No Snark Sunday- Oh Shit, We Need to Stop Letting Kids Play Football

Oh man, this is one I didn’t want to write. It feeds every elitist, latte-sipping, craft-beer-drinking, self righteous hipster stereotype rolled into one vegan organic burrito of preachiness. I’ve dreaded doing this column for a long time, but speaking uncomfortable truths is a sacred task, so here goes:

We really shouldn’t be letting kids play football.

Look, fine. Get angry at me. Spit on my Prius. I don’t have a Prius, but spit on one and pretend it’s mine if you have to. Burn an effigy of a thick-glasses wearing ironic t-shirt figure clad in corduroy. Do what you have to do to make yourself feel better, but when you’re done for fucks’ look at what actually goes on neurologically for kids who play football.

Take a step back: what would be your opinion of a school that featured the competitive eating of lead paint chips as a sport? You’d think they were pretty dumb, right? Now tell me how football is fundamentally different.

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It’s not.

Ok, here we go. For the record, I know the following things:

  • I know that football produces “teamwork” and “camaraderie” and “gives people something to rally around, especially in these troubled times when we are questioning our very identity as a city, etc.
  • I know that you may have played football and turned out fine, or that your brother or husband did or whatever.
  • I know there are new rules/equipment now to supposedly make football safer.

When you’re done with the mental gymnastics and apologetics, will you just read the reports on the injuries and deaths and permanent damage being done to kids’ brains by the repetitive (repetitive, turns out is the key here, not just single, obvious concussions) high G hits that are the central component of the game? It’s not like other sports. It’s not like hockey or soccer. There is no other sport where you go running at the opponents with your head and then smash into them on every play (Also cycling without a helmet is crazy-dangerous, as I have said before).

Also what the fuck is up with college wrestling?

Also what the fuck is up with college wrestling?

All the arguments for keeping football as something developing kids do are subjective and based on things like “tradition” and “feelings.” We’re talking about medicine here, and that’s based on science and science does not give a shit about how anyone feels. It just reports the facts and the facts, in this case, are increasingly ugly.

Three years ago I worked on communications for new medical pump to deliver Parkinson’s medication. As part of the project I interviewed 30 neurologists from around the country. At the start of the interview I would let them talk for five minutes on the topic of their choosing. All of them, every last one talked about football or brought it up during the interview. Here is a typical response:

“I’m from Texas. I played football. My Daddy played football. Football around here is religion. There is no way in HELL I would let my son play football… in twenty years, when we look back at what we knew and what we did about it, we’re going to have to ask some hard questions about why we kept letting kids play as long as we did.”

That was not some effete essayist at or an ideologically motivated NPR contributor. Neither was it a feminist blogger or some nerd who’d been subjected to wedgies in the locker room. That was a hard-core football fan who also happened to be the head of neurology at a major hospital and research center in Houston, and he’s right. We should not be letting kids play football.

Three kids have died playing the game in just the past month. Eight people died playing football in 2013, all of them high school kids. No one died playing any other high school sport. Football in the United States is more dangerous than Ebola. Knowing everything we know, how can anyone look those parents in the eye? “We were too invested in the idea of ‘tradition’ and our own nostalgia to protect your kid from an obvious and real threat made clear by modern medicine. Sorry.”

It's not this.

It’s not this.

I’m the first one to tell you there is an excess of gaspy “oh mercy!” over-protection of children in our culture. Too many of us wrap their kids up in bubble wrap and don’t let them out of our sight. I, like most people my age, grew up without wearing seat belts or helmets and people smoked indoors and in cars an all over the place. I hate how we’ve extended the infantilization of kids and all the bullshit about how people think predators and abductors are around every corner so kids can’t go to the playground alone. Read this blog and you’ll further see how I can’t stand what a nation of pants-shitters we’ve become over stupid, fake-ass things like the above-mentioned Ebola “threat” in the United States and how there is a general panic over anybody from another country wearing traditional headgear.

This is not that. Football is really, in-reality, absurdly motherfucking-ass dangerous and does long-term damage to kids’ brains and we should stop playing it as an organized and sanctioned sport. Oh, and on the “It provides camaraderie and teamwork for young males while channeling their inherent aggression to positive ends.” People, like, at the Wall Street Journal actually said that. Camaraderie? We’re fucking up kids brains for camaraderie? Really?

Baseball promotes teamwork. So does soccer. And a soccer ball will hit your head once in a game at a max of 20 Gs. Football players in High School take repeated hits (again, it’s the repetition that’s problem) from 20-300gs. Add that up to 200-2,000 hits a season and you’re talking some serious damage as discovered on MRIs of high school players by Purdue University. Read the study. It’s the study I linked to above. Here it is again. A lot of the previous studies have called for further research and these guys finally went and stuck high school-aged players in an MRI brain scanner after recording their hits on an accelerometer mounted inside their helmets. The research is clear.

Football fucks up kids’ brains.

This is not a culture war. This is not about liberals and conservatives. This is data derived from actual research. It’s like smoking: something people thought was safe and now has been proven by science not to be. We should stop doing this.

It’s that simple.

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  1. holy fucking shit you’re so right.

    and just maybe 6 or 7 years ago, my husband was like “it was stupid my mom didn’t let me play pop warner football, i’d probably be in better shape today if I had”, but then holy shit, no.

    as an avid hockey fan, i am also distancing myself from the fights – as much as i, as a redblooded ameican, liked hockey fights. some of the premature and tragic deaths of enforcers in the league (some of the families donated the players’ brains to research, amazing families they are) has really shaken things up. the league is taking concussions pretty seriously, although “seriously enough” may be up for debate, because dollars and viewers are still the most important to Gary Bettman and the league’s owners.

  2. A few months after moving to Salem, we had to take our son to the ER for a rapidly rising fever thar hit 104 from 99 in two hours. He was less than 2 years old. While we were waiting to be seen, somewhere around 4 or 5 kids came in for injuries. One with a broken leg. Others with broken wrists. One was seeing spots. They were all about 11 or 12 and gad been playing in the same football game, which was the first game of the season!

    No football for us!

  3. “Football in the United States is more dangerous than Ebola.”

    Uh-oh….now you’ve done it.

  4. I agree 100%. Football is inherently dangerous, and kids shouldn’t be playing it.

    I found this book (Against Football) to be an excellent read:

    And the best column to read for concussion/brain damage info is Tuesday Morning Quarterback on ESPN:

  5. GREAT column (even if you did break the “no snark” pledge). Let me know if you need to borrow my Prius.

    But there’s another thing about football: unlike baseball, soccer, and a lot of other team sports, too many people watch it to see people injuring each other. And hockey isn’t far behind, even if there are fewer head injuries. People go to hockey games hoping there are fights, the players know it and so do the advertisers and those hopped-up sports announcers. Boxing, bullfighting, and auto racing, and for god’s sake, Ultimate Fighting Championships all attract voyeurs hoping to see someone getting badly hurt — with luck, even killed.

    (And I only recently learned that race cars are exempted from bans on leaded gasoline. No wonder the fans turn into bloodthirsty neanderthals; they have been sitting at those speedways inhaling lead-laden fumes forever!)

    Humans! Jeez.

    • Actually, as an auto racing fan, I can say that unleaded gas is now the standard in NASCAR and all the other top-level American racing series. Indy cars use alcohol as fuel. NASCAR didn’t drop leaded fuel until the 2008 season.

      They even have fuel injection nowadays.

  6. When we were in Texas recently I paid more attention to the culture of football. It was something I was painfully aware of when I lived there, but now as someone with some distance, I find it to be absolutely insane. We have sports fans in New England. Take that and quadruple it (Oh hell, make that 100) and you’ll have a sense of what it’s like there. So much pressure. If you don’t play or obsess about football you are a freak. FREAK. So I grew up as a freak. It was a little intense.

  7. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Jan;47(1):15-26. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091941.
    American Medical Society for Sports Medicine position statement: concussion in sport.
    Harmon KG1, Drezner JA, Gammons M, Guskiewicz KM, Halstead M, Herring SA, Kutcher JS, Pana A, Putukian M, Roberts WO.

  8. As a long time high school teacher, I am constantly appalled that sports are continually, and substantially, better funded than core curriculum. At one time, my district eliminated art and music classes in favor of retaining football and hockey, cutting teaching positions and ruining peoples professional lives. I have no love for these sports.

    • When the GD Times neglected to put anything in the newspaper regarding the Sawyer Medal recipients years ago I notified the Times and asked why these kids were not recognized…Response: Sawyer Medal Winners don’t sell newspapers. Sawyer Medal winners don’t bring in thousands of dollars at games which can be used at the school, Sawyer Medal winners are not front page news….OH, I was angry…I immediately wrote a letter to the editor expressing that while football was important to some, others have school activities that should be recognized and the community should stand tall and applaud their efforts. After all, they are ALL kids…

      • Really? Someone from the Times actually responded with the words “Sawyer Medal Winners don’t sell newspapers. “?

        That is very surprising to me.

  9. I agree with everything you are saying, except that I should pay more attention to the truth because a football player told me to. 🙂

    • I don’t think I said that. I think you should pay attention to what the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence tells you.

  10. Just making a joke. You said (paraphrase) that if these former football guys say it’s true, it must be so. I would have totally taken the nerd or NPR contributor’s word for it.

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