Should Our Son Play Football?


Dear Robin:

My husband and I are having a big disagreement about our son and I hope you can help us figure out a compromise. Our son is in 2nd grade and wants to start playing football next year. He is a very athletic kid and loves to compete so I’m all for it. His dad is against it.

My husband is an ER physician and has strong concerns about head injuries our son could suffer in football. He says there is new evidence it is a very dangerous sport. My argument is that these are little kids playing a kid’s game and I doubt they could really end up hurting each other.

My son pointed out that it’s two against one so we should be able to decide as the majority, but his dad is unmoved. My brothers played football and all of them are just fine – one of them even played in college and is a successful businessman.

So how do we resolve this argument?

Sidelined Mom

Dear Sidelined Mom:

This is a very difficult question, because I don’t see a possible compromise presented with these facts: either your son plays football or he doesn’t. You and your son stand on one side and your husband on the other and frankly these are the worst type of family problems because only one side will get their way.

The last time I wrote about football I really upset some folks so I relish the opportunity to piss off the same people all over again. Thank you for the opportunity to continue my efforts to alienate and anger those who know more about football than I do!  In case you missed that one, click here: A Sour Ending to the Heisman Trophy Award Ceremony.

Your husband is right to be concerned. There are several new studies indicating that football, even the less violent form played in early childhood, can have devastating impact on the developing brain and even minor concussions can cause negative repercussions for decades after the game has been called and the orange slices put away.

Obviously if your son starts playing next year and loves it, he will continue to participate in football over the years and increase his odds of becoming injured as the players grow larger and the game becomes more physical and competitive.


On the other hand, millions of children play football every year and are fine. Also true is that other sports, including soccer, lacrosse, baseball and chess, run a risk of injury to your son. That’s why we have helmets and pads and the like.

Hmmm.  This is quite the conundrum.

You said, “My son pointed out that it’s two against one so we should be able to decide as the majority, but his dad is unmoved.”

My oh my, that’s quite the little litigator you have there.  He’s got a real future in imposing a tyranny of the majority on others so perhaps instead of football you could direct his interests into civics?

Sorry to veer off there.  I’m also sorry for the chuck and duck but I’m going to punt this question back to you so you can tackle it with your family pediatrician.

I’m not trying to occupy the neutral zone and I don’t mean to get you down, but I think you should huddle with your kid’s doctor and discuss your options to maximize your child’s safety.  I don’t think I’m eligible to make this call and any attempt at advice could come off as padded or incomplete, so I’ll pass.


Here’s my advice:

1. Read the studies your husband is referring to and strongly consider whether they give you concerns about your son playing football.

2. Read this article about children, football and long-term injuries.

3. If you remain unswayed, have a meeting with your husband and your son’s pediatrician to discuss the risks and options for minimizing them.

4. If you and your husband truly can’t come to a decision together, I agree with Little John Stuart Mill – he should be allowed to play, but with the following caveats:

a) he will never play while injured;

b) he will play other sports as well;

c) he will be fully educated on the symptoms of head (or any other) injuries and told he must report any problems to you both;

d) his schoolwork and chores at home cannot suffer because of football; and

e) you will reassess at the end of one season.

Good luck and let us know what happens!



This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. John Meaney

    ‘better not let the child ride a bike, play on the swing set, touch the lawn mower, or for goodness’ sake, pick up a shovel or a rake.

  2. Cousin Eddie

    I thought you fumbled your way through the first three quarters of the post. Then, the tearable puns photo appeared. It was a beacon of light – like the grail appearing above Castle Anthrax. The advice after that was a fourth-quarter comeback worthy of Joe Montana. Boldly played, Sir, ooops, Lady Robin.

  3. YouCanLeadAHorticulture

    This is a tough one! If I had a son I wouldn’t want them playing American football, lacrosse, or hockey, the injury risk just seems so not worth it. But then again, the risk/reward ratio would be different if you loved playing those sports.

  4. SavageWotan

    Let him play based on the rules that you laid down and in consultation with the pediatrician. He will not get brain damage from playing pee-wee football. In a few years, more studies will come out and there will be more information available to him as to whether to continue as the kids get bigger and hit harder. Though I understand that if the NFL does not get the settlement that it has on the table approved, they intend to aggressively attack the studies that have linked football-related concussions to injuries. The NFL has the resources to cloud the issue, even though relatively recently retired players are developing early onset dementia and other neurological issues in numbers far greater than the non-football demographic. The parents could also make a point of keeping the kid informed. I quit playing rugby in college in part because I read an article about the frequency of spinal cord injuries. There comes a point where common sense wins out if presented properly.

    1. Shaina

      He will not get brain damaged from playing peewee football?! Please read up and educate yourself! The chances of a youth football player to suffer a concussion in a single season is 3 in 4. That is 75%chance! They don’t have to lose consciousness for it to be a concussion…and repeated minor concussions have a cumulative effect, sometimes not showing long term damage until the age of 40 or 50. Children require less force to suffer a concussion, and they have less myelin to protect from a blow. Besides that, growing brains incur more damage from more minor injuries than older athletes. Please…please check your facts before you start spewing your ignorance.

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