Should I let my child play football?

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Imagine for a moment that you want to do the most dangerous thing you have ever done. For example, you want to jump out of a plane. Most people would want to learn something about parachuting.

Now your 14-year-old son comes home from school one day and announces that he is going out for the freshman football team. As a parent you should have legitimate concerns. This just might be the most dangerous thing your son will decide to do in high school.

It has always been fairly self-evident that football is dangerous. How many sports actually prepare for young people to be carted off the playing field multiple times? We accept the fact that the game has to stop because a player is incapacitated. During other games it can be a rather shocking experience.

We all know that testing limits and taking risks makes sports so compelling. The best athletes are the ones who can perform closest to the edge of aggression and discipline. And most people have experienced the thrill of danger at some point in their lives. So, the question becomes: How much safety is a parent willing to sacrifice to allow his or her son to experience the danger and the thrill of performing under the lights in front of hundreds or thousands of people?

As a parent, and legal guardian, you have no choice but to make a choice. Obviously, for every family there will be myriad factors to consider. Financial opportunities and passion for the game are personal questions that parents have to answer for themselves. But safety is no longer a question. Football is flat-out dangerous. We always knew it and now science is proving it.

Tom Talavage is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University and co-director of the Purdue MRI Facility. His group of researchers conducted a study of a football team for its entire season:

"What we found, by the end of the season," Talavage explained, "was that in 50 percent of the players [who]were brought in who were not concussed, we were detecting changes, either in their computer-based testing and/or in their functional MRI data, showing that something had changed in the way their brain was performing a particular set of simple tasks."

Talavage continued that "it was unexpected from the point that nobody really expected to see this at the high school level, necessarily, and we certainly didn't expect to see it occurring throughout the season in such a large percentage of the players."

We can all argue the merits of one study, but the fearless reality of the truth is more formidable than the fearlessness of a 170-pound safety taking on a 230-pound fullback. It took until the ‘50s to employ plastic helmets. How long will it take us to acknowledge that football is more dangerous than we ever knew? Your decision to allow your son to play is your own. But, like any high-risk venture, you want to know as much as possible before you do something like jump out of an airplane.

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