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My dad played football. I played football. My brother played football. My nephew played football. And now my grandson, Charlie, plays football.
His team, the Chargers, beat the 49ers to win the Super Bowl in his flag football league Sunday. They got a trophy, and each player got a Super Bowl ring. A real ring, not some plastic thing.
Charlie caught three passes, one for the go-ahead touchdown and one for the two point extra point. His team won by four.
Watching Charlie play football Sunday brought a couple of people to mind: the actor Will Smith and former University of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland.
Borland was one of the best rookies in the NFL before he abruptly retired before his second season with the San Francisco 49ers. He was due to make more than half a million dollars that year. He quit, however, because he was concerned about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma.
Meanwhile, Smith is the star of a new movie called "Concussion," about the doctor who discovered critical head trauma in Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster while performing an autopsy. He named it chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and it’s the resulting discussion over CTE that rages in the world of football. In interviews, Smith has said that "every parent should see this movie."
Which brings us back to my grandson. He shows real promise in football as a wide receiver. He catches the ball in his hands, a rare talent for a nine-year-old. He seems to understand the game and runs disciplined pass patterns. He can catch a ball in stride and keep going. If the pass is a little off, he seems to have another gear he can crank up to get to the ball. He seems to love playing.
This is Charlie’s last year of flag football. Next year, it’s helmets and pads and tackling.
What that means, of course, is that my daughter and her husband are going to be faced with the question of permission for Charlie to play real football.
This is not a decision for a grandparent. I’m staying out of this discussion. But I can sympathize with the conflicting information with which they are going to wrestle.
I don’t suppose there is much fear about a 10-year-old playing tackle football. But in the back of your mind, you have to face the questions.
What if he keeps getting better and loves it more and more? What if he plays in high school? What if he plays in college? And you may even ask yourself that if he should ever play professional football, then what?
I don’t suspect that Charlie's parents are the only parents asking themselves all these questions. My guess is there are lots of parents in Milwaukee, and everywhere else, who are wondering about this whole thing.
You want your kids to have fun. You understand the value of sports and competition. But you also want your kid to be safe. Soccer and basketball and baseball and cross-country are all good sports that can teach valuable lessons. It is only football where this dilemma rears its head.
There is no road map for these decisions. It is really this generation of parents, the millennials and a little bit older, who are facing this issue.
And how do you decide? Football is a great game. Everybody loves watching football. A lot of adults play in touch and flag football leagues. We celebrate our teams that do well.
But then you look at your young son. You think of him when he’s 40 or 50 years old and has children of his own. Do you want to take a chance on him suffering a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease because you let him play football?
About the only thing I know for sure is that it’s a lot harder being a young parent now than it was when my kids were small. If I had been faced with this, I honestly have no idea what I would have decided.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.