Concussions in football: What B.C. football parents are saying

The link between concussions and football is the subject of a growing body of research, and now, a Hollywood movie starring Will Smith. How do the parents of kids playing football feel about the risks? On The Coast spoke to two of them.

A mother of two players and a father of one — who also coaches — talk about concussions

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after finding brain injuries in the brains of deceased football players, in the new film Concussion. (Sony Pictures)

Evidence continues to mount about the long-term risks of concussions caused by contact sports like football.

The link between football and brain injuries is even the subject of a Hollywood film, Concussion, starring Will Smith. And the link is firmly in the minds of some parents of football playing youths, and it has left them divided.

On The Coast host Stephen Quinn spoke to two parents of young football players who play for North Vancouver's Argyle Secondary Pipers Varsity team.

Rachel Eaves has 15-year-old twin boys, and she says she is constantly worried about the prospect of one of them suffering a debilitating concussion.

Wayne Theobold coaches the Argyle Pipers varsity team, played himself, and his son plays now. He says the game has come a long way in terms of safety since his playing days.

Rachel, do concerns about brain injuries in football have you thinking twice about your kids' participation in the game?

I've been thinking twice for the past two years, and I think I've become more concerned as they've become more involved. But I have very physical kids and they need an outlet. So I try to say to myself if they weren't in football, they'd be doing something else dangerous. So it could be worse, I guess.

Wayne, what about you?

I'm a multi-sport guy myself, I've lost count of my concussions, probably in the high 20s. Most of mine are from hockey. I'm really glad Concussion came out, but there's actually two different results from the research. Omalu, the guy played by Will Smith, had a mentor, Julian Bales. He thinks there's a big difference between the NFL players and community football. He thinks football's a lot safer now, and both of his kids play, too.

How is football safer now?

When I played football in the late '70s and early '80s, we were encouraged to use our heads to hit people. Even in practice we would line up five yards away, go full speed and drop our heads into each other. It's changed a lot from that. Seventy-five per cent of injuries happen in practise, so what a lot of coaches do is, we don't have a lot of as-full contact practices any more. Also, a real big emphasis on taking the head out of football.

Rachel, how do you feel about football?

I think what I love about it is the community aspect. And I see the camaraderie on the sidelines and on the field, so I try and look at those things that I think will really impact my children as they become adults, more than the actual sport itself. So that's how I try to justify it. I still stand on the sidelines freaking out. Every time someone goes near one of my kids I start to panic.

Is there a tipping point for you? A level of roughness or could something happen to your boys where you'd think that's it, that's enough?

My worry is, they're tall boys, so they seem big, but they're actually only about 140 pounds each. My worry is, they're getting into the senior years, the boys are getting bigger, my boys might not get any bigger. My husband is sort of built the same way as an adult. So that's where my head is. I'm worried for more of the Grade 11 and 12 years. Some of the boys that I've seen in the varsity teams that Argyle has played against are men! Big men! With beards! So yes, I'm a little nervous.

This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Parents weigh in on the risk of concussions in football


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