’s life, especially as they become older. My job is to inform and guide based on the wisdom from my experiences, and how much or how little I interject into the situation is based on their age. For example, I have a child in college and sometimes it's better to allow her to make a mistake because the lesson learned will be more beneficial as she moves forward in life. But for my son who is six and wants to play football, my hand is more visible in the situation because we only register him in flag football.

Ideally, my sons will follow in my footsteps and won’t play football until they’re in highschool. But I refuse to not let them live out their passion because of my fear. I will try to put them in the best situation that will minimize injury, but no sport is 100% safe. In fact, soccer, hockey, and lacrosse all present opportunities for my children to get a concussion. Therefore, as they get older, and their bodies develop and they want to play football, it'll be my job to inform them of the risks, make sure their equipment is properly fitted, and that the coaches are qualified and competent.

Finally, being around the game as long as I have, I’ve made numerous friends who’ve played in the NFL for many years, who have retired and now live very productive lives. I think of men like Darrell Green and Ray Brown who both played 20 years during an era in the NFL where player safety was not a priority, and the grind of a season was much more rigorous. I’m sure they both endured many injuries, including concussions. We don't know if they’ve suffered from CTE since it can only be diagnosed post mortem, but what I do know is that they’ve transitioned extremely well in their second careers, have beautiful families, and are mentally sharp. From my vantage point, the lives of Green and Brown are the norm, and that is encouraging not only for my future health, but also because it brings me peace in allowing my sons to play the game we all love.

 

 

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