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Football safety debate hits home for Ravens' Bernard Pollard

Bernard Pollard is a complicated guy. He is one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, but speaks passionately about player safety.

He clearly loves the game, but said Thursday that he understands why parents are steering their kids away from it -- and he will do the same with his young son.

"I'm not grooming him to play," Pollard said," "If I cannot stop him ... if he's adamant to want to play, I will allow him to check it out, to try it out, but I'm going to do everything I can to not push him in that direction."

Pollard made headlines Monday when he said that football might not be around in 30 years because fans will lose interest in a pacified NFL. He didn't back away from that opinion on Thursday. He expanded on it.

"I've seen so many people in this game. ... I've seen the consequences of playing this game," Pollard said. "I've seen it. I understand it. You look at the parents who are raising their children now. A lot of them are saying, 'my son isn't playing this. I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure he don't.' That tells you, that's the future. That's the future right there. If parents are saying, 'OK, we're not going to groom our son. We're not going to allow him to play this game,' where are we going?"

Opinions differ, of course. Center Matt Birk said that he understands the risks inherent in football, but won't try to discourage his sons from playing the sport.

"I don't live my life that way," Birk said. "You can get hurt doing anything, but that doesn't mean you go into something and just do it. You take all the precautions that you can and try to keep yourself as safe as you can. That's why I think it's important that we're having these conversations now and making changes to the game to make it safer. On this level, yeah, but the most important thing is that it filters down to the lower levels for the kids, because obviously aren't going to play in the NFL."

Birk feels that football has a special impact on young people that you won't find in some of the other sports.

"Football's a great game," he said. "It teaches kids a lot of good things, about hard work, about being a part of something greater than yourself, about delayed gratification, all these lessons that important for kids to learn for life. Football is unique in some ways in that respect, so if they want to play they can play."

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