Why do we play football?
Everywhere you turn, there is talk about concussions and sports. The impact of concussions cannot be denied. It’s why all our athletic trainers are ultra-conservative when we suspect a concussion.
It’s worse in professional football. For way too long, concussions were an accepted part of the pro game. Junior Seau’s suicide could be tied to concussions. At the very least, it was probably the result of depression caused by the game, either from injuries he suffered during his career or his inability to cope with the changes to his life that arrived with his retirement.
In either case, football is likely to blame.
I was asked recently how I could ever have let my son play football. It seems that there are a lot of folks that feel that the sport has gotten too violent, too injury prone. That’s a hard question to answer, especially when I recently sent two football players to the Emergency Room with concussions within an eight day span.
My son first played football as a 9 year old, playing in Parks & Rec’s Pee-Wee football program. I had always said that I really didn’t want him to play until he got to middle school, but he really wanted to play and, given his size and the family legacy (lots of football players including a great uncle that played at UT and then professionally and a grandfather that was a small college All-American), I consented to it.
Football was always fun for him and he was pretty good, playing on the state championship team that started Maryville High School on their current run of championship performances. He then went on to play at Clemson University until his career was ended by an injury, but more on that later.
I played too, having played in my hometown’s youth sports leagues and then in high school, getting a state championship myself in 1969. I credit my high school football experience with being truly life-changing for me, but more on that later too.
The fact is that there are injuries in all sports; maybe a bit more in football. No sport is immune. Some of those injuries are catastrophic and permanent. But the fact is that we need sports because active children become active adults. Inactive children become inactive adults. And anyone that lives a sedentary lifestyle (those inactive adults) will have health problems that you really don’t want.
Things like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and the many, many things that those lead to.
Before I continue, let me make one thing really clear: I am a big fan of high school football. Always have been. Maybe more so than any other sport, football requires teamwork, sacrifice of individual goals to the success of the team, cooperation, communication, a coordination of efforts.
In four years of college football, my son had four surgeries and countless injuries. But he would do it all again, knowing the risk. The lessons he learned and the experiences he had were what has made him the man that he is today.
As for me, I’ve said it here before: High school football turned my life around. I was the classic underachiever until this wonderful, physical, exciting game took over. Football was where I learned that if you work ... REALLY work toward something, you can achieve it. That all that stuff about teamwork is really a life lesson.
And even the injury that I suffered as a college sophomore, effectively ending any hope of a football career, gave me something that was life-changing: It introduced me to my first physical therapist and gave me a career that for almost 35 years has been a blessing.
Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Write to him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)