I’m a parent. My son is 10. He’s small for his age, but of all playground games, he loves to play basketball the most. It’s fast-paced and a challenge for him to overcome his peers’ height advantage.
Among youth sports, basketball and bicycling send more kids to the emergency room most years than football does. Yet most parents would consider basketball the safer sport, and I think my son is better off playing it.
Naturally, parents want to do everything they can to keep their kids out of harm’s way. Most parents understand, however, that life is full of risks. Do the benefits of playing a team sport like football — learning how to work in a group, along with the benefits of patience and persistence — outweigh the dangers?
Some dads who played the game and suffered no ill effects might answer differently than others. Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, remarked this week of the comments mentioned above: “If President Obama feels that way, then there will be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh for when he gets old enough.” Harbaugh’s son is only 5 months old. Odds are, the game will be quite different when he’s old enough. Technology is improving, and the helmets players wear today offer better protection than they did even five years ago.
And it’s different for professionals. Nobody is putting a gun to players’ heads. As even Obama took pains to observe, “NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies.” Football is dangerous, without a doubt. If you’re looking safety, try chess. Or golf, where the worst a player has to fear is an injured wrist or a maybe stray ball to the head.
Ultimately, the market — the fans at home, the sponsors and the parents — will decide whether football should endure. As it should be.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.