, Salem, MA


March 4, 2014

Column: Should parents protect their sons from football?


So, concussion-deniers are quick to assert, concussions can occur in all sports, including field hockey and cheerleading. Furthermore, more players are probably killed or injured in automobile accidents on their way to practice than are killed or injured on the field. There’s no such thing as a risk-free life.

Yes, probably. But this line of thinking sounds like a rationalization in service of a conclusion that we passionately hope to be true, that we can continue to enjoy the exciting game of football without acknowledging all the physical damage that it does to its players.

This is probably an acknowledgement too far for us to reach as a nation. Rules changes and practice modifications are unlikely to do much to diminish the collateral damage from an extremely rough sport, the kind of long-term effects that even the best players are unable to escape. Only parents can save boys from that.

The football hero of my university days was Earl Campbell, a tough running back who won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas, starred in the NFL and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Campbell, a first-class human being, had a dream football career. Now, unfortunately, he can barely walk. He suffers chronic pain from the battering he endured during high school, college and nine years in the NFL. He gets around with a walker and, sometimes, a wheelchair. He’s 58.

Of course, Campbell might say that his physical ills are balanced sufficiently by the fame, money and glory of his spectacular career. And who’s to say they’re not?

But your son, tossing the pigskin around in the backyard, can’t imagine ever being 58, much less using a wheelchair. He already thinks he’s Earl Campbell or, more likely, Peyton Manning. You’re probably the only one who can help him see what’s at stake.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at

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