The Impact of ‘Concussion’ on Moms and Dads
Editor's note: Angie Six, who has appeared on The MMQB before, is a writer, mother, blogger and Colts fan from Fishers, Indiana. She recently organized a group of parents to watch Concussion that included her husband, Mike, as well as Mark Srncik from Fishers, John Lear from Fortville, Brian Sweany from Fishers, Amy Magan from Carmel, Katie White from Indianapolis, and Andrea Feaster from Westfield. After the group watched the movie, Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB facilitated a roundtable conversation.
THE MMQB: After seeing this movie, will you let your kid play football?
Katie White: I have two daughters, 13 and 9, and two sons, 5 and 2. My 13-year-old daughter really wants to play football. I will say that before seeing this movie, I lumped concussions in with any other injury my kids could sustain from football. Knowing that a concussion is serious, but not thinking about it long term. That being said, because I am a mom and I can make choices for my kids, I will not let them play football now. That’s hard to say. When I was watching the movie, I thought, I am going to really struggle watching football now. Thinking about these men who I love, I love them, to see these things and know what could happen to them 15 years later. But I also know that I’m an adult and so are they, so they can make that choice to continue playing, knowing what might happen to them. As a parent, I can make those choices for my kids now because I don’t think they are old enough to understand a long-term consequence that could happen to their body or their mind 30 years down the road.
Andrea Feaster: I'm a single mom. I have three boys: 13, 10, and 8 years old and they all play football. We actually lived in South America for three years and they played soccer, so when we came here, none of us knew anything about football. It was a very American thing, so they wanted to play. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I watched it on TV that year. The coaches do teach Heads Up tackling, there was never any kind of discussion among the coaches about trying to “destroy” or “obliterate” the other team. It was all about tactics and speed and working together, all the things that I wanted them to get out of football that I can’t teach them.
Amy Magan: My 16-year-old son plays soccer and my 12-year-old son has played football for three years. It’s a good thing for him because he has sensory issues. He is a sensory seeker, so the hitting is therapeutic for him. That’s where I sort of weigh that risk and reward.
Brian Sweany: Right now I’m lucky because I don’t have two sons that are interested in playing football. They are 14 and 10 years old and they like watching it, but they aren’t interested in playing. My freshman wants to go out for the football team next year. So my wife and I are at a crossroads right now. We had said, ‘Maybe we will leave it up to him, because we know they have all these protocols in place to help protect the kids.’ But after seeing this movie, I am inclined to encourage him very strongly not to play football. I didn’t think I would have that reaction. I love that sport, I played it, but I just keep thinking about that apple in the mason jar and shaking that apple into pulp.
John Lear: My 10-year-old son plays football, my 6-year-old daughter plays soccer. I’ve been around the game for 22 years. I played for 12 and I am entering my 12th year as a junior high football coach. My son quit football after his first year; he just didn’t like it. He sat out for two years but now he plays again because he asked me to. As far as youth leagues go, I’m more comfortable if I know the coach. I think all youth coaches should go through heavy coaches education like what we have to do for middle school. I will let my son play, I will let him have his own choice like he did the first time when he chose to quit.
Mark Srncik: My wife and I had been thinking about getting our 8-year-old son into football and just doing some research, I didn’t feel real comfortable about it… The movie for me made me feel like, I think I know too much now to send my kid out and play football. I’m the parent, why do I want them to decide when I know what actually can happen? I’m pretty close to not letting him play. The problem is he’s a 95-pound second grader and he is built like a football player; he’s strong and athletic. Everyone tells him, ‘You’re a football player, you’re going to play for the Colts.’ I just worry that if I let him play football, 20 years down the road, I think I am going to feel really guilty.
Angie Six: Our 8-year-old son has only played flag football. This past fall was the first time that he has brought up wanting to play football, so we are considering it. We’re also considering rugby as an alternative to feed that fuel and maybe push football off a little bit later, because rugby tackling is supposed to be safer. So that’s where I am right now in the decision, he’s 8 so we are not quite there yet.
Brian: I’m the president of the local youth rugby league, we administer three teams. As a former football player who had experienced concussions and experienced what football did to me, I gravitated towards rugby. I wanted to encourage my sons to explore other sports. I also love football, I am a big fan. But I know what it did to me, and I’ve seen it do some strange things to other people firsthand. I encouraged them to this sport that was kind of like football, except that it’s illegal to leave your feet when you tackle; it’s illegal to tackle above your shoulders. There are some things that rugby does to make it a little bit safer.
Mike Six: I step back and look at it as the overall picture. Not just my son, but what does everybody see with this? I really think that there are always going to be people where the reward of football outweighs the risk. If it’s not our kid, if we back off and lead him a different way, there are still going to be other kids who do play; it’s never going to stop. The last scene of the movie [where kids are hitting each other in football practice] really came together for me. All this just happened in the town that Dr. Omalu is living in and the kids are still going at each other in practice. All of this information, it’s not going to change anything.
THE MMQB: Have you noticed a culture change in football?
John: I coach junior high football. The violent tackling at youth football practice that the movie showed is not taught nowadays. If a kid did that on my team, he would be immediately pulled and I would have his helmet on the sideline and he’d be missing practice. You get one warning and if it happens a second time, you pull their helmet, they sit on the sideline and I never have a problem with it again. I thought those scenes added more of a shock value to the movie, but with the way that coaches are being taught how to coach today—how to do the tackling—is a lot different than when I played. We were taught to have no regard. The game has changed and you have to change along with it, you can’t coach the way that we were coached.
Brian: My coach back in the barbarian days taught reckless abandon. You come at someone with barely controlled chaos because you want to knock his head off.
Andrea: If I heard that from the coaches I would not have let my three sons play. But I’m a single mom and I want my boys to learn dude stuff, and the coaches were all about that.
John: As a coach, another thing I have done is I limit contact. I have one day of full pads contact. We don’t go to the ground, we “thud,” which is almost at game level but not to the ground.
Brian: We never did that as kids, it was all full pads. The quarterback never wore a red jersey, everybody was fair game.
John: The beginning of the movie showed Dr. Omalu going around watching football practices where kids were going at each other doing the ‘Bull in the Ring’ drill. That drill has been illegal to do since 2007 in the state of Indiana. Some of the stuff that they were portraying in the movie is against the law here.
Angie: ESPN used to have those ‘Jacked Up!’ clips. You don’t react like that anymore, when you see someone get hit bad in a game—your heart sinks, and that’s a change I think.
Katie: Even if it’s the Patriots.
Amy: Because the conversation has been elevated, the kids are understanding it, too. One of the kids on my son’s varsity soccer team this year sat out the whole season because he had his sixth or seventh concussion. And you now see NFL players exiting the field and not coming back for the whole game. I think that has made sports in general, from a concussion standpoint, safer for all kids. I know from soccer that kids will be pulled from the field after a hit to the head and they will not play again. Coaches are coaching differently. They know what to look out for. All these kids starting in middle school have a baseline concussion test, so you know going into it what their abilities are in terms of response and reaction. I feel better as a parent letting my children play than I would have 10 years ago. I probably wouldn’t have considered it 10 years ago.
Brian: We are all much more educated as parents now. I played with concussions, I can remember specifically when they happened. I was a junior in high school, I got knocked out, they got me to the side of the field. I threw up on the field and I was back playing in the second half. That was my concussion protocol and back then they didn’t even use the word concussion, they called it getting your bell rung.
THE MMQB: Did the movie change the way you think about football’s concussion crisis?
Katie: For me what this movie brought out was reality of the constant force, all the little hits compounding against each other. These kids start playing when they are 5, 6, or 7 years old. Granted, maybe they don’t hit until they are in middle school, but starting when they are 11, 12 years, old, even if you stop in college, that’s 10 years of consistent hits. If I can make that choice for my kids, which as a mom I can do that, I’m going to do it. I’m going to tell them no.
Amy: It really made me irritated with the NFL. I will have a harder time watching football, not necessarily because of my concern for the players, but because I’m thinking, Do I really want to give my money to this organization that is really a corporation?
Katie: At this point, watching adults play football doesn’t bother me. I have more of an issue with the NFL, rather than watching a football game. I feel like I can confidently make a choice for my children to not play and still watch games. Today, it’s five years out from the discovery of CTE and men are still choosing to play in the NFL. They know what could happen to them because of what they do for a living.
THE MMQB: Have any of your children ever had a concussion?
Amy: My oldest son plays soccer and he has been more injured in soccer than any of my other kids have in their sports. He has had possibly two concussions. I have a number in my head, if we get to three concussions, we’ll probably stop playing soccer. Now if you ask my son, he’ll probably say five. When he had his second concussion, we went to a concussion specialist. As a mother, it was frightening to me to watch him do the concussion protocol and see what he could and couldn’t do, things like standing on one foot. It was really interesting. It took him six weeks in order to be able to play again. This all happened about the time that [former Colts receiver] Austin Collie kept having concussion after concussion, and I kept saying as a fan that Collie needed to retire, he has a family. And then my kid gets a concussion and it takes him six weeks to get cleared and I’m thinking, He’s missing the tournament, he seems ok. Why aren’t they clearing him? It was the first time that I understood just this much what a player might have to think about.
Brian: My daughter is a competitive cheerleader and gymnast and she’s had several concussions. She suffered a concussion in April of last year and still has not been cleared. She has not met her baseline. Kids have to get a physical and they get their baseline set. When they get a concussion, if they don’t meet that baseline, it’s illegal for the schools to even give them timed tests. There are some rigid rules in place in terms of what they can and cannot do when they have concussions.
John: I had one kid get a serious concussion when I was coaching. It was not a malicious hit, it wasn’t even a hit that you would think would cause a concussion. I lost him for the season, he couldn’t get his baseline and he was out of school for about a month. One of the rules that I live by, if you are in doubt, sit them out. I had a parent send me an angry email because I pulled his kid out in the middle of a game, because I was being cautious for him. He turned out not to have a concussion, but I was looking out for him. I understand the issue from both aspects, the parents and the coaches.
THE MMQB: Do you have any unanswered questions?
Andrea: I don’t think that there is a whole lot of danger that my children will play in the NFL, so for me, I don’t know if CTE is a realistic concern. But now I am left wondering, if my kid plays up through ninth grade, and then loses interest, what is the damage? Is there any research on that? One of the reasons I let them play when I did is that I figure they are small, the other team is small, they aren’t going to create the same force. But when they get to high school, kids are bigger.
Amy: I’m with you in terms of allowing my kid to play football. I don’t see that this is going to be a career for him. Do I need to pay attention on what kind of impact this has on him in middle school and high school? Absolutely. But do I see him playing past that? I don’t.
Mike: So then what’s the point of letting him play?
Amy: To learn all the other stuff: teamwork, camaraderie, perseverance.
Brian: It instills in them values you want them to carry on in life, and also it just gets their energy out.
THE MMQB: Do you want your kids to see the movie?
Andrea: This movie gave me a lot more information and I want them to see it, and the main takeaway that I want them to get is not that football is bad, but that hitting your head is bad. There are three of them, they are like a tiny gang, they run around and hit their heads without protective gear. They aren’t doing it right. I want them to understand whether you are sliding headfirst down the stairs into the front door or on the field, your head is important. One of the things that I also want for them is to teach them how to make smart decisions, because the fastest way I can get them to do something dangerous is to forbid them from doing it. I want them to see it so they can have as much information as possible to make good decisions.
Katie: My 13-year-old told me she really wants to see the move. I said to her, ‘You know it’s not a football movie right?’ Because I figured that’s what she thinks. And she said, ‘I know, it’s about the dangers of football and I really want to see that.’ I thought that was interesting. I want her to see it now because I want her to then tell me what she feels about it.
Amy: We need to take our teenagers to this movie, so that we give them some information so that they can start making those choices for themselves.
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