I have an incredibly vivid memory of one particular Saturday morning Pop Warner youth football practice. I couldn’t have been older than 10 at the time, but I still remember every detail of that practice. Our coach called us into a huddle and he began to talk about what the next drill would be. All of a sudden, we heard one of our assistant coaches yell, “Don’t look up.” Naturally, everyone looked up. As it turns out, a flock of geese was flying overhead, and proceeded to hail upon us their business. It went on for a shockingly long time until finally the attack ended. Everyone was covered and as disgusting as it was, the team couldn’t help but laugh. Being such a small, insignificant part of one random practice, I’m not sure why I remember it so well. It is one of my favorite memories from youth football that I still think about when I see a flock of geese fly by. While I enjoyed it so much when I was younger, I intend to do everything in my power to stop my kids from having that memory.
Of course, I wouldn’t want my children to get rained upon by geese, but that’s not the memory I’m taking about.
Football is a divisive sport in today’s age. Some of the greatest players to ever compete at the sport’s highest level have said that they would not allow their children to play football when they were old enough because of the dangers of concussions. Even some parents around my area have made their children wait until they were much older before they were allowed to play. Football is not the only sport with injuries, but concussions are by far more likely. Concussion in Latin literally means, “To shake violently.” The game has not necessarily gotten more violent, but our better understanding about the effects it can have on the body are changing our opinions.
Say what you will about Aaron Hernandez, but it was proven in his autopsy that he had a severe case of CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This is caused by multiple concussions, and is unfortunately common in former NFL players. Hernandez was only 27 when he took his own life. There are at least six other NFL players who had committed suicide, but the youngest was 38 at the time. What is even more shocking is the fact that Hernandez hadn’t played in an NFL game since he was 24. During his time with the New England Patriots, Hernandez played three seasons, resulting in only 38 games. During his time with the Patriots, he had only one registered concussion. It is clear that Hernandez must have developed CTE while playing in college for the Florida Gators.
The question then arises, how long will it be until college players start to show symptoms of CTE? Then how long until high school players? Youth players? These are terrifying questions that we do not have the luxury of waiting to find the answers to. I myself am torn speaking out about the sport I once loved and loved to play. As much as I want my kids to be any type of athlete they want to be, I don’t think I would be able to let them play football knowing as much as I do.
I am beginning to see a shift in my generation, where several other athletes, teammates, and even just fans of the sport share the same opinion. It seems that everyone is beginning to better understand just how dangerous the sport can be. My generation may not be the ones to stop those Saturday morning practices entirely, but perhaps we will make strides to make our children safer.