By Peter Schwartz
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He came off the field with tears in his eyes.
After the Levittown Red Devils played their hearts out in a first round playoff loss last Sunday, my son Bradley was a bit emotional because his pee-wee football season had come to an abrupt end. There would be no repeat of last year’s Super Bowl title. A few of his teammates also welled up while others were just stunned that they would not have to be at a practice that Wednesday.
He loves football — and already misses it.
Bradley will celebrate his eighth birthday in a couple of weeks. Football has been a big part of his life. When I was the play-by-play announcer for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League, I took Bradley to practice all the time. He was with me from the time he was in a baby carrier to the point where he was running around with the players after practice.
While he may not have the most ability, he loves football, understands it and gives 100 percent effort. This year, he wanted to follow in his cousin’s footsteps and play center. He won the job in training camp and I couldn’t have been more proud.
I know what you’re all thinking: Why in the world would we allow him to play football? Believe me, my wife and I have been told by family and friends that we’re nuts. But kids need to be active, and they need to do so in a way where they are having fun. My mom didn’t let me play football and my father didn’t put up much of a fight.
My wife and I felt that if Bradley wanted to play, we were going to give it a shot. He just finished his fourth year of youth football and second at the pee-wee level. Bradley is one of approximately 2.8 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 that play organized youth tackle football in the United States.
With Pop Warner reportedly suffering through a decline in signups and all of the controversy about concussions in football, it’s understandable that many parents are hesitant to let their kids play this very physical sport. I’ve seen some get some bumps and bruises — and it does go through my mind that it can happen to my son.
There is certainly an inherent risk in allowing your child to play football.
However, there’s data showing that playing football is not as dangerous as we are being led to believe. In May of this year, USA Football, football’s national governing body, released preliminary findings from the first year of a two-year study that examined player health and safety in the organized youth game.
While the complete study will be released in 2014, the first-year findings included nearly 2,000 youth football players on more than 100 teams. According to the study, more than 90 percent of the 1,913 players didn’t suffer an injury that restricted involvement. Less than four percent of the youth players injured suffered a concussion, and there were no major head or neck injuries reported.
“The health and safety of every youth football player is our number one priority,” USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck said in a statement. “For the millions of children across the country who gain the physical, social and psychological rewards that youth football provides, this ground-breaking research will enable us to make the sport better and safer with scientifically-gathered information.”
While I realize that an injury can occur at any time, the numbers released by USA Football should ease some concern by parents.
My wife and I would certainly re-evaluate things if our son were to get hurt, but running around on the football field a few days a week is a lot better than Bradley sitting at home playing video games. If he ever came to us and said he didn’t want to play anymore, then we would find something else for him to do in order to stay active.
Bradley has experienced hard hits. He’s watched them happen on television and in person at professional games. I’d like to think that he would tell us if he was hurting. Certainly if my wife and I ever felt that something was wrong, we would talk to him about it. In fact, there was a time this season when I thought he wasn’t having fun so I sat him down at home. He said he still enjoyed it and wanted to keep playing.
After Bradley was done with baseball this past spring, his coach practically begged him to play fall ball. Since school is his No. 1 priority, Bradley had a choice to make. He could pick football or baseball and not both. He chose football.
It’s not for every kid and it’s not for every parent, but my son is a football player.
My wife and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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