The movie Concussion, starring Will Smith and his odd African accent, opens on Christmas Day this year. It's a movie about a forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who became at odds with the NFL over his research and study into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which can be the end result of one too many hits to the noggin in the form of concussions. Omalu found a link between concussions and CTE, which in several NFL players led to death in various ways.
Obviously, the NFL was none too pleased with this, since it's been on the wrong side of history in acknowledging just how damaging the sport can be. While I love football dearly, the NFL's method of dealing with concussions and head trauma has left much to be desired. Sure, the league has attempted to make some changes in areas that are most likely to lead to the highest-impact collisions—and those most likely to cause real damage—like moving the kickoff up 15 yards, which causes most returns to be touchbacks, as opposed to guys like DeSean Jackson having to take their lives (and the Washington Redskins' seasons) into their own hands. But it's hard to soften the blow from a sport in which people intentionally take aim at you, physically.
Man, that was a bonehead play.
But I'm not here to argue about how terrible the NFL is. If you're a fan of the sport, you already know how much of a clusterf—k the NFL and its rules, studies, P.R. and ideologies are. I love the sport in spite of how it's run. Besides, football is still the most popular sport in America, so what do I know?
What I do know is that my son won't be playing football.
I am a Southerner. While I didn't grow up in the South for all of my life, I come from a family of Southerners and football players. I've had at least four cousins make it to the NFL. I went to high school in Alabama at a school constantly in the conversation for state titles, though we always run up against Hoover, and anybody familiar with high school football is familiar with Hoover in Birmingham.
Point is, Friday Night Lights is a real thing down South. I saw it. Me? I witnessed it from afar because what I learned early on was that if I wasn't going to the NFL, I might as well take up this thespian thing. My Southernness means that I love watching the game. One of my nephews plays football (another is into mixed martial arts and wrestling).
I know that not all of these kids are going to get injured. I know that not every kid is going to get a concussion. I know that you are just as likely to get a concussion playing soccer as you are football as a youth. I've been hit upside the head with a metal baseball bat and once, in an attempt to hurdle my back fence, failed and went face-first into the concrete. I've had concussions. I'm a boy. We get those. All anybody did was keep me awake. And I'm still here.
It's not really the concussions, and the possible CTE, that lead me away from football. It's the gruesome injuries I've seen that tend to turn me away. I realize that many of them are freak accidents, but good gracious. To be fair, I do realize that freak accidents can happen in all sports (see Ware, Kevin; University of Louisville, 2013), but when something tragic happens in basketball, it's a shock.
Meanwhile, it seems as if every summer we hear about some high school kid dropping dead on a football practice field.
I remember, at one football game in high school, one of my friends, a football player, had his arm shattered by one of our own players, who irresponsibly attempted to spear a pile of players on the ground. My friend was carted off the field, and his arm never worked right again.
My former barber in Alabama broke his neck playing football and luckily wasn't paralyzed. Almost every week on television, we see some player go down with who knows what kind of injury. It's a sport that requires injury. And although I enjoy it, I look at my son and want to toss a basketball in his direction. Maybe (well, most likely) he won't go pro, but he's more likely to stay in one piece.
Granted, I also know tons of people who played football in high school and college who are perfectly fine and operating at full capacity in society. Letting the extreme incidents color my entire perspective about allowing my child to play a sport that is absolutely one of the best at teaching teamwork, camaraderie and discipline is extreme in and of itself. It's entirely likely that my son could play football, max out in high school or college, and then go off to be a neurosurgeon, world-class blogger or the guy who invents that thing you don't even know you need yet. But mine eyes have seen too much. They've seen severe injuries. And I can't shake that.
If my son tells me he wants to play football, I'm going to have to sit down and have a talk with him about why I'm not comfortable, and that might suck for him. But the way I feel right now, I can't in good conscience walk my son onto a football field. Even with all the stats and research at my disposal, what we do know is that some not-insignificant number of football players are going to catch hell and catch injuries, and even die during practice. It might not be statistically significant, but you can't tell me that reading about a 17-year-old who died at practice isn't significant in a holistic sense. Even one is too much for me.
I love the sport, and I would never tell anybody else what to do with his or her child. Again, I have lots of family who play, and even my nephew loves it, and I encourage him to be great.
It's football, baby. I watch it religiously. I argue about players and stats with my friends and hope to do the same with my son while he prepares for basketball, soccer, or track and field. Or baseball. One of the some-risk, high-reward sports, as opposed to the high-risk, high-reward-unless-you-blow-out-your-knee world of football. The cautionary tales are just too hard for me to ignore.
So I won't.
Panama Jackson is the co-founder and senior editor of VerySmartBrothas.com. He lives in Washington, D.C., and believes the children are our future.