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Let’s wean ourselves off the grid-iron

By Christopher Frey
March 30, 2016

Now that even the National Football League’s spokesperson has publicly affirmed the link between the violence of football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a very serious brain injury—it is truly time for parents to reconsider allowing their children to play tackle football.

As a person who was fortunate enough to have received an athletic scholarship to college and to have been a small part of a storied team that participated in two NCAA basketball tournaments, I certainly understand the appeal of organized competition on any level. However, there is a point at which the risk of injury has to be weighed against the value of participation in a sport where such serious, life-altering physical damage can occur.

I never played organized football, but I followed the New York Giants in the days of the violent world of Sam Huff. Those days—the middle of the last century—also saw cigarette manufacturers bragging on television about sending to veterans in hospitals free cartons of what we all now know to be deadly carcinogen delivery systems. Doctors posed for magazine ads with cigarettes held suavely in their manicured hands as the tobacco industry wove its deadly web to entrap generations of smokers.

Does anyone now doubt the dangers of smoking? Soon, will anyone doubt the dangers of subjecting young (and not so young) people to repeated head trauma in the name of alma mater, or Pop Warner, or your nearby big city home team?

To a great extent we rely on science to guide us in many of life’s choices. Seat belts save lives—crash test dummies and scientists have proven that. Jonas Salk helped end one of the worst plagues in my lifetime by perfecting the polio vaccine. What parent today doesn’t chant “buckle up” to their kid in the back seat on the way to the doctor’s office to be inoculated against certain diseases?

For me, it’s an easy parallel to draw: Letting your kid play tackle football is similar to letting them ride in the family car without seat belts. The same caring parent who requires little Ashley to put on her helmet to ride her bike around town should not be signing up her son for tackle football and setting the stage for exposure to head injury.

The gladiatorial nature of pro football in America will probably not change in my lifetime. Announcers still can barely refrain from celebrating the crushing hits that the network’s high-tech microphones amplify for the enjoyment of viewers and the enrichment of sponsors.