Counterpoint: Football and Childhood Injuries

It’s not uncommon patients express shock these days at the very idea of letting a child play football these days. Given all we have learned about the risks of strain, overspecialization, and concussions, why would anyone still send their kids to Pop Warner?

Recently the Huffington Post offered a few reasons, in what amounts to a broad counterpoint to many prevailing sentiments. The main point is that football players suffer fewer injuries than basketball players, and that concussions are common in soccer as well. The author also sees fit to mention that kickers and punters don’t get hit very much – not much of an argument, because neither do fans.

So was I convinced? Not really. There is a ceiling on the effectiveness of any argument that effectively amounts to, “Yeah, but them too.” More to the point, simply counting injuries isn’t nearly as valuable as assessing how serious they are. Football still leads the pack in real danger because of the potential lifelong impact of concussions.

The author does make one reasonable point, namely that football gets more dangerous as you grow, so younger kids are unlikely to absorb the tremendous force of their grown counterparts:

If force is mass times acceleration, then the force in youth football is disproportionate to that of the NFL. They are not being hit by the best athletes in the world. They are being hit by their peers, most of whom won’t even play high school football. They are not being hit by JJ Watt; they’re being hit by JJ from math class in practice. And let’s face it, your kid probably isn’t going to play in the NFL, so the threat of them being hit by JJ Watt isn’t real.

Very young kids aren’t likely to be seriously harmed by playing football. But older kids are, and adults are nearly certain to.

The choice to play football belongs to each individual family. But as a pediatric orthopedist, my job is to be clear with patients about the risks of any sport. When it comes to football, the risks are real.

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