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Parents Break Down Why Their Child Should Or Shouldn't Play Tackle Football


We're about to hear from three parents with something in common. Each has a son who loves football. This year, at least 19 young players have died during practice or while playing, and the parents we spoke to are trying to balance safety with the benefits of the game.

SATARA BROWN: Hi, my name is SaTara Brown. I'm from Vacaville, Calif. My son, Kendrick (ph) is a freshman and he just finished his first year playing contact.

TJ GRIFFIN: I'm TJ Griffin. I'm from Austin, Texas. My son, Amon (ph) is 8 and has not played tackle football, but has played flag.

CHRIS LANDRY: My name's Chris Landry. I'm from El Dorado Hills, Calif., and my son, Cameron (ph) is 12 years old and just finished his third year of football.

GREENE: And let's begin with Chris Landry, who says he and his wife thought carefully before allowing Cameron to play tackle football.

LANDRY: I think like a lot of parents we were concerned about the injury thing. And I work as a firefighter and paramedic, and I had been on calls with kids with all kinds of injuries in all sports. And...

GREENE: I was going to say, you've probably seen a lot.


LANDRY: I've seen concussion or concussion-like symptoms in everything from soccer to lacrosse to obviously football. So I don't know. I just came to the realization that there's injuries in all sports and you're not going to be able to completely eliminate any risk unless you raise them in a bubble. And I wasn't willing to do that.

GREENE: SaTara, did I hear you say wow there?

BROWN: Well, yeah, every sport has risks. I mean, but it's definitely an increased risk with football.

LANDRY: You're totally right. I do agree and I think really the part of the - also the decision-maker was football isn't like when I was a kid where coaches said, oh, you just got your bell rung. Get back in there or rub some dirt on it.

BROWN: Sure.

LANDRY: The coaches today, at least where I live, are much more aware. So, you know, what it comes down to it is - and I told Cameron this. I go, look, if I don't feel like your coach has safety in mind as the number one priority, you're not playing for him.

GREENE: What does safety mean? I mean, the hitting is still as hard, right?

BROWN: Right.

LANDRY: Yeah. The changes that I think are obvious are that the coaches get some training in concussion recognition and awareness. Last season, they used parents to be sideline medical people, and as a sideline medical guy, when a kid came out or looked injured and I checked them out, I never once had any of the coaches pressure me in any way to put the kid in. I mean, I would get that from some parents, but never from a coach.

GREENE: Parents would tell you keep my kid in. I want him to keep playing.


LANDRY: Yeah, that surprised me, too.

GREENE: SaTara, you know, as you listened to Chris talk, did those things make you feel better about having your son on the football field?

BROWN: (Laughter) Well, I mean, that sounds great. I can't help but wonder as Chris was talking if it's just - as they grow older if the intensity changes 'cause high school football, it's so competitive. The coaches are so invested. The parents are so invested. So I do feel like there may be more pressure.

GREENE: You sound really worried about the risk and about the pressure, but...

BROWN: So much.

GREENE: ...Kendrick is playing football, right? I mean, he just finished his first year playing football.

BROWN: He is, he is. So yeah, just a little bit of context, my husband and I, we weren't really enthused about the idea. Kendrick's always been active. He's - he used to play flag football. He was great at that. And then all of a sudden after he graduated eighth grade he said he wanted to play contact football and we were shocked. And so I kind of tried to put it on the back burner thinking that he would forget about it, and he continued to remind me. And so we decided to roll with it just because he was so excited about it and he was committed to it. And it seems like it's more good for him than anything else.

GREENE: What is the good that you see? What do you think he gets out of football?

BROWN: Well, I do think, you know, his commitment, how hard he's working toward something, I think it's - he's been able to maintain straight A's. He's developing rapport with the team players, and so I'm trying to be supportive.

GREENE: TJ, you live in Texas. Many of us know that football is a religion there.

GRIFFIN: (Laughter) Yeah.

GREENE: I mean, your son is just 8 years old, right? I mean, when did he start thinking about football?

GRIFFIN: When he was 2 he...


GRIFFIN: Two years old - if the football was on television, he would get down in the three-point stance and act out the plays.

GREENE: Oh, my goodness.

GRIFFIN: And at 3 years old, I mean, you know, his first word was ball. He's definitely sport...

GREENE: Not mom or dad.

GRIFFIN: No. He's definitely sports-minded. But he made it very clear that he wanted to play football. And my wife and I just didn't feel like it made sense for him, but he's very focused on wanting to play football.

GREENE: And your answer in terms of tackle football so far has been absolutely not.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely not

GREENE: TJ, what's your greatest fear? I mean, what makes you not want him to be out there and playing tackle?

GRIFFIN: I think - you know, I think there's two things. One is injury side of it. And, you know, here in Texas, every season someone either dies or is paralyzed. And the second thing is, you know, there really is a culture in football of the sense of being tough. And if I can give him a life where he still gets to succeed and be on a team and feel like he's contributing in an active way without the metal-helmet-on-metal-helmet collisions then that seems to me to be the way to go.

GREENE: Can I ask all three of you the same question? What was the toughest conversation you had? SaTara, do you have something on your mind?

BROWN: I think - I say the toughest discussion was the one where he made it very clear that this is something that he wanted to continue and it was tough for me because it was a moment for me to swallow the pill and realize, wow, I'm not in control anymore.

GREENE: Chris?

LANDRY: I wanted him to realize the risk of injury. And maybe it's because he's 12 and still has that invincibility kind of feeling like probably everyone does when they're 12 that that didn't seem to faze him. The hardest with him was having to explain that when he was very frustrated that he wasn't getting to play when he thought, gosh, I'm having to tell the starters what route to run.


GRIFFIN: I think it was when he was 6 years old, and one morning he said, Dad, I'm never going to play football. And I could tell that he had accepted it, but was so kind of disappointed. And that, you know, really as a dad was really hurt - it hurt just to know that he had to go through that.

GREENE: Listen, it's been a real pleasure chatting with all three of you and thanks for your honesty and wish all the best for you and your kids.

BROWN: Likewise.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, David.

LANDRY: Thank you, thanks very much.

GREENE: Chris Landry, SaTara Brown, TJ Griffin - three parents talking about their decision to let their kids play tackle football or not. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.