Earlier this week I to stayed up way too late to watch the opening of another NFL season. My older boys will beg to watch with me. I’ll compromise their bedtime, allowing them to watch until halftime when they’ll vow to go to bed without complaining.
It’s become a tradition in my home to watch football with my kids. I look forward to cheering for our favorite teams together — win or lose. As my children grow, I find myself simultaneously loving and fearing the game, especially in the context of them wanting to put on a helmet themselves.
My kids do not play football today, but I know the day will come.
I don’t know how I’ll feel when my son finally says, “Dad, I want to play football.”
I do, however, know what I’ll say. “Go get ‘em, my man.”
Typing these words fills me with worry. I hate that I’ll give in. I will, no doubt, let my son’s desire outweigh the hesitation I have for the long-term consequences of playing such a violent sport. I wish I could look to a single source for advice. Further complicating matters, current and former professionals are split on if they’d allow their own children to play the game.
Former Detroit Lions running back, Barry Sanders, says that kids should play as long as parents understand the risks. Current players Drew Brees and Bart Scott have said that their kids won’t play football as the risks do not outweigh the rewards.
The divergent viewpoints of people around football leaves me in an odd position — balancing disagreement between people on the inside, hard medical evidence of the potential dangers, and my kids’ willingness to try something new. I’m not certain how to succeed here.
I feel like a hypocrite if I don’t allow my kids to try. I am constantly telling them to find and follow their passions. I’m fairly persistent in making sure that my children experience as much as possible. I believe that forbidding an activity only increases their inclination to leave me behind in the endeavor.
Like most Good-Bad Dad decisions, there is no right or wrong in real-time. Success or failure will be judged in the rearview. That scares me.
In real-time, as I let my son play, I’ll plan to implement some prerequisites:
1. We Will Watch “Concussion” Together
If the CTE-dominated life that Mike Webster led doesn’t scare my son, I may have other issues on my hands. This movie will forever change how I watch football.
2. Don’t Ask Me Until Middle School
Flag football is sufficient until the sixth grade. I really cannot understand the need for kids under 10 years old to playing tackle football.
3. A Preseason Talk To Coach
It is understood that all coaches now complete mandatory concussion training, so I’m sure awareness is sharp. I’d be more interested in talking to my son’s coach about their teaching of proper tackling technique. I’d like to know about any experiences with kids that absorbed a jarring collision.
4. One More Topic for Doc
A small portion of my football player’s annual physical will be spent chatting with the pediatrician about concussion symptoms, signs of trouble, and any new medical research.
I’m clear that nothing above will ultimately protect my kid or soothe the churn that will exist in my gut.
Everything in the above list shows my son, his coaches, his teammates, and our family physician that I am uncomfortable with, yet accountable for, the decision to let him take the field. When he does so, we are all now on a team — a team tasked with being an extension of me when I can’t be around.
I’m a dad of my word, standing for principles that, at times, contradict my duty to keep my kids safe. No matter what, I’m trying to parent in service to the mission of raising well-rounded, curious, contributing leaders.
I have to let my kids find their passions.
I will encourage my children to try new things.
I’ll be the guy in the first row during every game cheering like crazy.
I’ll do this all while secretly hoping for a quick, healthy failure that spawns a new passion pursuit.
This post previously appeared on Fatherly.