COMMENTARY | My only son, who is 15 years old, could die playing high school football. He might suffer an injury that impairs him for life. If either happened, I would be shattered. Yet he wants to play. It’s his desire, not mine. I allow it because it’s the right decision for him. Only his parent could know that. My decision has yielded positive benefits but has been costly.
Let me paint a picture. Around 3 a.m. one morning this week he called me to his room to say he felt a headache and nausea. His leg hurt. He was having difficulty sleeping.
Earlier that day I saw him play a game in which he returned kickoffs and got hit hard. On the sideline he walked with a limp because several weeks ago he pulled a groin muscle. It won’t heal. In the game the opposing quarterback took a hit and lay motionless on the field for 15 minutes before an ambulance carted him away.
His body is degenerating
Since the season began last June–yes they start practicing that early–my son’s body has been degenerating. He didn’t feel well that night, I suspect, because of the previous day’s collisions or maybe the cumulative effect of the season’s daily poundings. I have dreaded receiving a phone call from his coach informing me that my son broke his spine, or suffered a concussion, or tore his knee ligaments.
Nothing that severe has happened, but the physical problems have been piling up. During a summer practice he fell on a turf field. The spill caused a three-inch bloody shin burn. For weeks the burn festered with yellow pus. He may have an ugly scar for life. After a recent game he had to be taken to a hospital emergency room because he felt severe forearm pain. Although the x-ray was negative, the pain persisted. At home his groin pull forces him to step crookedly up the stairs.
High school football is especially dangerous
Football is as dangerous an athletic endeavor as there is–especially at the high school level. From 1931 through 2012 there were 1,027 deaths directly related to football, 68 percent of whom were high school players, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research. The research was conducted by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. The research also found that from 1982 to 2008, 62 percent of the fatalities (635 of 1,010) in 18 high school sports were related to football.
So why allow my son to play? Four reasons:
- · while real, the statistical chances of him suffering a catastrophic injury are very low; the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that approximately one high school athlete out of 100,000 who participates would get such a serious injury;
- · he’s learning about discipline and being a responsible teammate, two important life skills;
- · he’s making friends, a huge part of high school development; and
- · he enjoys playing, and having fun at his age is crucial.
While I would be relieved if he stopped, I know football fulfills him. As he walks off the field after games, he smiles.
Still, I am wary. Earlier this month a West Virginia high school football player passed away due to a game brain injury, according to Profootballtalk.com. Had he been my son, I would be tormented the rest of my life. But the game brings him other important benefits. That outweighs all the fear and worry. It’s a close call but the right one–for us.