Erring on the side of caution

Full disclosure: I’ve already made up my mind that my sons will not play football.

My perspective on the game changed significantly when I read “Game Brain,” a lengthy article by Jeanne Marie Laskas that appeared in GQ magazine in September 2009. That article introduced me to the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE.

Laskas later grew the article into a book, “Concussion,” which spawned a movie of the same name starring Will Smith. That movie opens on Christmas Day.

I don’t know when I’ll see “Concussion,” but I will watch it eventually. I’ll be curious to see not only how America reacts to the movie, but also how true the film stays to Laskas’ original article about Omalu’s story.

As for the overall impact, I’m not expecting “Concussion” to be a complete game-changer. As longtime sportscaster Bryant Gumbel postulated in recent days, “The mere fact that the NFL is not suing them means the movie’s not very good.”

That may or may not be the case — but regardless of how hard the movie does or does not hit, my mind was made up the day I read Laskas’ piece in GQ.

More disclosure: No matter how guilty I might feel now watching football, I can’t change the channel. I’m still a fan.

My oldest son isn’t old enough to fully understand the rules or the potential risks of the game yet, but he enjoys watching the Patriots (I grew up in Massachusetts) disembowel the Colts every year just as thoroughly as I do.

That sort of joy will make it tougher for me to look my sons in the eye and explain to them that they won’t ever be able to put on a helmet and shoulder pads, at least not on my watch.

I went to college with several people who would not have even had the opportunity to be there with me were it not for football. The sport has changed thousands of lives for the better, and those cases far, far outweigh the number whose lives the game has destroyed.

But there is still an amount of risk involved, as there is in any sport — and it is up to each parent to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. My mother would not let my brother play youth hockey, although she did eventually relent and let him start playing as a junior in high school. Other parents may choose to keep their children out of soccer or wrestling, or out of sports altogether, for similar reasons.

How each parent arrives at a conclusion when deciding whether or not to let their children play football or any other sport is up to them. Different people will assign different levels of importance to the potential risks and rewards of playing, and regardless of what they choose, the choice will be theirs. All you can hope is that each decision is an informed one and that it is being made in what the parents feel are in the best interests of their children.

I’m not at war with the game of football. I still enjoy watching it, even if I can’t do so with the same fervor anymore knowing what I know now. When the Patriots are winning another Super Bowl in February, I’ll gladly let my eldest son stay up past his bedtime and watch.

If he comes to me one day and tells me he wants to play organized football with his friends, though, that’ll be a different conversation.

I won’t cast judgment on any parent who chooses to let his or her sons play football. The sport has value.

To me, though, my sons have far more. I’ll be erring on the side of caution.

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic in Columbus, a sister paper of The Tribune. Send comments to jmorey@tribtown.