SIDELINES: This dad is a little uneasy about my 12-year-old playing tackle football

My 12-year-old son is playing tackle football for the first time and it’s a little scary, to be honest. Am I out of bounds in feeling that way?

I’m not one of those over-protective parents, who won’t let their kids do anything somewhat-dangerous. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve even let them ride their bikes and skateboards without wearing a helmet, like I did when I was young.

But this football thing has me a little freaked out and it’s not because I don’t think my son is tough enough. I know he is. And he really, really, really wants to play tackle football. I have to let him give it a try, right?

The reason that I’m nervous about him playing is because there are some humongous kids out there. Huge.

That’s the scariest thing about middle school football these days. There is such a big-time weight discrepancy in the kids. It just didn’t seem to be that way when I was younger. It’s not uncommon to see a 200-pound kid walking the halls as a seventh-grader.

My son is not one of those 6-foot-2, 200-pounders. In fact, I just took him into the doctor’s office last week to get his physical, which is required for all student-athletes.

Everything went great, except for the point in the exam where the doctor shows you a line graph and where your child “ranks.” At 5-foot-2, 83 pounds, my 12-year-old’s dot on the line graph said that he was in the fifth-percentile for weight.

Really? I’m no doctor, but I’m assuming that a kid in the fifth-percentile will always be the smallest kid on the football field, and that’s scary.

Even if you are faster than everybody and more shifty, at some point during a practice or game you are going to get tackled by one of those bigger kids.

Adding to the apprehension is also the increased research about concussions in football. The traumatic brain injuries have been purported to be one of the influences for player suicides and other symptoms after retirement for NFL players, including memory loss and depression.

The NFL actually reached a $765 million settlement last week with more than 4,500 former players who had sued the league over head trauma and other debilitating injuries suffered during their careers.

The suicide of former NFL player Junior Seau last year started raising more questions about the possible link between concussions and long-term mental health. Seau suffered numerous head injuries during his career as a linebacker and his death has given renewed attention to the risk football may pose to children.

And I’m not the only one who is a little scared to let their kid play the game of football. Even Super Bowl-winning and two-time MVP Kurt Warner isn’t real excited about the prospect.

“It scares me as a dad,” Warner told radio host Dan Patrick after Seau’s suicide. Asked by Patrick if he’d prefer his own kids not play, Warner admitted, “Yes, I would. Can’t make that choice for them. But yeah, there’s no question in my mind.”

Research from the National Sporting Goods Association indicates overall football participation across all age ranges has decreased from 10.1 million in 2006 to 9 million in 2011, with the most significant drops in the 12-17 age group.

I guess, in conclusion, I’m just being an over-protective parent. I need to just practice what I preach and let my son go out and experience things for himself, even if he is 83 pounds.

My son really wants to play tackle football and I’m not going to stand in his way. If he doesn’t like getting tackled by 200-pound seventh-graders, then he won’t play football after this season. Not a big deal.


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