The NFL is under the microscope in all of North America. While it's by far the most popular sports league this side of the Atlantic, it's also a corporation that's seen by many as an evil place. The perception is that its only purpose is to make money and that they don't really care about the safety of its players. We're not here to dispute whether that's true or false, but we are here to question where the league can be in 20-30 years from now.
The safety of the game as it relates to head trauma is a hot button issue, especially with the movie Concussion having just come out, documenting the story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovered the disease, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in dozens of former NFL players whose brains were donated for research.
Omalu has said that children should not be allowed to play football at such a young age. He says that the brain doesn't fully develop until well into adulthood, so to expose a child to the dangers of football is irresponsible.
"It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us." said Omalu. "The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child."
Some would say Omalu has no emotional attachment to the game, so of course he'd come out and say it's dangerous. It's not just doctors and outsiders of the game though. Even some of the game's greats have come out and said the risk isn't worth it for their kids. Here are 12 NFL players, current and former, who have come out and said they don't want their kids playing football, with some saying they'd outright forbid it.
12 Harry Carson
Harry Carson was one tough linebacker. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion. The Hall of Famer was fearless when he played, but has since said he wouldn't have played the game had he known of the risks it involved. The 62-year-old is now a grandfather and has made it very clear he doesn't want his grandchildren playing the game that's in their blood. "I cannot in good conscience allow my grandson to play knowing what I know... I want him to be intelligent; I want him to be brilliant; I want him to be able to use his brain and not his brawn."
11 Mike Ditka
The Hall of Fame tight end and coach made headlines recently, as he said he wouldn't want his kids playing football. While he wouldn't outright forbid it, Ditka did say he'd encourage him to try another sport, one that's about as harmless as it gets.
That’s sad. I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do,” Ditka told HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
10 Jermichael Finley
Jermichael Finley has not played an NFL game since suffering a spinal cord injury back in 2013. He announced his retirement earlier this year, a month shy of his 28th birthday, and you could understand why Finley wouldn't want his kids suffering what he did. "It would be different, but I'm not going to let my kids play just cause of the things I've been through in the game and what he has seen so, they can play tennis, golf and all of that, soccer."
9 Bart Scott
Bart Scott was always a very outspoken player, especially when he got to play for a coach like Rex Ryan. Scott was a Pro Bowler and once a second-team All Pro. The game of football was great to the former Raven and Jet, as it helped him overcome an upbringing in a violent and drug infested neighborhood, but he doesn't see the risk as worth it for his son. "I don't want my son to play football," Scott told the Daily News. I play football so he won't have to. With what is going on, I don't know if it's really worth it."
8 Drew Brees
When Drew Brees won Super Bowl XLI and was named the game's MVP, it was a touching moment seeing Brees up on the podium with his young son Baylen was a touching moment. Brees is going to be one of the most decorated quarterbacks when all is said and done, but it seems if Brees' kids are going to play football, they're going to have to wait a while. "At a certain age, I think it's appropriate. I think you can be too young to go out there and strap on a helmet."
7 Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman is another former great in the game who has conflicting feelings about whether he'd let his kids play football knowing what we know today. In an interview with HBO's Real Sports, the former three-time Super Bowl champion has said things have changed today.
"I think that we're at a real crossroads, as it relates to the grassroots of our sport, because if I had a 10-year-old boy, I don't know that I'd be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we are learning from head injury."
6 Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is the best running back of his generation and he did it by never shying away from contact, yet still having the speed and agility to break free from defenders. Peterson has several kids and has said he won't let any of them play football. Peterson even has a son who has taken his name, but he told TMZ that he won't let him play football. Though he wasn't clear on why, it's safe to assume it's due to the knowledge of the risks of head trauma.
5 Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw played in a very tough era of football and was a late bloomer in his career. When all was said and done though, Bradshaw was able to win four Super Bowls as part of the Pittsburgh Steeler dynasty of the 70s, and has remained around the game as an analyst for over 20 years. That's why it was quite a shock when a few years ago, Bradshaw said on Jay Leno's show: "If I had a son today, and I would say this to all our audience and our viewers out there, I would not let him play football."
4 Rashean Mathis
Rashean Mathis is a NFL veteran who's been in the league for over 12 years. That's actually an incredible shelf life in the NFL these days. Mathis played a long time for the Jacksonville Jaguars and has spent his last few seasons in Detroit. Despite Mathis' successful NFL career, he does not want his son to follow that path. "I don't want him to. He doesn't have to play any sport, as far as I'm concerned, but if he does get into it, football will be the last thing I introduce him to."
Mathis is another former player who said he'd rather see his son play golf.
3 Fran Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton was one of the first quarterbacks who was able to scramble and pick up big yards with his legs. A lot of people say Russell Wilson is a modern day Tarkenton, which is quite a compliment. Tarkenton made the Pro Bowl nine times in his career and made it to three Super Bowls. Tarkenton said in radio interview on KNBR 680 that if he had a son today, knowing what we now do about CTE, he would not let him play football.
2 Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner was one of the ultimate feel good stories in the NFL. One year he was bagging groceries, the next year he was the Super Bowl and league MVP. Warner suffered several concussions himself throughout his career and his play dipped for a few years before a late resurgence in Arizona. Warner has said that now being a parent, the thought of his sons playing football scares him.
"It’s different when you put on a parent’s hat. And, yeah, I want my kids to play and I want them to be healthy and I’d love them to have a great long career. I’d love all that. But as a parent I can’t avoid the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, and it’s a violent sport."
1 Brett Favre
Brett Favre played in the NFL for nearly 20 years and even started 197 games in a row. He was often banged up, but he was one of the toughest players to ever play the quarterback position. Favre set countless passing records and lived the dream for a long time in a dangerous game.
"I would be real leery of him playing football.” Added Favre: "In some respects, I'm almost glad I don't have a son because of the pressures he would face. Also the physical toll that it could possibly take on him, not to mention if he never made it, he's gonna be a failure in everyone's eyes. But more the physical toll that it could take."
Favre does have two grandsons though and you wonder if those kids will want to follow in their grandpa's footsteps at some point.