Retired NFL Player Kurt Warner Puts Family First

We came across this incredible editorial written by Kurt Warner for the June 12, 2012 issue of USA Today. It blasts through stereotypes on many levels, from the notion that football players are “dumb jocks” to the perception that the game is all-important. Warner has delivered a thought-provoking essay about the issue of concussions in youth sports in a style that is nothing less than poignantly eloquent.

Kurt Warner and son, Kade. (Courtesy Brenda Warner)

Like many Americans, I am passionate about the game of football. I love the strategy, the competitiveness, the discipline and the effort required to succeed as a team. I respect the values the game teaches. But I’m acutely aware of the one aspect of the game I don’t love — the violence. Kurt Warner and son Kade.

Recently, with the shock of Junior Seau’s suicide fresh on my mind, I shared my concerns about my own boys playing football because of the risks of concussions. Some people labeled me a traitor, and others said I was sabotaging the NFL. How dare I criticize a game that gave me so much?

As a parent, I expressed my unease precisely for that reason. I love the game deeply, and love my kids even more deeply. That’s why we need to do everything in our power to make the game as safe as possible.

I’ve spent 22 years helping raise a child who has a traumatic brain injury. I understand the perils that these conditions can cause firsthand. Our son Zack, who suffered an accident as a baby, is an awesome blessing, but it moves me to watch the daily struggles he endures. For that reason alone, I hope people can understand my fear of placing any of my kids in an environment where brain trauma is a possible byproduct of the competition. My sentiments about my boys playing football are reflective of that.

Sports and life lessons

To be clear, few things bring me greater joy than watching my boys play football. They are learning some incredible life lessons and absorbing the values the sport instills. But I know the violence intrinsic to the sport. That knowledge carries as much, if not greater, importance.

I spent 12 seasons as an NFL quarterback. I suffered concussions. I was trained to be tough and play through injury. No doctor could say for sure whether I suffered lingering effects. Those concussions led me to walk away from the game I love. As my boys continue to play, I worry about them every time they get hit, just as my wife worried about me every time I got hit.

More than worrying

It isn’t enough, though, for parents to worry. We all know that injuries are part of football. We fall short as guardians if we don’t try to reduce traumatic injuries such as concussions, especially with the information we now have. If we’re going to be supportive of our kids’ passion to play, then we need to educate them about the risks as well.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is doing all he can to improve safety. There are signs of improvement through better equipment or changing what is acceptable in terms of hard hits. NFL protocol mandates that any player showing concussion-like symptoms cannot re-enter a game.

Last year, my son Kade was required by his Pop Warner team to undergo a baseline test to analyze brain function in a normal state so that if he suffers a concussion, officials have a comparison. These and other safeguards are helping players, coaches, parents and doctors to treat concussions and avoid putting someone back into a situation where more damage can be done.

For me, the benefits almost always outweighed the risks. The game helped shape me into who I am today. When I think about my own boys, especially with Father’s Day coming up, it’s sometimes hard to feel that the thrills outweigh the dangers.

Consequently, I support all improvements in player safety in hopes that the game has a long and healthy run as the greatest team sport in the world. We owe it to the generations of players to come, and as parents, we owe it to our kids to educate and protect them.

Kurt Warner is a retired quarterback, a two-time NFL MVP and an NFL Network analyst.

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