Where Does Helicopter Parenting Make Sense? Football.

football playerFootball player photo via Shutterstock

My son spends most of the school day trying to figure out how fast he can get to recess to play touch football with his friends. Even at home, when I lug a basket full of laundry down the hall, he weaves and spins past me, shouting “I juked ya!” before diving for the couch. But, last night, sliding down the banister on the way to bed, he said, “Those coaches don’t care about kids. I’m never playing real football.”

He was talking, of course, about the coaches and referees involved in the Southbridge trouncing of the Tantasqua Pee Wees on September 15, a Pop Warner-sponsored blow-out in which five kids, ages 10-12, ended up with concussions. Because the concussions weren’t diagnosed at the time, all of the kids continued playing, risking serious damage to their young brains. All the kids missed some school after their injuries, and one hasn’t yet returned to the field.

Sure, we’ve all encountered whack-job sports parents, but this was something else altogether. The game, which ended with a score of 52-0, has been roundly criticized, the coaches have been suspended, and the three officials are permanently banned. But where was all the outrage on September 15? Why didn’t anyone come forward during the game? Even I, who have never played a competitive sport in my life, know what the mercy rule is.

One clue is the culture of the Pop Warner football squad in question. The Southbridge team’s motto is “Are You Tough Enough?” But it’s not just that one team. All of football is premised on the idea of out-toughing the other guy, and even as coaches take measures to minimize contact, the risk of a concussion from all those hits is inherent in the game. Some say our Age of Overparenting coddles kids too much, but the science on the dangers of concussions is pretty irrefutable. If parents are going to get their helicopter on, football is one arena where it makes sense.

Today’s New York Times featured a story about Dover, New Hampshire, school board member and retired surgeon Paul Butler, who thinks the high school should start dismantling its football program. The outcry came fast and furious, but Butler said he’d read enough of the literature on concussions to be alarmed. “Our brain is really who we are,” Butler wrote. “In this society, in this time, if your brain has been altered, you have been fundamentally altered.”

Coaches of Pop Warner teams, referees, and parents on the sidelines should be as well informed about the dangers of the sport as Butler is. I’m pretty sure I know all I need to know, and now, so does my son. One good thing came out of the Pop Warner news is his decision not to play “real” football in the future. He’ll have to suffice with games of touch football at school and juking me as I carry the laundry down the hall.