My son or anyone who knows me is correct when they say I brainwashed my son.  Shortly after his sixth birthday, I told him repeatedly he could play any sport he wanted, but not football. At that point several decades ago, little was confirmed about concussion problems among very young players (or the professionals) and few safeguards for young boys were in place.

My husband is a sports fanatic; he can recite players’ stats and highlights from long forgotten games. He is a walking sports encyclopedia who amasses information by watching televised sports endlessly. When football is on, I leave the room refusing to witness players plowing into each other with incredible force and another injured player carted off the field—if lucky, he is able to wave at a cheering crowd. On a recent weekend, seven NFL players suffered impacts that caused concussions.

A front page New York Times article covered a Pop Warner game played in suburban Boston. Five boys on the same team had concussions, but the game continued. During a hearing following the game, the coach defended having players finish the game by saying he wanted the boys (some only 10-years-old) to score and “leave with something.” The three game officials have been banned by Central Massachusetts Pop Warner office. The final score was 52-0, yet some parents sided with the coach.

The teams were lopsided beyond any rationale for playing the game in the first place and little for continuing it after five young boys were benched with head injuries. According the New York Times account, four of those five boys are back on the field playing for the team. I knew a long time ago that I didn’t want my child’s head bashed in. At least one of the parents agrees with me; her son has not returned to the sport. Banning coaches for being overzealous simply is not enough.

According to an Ithaca College report, “At least 41 states have passed concussion safety laws to educate coaches, parents and athletes on how to recognize concussions; provide guidelines for return to play; and create concussion management teams.” Concussion researcher for Ithaca College, Chris Hummel, added, “But in the case of that Pop Warner game…rules and education didn’t lead to action.”

Where were the parents? No matter how many regulations exist for Pop Warner games, it is still up to parents to be the responsible figures, to step in if what they’re witnessing is potentially dangerous. We must encourage kids to be honest if they are hurt despite any culture-supported mantras that tell them it’s better to fight through the pain. “Typically, it takes one to two weeks for concussion symptoms to resolve and for the brain to begin operating back at full capacity. Just because an athlete states his or her head has cleared, it’s no indication that he or she should go back into the game,” Ithaca’s Chris Hummel said. He added, contrary to what many believe, football helmets are designed to prevent skull fractures — not concussions. A helmet “will not prevent every concussion.”

Thousands of former NFL players filed suit against the National Football League, claiming the NFL “hid information linking football-related head injuries to permanent brain damage.” 

The most condemning comments (and support for my position) came from former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason who told CBS news that the key to change is if "the moms of the world would decided to say, “’My little boy can't play football’" and from Terry Bradshaw, former quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who told Jay Leno if he had a boy, he wouldn’t let him play football, “the fear of getting these head injuries is too great.” 

As my son grew up and played other sports, I realized he was an unlikely candidate for the football field. He is too small. Nonetheless, I don’t have a drop of guilt about my dislike of football, exercising my parental veto right, or scaring him into believing he could get seriously hurt as a football player.

Also of interest: The Hidden Secret of Youth Sports


Anonymous. "Head Injury Fears a Threat to Football's Future?" CBS News. 16 Nov. 2012.

Anonymous. "Without Adult Intervention in Concussion Management, Youth Sports Can Become Demolition Derby." 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 

Belson, Ken. “A 5-Concussion Pee Wee Game Leads to Penalties for the Adults.” New York Times, October 23, 2012, p.1.

Davis, Keith. "Hard Facts About Hard Hits: What Athletes and Parents Need to Know About Concussions."  Ithaca College, 29 Mar. 2012.

Hohler, Bob. "One Pop Warner Game Results in Five Concussions." The Boston Globe. N.p., 20 Oct. 2012.

Jensen, Mike. “Fear of Concussions helping to reshape football.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 18, 2012., p. E1. 

Copyright @ 2012 by Susan Newman

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