Chances are if you follow sports or national news in the United States, you’ve already been introduced to the disease CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). You’ve also likely felt pressure from those in the media and possibly those around you to stay away from a sport that is widely considered America’s sport, football.
CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma. Those suffering from this disease often experience symptoms related to memory loss and emotional instability, and, in the spotlighted NFL cases, suicide.
I’m not writing this piece to persuade you that CTE “doesn’t exist” or is “made up by the media” because neither of those things are true. Rather, I would like to give you a change of perspective from what you are constantly hearing all around you.
In my opinion, the best thing that ever happened to the sport of football was the discovery of CTE and its link to the sport of football. I know that sounds a little crazy, but hear me out. So many things have changed since the “attack on football;” even the mindset of what is considered a good play has been redefined. No longer is the high targeting hit on a defenseless player considered something to applaud.
Things have changed so much in this sport and the media is not informing parents of what football at all levels are doing to make the game safer. Innovative technologies are always improving the quality of the equipment our players are wearing. At almost every level, there is a limited amount of contact time per practice/week. Today’s coaches know much more about the risk of helmet contact than ever before and are teaching heads up tackling or hawk tackling, newer, safer techniques that were not around in the 80s and not commonly practice until recently. Hawk tackling is eye up and to the side, wrap, squeeze and then roll, all while your head is up and not in contact. The danger of helmet-to-helmet contact is not only emphasized by coaches now but also punished at every level of the game.
All this is not to say you will never see these illegal hits on TV. The guys at the pro level do take hits that are not always legal or the correct/safe way. There is a certain level of speed and violence you cannot remove from the game with the sheer athleticism of these players. But for any who have watched 10-year-olds play football, it’s easy to see that this is not the same game you see on your TV screens.
At the youth level most kids never get a concussion, and, contrary to what seems to be popular belief, football is not the only activity in which your child could receive a brain injury. Everything you do in life has a certain amount of risk: driving a car, flying in a plane, riding a bike, running in the back yard, and, yes, playing sports—all sports.
Football is an enjoyable game to watch and play, but it also has a unique combination of individual responsibilities and play along with an absolute importance on team play. All types are needed for a successful football team: speedy guys, smart guys, heavy guys, guys who can just kick the ball, and so on. It takes all types and everyone doing their job, and that’s just one of the many life lessons and disciplines this sport has provided to so many. This specifically is something I feel is being drastically overlooked and understated by the media.
Youth football and football in general is safer than it has ever been, and coaches, parents, and players are aware of what can happen if you do not teach and use the proper techniques. Let’s not keep our kids from enjoying a sport generations love and a sport that has helped so many.