Despite The Risks, I Will Let My Kids Play Contact Sports

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Soccer momA group of parents and players have filed a class action lawsuit against FIFA and a number of U.S. Soccer organizations to change the way concussions are handled in the sport. Despite the risk of injury, I would let my son and daughter play football or any other sport they were interested in, because everything comes with risks, and I don’t want to be a mother who says, “Don’t do that because you might get hurt.”

For example, I love football. I am one of those fans who watches all of the games, whether or not my favorite team is playing just because I love the sport so much. Football is a violent game, however, and recently a lot of attention has been paid to the treatment and long-term effects of repeated head injuries in sports like football. These long-term effects have included dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and depression so severe that retired players have been led to commit suicide. It’s a terrifying prospect. That said, if my son told me tomorrow that he wanted to play football, I would let him.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t limit my children from doing things that could hurt them — stupid things, like trying to walk on an exercise ball in a room filled with hard objects (ask me how I came up with that one). But any sport, any physical activity comes with physical risks, whether it’s football or track or ice skating.

Recently sports like professional football, professional hockey, and college basketball have started to take a closer look (spurred by lawsuits from former players) at how they diagnose and treat concussions and other head injuries in their players. The NFL in particular is starting to take responsibility for the long-term health of their players by paying for the medical treatment of those retired players who are suffering from problems suspected to be the result of repeated concussions.

Some sports are also starting to take preventative measures against concussions. To cite the NFL again, they have started something called the “heads up” program that encourages players starting in Pop Warner to tackle with their heads up and to lead with their shoulders in order to prevent a head or neck injury.

Now, soccer has joined the cause with its class action lawsuit. Surprisingly, FIFA’s Laws of The Game, which are followed by all U.S. soccer groups, has guidelines but no rules regarding how to treat players with suspected concussions. The goal of the lawsuit is to limit the number of headers a child under the age of 17 can have per game and to increase the number of substitutions professional player can make during a game so that they may be diagnosed and treated if necessary.

These are all steps in the right direction, and it’s important to try to make these sports safer for the players. But football, soccer, and hockey are what they are, and risk is inherent in the way those sports are played. To say “no” to sports due to fear of injury doesn’t allow your child to explore their physical abilities and discover the amazing things they can do with their bodies. It doesn’t allow them to participate in something that they might very well have a passion for because of “what if.” Yes, they need to know the risks, and they need to learn how to play as safely as possible. But I will say “yes,” because I don’t want my kids to spend their lives worried about “what if,” I want them to go for it.

(photo: Tad Denson / Shutterstock)