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The question is almost as old as the sport itself. Should I let my son play football? SI.com's Paul Daugherty re-examines the issue in light of the brain damage discovered during Chris Henry's autopsy. Daugherty writes:

In the next several weeks, tens of thousands of kids in this country will suit up and start football practice. The vast majority never will suffer the same fate as Chris Henry. That doesn't mean that the parents who sign their children's permission slips won't be white-knuckling it when their kids play.

The clinical term is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E). Doctors know it more commonly as dementia pugilistica: Punch drunk. That's what the study of Henry's brain showed. It can only be discovered by autopsy. Current players could be suffering from it and have no idea.

"There isn't a lot of information out there, especially with someone Henry's age (26),'' said Dr. Francesco Mangano, a neurologist at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "It's usually found many, many years after it happened.''

How shallow is the understanding? Show of hands: How many believed Chris Henry suffered from C.T.E.? How many just thought he was another athlete who had several off-the-field problems, the poster player for an NFL image problem that has kept commissioner Roger Goodell's door revolving?

Could at least some of Henry's off-field behavior issues -- five arrests in 28 months, numerous league suspensions -- be attributed to his injured brain? "Based on the description (of the C.T.E.) yes,'' Dr. Mangano said. "But he had other things going on. It's a very gray area. It's a chicken and egg type thing.''

Where do you stand on this issue? Let us know in the comments below.

 

July 1, 2010  01:31 AM ET

Coach Bell of Eufaula Oklahoma would not let anyone play football until they were in the eighth grade. His reasoning as he told my mother when I wanted to play was that "kids bodies weren't mature enough until then. He only coach the Selmon brothers and JC Watts who had pretty decent football careers.

July 1, 2010  05:22 AM ET

Injuries are going to happen in all sports and everyday life activities. I am a youth football coach and I have been for 15 years. The only time I had a serious injury was because a veteran tried to make a tackle leading with his head. He even admitted it to me once he was healed. He stated, "All I could think of Coach is you drilling in my head the last 5 years, don't lead with your head" His parents were scared and upset but realized it was not because of the sport or the safety just the decision he made. Soccer and basketball are demanding sports. In watching soccer and the World Cup soccer I realized soccer can be brutal on the knees and ankles. So all sports are dangerous if you think about it. If your kids wants to play let him, let him try it out. You are not going to shield your child from everything.

July 1, 2010  05:27 AM ET
QUOTE:

I have reluctantly concluded that as a parent I cannot let my son play tackle football. I played in high school and college and had at least 3 head injuries in high school. While the coach held me out a day or 2, I never saw a doctor, only the traning staff. I can' recall any instances in college. These injuries are severely under reported, under diagnosed and there is no "test" to say when the brain has healed sufficiently to resume contact. The reason there is not more data on the brain damage in young people is that it is extremely rare to do an autopsy on young football players.I also coached little league ball. While there was a few hours of certification and although I had played the game, I was never trained as to proper technique. There is not anything close to a robust certification process to train coaches on safe blocking and tackling technique and even if there were, there is no enforcement mechanism. I was disgusted at the level of injury kids as young as 8 years old suffered in our program. We had a broken ankle and a second grader had the ball joint of his shoulder broken under a gang tackle in one short season.I love football, I played it, I watch and spend way too much time following it. But it is simply unsafe.

I think incidents like these are isolated. I have coached and played for over 20 years and I never had a head injury nor did any of my teammates or players who play for me have this happen. To call football unsafe is like calling every sport unsafe. Football is always labeled for its brutality. But look at Hockey where fighting is encouraged and in baseball where throwing at batters on purpose and dug out fights make headlines. Football is a great sport if taught properly. I couldn't imagine having a son and telling him he couldn't play football.

July 1, 2010  08:19 AM ET

nobody talks about the mouthguard? the mouthguard is as big a key, if not bigger than the helmet. stop letting your athletes wear those $1 mouthguards the atlhletic programs hand out.
research the different mouthguards, we have bought our ILB son the top of the line mouthguard all the way through HS and now in DII college. $30 dollars a year for added protection is money more than well spent.
if the NCAA and NFL were really serious about curtailing concussions...make it mandatory to wear a GOOD mouthguard!

July 1, 2010  09:14 AM ET

I am so very glad I only have daughters. One who is spending the summer in a musical theatre camp. Nobody gets concussions singing on stage :).

July 1, 2010  09:23 AM ET

I am reading this blog with great intrest in Ireland. I have spent all my life playing rugby and watching Football, the concussion rate throughout all age groups and levels in rugby in the top 8 countries would appear to be substantially lower than it would appear to be in Football even though there is as much contact and no protection. Whilst a scrum and what occurs on the line of scrimmage following a snap are not entirely comparible and there is no open field blocking in rugby, the remaineder of the game is quite similar, it strikes me from, and I accept only from, watching the game of football that so many injuries especially head injuries are caused by poor tackling technique and "sports center" "highlight reel" tackles where players launch themselves at the the ball carrier. I have not seen football at high school level or below but I imagine it can be assumed that these sorts of tackles are mimiced all the way down the grades.
All sports hold an element of risk, which is some of their appeal to both watch and play, the risk is increased or deminished by coaching and the standards applied, maybe a solution is to require players at high school level and below to limit tackles to "wrap tackles" (both arms must be wraped around the opponent) on the legs of an opponent and to ensure that open field blocks are monitored as strictly as possible to avoid blocks to the head and neck. Thus preserving the traditions of football at the highest but protecting the player at the underage level and teaching and valuing strong tackling fundimentals.

July 1, 2010  09:35 AM ET

I would be curious to see a comparison to the head injuries in Rugby or Australian Rules Football where the padding is minimal and the head gear is non-existent. I think the comparison is crucial because when I played football, I felt like the helmet and all the other padding made me feel practically invincible to the point where you could launch your body at another player like a missile and leading with your head (until spearing became illegal). I doubt there is enough useful data to compare injuries to the days of leather helmets but I would bet if the head and body were less protected, you might find that the injuries would become less severe because the person doing the hitting will have to also consider the potential injury to himself and not apply as hard a hit. To the person receiving the hit, the laws of physics still apply and the mass and force don't lessen. The added weight of the gear itself causes the mass and force to increase and, therefore, is potentially more damaging.

July 1, 2010  10:28 AM ET

You know what causes depression/suicide more than football ever will? Sheltering your child and then sending them out in the world never having faced adversity. I played football from 7th grade through college and the thing I got most out of it was just that, handling adversity. Anyone who has played the game knows that it is one of the most mentally and physically demanding things you will ever do. Go run that last 100 yard sprint as hard as you can in 90 degree weather in the last practice of 2 straight weeks of two-a-days. Plain and simple, nothing builds character like playing football does. This is why, yes, of course my boy will play football if he so chooses.

July 1, 2010  11:35 AM ET

The link between tackle football and lasting brain damage is becoming more and more defined. Helmets, even when properly fitted and of the latest design and construction, cannot stop one's brain from smushing up against the inside of one's skull as the result of a high-speed collision. The earlier the hits begin the more likely it is that permanent brain damage will occur. To say we should allow our kids to participate in a sport where the types of violent collisions that cause this sort of damage occur on every play is irresponsible. So what if they are bonding with their peers? So what if they love the roar of the crowd and the brightness of the Friday Night Lights? That's like saying dogfighting is okay because the dogs love it (and they do - dogs fight to the death to please their handlers).

Eventually, and it won't be that long, I think, an attorney is going to file suit on behalf of dozens or hundreds of former NFL'ers seeking compensation for head injuries no one warned them adequately about. Or, maybe it'll begin at the small town high school level, when the family of a dead former player files suit against a school district and its coaches saying they should have known better than to expose their kid to those repeated collisions. Maybe it'll be the medical community standing up and saying it can no longer condone the sport, which will lead to school districts across the country dropping it to avoid liability. This sport is going the way of the dodo. It's just a matter of time.

Until then, go Chargers!

July 1, 2010  12:45 PM ET
QUOTE:

But not until they become men, sometime in college physically, do you need to worry about serious injuries. Most of the younger kids don't even hit, much less hard enough to do damage, they don't pull muscles, and if they happen to get injured they have an amazing ability to heal. At least in an organized support people are prepared for medical situations, unlike at the playground where the non-football kids beat themselves up.

No offense, but this is completely ridiculous. As a high school athletic trainer, I have seen many, MANY serious injuries in high school football. There have been kids who have had so many concussions that they are having difficulties in school as well as starting to act out in ways that they never have before. To say that kids do not have any serious injuries until sometime in college is completely irresponsible. If you don't believe me, come spend a day at work with me. We have seen career ending injuries in high school. It happens.

July 1, 2010  12:49 PM ET
QUOTE:

But not until they become men, sometime in college physically, do you need to worry about serious injuries. Most of the younger kids don't even hit, much less hard enough to do damage, they don't pull muscles, and if they happen to get injured they have an amazing ability to heal. At least in an organized support people are prepared for medical situations, unlike at the playground where the non-football kids beat themselves up.

To say that kids who aren't physically developed cannot sustain serious injuries is irresponsible. I am a certified athletic trainer at a high school. We have seen many concussions. One athlete had 5 in the course of his high school career that resulted in him being medically disqualified from collision sports. He also had increased difficulty in the classroom and started acting out in ways that he never had before. We have kids that sustain career ending injuries every year. If you don't believe me, spend a day at work with me. You will understand.

July 1, 2010  01:11 PM ET

What I find most interesting is that there are statistics that show more kids (many more kids) die every year from football injuries (200+) than dog bites (20+) and yet you have all kinds of Breed Specific Legislation banning certain breeds as being dangerous to kids but nothing in regards to football. Then again, when you are talking about a sport that Americans love, it is very easy to ignore the darkside of the game so long as the entertainment factor of it is preserved.

July 1, 2010  01:15 PM ET

No tackle before high school. How is this even debatable?

July 1, 2010  01:17 PM ET

What I find most interesting is that more kids are killed playing football (200+) then get bitten by dogs (20+) and yet certain states have Breed Specific Legislation banning certain breeds and nothing addressing youth football. I think that there is a certain level of danger in most sports, but football is particularly dangerous due to how physical it is and I don't think that equipment would do much to make the sport any safer. But who care? We are Americans,...as long as we are entertained, nothing else matters.

July 1, 2010  01:24 PM ET

I forbid my sons(now 35&31YO) from playing football. They were both thin (now 6'1" 180 & 6'2" 210) but thought the physically confrontational nature of the game would not benefit them. Soccer is not "non-contact" though. Both played competitive soccer until end of HS; 35 YO still plays 3 times per week for fitness & 1 played a year at NCCA top 10 soccer school. Both now in successful careers (1 has MS in Computer Sci, 1 graduating next year with MD/MBA). Have 5 grandkids; 3 boys. Hope they make the same call.

July 1, 2010  02:22 PM ET
QUOTE:

I coached 1,000+ middle school football players (and yes, a few were girls) for 23 years in Texas. Proper teaching of rushing, blocking and tackling techniques are absolutely essential, with constant close supervision in practice and endless repetition. Yet, in the heat of the game, kids WILL occasionally forget what's been taught. Whenever I saw dangerous and improper contact taking place by our kids, I IMMEDIATELY pulled them from the game, checked for injury, reminded them of correct technique, and held them from play until I felt they were ready to go back in the game. Now, this was fine for our kids, but what about the other sideline? It wasn't until recent years (and after a couple of terrible traumatic injuries in our district) that our A.D. made special emphasis that ALL coaches needed to teach correct technique, ensure proper helmet and shoulder pad fitment, and receive training for on-field concussion diagnosis. I think the corollary is that football coaches now have a mandate to not only protect the health of their players, but are also liable and accountable for player safety (or lack thereof). In fact, I fear the biggest future threat to this great sport will be the litigious minefield that coaches- from Pee Wee to Pro- will have to negotiate in the event (inadvertant though it may be) of traumatic and debilitating injury to a player under his/her supervision. Personally, if I had a kid wanting to play American football today, I'd try to steer them towards Soccer, though I've read that concussion issues are arising in that sport as well, due to the cumulative effects of kids hitting headers with the ball. Seems NO sport (except maybe Tiddleywinks...no, wait, carpal tunnel...) is completely safe.

Well said "Coach" who was really a teacher. Thanks for 23 years of service.

July 1, 2010  02:31 PM ET
QUOTE(#55):

No offense, but this is completely ridiculous. As a high school athletic trainer, I have seen many, MANY serious injuries in high school football. There have been kids who have had so many concussions that they are having difficulties in school as well as starting to act out in ways that they never have before. To say that kids do not have any serious injuries until sometime in college is completely irresponsible. If you don't believe me, come spend a day at work with me. We have seen career ending injuries in high school. It happens.

Agree that serious injuries occur in high school. Since you are an athletic trainer, are you taking a stand and protesting based on this statement?
"There have been kids who have had so many concussions that they are having difficulties in school as well as starting to act out in ways that they never have before."

July 1, 2010  02:33 PM ET
QUOTE(#56):

To say that kids who aren't physically developed cannot sustain serious injuries is irresponsible. I am a certified athletic trainer at a high school. We have seen many concussions. One athlete had 5 in the course of his high school career that resulted in him being medically disqualified from collision sports. He also had increased difficulty in the classroom and started acting out in ways that he never had before. We have kids that sustain career ending injuries every year. If you don't believe me, spend a day at work with me. You will understand.

WOW! Why in the world did it take FIVE concussions before he was not allowed to play collision sports???

July 1, 2010  02:33 PM ET

Concussions have obviously always been a serious issue linked to football, but USA Football is making some ground-breaking strides toward changing the "Rub some dirt on it" philosophy of our kids' coaches through online coaching education. I read that they have educated 50,000 coaches so far and counting. And they're partners with the NFL and all of the teams. There's some really interesting stuff on their website: USAFootball.com.

 
July 1, 2010  02:36 PM ET

Concussions have obviously always been a serious issue linked to football, but USA Football is making great strides toward changing the "Rub some dirt on it" philosophy of many of our kids' coaches through online player health and safety education. I read that they've educated 50,000 coaches so far and counting. There's some really good stuff on their website: USAFootball.com. All the tabs on the main site have links to Health & Safety.

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