A Mother Plays Monday Morning Quarterback

Last week, my ten-year-old son, Mikey, suffered a concussion in third game of his first season of tackle football. I'm in a quandary: do I end tackle football now and forever, or let him play?
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Last week, my ten-year-old son, Mikey, suffered a concussion in third game of his first season of tackle football. I'm in a quandary: do I end tackle football now and forever, or let him play? Should he at least finish this season with his team, then fade out, or am I crazy to even risk it? Do I cross my fingers, knowing that he may never have another concussion in his life--be it from tackle football, or from roughhousing with his brothers, or from an innocent slip on ice--or take every precaution and force him to play non-contact sports from here on in? What's a parent of a ten-year-old athletic kid to do?
I heeded the warnings of parents and professionals before I said yes to Mikey's constant pleas to play tackle football. First, I tried distracting him. I reminded him that he is a good baseball player. Basketball is good too, I said. (Full disclosure: my oldest son suffered a concussion playing basketball this year, so no guarantees there either!)
But my efforts to distract Mikey into another sport failed - Mikey's pleas to play tackle football only continued and got louder. I owed it to him to get to the bottom of the conflicting reactions, many of which related to what other parents allowed decades ago. I was told that soccer players get more injuries because there are no helmets and pads. I was also told that tackle football "at this age" is safer than high school football. I trusted the pro-tackle information. I know Mikey is a good athlete, so finally, I said yes.
During summer training camp and for the first month of the season, I basked in the rightness of my decision to say yes. Mikey grew up dramatically. He was tired and sore from practice, but in a good way. He ate like a horse and slept like a rock. Most notably, Mikey matured by about a year in the span of that first month playing. He was no longer afraid to walk to school alone. He learned how to care for his teammates and to sacrifice for the team. He hoped he'd be a running back, but became the quarterback because he can throw and that is what the team wanted. He withstood the pressure of everyone yelling his name on the sidelines, of having to learn every offensive player's routes, and the play calls.
He made mistakes, learned from them and kept going. He also plays defense: cornerback and special teams. He doesn't complain about any of it. Even after the big 5-kid tackle which caused the concussion, all he said was "the line broke down" and "I held the ball too long." Quite simply, he loves football.
Mikey's favorite receiver is a fellow ten-year-old boy who was in chemotherapy six months ago. This boy's story puts yet another perspective on the sport and this team. (His Dad told me that during his treatment, he wanted to be sure he could still play football, and here is, playing football, and there is no one you want to succeed more than this kid.)
The doctors say Mikey may never get another concussion, but he plays a position where he is the target. My friends tell me to tune in to the TV shows on kids and concussions. Last weekend, I saw the Sixty Minutes piece on head trauma and NFL players with early dementia. I talked to Mikey about concussions. When I used the word "dementia" and defined it as "what Grandpa has" Mikey told me I was "freaking him out."
So now I have a child who is probably nervous about playing, maybe even feeling guilty about having gotten the concussion because he did not "get rid of the ball fast enough." I've gone from kvelling over his play and buying a shirt that says "I love my football player" to confessing it might have been the wrong decision.
Mikey will play next Sunday in a new air-padded helmet with harder plastic. It is their homecoming game. I don't know what to wish for: their first win of the season, or simply, no hard hits. I want him to have fun and to experience the love of playing a sport he is good at. Some of parenting is knowing when to let your kid go and knowing when to draw the line. In this case, I simply do not know.

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