A dangerous sport

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

May 2, 2012 1:21:51 PM PDT
My dad never let me play football. Too dangerous, he said. And I drank the Kool Aid, listened to my dad, and, except for some friendly games of touch, stayed away from anything having to do with the pigskin.

So it was a big, sticky conundrum when my growing and strapping young son came to me years ago and said he wanted to play flag football.

He was not, at the time, terribly sports oriented, so we decided to green light his request. Ditto for when he went out for his high school team.

And he's a good player - even more importantly, he's a good team player and a great team booster. He likes to block and "hit" - but his mother and I hold our breath during each play.

The school's good about talking to us and the players about concussions, and how to recognize them. I'd like to say that's comforting, but it just raises the obvious questions and puts the uncertain issue of safety front and center.

We're well aware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that among teenage players there are nearly 2 million brain injuries every year.

And a study published last year showed that high school football players who had two or more concussions reported mental problems at much higher rates than the general population. They also reported headaches, dizziness and sleeping issues - described by scientists as "neural precursors" - warning signs that something in the head has gone seriously wrong.

I've been thinking this afternoon about my personal conflict with football - my dad not letting me play, me letting my son play - because of two football stories that are in our newscasts today.

The first is Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers University player who was paralyzed during a game two years ago. Eric's rehab has been an inspiration to everyone - his optimism and enthusiasm and hopefulness. Today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to an NFL contract, in a symbolic move to recognize his determination and spirit.

The second is the apparent suicide NFL great Junior Seau, the retired and great linebacker who played for 19 years, most of them with the San Diego Chargers. He was found dead in his home this morning, with what cops initially say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest.

Now the questions - from all quarters, because Seau did suffer some concussions. Were they at all responsible for whatever demons led to this?

The big red flag here are the three former NFL players who've committed suicide in the past 14 months who have suffered brain injuries.

The response from former NFL players has been to file several lawsuits against the league, claiming that pro football execs knew about the effects of concussions but did little to protect players.

And we should note that three pro hockey players have died in the past year in apparent suicides. Each suffered from depression and many blows to their heads during their careers as "enforcers" on the ice.

I'm just sayin'.

Of course, if it turns out not to be head injuries, but instead financial and emotional distress, it's also worth noting that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people 18-65 years old. A sad end for too many and their families.

Am I being a lousy dad by letting my son continue to play? He would say, "no." But I ask myself that question everyday during football season. Part of me thinks the answer is affirmative.

We'll have the latest on LeGrand and Seau, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, we take a closer look at "body language" and how it's being used to gauge customer satisfaction in one industry.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.


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