My 12-year son started tackle football practice this week, full pads, helmets, and everything. Given my focus on concussions and TBI over the past couple of years, how could I let my son play football?!! There is risk in all sports. But in my mind, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Life is a team sport and what better place to learn to be a team player than on the athletic fields. Or as General Douglas MacArthur said, “On the fields of friendly strife, are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” Yes, my son could concentrate on other sports and he does. He plays fairly high level soccer year round and basketball in the winter and used to play baseball though he’s given that up. He’s an active 12-year old as all kids should be. My mother raised six boys and her answer to keep our hormones under control and us out of trouble was sports, sports, and more sports. And my favorite since before I can remember was football. I lived and breathed it on the field starting around age 9 and off the field. My father once got two tickets to see the Baltimore Colts play the Buffalo Bills in Johnny Unitas’ heyday and OJ Simpson’s rookie year. Out of six boys, I got to go with him because I was the football fanatic. And I played through high school and one year in college before I switched to something, uuuggh, easier, rugby!
Yes, I had my share of “dings” in both sports. I can look back and definitely say I know of one concussion in football and one in rugby, but how many others did I really have? Who knows? We didn’t think about those things back then and most kids don’t today, they just want to keep playing the game like we did. I wouldn’t trade anything for the experiences, the ups and downs, the joys and triumphs of winning games and championships, and heartbreak of losing the last high school football game to our archrivals and our last collegiate rugby game in the national playoffs when we were the top ranked team. Most of all, however, I wouldn’t ever replace the camaraderie with my teammates and the experiences and lessons learned on the friendly fields of strife. Those guys are the friends I keep today many years down the line, the ones I know I can always count on even today if I need help or advice.
So what advice do I have for my 12-year old? Play on, buddy; be the best teammate you can be; as Abby Wambach recently said at the Olympics, play so hard you “leave [your] human beingness on the field;” cherish every moment and every game; don’t ever stop playing sports even as you grow old; but most of all – as I’ve taught you – take your omega-3s every day to keep that energy, that edge, and protect the most important piece of sports equipment you have, your brain.