The Morality of Football: Children and Concussions

youthfootballAfter a brief blogging hiatus–aided significantly by a defective modem and mind-numbing customer service–this blog roars back to life.  Look out.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s come up again.  The NYT has a blog discussion called “When It’s More Than a Headache” going on right now about concussions in youth football. (Photo: Shawn Poynter/NYT) It includes the following sobering word from a New York City doctor named Jordan Metzl:

I was in my office last week when David, a 17-year-old high school football player, came in with his parents. David is a senior and has above average speed and receiving skills. He’s hoping to play college football next fall. The complication: he has had three concussions including one last year that kept him out of school for a week.

Despite widespread and ever increasing information that is available on adolescent concussion, there still is remarkably little information that a physician can give an athlete like David. Why are some athletes prone to suffering concussions? What makes their symptoms persist? Aside from stopping contact sports, what can be done to prevent these injuries?

These are scary words. We’re right in the swing of fall sports now.  I enjoy football as much as anyone out there.  There is something unique to football–it’s a delicate balance of grind and grace, of tactics and explosive innovation.  It is also, however, violent.

Before you jump to defend football by responding that there’s great good to go with the violence, just chew on this stat: “High school athletes sustained 137,000 concussions in the 2007-8 school year, according to a study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.”  That’s just the number of reported concussions from high school sports, the greatest offender of which is football (by far).  Then consider the fact that football can damage people for the rest of their lives.

I don’t have a massive therefore to suggest here.  Decisions about youth sports are gray areas, to be sure.  Many young men play football without sustaining concussions.  Others get “dinged up” but are fine.  Still others, however, may be damaging their bodies and their brains for the rest of their lives.  That is a big price to potentially pay, no matter what one’s goals are.

I suppose that the conclusion I hope readers, and especially Christian readers, would reach is this: we should think hard about youth sports.  We should very carefully consider whether our boys should play football and other high-contact sports.  We should think even harder about whether our girls should play these kind of sports (girls in high-contact sports sustain up to five times the number of serious injuries, like ACL tears, that boys do–are we so certain about the physical sameness of the genders?).

Parents are faced with these realities.  We should not simply rubber-stamp what the culture thinks and does.  We have to take everything captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  We should not assume that our children will just “be fine.”  They may be fine, but they may also undergo great harm in sports.  That’s a risk that we and they may take, but they should not do so because of the desire for fame, riches, self-greatness, parent-pleasing, or other sinful motives.

And this applies to our viewing and support of sports as well.  Should we watch and support sports as violent as professional football?  Many of us will continue to wrestle with these difficult issues–but even wrestling with them will be a kind of victory in itself.


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