This is a position post where I take a stand that represents no one other than myself as a mom and a pediatrician. The reason I clarify this, is that my position is a strong one. No one wants to go up against someone like the NFL, it seems. But let me say this very clearly: It if it were my child, I’d never let them play football. No way. For my boys, the risks are too large, the sentiments too cruel, and the gains simply not worth it. There are plenty of other sports teams out there to grow, exercise, form friendships, and excel. I never want my children to be a part of any institution that houses intent to harm another human being. Although direct harm may not be a tenet in pee wee football, we all know that young sports teams are built to emulate the pros. If the NFL is the inspiration, for now, count my boys out. This isn’t just about the risk of concussion…
On my way into clinic on Saturday morning, I heard the alleged tape of Gregg Williams directing players to seriously harm opposing teammates. In the tape Mr Williams, the previous defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, employed his players to inflict harm on multiple players–for example, attempt to tear the ACL of Michael Crabtree and work to re-concuss another player, Kyle Williams. Let me point out, some data finds the harms of concussions (particularly in adolescents) may be longstanding, and the risk of a second concussion may rarely be deadly.
In the tape you hear Gregg Williams repeatedly say, “Kill the head, the body will die” followed by, “We want his head sideways.” The tape goes on to capture more directives for harming additional players. It’s nauseating and provoking–got my fingers shaking during my drive. And really more than anything else, it was wholeheartedly disappointing. Particularly for me as a pediatrician. When parents now ask me about football, instead of talking about concussions as a significant risk, I’ll also be talking about ethics, sportsmanship, and integrity.
The great thing is that as parents we have lots of choices.
If you don’t know this story, the quick 411 is that the former defensive coordinator (coach) for the New Orleans Saints NFL football team has ultimately been suspended indefinitely from coaching in the NFL after his bounty program was uncovered. The head coach has also been suspended (for a season) for not stopping the program. The bounty program was one where the defensive coach had been rewarding players with large sums of cash at the end of individual games for inflicting injury on opposing teammates. Bonuses were given during the play-off season. All this, to win. There’s no mention of bounty payments on the audio tape published last week, but it may not matter.
If you’re interested in listening to the entire 12 minute tape, be warned it’s full of grotesque orders and expletives. A profanity-free version is online as well.
You can step back and point out that Gregg Williams is just one (coordinator) coach in the NFL and doesn’t represent the sport of football. You may be right. But to me, the details of how the tape reached the public carry more grave concern for the health of our boys and future pro-athletes. To get this story to the public Sean Pamphilon, a documentary filmmaker, had to share the audio from footage he’d captured against the advice of his partner, ex-football player Sean Gleason, with whom he was partnering to produce a documentary about his life and diagnosis of ALS. There he was trying to chronicle a health concern while having to break trust with his friend to inform parents. Gleason disapproved of the leak. I suspect we never would have heard the real story without this set of circumstances. Here’s Pamphilon’s statement. Like most whistle-blowers, Pamphilon likely won’t profit from this move. Fortunately, our boys will. My hope is that this news will compound ongoing pressure for change, at the national level, for football in America.
Williams’ intent to harm the lives of others for the sport was clear. As many bloggers have commented, this may be more the norm in football than the exception. And although an ESPN interview I watched noted that, “Testing a mans’ will” is a tenet in football, the bounty program in the NFL brings the ethos of the sport into more significant question.
So for now, I don’t recommend your child play football.
What do you think? What do you love about football for your children? Does this feel like an over-reaction? Will you let your boys enter Pee Wee or American Youth Football this season?