Would I Let My Son Play Football?

New York Times

Would I Let My Son Play Football?

By  SCOTT FUJITA; Published: September 17, 2013

In 1987, shortly after I turned 8, I began to lobby my parents for a chance to play tackle football. My father was the coach of a high school freshman team, so in a way, I had been raised around the game.

Because of my age, my parents had reservations, but they agreed to attend an open house with the men who would be coaching the Pop Warner team. Afterward, my parents still weren’t convinced. What persuaded them? According to my father, I walked to the car, in tears, head down, mumbling about how I’d “never get to play football.”

Two months later, I was experiencing drills like “bull in the ring,” in which a player is surrounded by teammates who repeatedly rush at him. Cracking skulls, as they used to say.

It was tackle football. And I loved it.

For much of my playing career, most parents with young children who played football were most interested in my workout regimen and what supplements I was taking. Those conversations have shifted significantly in the last few years. Now the most common question, by far, is, “Would you let your son play football?”

My response was usually a resounding “No.”

Right around the time those questions started, I developed a deep love-hate relationship with the game. I loved playing on Sundays. I loved the paychecks. I loved the guys in the locker room. But I hated what football was doing to so many people around me, and I hated what it was probably doing to me.

There seemed to be red flags everywhere, and even if I couldn’t state with certainty that the game caused each and every ailment that so many of my friends were experiencing, the evidence was mounting quickly.

I found myself receiving e-mail after e-mail from people presumably motivated by keyword searches for “football, concussion, trauma, disease.” Every new study drawing a correlation between head injuries and postcareer brain disease would find its way to my in-box, almost daily. Combine that with phone calls from former teammates who were struggling and the headlines of yet another fallen former player, and I began to hate the game.

But was this merely an emotional reaction and not necessarily an accurate reflection of an otherwise incredible football journey that spanned decades? Perhaps.

First of all, I don’t even have a son, so it was probably a bit ridiculous for me to speculate. I realize there are girls who play football, but my daughters don’t have any interest, and I have no idea how I would respond to an 8-year-old boy begging me to play this game.

Second, football gave me so much. How can I bash a game that produced so many friendships, paid for part of my education and helped me become comfortable financially?

And third, football is safer than it has ever been, right?


I honestly have no idea how to answer that question. Sure, training camp is easier than it used to be, and everyone is smarter about limiting in-practice contact. But once the games start, football is football. And nothing is ever going to change that unless you drastically change the game. I’m no expert in physics, but there’s no doubt N.F.L. players are bigger, faster and stronger than they’ve ever been. As a result, there is more velocity at the point of contact than there has ever been. I hate to say it, but no “Heads Up” campaign or the threat of a penalty or a fine will reduce football’s inherent violence. The latest dark reminder came Monday, when a 16-year-old high school player from Brocton, N.Y., died after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a game Friday night.

Certainly there are lessons to be learned from playing football, about toughness, battling through adversity, and teamwork. But I don’t think football is the only way to teach those. I have numerous friends who never played football but who have battled through failed bar exams, medical residencies and struggling businesses, and who are just as successful as I am. In truth, they are probably a lot more well adjusted, well balanced and better positioned to navigate life’s speed bumps than I’ll ever be. Maybe they never had to push through pain and mask injuries the way I have, but is that really a virtue?

Still, now that I’m retired from football, I know now more than ever that I absolutely loved playing the game. And now I actually get paid to talk about football on television. Imagine the hypocrisy. Here I am questioning whether children should be playing the game at all, and I’m basically selling the game to children watching at home. There’s certainly some internal conflict with that.

And just because football worked out well for me, that doesn’t mean it will work out well for everyone. The odds are just too daunting.

So maybe the more appropriate question is, If I could do it all over again, would I? The answer: Absolutely. Without hesitation.

I recently asked my parents the same question, separately: “Knowing what you know now, would you have said yes after that meeting over 25 years ago?”

My mother, without hesitation: “No, it’s just not worth the risk. We’ve loved being on this journey with you and it’s brought us so much joy, but I’d rather see you live a long and healthy life.”

My father, the former football coach, after a long hesitation: “Yes, but I wouldn’t let you start so soon.”

He added, “Football isn’t for everyone, Scott.”

He’s right. It’s not for everyone. But it was definitely for me. And it is definitely for a lot of other people, too. So, just because I am torn about the game, it’s not my responsibility to make other parents’ decisions for them. But I do feel an obligation to inform them.

I’m a former player now, and concerned parents continue to ask me, “Scott, would you let your son play football?”

And how do I respond?

“I’m just glad I have three daughters and will never have that conversation.”

Full story available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/sports/football/would-i-let-my-son-play-football.html?_r=0

A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2013, on page B11 of the New York edition with the headline: Would I Let My Son Play Football?.
Filed in: Press Room, Writing • Thursday, September 19th, 2013

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Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more