Would You Let Your Kids Play Football?

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    You have grandchildren?

    I've got a grandson --

    Do they play football?

    Nope.

    How come?

    I love my kids. My children, you know, my heart. But my children are grown up now. I have two grandchildren, one 7, and by the time this airs, he'll be about 4. But they are the light of my life, and I just love them to death, and I cannot in good conscience allow my grandson to play knowing what I know. Now, his father might want him to play because his father doesn't know. But knowing what I know, I don't want him to play. He's got golf clubs; I take him swimming; we do all kinds of stuff. But I don't want him to play football, because I think this young, smart black kid, I want him to be intelligent; I want him to be brilliant; I want him to be able to use his brain and not his brawn. And I want him to be the best that he can be. ...

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    Dr. Ann McKee   Neuropathologist at Boston University

    Dr. Ann McKee is the director of neuropathology at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Mass. In her research, McKee has discovered the disease in dozens of former football players. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE's Michael Kirk on May 20, 2013.

    If you had children who were 8 and 10 and 12, would they play football?

    Eight, 10, 12? No, they would not.

    Why?

    Because the way football is being played currently, that I've seen, it's dangerous. It's dangerous, and it could impact their long-term mental health. You only get one brain. The thing you want your kids to do most of all is succeed in life and be everything they can be. And if there's anything that may infringe on that, that may limit that, I don't want my kids doing it.

    High school OK?

    You know, I just don't feel like I'm in a position to say anything is OK right now. I'm not going to -- I'm not even sure about high school football, even well-managed high school football. We see this in some high schoolers. Let's figure out what this is and how to prevent it, and then I'll say we should all be playing football.

    College?

    I have a lot of college football players in my Brain Bank with CTE.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    And actually the question that was asked to the president -- I don't know if you have sons. Would you let your son play football?

    I would -- well coached, well protected. For other reasons, I don't know that I would want my son to play professional football. It's just there is all kinds of other challenges. But young kids, well coached, protected, proper attention to the issues, yeah, I'd let my young son play for sure.

    But one of the things that you brought up is these multiple hits, these constant hits that aren't concussions, they're still concussive. How do you prevent that?

    Well, would you let me have him play linebacker? I don't know. Quarterback? Yeah, he can play quarterback.

    There is going to be an awful lot of quarterbacks on that field.

    There is only one guy who can talk in the huddle, so it could be a real problem. ...

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    Now, I wonder how you feel about football now, as you reflect on it. It was obviously a huge part of your family, but now there's this diagnosis that suggests that it at least might have had something to do with the decisions your dad made. I wonder how you view the sport now.

    Football will always be in my life. I'm not going to lie. I still love the sport. I just think there can be some sort of just small, minuscule changes that can help protect the players, because I'm still going to go watch football games. I'm still going to support whoever wants to play the sport, because I love it, too. It's been in my life forever, and I'm not going to just give that up. And it was a huge love of his life, too, and it made him who he was. So I'm not going to say, "Oh, football, no, that's not part of me." No. It is part of me, and it will always be.

    So I still fully support people watching football and people playing football. I just think that there are some things that need to change, and there's just a sense of awareness that needs to be given to the public. And I feel like that can help so many more people than we think.

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    Lisa McHale   She was shocked when her husband, who had never had a concussion, was diagnosed with CTE.

    McHale’s husband Tom, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman, was the sixth former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. Here, she describes her shock at the diagnosis, particularly since she had never known Tom to be diagnosed with a concussion. McHale now works as director of family relations at the Sports Legacy Institute. She spoke to FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on May 21, 2013.

    I've got to ask you, are your kids still playing football?

    They are not. They are not. They actually played the year after Tom passed away. Tom passed away in May, and they were all fired up to begin the season. And Tom had been a coach with them during flag and whatnot. And the younger one, who was now just 8, it was going to be his first year playing tackle, and he was so excited about it. ...

    I actually remember sitting at a practice and hearing the young one, the 8-year-old, they were doing that drill where you line up and run at each other as fast as you can. And I remember him getting all excited to the coach: "Yes, that's what I want to hear, the crack of the helmets against each other." And I remember sitting there thinking, oh, no, this can't be right.

    So after that season -- it was in that off-season that I read the book and whatnot. And that's when, when the following season was approaching, they were all fired up to play again. I said: "Hey, guys, you know what? What do you think about taking a year off, because if you do that, we can spend a little more time with Grandpa in the Bahamas, and you don't have to be back in July. And there's all these benefits to taking a year off of football." And they both said, "Yeah, OK, Mom."

    It wasn't a problem talking them out of it. It was all actually very easy for me. ... It really was later that particularly the younger one -- and the high schooler now -- says, "Mom, can I play football if I only play this position?" And they ask. And I say, "You know what, guys, I'm just not comfortable with it." But I think they give me more flap just to give me flap than they really care. ...

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