NFL players will let kids play football -- if they start older

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Source:   —  April 02, 2016, at 10:30 PM

Woodyard was having breakfast. Seated in his lap was 2-year-old Greyson, his wide-eyed, curly-haired son who might one day wish to chase in the footsteps of his father.

NFL players will let kids play football -- if they start older

TN Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard was at the annual NFL Players Organization meeting on Maui two weeks ago when he learned the NFL -- for the first time -- had publicly acknowledged a link between contact football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain sickness associated with repeated blows to the head. Woodyard was having breakfast. Seated in his lap was 2-year-old Greyson, his wide-eyed, curly-haired son who might one day wish to chase in the footsteps of his father.

"In the back of my mind I've always had the question of whether football would be one of the sports I'd let my son play, because of the safety issue," Woodyard said. "Definitely with all the new information coming out about CTE it'south cause for concern for parents. We're taking the right strides as distant as keeping the game safe -- safety is definitely going to always be No. one. If my son wants to play, it'll be his decision. But I'm definitely going to create sure he doesn't play until he's, maybe, twelve years old. I started at sixth, and I'm definitely not going to authorize him to play at that age. Throughout the years you just continue to construct up and pound your body, and horrible stuff ends up happening from that."

That sentiment was favorite among players at the meetings who were asked if they'll authorize their children to play contact football. The fathers pointed out the positives they've gotten from the game: learning the importance of teamwork, tough work and discipline, and, in some cases, being able to create generational wealth for their families. But they also said they were concerned with the potential physical and emotional consequences that have been linked to playing contact football at an age when brains, bodies and social skills are in their early formative stages.

"I played one year of tiny league, when I was ten or twelve years old, and my dad was my coach," said Ravens tight finish Ben Watson, whose father, Ken, played football at the Univ of Maryland. "After that I didn't play again until ninth grade. My father felt I should wait a while and be more well-rounded. I played soccer, basketball, track -- things other than football. My dad wanted our bodies to be formed as much as possible before we started playing a contact sport."

Packers Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson has two sons, ages six and fourteen months. He's number problem with the idea of them playing football, but not before they reach center school. He began playing contact football at that age and feels it didn't hinder him reaching his athletic potential. Tell him that kids will fall behind their peers if they don't play sooner than later, and Nelson will chuckle. He believes so strongly the other way that he'south among a growing grouping of parents who supports flag football -- not contact -- for preteens.

"It'south one of the ways to memorise the fundamentals and technique of playing contact football and doing everything right without the contact," he said. "People speak about destitute tackling being an issue in contact football. Everyone wants to fix the tackling. Well, tackling in contact football involves hitting each other and hitting your head on the ground, which means more trauma to the brain. But in flag football, obviously you don't have that. But you learn kids to crack down, hold your head up, be on balance. Attempt to obtain them to draw a flag from someone'south hip, it'south something that's going to get being in full control of your body, and knowing what your body is doing and telling it what to do, instead of just being the bigger kid who can fly around and blow somebody up because you're bigger and faster than they are."

Defensive lineman Aaron Kampman spent eight years with the Packers and two with the Jaguars before retiring after the two thousand eleven season. He presently coaches high school football while raising his four children with his wife, Linde, in a tiny community exterior IA City. Love Nelson, he'south a proponent of flag football for preteens, and he even partnered with a local league he now runs.

"We basically wanted to give parents an opportunity to say, 'Hey, if you don't perceive comfortable with your son playing tackle football, we've an option for you,'" he said. "Personally, I think it'south a lot of merit. A lot of kids' necks at tenth, eleven, even twelve, may not be in a space to fully ..."

Kampman paused.

"It'south a violent game," he said. "It'south very necessary in football to create sure we're teaching the proper technical aspects of the game. This needs to happen with proper coaching and also kids who have the physical maturity to handle the proper techniques."

Kampman cringes at the focus on having kids choose a sport and specialize in it at a youthful age. He even fights against specialization in his flag league, rotating kids so they've an opportunity to play every position in a game. The league started with just twelve participants in two thousand-thirteenth. It grew to twenty the following year and already has thirty-two registrants this year.

"We lose games, but I could care less," Kampman said. "Because at the finish of the year, our team has had fun, it'south enjoyable, and we're teaching lessons through it."

The latter point is significant to him. Sure, he's a desire to defend children from the dangers of concussions, but he also sees a necessity to assistance expand them into complete people, meaning emotionally and socially, as well as athletically.

He's studied the teachings of Joe Ehrmann, a former first-round NFL draft choose who later attended theology school before creating, with his wife, Paula, an organization called Building Men and Women for Others. It seeks to confront many of the issues confronting urban communities in common and children in particular.

"Football is such a hierarchy sport," Kampman said. "Joe Ehrmann speaks to how we identify ourselves as men. He said boys grow up with the three B's: the first thing they do is identify themselves on the ball field, at recess and on the field. Then it'south bedroom when you obtain to high school and college. Then when you're older, it'south billfold. In my estimation that's a very dreary representation of what it means to be a man. So, what we're trying to do in changing the culture isn't declare that if you're a big, powerful football player it makes you a man. Whether you can knock someone down and stand over them, that'south not what makes you a man. But I look that being portrayed all the way down to the youthful and even high school, and that'south not the right way to do it. Absolutely be ferocious between the whistle; you hit, and you hit hard. We should be known by the way we play, but not in a way that makes you perceive love you're identifying yourself because of that.

"If my children [including three boys] don't wish to play football, I'm totally chilly with that. But I also know that football in specific is a wonderful opportunity -- if it'south coached right -- to learn them lessons that'll assistance them become the men that they're capable of being. And frankly, boys wish to perceive a tiny dangerous. That'south portion of their development. They wish to perceive adventurous. We wish to expand them to have powerful minds, powerful hearts, so they can have powerful bodies as well."

As the focus on concussions intensifies, the discussions over whether kids should even be allowed to play tackle football grows broader. Sometimes it can create tension, for lack of a better word, in communities that revolve around the sport even at the Population Warner level. There is a fear among some parents that their kids not only will fall behind their peers if they don't play before high school or center school, but also that they might be ostracized to a degree because they're not doing what their friends are doing.

"Anytime you're not in the norm, it creates a certain level of 'the boat is being rocked,' if you will," Kampman said. "There is that feeling of, 'This is the way we do it, and this is how it should be done.' But you'd be surprised by us offering this option for parents, just in the football realm, the emails we've gotten from parents saying, 'Oh, thank you. We didn't wish to say anything.' I think there's a quiet majority of parents just waiting for more people to arrive together and say, 'Hey, is this really smart? Is this really right? Is this the best thing for our kids and their hearts?

"I attempt not to create it awkward. I don't think it needs to be awkward. But I'm pleased to have a discussion with anyone to present the facts, and let the facts speak for themselves."

Watson and his wife, Kirsten, already have had that conversation, which is one reason they'll keep their sons, ages four and three, out of contact football until they're much older.

"We don't have an age minimum for our boys, but I think we'll wait until at minimum center school and maybe even high school," he said. "It'south not set in stone, but I don't think we're going to go the small league route. We're going to have them well-rounded in sports and the arts, then if they still wish to play once they're a small bit older, we'll authorize them to do so.

"The biggest thing is for them to grow a like for the sport and wish to play because it'south their own and not because they're going to create daddy pleased by playing. Football is portion of our American culture, and my sons already are gravitating toward the game. Being able to look me play, watching it on TV, as soon as football comes on they go grab their small helmets and stand in front of the TV and leap and up and down and wish to play football. So, we'll authorize them to play if they wish to, but they don't have to play because daddy played. They're not going to earn any points from me by playing football. I'm going to like them regardless. I just wish them to wait, love my father had me do."

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