This is a conversation that we have a lot around the sports office at the Daily Trojan. Whenever it comes up, the debate is short. Yes, football is a fun sport — if not the most fun sport — to watch. But it seems ridiculous, almost villainous, to allow our children to play.
I love football. My parents met at a bar owned by a former Kansas City Chiefs player and got engaged at Arrowhead Stadium. In the fall I live and breathe the sport along with most of the USC campus. It’s hard not to love everything about the game — the touching back stories; the arcing deep tosses to the end zone; the dazzling trick plays; and, of course, the big hits.
So much of football is based upon the sport’s simple brutality. There is a beauty in its violence, something extremely primal and exceedingly satisfying that keeps us coming back for more. There’s a reason the NFL generated over $13 billion in 2016; the game gained popularity for transforming physical, grungy, head-to-head competition into sheer entertainment. And when a football game is on, it’s hard to look away.
And yet I repeat, unflinchingly, that my children will never put on pads and a helmet. It won’t even be an option, and I won’t feel any guilt for keeping them from the sport, even if they love it, crave it or claim that they need it.
If you need an explanation, just open The New York Times. Three days ago, the paper reported on a study produced by a Boston University research team specializing in concussion research among football players.
The researchers found that children who play tackle football before the age of 12 are likely to struggle with brain problems later in life. Playing even a season between the ages of eight and 13 causes boys to suffer from diminished brain function throughout the rest of their lives. In short, football destroys the minds of the young and often clueless children who play it.
Honestly, the study affirms what common sense should have already told any parent signing their child up for Pop Warner. This isn’t all that surprising if you think about the basics of the game: tackling on defense and breaking tackles on offense. This is a game of big hits, and it celebrates every body-to-body clash.
Take the USC offense, for example. One of the aspects of the offense I laud the most is the ability of the running backs to power through contact. The backs earn most of their rushing yards after an initial hit, breaking tackles to sprint into the open field. Sometimes, these yards come from breaking sloppy arm tackles or hurdling over diving defenders. But often, the running backs earn these yards by lowering their heads, slamming into a defender and continuing to power forward.
Meanwhile, our defense prides itself in its ability to “set its jaw” and provide hard hits. These players aim to meet the offense at the line of scrimmage and not give up an inch. Their success is based on the physical ability to outlast and overpower any opponents.
It’s truly impossible to watch these players in action without acknowledging that damage must be occurring. These players are huge — 210 pounds and heavier, built of solid muscle — and they move at high speeds for spectacular crashing tackles. And although empirical evidence such as the study from Boston University validates this knowledge, the fact that football isn’t safe is intrinsic to the game itself.
I’ll be watching the game on Saturday, and I’ll most likely continue to report on it for years to come. But the one thing that I am set upon is never adding another number to the statistics. I won’t let my children play football because I don’t think any more brains need to be damaged by this sport.
And I urge others to do the same. I will never deny the appeal of football. It’s an intense, addicting game to watch. It’s been a central part of my life, my family and my career for as long as I can remember. It’s pure, unadulterated fun — but only when watched through a lens of ignorance.
We must reach a breaking point. Whether it’s stories of players dropping dead in high school, or repeated studies showing that we risk our children’s lives by putting them in this sport before they can pronounce chronic traumatic encephalopathy, we must reach a breaking point.
There is only so long that we can continue to go on with our eyes shut, watching this game while ignoring what happens when it ends. And when we open our eyes, I think every football fan will see the truth — the lifespan of football has an expiration date, and it starts with the children of our generation.
Julia Poe is a junior studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs Wednesdays.