It has become fashionable in recent years to ask current and former players whether they will let their sons play football. It has become particularly trendy for some with an anti-football agenda to trumpet a decision by a current or former player to not let his actual or hypothetical kids play football (either before a certain age or at all).
So for those of us who like the sport and don’t want to see it go away, it’s fair to balance things out by pointing out comments from current or former players who have decided to let their children play. Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith recently gave an extended explanation of his position on the matter in comments to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“Why would I steal his passion from him?” Smith said. “I never made him play football. He had many choices, options. I love watching him play basketball. Football, I get nervous just like any other parent. And I’m concerned for him just like any other parent. But his goals are his goals, and my job is to help him reach it and protect him when he needs protection. And so to take another kid’s passion from them is just not right. I don’t think it’s right. It’s like me taking your passion from you, telling you, ‘You cannot do this.’ When you want to do it. Especially if it’s right. It’s good for him.”
Asked by a reporter whether he simply doesn’t share the same health concerns that other parents have for kids playing football, Smith fired back quickly.
“Yeah, I share health concerns,” Smith said. “Did I not just answer that? I do. As a parent, I do. I know how physical the sport is. And I know what’s required. I think the uniqueness about it is as a parent for me I see it differently. Because some parents have to rely on others to give them advice. I’ve experienced it. I can see. I know how to train. I know how to protect my body. I know how to keep it healthy. And so I can impart that kind of wisdom upon my son, whereas others may have to look to some doctor that may have a different agenda or some coach that may have a different agenda. I can say, ‘No. That doesn’t even sound right. Here’s what we gonna do.’ That’s what I have the ability to do, because of my life experiences through my sport. And I do have access to some of the best doctors. Some people will have to rely on some other doctors. So that helps, that does help.”
Playing football is an individualized decision that each person needs to make. For kids under 18, it’s a decision in which the parents should be involved, directly. And it’s important for kids and parents to get as much information as they can about the risks, and to make a reasoned decision about whether football will be a part of their lives.
It’s also important for parents to determine whether safe, responsible techniques are being taught by the coaches who are entrusted with their children’s health and safety. If parents have concerns, they need to find a way to articulate them — or they need to be willing to pull their kids off the field.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer as to whether a kid under the age of 18 will be allowed to play football, even though those who trumpet the decisions of parents to not let kids play football often is postured, expressly or implicitly, as the only answer.