Matt Brennan loves the Bears, but won’t let his son play football. He’s not alone.
Football is the American pasttime. Anyone who believes it is still baseball is out of touch with the biggest Sunday afternoon craze in America.
As we settle into the playoff buzz to cap off another great NFL season, is it time to start asking the question how long can the NFL hold that crown? The NFL may not be going anywhere immediately, but the foundation of this great league is starting to shake.
I am not even talking about the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson sagas, though that issue is worth plenty of press on its own. I am talking about the issue of player safety. NBA basketball used to be the most inconsistently officiated professional sport, and then it became difficult to understand whether or not a defensive player is actually allowed to hit the quarterback in the NFL.
Past the questionable rule interpretations, player safety will have much more of a longstanding impact on whether the NFL can retain the crown as America’s past time. All you have to look at is the increasing hoards of parents –some of them famous—who will not let their children play football.
I myself am a huge Bears fan, and the parent of an almost 2-year-old child. My wife and I have talked about it numerous times, and we have both agreed that we will not let our son play when he gets older.
While he is extremely young, it is a decision that appears more complicated because of his size. Jamie was nine pounds and seven ounces at birth, and remains in a high percentile for both height and weight at his current age. When people meet him for the first time, or see his picture, a fairly common response is “It looks like you’ll have a linebacker on your hands.” It is a nice way of saying that you have a large kid.
I am six-foot and most of the men on my wife’s side of the family are taller than me. I am an avid fan of the game, and I want my son to appreciate it too—just from a distance. Once he is old enough, I would love to share Sunday football games with him, the same way my dad did with me. That may mean having some complicated conversations later in life.
And to be clear, none of my misgivings about my son playing the game are rooted in the Bears 2014 season, to never be spoken of again. My issue resides in the idea that it is not the “one big hit” to be feared, but rather recurring collisions that can cause brain damage later in life. Like a growing number of parents, I would rather have my son healthy than jeopardize his health to this degree in the long term.
It is not just me. There is a growing amount of press on this issue, and it does seem that the movement is gaining traction. The tragedies of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson illustrate the issue.
With this growing ant-football sentiment, how long can the NFL stay on top? How many Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks, receivers and defenders will we loose because they will never wear the shoulder pads?
At some point in the future, the quality of my Sunday afternoon viewing experience is going to suffer. We may be watching the golden age of the sport that we know and love right now, and not fully realize it. But that is the price that we all must pay for keeping our sons safe in the future.
For more of our coverage, see the following:
The NFL’s Concussion Problem Just Got A Lot Worse (Sept. 30, 2014)
Roger S. Goodell, Will You Please Go Now? (Sept. 22, 2014)
The National Football League: Too Big To Fail? (Sept. 13, 2014)
Ray Rice, Janay Rice, the NFL and TMZ: Many Sides, One Missing Topic (Sept. 10, 2014)
Ray Rice is Out of the NFL: But Why Did it Take Until Monday? (Sept. 8, 2014)
Photo: Flickr/ Jim Larrison