Wednesday, February 23, 2011

100 Yards of Risk

When I first heard about former NFL star Dave Duerson's passing my thoughts ranged from shock to sadness.  Now firmly in my 40s, I get a knot when I read about a father dying young, in this case at age 50, leaving four children.

Then came the details.  A suicide, and what looks to be martyrdom.  Duerson shot himself in the chest so that doctors could examine his brain for degenerative brain disease.

Dave Duerson was a big hitter.  He came of age with the 1985 Chicago Bears, a member of one of the most dominant defenses ever.  A safety from Notre Dame, Duerson became a starter in 1985 after Todd Bell and Al Harris sat out the entire season in a contract dispute.  Duerson and his teammates became legends, while Todd Bell and Al Harris entered the Shelley Long wing of the Museum of Bad Career Moves.  Coincidentally, Bell also died young, suffering a heart attack at age 46.

After football, Duerson went on to business success and was active in the NFL players union, eventually serving on a panel that considered player disability claims. 

In what may become the ultimate irony, Duerson likely was dealing with his own encephalopathy ("punch drunk") after spending many years openly skeptical of similar player claims. 

And his death may prove to be a turning point. 

I love football, having played from 4th grade through high school.

My high school coach liked to say, "Basketball is a contact sport.  Football is a collision sport." 

Amen.  I had plenty of them.  Had my "bell rung" a number of times, shook it off and got back in the huddle. 
I only suffered one concussion.  One that I was aware of. 

As much as I love football, I think we will see a dwindling of youth programs in the next decade.  There is simply too much evidence coming out about the dangers of head trauma.  And too much at stake for park districts and schools to risk liability. 

My son, now 12, has wanted to play football for some time, but I have resisted, probably until high school. 

He's gravitated towards other sports.  Baseball, wrestling, basketball.  Sports that require a specific skill. 

Football is about physics more than skill, and you can't teach height, weight or brute force.  

I heard a commentator theorize that football may go the way of boxing, where participation is limited mainly to the poor as an avenue to financial success.  In other words, Middle and upper-class parents don't take the risk. 

In the New York Times article (see above link), Duerson's son Tregg is quoted as saying, "I wish he had played baseball." 

Lots of sons, and their parents, may soon feel that way.

Do your children play football?  Please feel free to post a comment.  I would enjoy hearing from you.


  1. My son Jack, age 10 (and a half!), has been playing full contact football for three years. It's not his favorite sport, but he likes it. I never really worried about football because so far, the kids are so little that the contact isn't so hard. Maybe I would change my mind if he were in high school. I think it will depend on his interest level at that time. But for now, Evanston Jr. Wildkit football program offers so much for the kids OFF the field, we are sticking with it. Very sad about DD tho.

  2. Thanks for reading and your comments. Youth sports are great character builders.