by Phil Stott About a month ago, my brother-in-law sent me a video of his four-year-old son's first touchdown in a flag football game. It's remarkable in several ways: first, that my nephew seems to understand the purpose of the game at such a young age-when he gets the ball in his own half of the field his first instinct is to head for the opposition end zone. Second: he understood that once he crossed the end zone line, he could stop running. And, third, he threw a proper football pass to the referee when returning the ball. A couple of weeks later, as if to prove it was no fluke, he did it again, and my brother-in-law again captured the evidence on video. Clearly he's a boy who's going to grow up loving his sport, and perhaps even has a natural aptitude for it. All well and good, I thought. As someone who loves sport myself (albeit the other kind of "football"), I can remember the point in my childhood where I became infatuated with it-and it's lasted to this day. Becoming obsessed by a sport is a pleasure that, while not unique to boys, certainly seems to be more common among them-at least in my experience. Seeing that bloom in my nephew is a heart-warming thing, and I was happy both for him and his Dad, who is perhaps the quintessential jock-one that, to be honest, I don't know would have been able to relate to a son that didn't play sports. My happiness for them both lasted approximately a week-right up until I read this disturbing piece on pro football in the New Yorker. While the premise of the piece is to present a parallel between football and dogfighting-a case that rests on a link between "gameness" in fighting dogs that keep coming back for more to please their owners and the culture in football of playing through pain, even to the detriment of your long-term wellbeing-the most disturbing evidence it offers is on the prevalence of serious brain injuries among ex football players. Sure, the piece mainly details autopsy results of guys who have made the pros, therefore subjecting themselves to many more hits to the head-and at greater speeds from bigger guys-than someone who only plays through high school, but the evidence is frightening nonetheless. Guys in their forties showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease normally seen only in the very elderly-the likely cause: brain damage from too many hits. The brain of an eighteen year-old who had "been playing football for a couple of years" with the kind of damage not normally seen in someone at 50, much less his own age. There's obviously a long way between a fledgling love affair with flag football and taking recurring hits with the force of a car crash, but nonetheless the article left me concerned about my nephew. After all, I became obsessed with soccer at a very young age, and am still playing the game over a quarter of a century later (and, yes, typing that does make me feel very, very old)-who's to say he's not going to do the same with football? Even if he doesn't, even if he only plays until the end of high school, the evidence in the New Yorker piece suggests he's still got a better than average chance of sustaining some sort of damage to his brain from all the collisions. Given all of that, then, it makes me wonder: is there anyone out there who's happy that their kid's playing football? And if so, why?
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