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To play or not to play, that is the question.

Over the years, and especially recently, I often get asked the million-dollar parenting question: “Would you let your son or daughter play tackle football?”

More than four years ago, I tackled this topic in a sports column for The Southern. I said then that I wasn’t quite sure.

Now, quite honestly, I’m still not completely sure — but it definitely gets a dad like me thinking.

Personally, I don’t have to worry about it with my daughter — she doesn’t have an athletic bone in her body. And, yes, she’d be the first to admit that.

Now, my son, on the other hand, is starting to get into football. He likes it, although I’m not quite sure he fully understands it. But, he’s been asking me when he can start playing.

For now, I tell him he has to get bigger — he might be 60 pounds soaking wet, and he’s going to be 10 soon.

Watching games this past weekend reminded me of this topic. There were two plays in particular — Dolphins defender Kiko Alonso’s hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the Bears’ Zach Miller having his knee and leg shredded on an attempted catch in the end zone (it was a catch, by the way) — that got me thinking.

Alonso’s hit on Flacco was just the hit that make people cringe — and the kind of hit the NFL is trying to get rid of. When Flacco got up from the hit, it looked like he didn’t have a clue what year it was. Everybody watching the game knew he had a concussion. Amazingly, on Tuesday, the Ravens announced Flacco doesn’t have any concussion symptoms, and will probably play this weekend.

On the other hand, Miller won’t be playing anytime soon. His injury — his leg planted in the turf and gave way — almost cost him his leg. He dislocated his knee and damaged an artery in his left knee, and required emergency surgery Sunday night. For those who didn't see it, I wouldn't suggest looking for it. It's pretty bad.

Both are injuries that happen in football — and they seem to happen pretty routinely.

But, then again, injuries happen in any sport. And football isn’t the only sport that has freak gruesome injuries — a quick search of Google will show you they all do.

It’s something to think about, and it’s something to talk about. There’s no question that football is a dangerous sport — but, in their own ways, all sports have some level of danger.

There’s also no question that football as we know it today is probably going to change considerably — especially at the younger levels. Attempts to make the game and equipment safer are in motion.

Will it work? That remains to be seen.

I grew up mostly playing hockey and baseball. I played football for a few years, but it just wasn’t my thing — too much practice for not enough game.

But I loved baseball and I loved hockey. I had my share of injuries — knees, face, shoulder and, yes, concussions. But, as I said four years ago, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

My son plays hockey and baseball, too. And basketball. And just about anything else he can possibly play. The dude loves his sports — the same way I did when I was his age.

And, that’s the thing I keep coming back to. All the good times I had playing. All the friends I made. The discipline I was taught. Everything that comes with playing sports and being part of a team.

So, would I let my son play football? Yeah, I probably would. Of course, it’s still a conversation that my wife and I will have when that day comes.

First, I know my son — he’s going to nag until I say yes. Second, if he loves the game enough, he’ll find a way.

And, if that’s the case, I’d support him.

Tom English is the executive editor of The Southern Illinoisan. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. He can be reached at or 618-351-5070. You can follow him on Twitter at @tomenglish23.


Executive editor

Tom English is the executive editor of The Southern.

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