Friday, May 04, 2012

Kurt Warner Causes Slight Stir With Comments on Kids and Football

In the wake of NFL great Junior Seau's suicide earlier this week, there has been a run of football legends appearing on national radio and television shows to talk about the tragedy. As you could imagine, much of that discussion has revolved around head trauma in sports, mainly football.

We don't know that head trauma had anything to do with the end of Seau's life. I think it's being largely assumed that whoever ends up studying Seau's brain will find some sort of damage that can be traced to his football career, but it's a dangerous card to play until the findings are announced in a few months.

That said, it has launched a pretty wide-ranging discussion on head injuries. On Thursday's Dan Patrick Show, future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner was a guest. He told Patrick that he wasn't necessarily keen on the idea of his sons playing football.

“They both have the dream, like dad, to play in the NFL,” Warner said. “That’s their goal. And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league’s going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it’s a scary thing for me.”

Asked if he would prefer that his sons not play football, Warner answered, “Yes, I would. Can’t make that choice for them if they want to, but there’s no question in my mind.”

Warner's comments caused a firestorm of response from all over the map. One of the more notable reactions came from former Giants receiver Amani Toomer on NBC Sports Talk (completely underrated show, by the way):

"I'd definitely have my son to play football," Toomer said. "That's what the Toomer family does. We all play football. But what this reminds me of is the guy at the basketball court, who once he gets done playing takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."

I'd like to think Toomer knows now that he overreacted a little bit here. The fact that Warner made a lot of money and gained a lot of notoriety playing football doesn't disqualify him from having an opinion that may not make football look totally rosy. In fact, Warner is fully qualified to say what he said, and we are in a better place because he had the guts to say what was on his mind, even though he had to know he might take some heat for saying it.

ESPN commentator Merril Hoge -- a well-known advocate for concussion awareness, largely because of his own experiences -- jumped on Warner, too.

“I think it’s irresponsible and unacceptable,” Hoge said of Warner suggesting that football is a dangerous game for children. “He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated.

... “Head trauma is not the issue here — it’s how head trauma is treated,” Hoge said. “The game is safer than it has ever been because we’re being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue.

... “The biggest problem in our society today with our youth is obesity,” Hoge said. “You will do more damage to your son or daughter by allowing them to sit on the couch, play XBox and eat a donut, health-wise, than you will ever do if you put them on a football field and it’s in the right structure. You think of obesity and all the things that come from that — diabetes and lung and heart and joint issues, we can go on and on — the last thing we should do is discourage children from activity.”

Like Toomer, I'll give Hoge the benefit of the doubt to an extent. Guys who play football are naturally protective of the sport. It's not any different than hockey players last summer amid the Boogaard-Rypien-Belak tragedies. This might not be an easy time to be a die-hard NFL fan, but there will be productive discussions that come out of all of this.

Warner, by the way, did try to clarify his national radio comments. He appeared on ESPN Radio later Thursday.

“I agree from my standpoint that everything I have gotten, and I love the game and I wouldn’t change a thing about my career,” Warner said in response to Toomer’s remarks.  “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.  I continue to love it.  I continue to watch it, and am a big fan of the game.  But at the end of the day, you know, I’ve seen how my wife looks at this game when I’m out there getting hit.  And it’s different when you put on a parent’s hat.  And, yeah, I want my kids to play and I want them to be healthy and I’d love them to have a great long career whether that’s collegiate, whether that’s professional.  I’d love all that.  But as a parent I can’t avoid the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, and it’s a violent sport.

“And it’s not just football I’m talking about.  Any time my kids are put in harm’s way, as a parent I say, ‘I don’t want them to do that.  I don’t want them to take that chance.’  Can I protect them from anything?  No.  Am I gonna sit here and say, ‘You can’t do this.  You can’t do that, you can’t drive in a car, you can’t do all the things that are risky in life.’  Of course not.

“But my point being is that as a parent, do you think about that?  Do you think about the violence of the game when your kids play?  And, yeah, my kids are 13 years old and my son has already suffered a concussion.  Do I think about that?  Of course I think about that.  And the bottom line for me as a parent, is as much as I love the game and what it’s all about and what it’s done for me, the most important thing for me is the safety of my kids.  And so that’s my point, is that I consider it.  And it’s in my thought process.  And when they play and when they wanna play and when they talk about playing professionally, I’m very conscious of that.

“And, you know, at the end of the day, I’d love for them to play football.  If they don’t play football and never suffer an injury doing anything, I’m going to be an extremely parent as they move into the rest of their life and take care of their family and their kids.   So I don’t know why I would have to keep my comments to myself.  I’m speaking as a father.  But I love the game of football and I’ll always love it and I’m so appreciate of what it did for me.”

It might not put the toothpaste back in the tube, because he still said what he said on Dan Patrick's show.

But Warner has every right to be worried about the future of the game. When I broached the subject on Twitter Friday evening, he was kind enough to respond.

I'm not going to act like Warner's above everyone else for any reason, but he's a smart and articulate football lifer who wants this game to be great while also protecting those who choose to play it.

As a long-time football fan, I can tell you that no level of play is worth risking the long-term health of the athletes involved. Simply put, we have to work to make sure the game is as safe as it possibly can be. There are inherent risks involved in any sport -- especially those that involve contact -- but those risks should be minimized whenever possible ... even if it's at the risk of alienating some fans who believe the sport is being "wussified" or whatever you want to call it.

There are ways to make football safer without turning it into flag football. If we can focus on that, progress will be made, and conscientious people like Warner will feel better about their children taking up the game.

1 comment:

Ray said...

As a former high school & college football player, who is more importantly a parent, I agree 100% with Kurt Warner. Pre-kids, I envisioned having a child and seeing them play football. But as soon as I had a child and learned more about concussions, I would NEVER sacrifice my child's health to the fleeting moments of playing a game. There are so many other healthier opportunities for kids to achieve the same feelings one may get from football. Hoge's comments are laughable. Hoge says, "The game is safer than it has ever been because we’re being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue." Safer than what? So even though it is still the most dangerous sport from a concussion standpoint, just because it is not so marginally as dangerous, means its now safe? And then Hoge assumes that if I discourage my son from football, I am discourageing him from activity and that he'll be an obese, couch potato who plays x-box? huh?

Warner's comments aren't anything new. Troy Aikman, another respected former NFL player, said the same thing several years ago on Bryant Gumbel's HBO show but he has only girls and said if he had a boy he would seriously question allowing them to play football. On that same program it showed scientific studies, albeit in there infancies, that showed alarming conclusions of the effect of small repetive hits have on the developing brains of teenagers who may be even more traumatized by these small repetive hits a player receives each play as opposed to the "blow up" hits were are infrequent and rare. So who as a parent do I listen to Ammani Toomer and Merril Hoge or a scientists from Harvard? We know who fans want to listen to but a parent should question themselves if after getting balanced information and don't have serious reservations about letting their kids play football.

I believe that football has a lifespan that we will see come to an end in our society. We are progressively becoming a safer society that continually sees the wisdom in not subjecting ourselves to known risks (just think of all the things we may have done as a kid which were allowable by society but we would never let our own kids do now). So the Jr. and Sr. high school programs will be at risk. Also there are serious financial constraints on college football programs that will cause many of these institutions to abandon the sport once fewer of our kids are playing it. In a Keynesian theory, out of no supply will come no demand.