By Sam Jones
My son won’t play football.
I typed that lede while watching the NFC championship – Cam Newton and the Panthers do the football well – and I’m well aware of how contradictory those two statements are.
While thinking about the hypothetical life of future Grammy winner and hall-of-fame left-handed pitcher, my son – given name: Falcon Danger Jones (my hypothetical wife is so lucky) – I know that to be a good father I’ll have to keep him from doing a lot of things, like heroin, or listening to the newest Imagine Dragons album.
The list of “Can’t”s that parents assign their children is generally a long one. The length of that list varies from family to family (as a person with a 10 o’clock bedtime until I graduated high school, you could describe my list as “Santa Clausian”), and I know one day I’ll probably have to create one for kids of my own. I always imagined myself as a cool dad with a short list, but I never thought I would have to put football on the list.
There’s too much evidence.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a disease that deteriorates the brain due to repeated blows to the head, is a very real and terrifyingly prominent part of football culture. The disease leads to amnesia, dementia and, the most publicly visible symptom due to the growing number of player suicides, depression.
On top of the lasting brain damage caused by running full force into physical monsters hundreds of times during a season, kids just flat-out die on the field.
Thirteen high school football players died on the field last year, including one player in Georgia at Burke County High School, just a couple of counties east of Baldwin County. A few die from heart problems and dehydration, but the rest, like the young man at Burke County, from tackles or hits that ended fatally.
The fact that I just had to type “the rest” in regards to kids dying from football makes me angry.
And profoundly sad.
Even still here I am, watching Cam Newton dance his way to the Super Bowl.
This column isn’t to try to convince you to withhold your future kid from playing. It’s just to say that knowing what I know about the lasting effects of the game, I couldn’t let mine play. I’ll keep watching and hoping for a solution to the issue even though I know there isn’t one without changing the rules completely, but I won’t let that indifference spread to my son.
Consider this a love letter to my future son. I’m writing this so that when he gets pissed at me 25 years from now for not letting him play football, I can pull this column out and try to maybe explain the decision as best as I can. Then he can go ride his actual hoverboard that actually floats off the ground or whatever thing kids are doing in 2041 and blow off steam, and I can continue to feel good about my decision.
I know that every kid who plays football won’t become cripplingly debilitated because they play, but how could I knowingly risk that?
Recently former All-Pro wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said that he wished he had never played football. The nine-year NFL veteran said he struggles to walk down the stairs, has memory issues, and that if he had a do-over, he would have played baseball.
I don’t want the one and only Falcon Danger Jones to have those regrets. I want him to be able to walk down the stairs and to remember his kid’s names.
So when my hypothetical son is hypothetically born, I’ll keep watching, and being a hypocrite, and my son will hypothetically stay in the stands with me. Even if I’m a bad person, I’ll still be a good father.
Besides, hypothetically, I think he was born to be a pitcher.