I was really surprised to read John Balentine’s Jan. 26 opinion column “Last Down for Football?” wherein he pooh-poohs parental concern (and mounting scientific evidence) about impairments due to head injuries as an “unrealistic fear” and “just an excuse” for not letting kids play football. Say what?
As someone who has suffered lifelong from migraine headaches and also lost the majority of his childhood memories as the result of three supposedly “minor” sports-related concussions in college (two of which were football-related), I want to point out that this problem is very, very real, the consequences are lifelong and they can be debilitating. There just isn’t much room for debate on this one – there is an increasingly strong consensus and mounting concern in the medical community coming out of a growing body of research on this issue. Just Google “youth sports head trauma” or similar search terms and you’ll see what I mean.
This doesn’t mean that children should not play sports. Quite the contrary. The evidence is just as strong supporting the psychological, behavioral and health benefits of regular sports participation. What it does mean is that all youth sports need to make evidence-based changes in the way the games are played to enhance the benefits and reduce the risks, specifically the risk of head injuries. This is only reasonable, prudent and responsible. When youth sports are demonstrated to be safer, participation rates will again climb. But until they are made safer, participation is likely to decline even further. If traditionalists and armchair quarterbacks lament the “sissifying” of a given sport, well, that’s just too darn bad. They aren’t the ones whose heads – literally – are on the line.
As a youth soccer referee, referee instructor and the parent of three grown children whose lives were so positively affected by their childhood sports participation, I am concerned about how poorly informed many parents are concerning these issues. And like John, I, too, am deeply concerned about the negative consequences of children increasingly living in a sedentary electronic universe. That said, the issue of head trauma is so obvious and so serious that it demands more responsible discussion than this. I would hope that the Lake Region Weekly’s columnists and editorial board will take that to heart in the future.
Joseph P. Foran