Sherry Young: On concussions and football: Perspective from Steve Young's mom

By Sherry Young, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Oct. 21, 2013, 6:00 a.m. MDT

 Steve Young evades San Diego's Leslie O'Neal in Super Bowl XXIX.

Steve Young evades San Diego's Leslie O'Neal in Super Bowl XXIX.

(Associated Press)

Here we are again, well into another fall season, which means football is in full sway.

Football still is America’s game, but there are cracks appearing here and there. At the forefront is the discussion of concussions.

Our son Steve did an interview recently for "Frontline." They used some of this interview for their show, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis." If you missed this informational program, you can catch interviews by going to PBS.org.

Football is a game I am well-acquainted with since dating my husband Grit and then marrying him during his senior year at BYU in 1960.

When Grit first started law school at the University of Utah that same year, he had feelers from professional teams as to his interest. Back then, football did not have the cache or the promise of fame and fortune that it does today. After a fairly short discussion, both of us felt his answer should be to stay in law school. In fact, I told him I didn’t want anything more to do with football after watching him play his final year for BYU and emerging reasonably healthy.

What a laugh to think of it now, because football has dominated my life.

Our four sons loved football and played for BYU like their father, although our youngest son, Jim, switched to lacrosse. Our son Steve eventually reached the pinnacle of football success by being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Because of this high level of involvement in sports, we are often asked if we think kids should be playing football because of the risks.

This is a tricky question that needs to be answered with the most important question: Do they want to play, or do you want them to play?

There are many valuable lessons that can be learned when our children participate in extracurricular activities of any kind, be it band, drama or football, if it is something they want to do.

Kids need to be kept busy using all the energy they have in positive ways. If they aren’t participating in extracurricular activities, they may be participating in unorganized and unsavory types of activities. They are going to be active doing something possibly more risky than football.

Valuable lessons are learned being part of a team and learning how to hone your skills and have other people depend on you to perform well. Athletics and other skill learning promotes self-esteem, which is good for growing kids as long as they don’t put it before scholastic achievement.

In our case, we found that when they were involved in a sport or activity, they managed their time well and did better in school. This included our daughter’s experiences also.

During Steve’s interview, he said, “And we love football. I loved what it taught me. I loved the things I had to face, just the person that I became because I faced fears and anxieties and challenges and overcame them. It's self-defining in so many ways, and it takes every bit of you.”

The problem comes when the danger overrides the worth. Concussions happen just by falling down, but that doesn’t make it wise to be cavalier. This is the scary part of the concussion question. This is where the parent must do some investigation. They must do some serious thinking on their own and decide for themselves.

The PBS program is sobering. However, I had to wonder why the featured people ended up with the trauma they had when my football husband and sons and many thousands of others have not. Some may have been hit harder and more frequently. Possibly, they were hit again before their brain fully healed.

There are other things we just don't know. Does genetics play a role? What about steroid and drug abuse?

These and other questions need to be answered before we can throw the baby out with the bath water.

Email: sasy273@gmail.com

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1. george of the jungle
goshen, UT,
Oct. 21, 2013

I can see what she's saying. We are a family, were in this together. Was the juice worth the squeeze. Yea, it was for them. In any game you can get a bad hand. You don't risk the farm on it. ya need a good support system [immune system] to help ya stay strong.

2. crazyfam10
Oct. 21, 2013

There have always been concussions, but the number and frequency appears to be increasing due to the style of play. I'm letting my oldest son finish out his Sr. year in HS, but I've pulled my younger boy specifically because of concern about repeated blows to the head.

The next time you run across an ESPN show on the top all-time NFL defensive players, take a moment to watch. You'll get an opportunity to see in quick succession how tackling has evolved over the last 50 years, and things are dramatically different today. As recently as the 80's these defensive players would wrap someone up and drag them down. Today's players launch themselves at the ball carrier in an attempt to separate them from the ball with a bone jarring hit, and sometimes that hit is going to be to the head. I used to love to see those plays, but I can't stand them now.

Asking a man who's devoted their whole life to the game to drop out because they've had some concussions isn't realistic; especially if they have loved one's to support (Austin Collie). Make the game safer.

3. The Skeptical Chymist
Oct. 21, 2013

As long as I have breath, I will work to dissuade anyone I care about from taking up this game.

4. Conservative
Cedar City, UT,
Oct. 21, 2013

Our sons played football through high school 15 years ago. I honestly do not know if either suffered a concussion or any lasting injury.

We are very concerned that collision injuries from football, basketball, or other contact sports can lead to serious problems years from now. Early-onset Alzheimers is being found associated with concussions. And of course we all know those that suffer joint problems and other physical deterioration linked to contact sports.

Mrs.Young does not mention the long-term in her editorial. I don't think she really "gets it". That is unfortunate, because the long-term is the most devastating factor with concussion. Steve and her other sons may very well face serious long-term health problems because of their football years.

Parents must make serious decisions in order to protect their children. I'm not suggesting over-protection. They can learn great things from team sports. But, football and boxing aren't worth the risks. These sports may be "good", but there are better and best choices for parents and youth to choose from.

5. Pete1215
Lafayette, IN,
Oct. 21, 2013

Re. football. Get rid of the helmets and pads. Then no one will hit another with enough G-force to do much harm. Play on!