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Look, I know that I don’t fit into the stereotype — I’m a woman, I read books, I dislike toxic masculinity — but I love football. I watch it every Sunday regardless of what teams are playing, I’m getting my ass kicked in a fantasy league, and I even spent a few very happy years playing in a co-ed flag football league in Boston.
But I also love science, and kids not dying or being injured in preventable accidents. That’s why I’m a bit torn over the mounting evidence suggesting that kids just shouldn’t be playing football. Two doctors from Minnesota have laid out the case very well in a commentary that will be published in the American Journal of Bioethics in January. Essentially, the problem isn’t bone fractures and pulled muscles, or even the freak accidents resulting in death. The problem is that 5-20% of football playing kids experience concussions, which can have some ugly results like impairing kids’ cognitive ability for weeks after and negatively affecting their schooling.
I got a concussion when I was 9 or 10 — I was skateboarding on some tennis courts at dusk when some bigger boys started chasing me. I ended up rolling full speed into a tennis net that had been dropped to the ground, which basically launched me to the pavement head first. I remember having a goose egg on my forehead that came with headaches lasting quite awhile, but luckily I fully recovered. I mean, maybe. Maybe if it hadn’t been for the concussion, I would have been a genius or something. But probably not.
What I didn’t know at the time was that having a concussion at that age made me more likely to experience a catastrophic brain injury later. If I had gone on to play high school football (which, if there had been a girls’ league I most definitely would have), I would have unknowingly risked long-term brain damage.
And parents and kids are still unknowingly taking risks. Even if the parents need to sign consent forms, those forms are often written in a way that muddles the true risks and couches them with language like “everything in life comes with risks.”
The doctors ask for medical professional to, as one, denounce kids’ football and recommend that public schools stop fielding teams.
I think they’re right, unfortunately, but I don’t think America is ready to take a drastic step like that. As the doctors note in their commentary, doctors and judges who are in charge of protecting kids seem more interested in not hurting the football industry, and frankly that’s bullshit. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently encourages a switch to flag football, but that’s not likely to happen either considering the number of parents who see high school football as an integral gateway to the NFL. The only realistic solution at this point appears to be the hardest: learn to like soccer. Ugh.