Murph's Turf: Parents bigger part of football question

Whether it be which school to attend, what friendships to encourage or even when to go to bed, parents are accustomed to making decisions for their children. Now, they face another one: Should their kids be allowed to play football.

Increasing concern over the long-term effects of football concussions — driven by medical studies and the sorrowful tales of former professional players — prompted both current (linebacker Bart Scott) and former (quarterback Kurt Warner) NFL players to recently say that they didn’t want their sons to play the sport.

Warner later softened his stance, but the notion that those who excelled at football — and benefited professionally and financially from it — would be fearful of their own children following suit caused a brief stir on sports radio this summer, with hosts and callers debating and exhausting the topic before moving on to debate and exhaust something else.

As the fall youth football season approached, similar worries became barbecue discussion among parents who wondered if they were remiss to let their kids play, or overreacting if they said no. Extending the theme hyperbolically, the media delivered a he-man serving of stories centered on a possible demise of football due to decreasing participation.

Although lower numbers have already been reported in some states, it’s too early to tell if concussion-related fears will have much of a lasting impact. Football is the undisputed king of American sports, and as the NFL season prepared to open last night, the focus was back on usual dynamics, such as which teams would win their first games, what players would be steals in fantasy leagues, and who would cover the spread.

Despite a reaction time as sluggish as an elephant getting out of the blocks in the 100, the NFL has implemented rules changes aimed at reducing the severity of hits to the head. A trickle-down effect was noticeable in June when Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football organization, announced it was making adjustments in its practice rules to minimize the threat of head injuries. Unlike the college and pro ranks, the majority of concussions in youth football occurs during practice.

Other youth football leagues followed Pop Warner’s cue, although the Fairfield County Football League — of which Wilton is a member — wasn’t one of them. After reviewing practice protocol, FCFL officials felt they were already taking measures to properly guard against concussions.

While it will likely take more alarming reports or incidents to severely trim the ranks of youth football players, any initial reductions in numbers could be felt in towns like Wilton, where the combination of above-average family incomes and increased opportunities for children make football less appealing as a way to better one’s future by getting a college scholarship. Kids here may want to play football, but there are plenty of other sports to choose from if they don’t.

It’s been that way for a while, albeit with one telling difference: In the past, the decision was usually the child’s.