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Mathis: Football head injuries overshadow Super Bowl

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith prepares to

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith prepares to catch a pass as he warms up during an NFL Super Bowl XLVII football practice in New Orleans. (Jan. 30, 2013) Credit: AP

My son is 4 years old. He’s big for his age. The guys at the butcher shop down the street have been measuring him for Pop Warner football since he was 18 months old. But my son will never, ever get a signed permission slip to play the game.

Why? Because I don’t want him to suffer.

I don’t want him to suffer the way Seau did, or Dave Duerson, or Andre Waters, or any number of former NFL greats who we nowRedBlue: Football’s head-injury legacy dampens Super Bowl know suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a kind of permanent, football-induced brain damage. And men who don’t kill themselves often simply suffer with dementia, memory loss, mood swings and more.

The result? President Barack Obama said last week he wouldn’t let any son of his play the game. If you want to dismiss him as a wimpy liberal, consider this: He was echoing sentiments offered by former football greats such as Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Jim McMahon. Such comments, it is believed, are starting to drive down participation in youth football.

Defenders of the game say professional players know the risk. But 7-year-olds do not. If parents continue to withhold permission to play — and those kids, quite reasonably, keep not playing football in high school and college — the NFL’s talent pipeline will dry up. No ban will be needed to kill the sport. Just the love of parents for their sons.

We cannot bear to watch our children sacrifice their lives to a game. It’s growing hard to stand quietly as other people’s children suffer for the same. That probably means just one thing: The Super Bowl’s days of cultural domination are close to over.

Let our sons amuse themselves — and the rest of us — in safer, healthier fashion.

Joel Mathis is a writer in Philadelphia.