Thinking outside the lines with Chris Long: Is football too violent for kids?

ESPN’s latest Outside the Lines segment is a compelling look at a question that faces us not just as football fans, but as parents: is the game too violent for young kids? How old should you be before you strap on pads and helmets?

It’s a question that Chris Long, one of the stars of the Rams and the son of a Hall of Famer, posed openly on Twitter this afternoon. You have only to get 23 seconds into the video to see why even a pro’s pro might get squeamish…

how bout yall, do yall let your kids play football?

The collection of responses he got show how complex the issue is for those of us who love the sport, love our kids, and try to reconcile the violence of the one with the positive impacts for the other.

    “am struggling w/that subject right now; my son is almost 9 & is BEGGING 2 play; still not sure yet”

    “Absolutely. He’s 10 & played last 2 years. Played left DE & FB/TE last year. It’s rough, but kids learn valuable life lessons. Teamwork, discipline, committment.”

    “I told my son he has to wait until 6th grade. He does play flag football though. He doesn’t like though.”

    “I wasnt able to play till middle school…i was to big to play in any leagues before that”

    “yea he LOVES it. He can’t wait to start practicing again. Its the 1 thing that makes him forget video games.”

    “damm right we play footballl….we bring the noisee!!!!”

One of the RamsHerd faithful, @PikeBishop, sparked further discussion by asking “Do you think there is a benefit to early hitting vs just learning and playing the game to protect any brain/head development?”

@pikebishop i think the injuries are totally inevitable with grown men. i am not as sure about how little kids handle the sport physically.

It’s a topic that ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook, famous for his Tuesday morning Quarterback column and his clear-eyed analysis of the game and its often hidden consqeuences, tackles head-on (pun intended) in this week’s article. And he delivers a clear statement: “No one should play football in pads before eighth grade.”

“The juvenile brain case is weak,” cites Easterbrook, “because the skull has not finished maturing. Kids below eighth-grade age (age 12 or 13) run a high risk both of concussions and of the minor brain trauma that lacks immediate symptoms but does cumulative harm.”

However, he gives another piece of advice further down the article that’s just as important to digest: “Parents, don’t be afraid of football.” LIke any risk, it can be managed, and you have to weigh it against the inherent positives of letting your kids play. 

dont claim 2 know if its right 4 kids to play football, im just asking out of curiosity. the show had me thinking. great sport, rough tho

On a personal level, it’s a question I’ll have to wrestle with as well in the coming years. My fifth-grade daughter plays basketball, volleyball and softball, and was part of a city-county championship team this summer. But if she decides one day to give up sports and spend more time drawing or hanging out with her friends I won’t be too surprised. However, my son is two and a half, and absolutely loves playing ball of all sorts. He loves to throw, loves to catch, and after spending enough gamedays around me at home, loves to “tackle.”

His first Rams game is only a short while away, and who knows, maybe a long-term love of the game gets kindled in that moment, just like in this well-staged 30-second theater. Maybe it’ll be Chris Long himself handing the game ball to my boy. And that’s when I’ll know that we have a decision to make.