If football's risks don't faze my son, what's a dad to do?

I'm on the sidelines watching my 11-year-old son bolt down the field.

In his mind, he is an 85-pound Jerry Rice, ready to snatch the ball from the sky and dive into the end zone.

In my mind, however, are scenes from the "Frontline" documentary we watched the night before — the one that showed the battered, disease-addled brains of prematurely dead NFL players.

I trust the doctors who said the link between football and brain damage is irrefutable.

But I also know my son loves to play ball. On this rainy day, he dives headfirst into the slop and emerges with a mud-caked grin.

For now, when other players charge at him, I don't have to worry. They aren't going to rip off his head — only the red Velcro flags that hang from his waist.

But he loves football. He's good at it. And the novelty of flags is wearing off.

So, like many parents, I am a dad at a crossroads, hoping to find something that can keep us both happy ... and healthy.

The mounting evidence is clear: Football can mess you up. In ways we never even considered when I was growing up.

In a single season, linemen and running backs can be subjected to hits equivalent to a thousand minor car wrecks. And those repeated blows to the head can lead to dementia, depression, Alzheimer's, mood swings, anger issues and more.

After years of denial, even the NFL was forced to acknowledge this — paying a whopping $765 million to settle claims with more than 4,500 players.

The injuries aren't confined to the pros. We're seeing more in college and even high school.

Most of those who respond with grunts about kids simply needing to "toughen up" are ignorant of the facts.

My son won't be ignorant. When my wife and I decided to watch the "Frontline" episode "League of Denial," we asked him to watch it with us.

Yeah, poor him. He knew the program wouldn't help make his case to play tackle ball. Even worse, it would be boring.

But the boring people made compelling cases. Doctors, coaches, players and experts agreed that repeated head blows do bad things to your brain.

Many players ended up confused, depressed, angry, even suicidal.

After an hour of watching, I asked my son what he thought.

"I get it, Dad," he said.

What do you get?

 

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