- Associated Press - Thursday, August 23, 2012

Break out the face paint. Study up for those fantasy league drafts. Make sure the big-screen television and comfy recliner are in the perfect working order.

Yes, we’re ready for some football!

Just as long as it’s not our children playing that barbaric game.

On any given day, a new report seems to emerge about some ex-player who no longer knows what planet he’s on because of all the blows he took on the gridiron. Most of us are familiar with someone who’s walking proof _ if they can still walk _ of the damage caused by those Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: the 40-year-old with the crippled knees of someone twice his age; the middle-aged guy who can no longer stand up straight because he spent too much time using his body as a battering ram.

We all know that football is bad for the body, which brings up a troubling dilemma for moms and dads:

Should they let their kids play?

This debate should be playing out in kitchens and bedrooms all across this land. Maybe there should put a prominent label on every helmet, sort of like they have cigarettes cartons.

“Warning: Playing football is dangerous to your health.”

Bob Cook, who blogs on youth sports, faced that issue with his own son. Admittedly, he didn’t want his child to play. In fact, he talked the kid out of joining his high school team as a sophomore. But his son kept pressing, and Cook finally relented. A few weeks ago, he dropped off his 15-year-old _ who weighs all of 132 pounds _ for his first practice.

“I can’t say my wife and I are thrilled that he’s doing this,” Cook wrote, “but we’re not stopping him, either. It’s one of those many make-or-break … parenting moments in which you weigh your desires against your child’s, and it’s one of those moments in which you’re never 100 percent sure whether you’ve made the right decision.”

There are those who surely see the game as a necessary rite of passage for males, instilling the values of teamwork and effort, camaraderie and desire, toughness and resiliency. Sure, it’s dangerous, but so is hockey, and skateboarding, and skiing.

But football stands apart from most other team sports (boxing and mixed martial arts are obviously in a totally different class), in that the very purpose of the game involves inflicting pain on the other guy. When an opponent has the ball, your job is tackle him, take him to the ground, the harder the better. Intimidation and bravado are part of the package. If you can make him flinch next time, you have the upper hand.

At least things have improved significantly, especially when it comes to head injuries.

There’s much more awareness at the pro and college levels, no doubt pushed along by myriad lawsuits filed by former players who believe the NFL was aware of the terrible toll but never informed them. That caution has trickled down to the high schools, the middle schools, even to the Pop Warner youth leagues, which just this summer instituted new rules that severely restrict the number of contact practices and require that players start out no more than 3 yards apart when they are hitting each other.

“The drills we grew up with, all those high-speed, head-on collisions, are not allowed the Pop Warner level anymore,” said Dr. David Marshall, director of sports medicine at Children’s Heathcare of Atlanta.

Story Continues →