Why is your kid playing football?

Let’s face it. Football fans don’t much care that the constant hitting and brain-smashing action is killing the athletes of the National Football League — a fact that is overwhelmingly proven in Tuesday’s PBS Frontline series, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

So you could probably scroll right past most of the two hours of some of the finest sports journalism that one of the influential sports corporations –ESPN — tried to put the kibosh on.

Instead, fast forward to 1:24:17 — the part where the evidence is presented that it’s killing kids, too.


“I actually remember sitting at a practice and hearing the young one, the 8-year-old, they were doing that drill where you line up and run at each other as fast as you can. And I remember him getting all excited to the coach: ‘Yes, that’s what I want to hear, the crack of the helmets against each other.’ And I remember sitting there thinking, oh, no, this can’t be right,” Lisa McHale told the program.

Her husband was a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He died of a drug overdose when he was just 45.

The NFL will respond to whatever fingers are pointed at it in the ways corporations often try to deflect evidence.

Knowing the program was coming, the NFL last month posted on its website that the “concussion issue continues to grow“… in Major League Baseball.

It would be silly to imagine the NFL doing much more than circling the wagons and marshaling its considerable PR muscle in the wake of the damning broadcast.

But at youth football practices around the country, there are, no doubt, going to be some parents wondering “what are we doing here?”

(Frontline will host a live online chat on the show’s findings Wednesday at 12 p.m. CT here.)

  • Veronica

    Yep. Once Frontline got to the part about kid, my stomach felt ill and I had had enough. Contrast it with the POV documentary “Brooklyn Castle” last night, where kids on the chess team had to fight for money…..shame on all of us.

    Ps. Thanks for posting, Bob. You are very missed.

  • AllYourTV

    Good to see you back, Bob. It’s funny, but I have a 8-year-old and we just had this discussion. My wife & I won’t let him play on a full-contact team, though I wouldn’t mind a flag football team. The stats about kids playing is just too scary. High School is about the earliest a kid should be getting tackled, though it’s not as if it’s exactly safe at any point.

    • It also depends on their coaches as well and teaching the young players how to tackle properly in the first place.

  • Uff-da

    We watched Frontline last night our 11 year-old. When we saw the part about the death of the 18 year-old after his 4th concussion she asked, how is this even legal to let children be endangered in this way. We did not have a good answer.

  • mason

    Because you can’t compare playing for few years in high school with playing for 20 years.

    High school players are much smaller, much slower, and hit much softer than the larger and faster players in the NFL. It’s simple physics.

    Millions of people have played HS football. To try and take a few anecdotal stories and present it as generalized trend is dishonest reporting.

    • Lisa

      True, millions of people have played High School football. But I still find it alarming that we find it ok that there is a real possibility that kids could get seriously injured or killed and aren’t really doing anything to address that. Concussions are seriously injuries; just because a kid didn’t die doesn’t mean he won’t see long term damage.

      • mason

        HS athletes also get concussions playing every other sport. HS cheerleading alone causes more concussions every other HS sport combined.

        I think the whole issue a perfect example of our society’s inability to accurately asses risk.

        • Actually I believe you’re attempting to quote Dr. Cantu, who isthe same person who’s trying to talk sense into us. He said the risk of concussion is higher among cheerleaders, not that there are more concussions among cheerleaders. And it makes sense for the same reason. Smash a brain hard enough, often enough, and there will be damage.

          In the end it falls to parents of younger kids to decide if the risk is worth taking. The smart parent will investigate. The poor one will not.

    • Well, you do have to calculate that equation but you have to calculate both sides of it including the fact a young brain is not fully developed and tissue is softer. Heard someone last week say flat out no kid should play tackle football before 10 or 11. Not sure how it’s practiced around here. But I’m not convinced millioons of kids have done it is a scientific data point.

      Dishonest reporting? Hardly. It’s a conversation starter worthy of wanting and seeking more information. Exactly what good journalism should do even if it upsets us in the process.

  • Dave

    I watched the documentary; it was very well done, highly informative and interesting.

    One of the things that struck me most was the parallels between the deniers in the NFL and climate change deniers. In fact, they use the exact same language when they deny the evidence. They repeatedly say things like:

    — we need more information (yet they never say how much information is enough)
    — we can’t draw conclusions
    — they accuse scientists who are not on their side of having an agenda

    I foresee a day when young kids are not allowed to play organized tackle football. Of course, it will start with the youngest kids, 9,10,11. But it could move to older kids. There was an 18-year-old in that show who died with CTE.

    This really could spell doom for the NFL, at least as we know it. As you can tell from my avatar, I’m a football fan. But I don’t think we can indefinitely play a game that appears extremely risky.

    Look at the local media. Weekend news is all about how awesome the Minnetonka football team is (whether or not you care, which I don’t). Competitive teams feature players that are heavily recruited by college programs. Educated parents will be the first ones to disallow their children from playing. The NFL could be done once the supply of those players dries up.

  • C

    Another thing to consider is that kids LIKE to play football. Love it or hate it, the fact is that football is ingrained within our culture. Once a kids hits 9 or 10, there are not a lot of flag football teams — the kids are just too old for many leagues — tackle often is the only option. So there is an opportunity here to develop more flag football leagues and passing leagues across the Twin Cities.
    The bottom line is kids, especially boys, are going to play football. Go to any school playground and you will see groups of kids playing. But do they need to play full contact at 8, 9, 10 or 11? I would argue no. It is not really safe at any age.

  • kennedy

    There are many good reasons for kids to participate in sports. Being part of a team is a social learning experience. Understanding that skills can be improved with practice and hard work is a valuable lesson to learn. Physical activity promotes fitness (the negative impacts of obesity on our society are enormous in scope and cost). Sport can also simply be fun.

    Of course there is a risk of injury in football. The same is true for many sports. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The majority of head injuries sustained in sports or recreational activities occur during bicycling, skateboarding, or skating incidents.” Children participating in cycling/skating/scooter activities suffered 3 times as many traumatic head injuries as football players (according to the most recent data from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons).

    Cheers to the League of Denial producers for educating the public. Parents should absolutely be aware of risks for the activities their kids participate in. Coaches, sports directors and parents should keep up with research and do everything they can to understand and minimize the risk of injury. At some point, for some parents, this may mean choosing not to participate.

    • DavidG

      The thing is, it’s looking more and more likely that traumatic brain injuries are not the primary source of CTE. It’s the repetitive, sub-concussive blows that look to be the biggest risk factor.