Students choose to play football despite relative risk

January 28, 2020 — by Andy Chen

Permanent brain damage. Every parent and athlete’s worst fear. 

Promising athletes with their career ready to blossom suddenly lose it all after suffering a severe head injury...

With over 3.5 million sports injuries occurring in the U.S. annually, according to Stanford Children’s Health, it’s not surprising that parents and students alike have difficulties endorsing what they believe to be physically risky contact sports. This mentality, which has resulted in falling participation in sports on both a local and national level, is especially true for football, according to Forbes.

Senior George Bian, who played wide receiver and tight end on varsity football and was one of seven other SHS players to be placed on the league’s first team, said that his parents initially insisted that football was dangerous when he wanted to join in his freshman year. They cited statistics from the Columbus Children’s Hospital, which estimated that about half a million high school athletes are injured from football every year in the U.S. The most common injuries resulting from playing football are various strains — most notably hamstring and muscle strains — which are painful but definitely not permanent, according to Revere Health.

One of his parents’ greatest fears was the chance of a concussion — according to CNN Health, boys’ football has the highest percentage of concussions per player at 10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures (girls’ soccer follows with 8.19 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures). 

The effects of concussions vary, but most athletes experience disorientation, loss of memory, or unconsciousness, according to the National Center for Health Research. Oftentimes, effects like concentration issues and memory problems can be permanent. 

Bian, however, believes that the risks of football may not be as bad as they’re made out to be, especially if players train hard.

He explained that “the stronger you are, the safer you are,” citing thorough preparation and hard work as significant factors for maintaining safety. Bian, who did not suffer any injuries this year, claimed that primarily focusing on proper technique greatly diminishes the chances of injury.

“Injury is a scary idea to think about, but I feel that if you think about it too much you’re just putting yourself in a bad situation,” he said. “In a sense, it just increases your chances [of injury] because you’re playing defensive.”

Although Bian’s parents were initially worried about his decision to play football, they ultimately supported his decision to play after he demonstrated his dedication to proper training.

 “I didn’t want him to play, but I couldn’t stop him,” said Connie Kang, Bian’s mom. “But when he became a junior, I started to not worry too much because he spent extra time to build up his muscles, and he learned to protect himself.”

Like Bian, sophomore Parsa Hashemi, who played free safety and wide receiver on varsity during the fall season, feels that the social benefits of playing football greatly outweigh the physical risks.

For Hashemi, football provided an avenue for making friends after he moved to Saratoga during his freshman year. Joining the football team allowed him to interact with different friend groups that other students had previously developed coming into high school.

While he, too, initially had concerns regarding the safety of football, Hashemi also realized that the risk of injury wasn’t as significant as he had previously assumed and that the social benefits outweighed his concerns.

“[Getting injured] was definitely a thought, but as I played, my mentality shifted: play hard and it won’t happen,” Hashemi said. “The harder you hit, the safer it is.” 

Of course, safety should always be an athlete's top priority; for Hashemi, a large factor in ensuring an athlete's safety is  maximizing preparation, which the team’s coaching staff, equipment and rigorous practices help accomplish.

“There’s so much technology involved, especially with our school,” he said. “We have great equipment, and the coaches do a great job of teaching you how to hit and get hit — so as long as you’re not reckless, you should be fine.”

Contrary to Kang and Bian’s case, many other students were ultimately dissuaded from playing football by their parents, like sophomore Weilin Sun.

 “I was interested at first, but my dad really didn’t want me to play football,” said Sun, who ran track during his freshman year and currently plays basketball on the JV team. “I agreed with him about how unsafe it was, so I ended up not playing.”

At the end of the day, some parents are just unwilling to let their children play a potentially dangerous sport, said Hashemi.

“I don’t personally agree with it, but it’s your parents, so you’ve got to respect what they say,” Hashemi said. “It’s also their decision.”

Those who do choose to play football fully embrace the sport’s relatively dangerous nature for football’s team building benefits, work ethic building and fun. 

“The teamwork and comradery — you don’t get that elsewhere in life,” Bian said. “It’s hard to get that intense feeling in your work; playing football is probably the one time that you’ll find it.”

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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