By Evan Ream
* Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series examining the effect of concussions on participation in high school football, specifically in Davis and especially now that the long-term effects are well-known. Today, we examine the numerical and anecdotal data gathered in a recent survey of Davis parents.
In October, The Davis Enterprise sent out a survey regarding football via the Da Vinci Charter Academy listserv. The respondents were parents with children at any of the junior high or high schools in Davis. The parents provided information on their children’s participation in different athletic activities and then answered these two driving questions:
1. Would you consider yourself a fan of football?
2. What is your opinion related to your child playing football?
a. Not in favor
b. Some reservations
d. Somewhat supportive
e. Enthusiastic support
Of the 98 complete responses received, 40 percent of these parents considered themselves fans of football.
More telling, though, were the responses to the second question. Fifty percent of parents responded that they are not in favor of their child playing football, while another 27 percent reported that they had some reservations.
“We definitely did not want our kids playing tackle football as young children,” said Beth McManis, mother of two former students in the Davis school district and one current high schooler, all of whom play sports. “I personally feel that younger kids should play flag football, and tackle football is more appropriate once kids are in high school.
“While the research is mixed regarding the association between playing football and aggressive behavior off the field, there seems to be a trend that individuals in groups in which hyper-masculinity is a large part of the culture are more apt to have less positive opinions regarding women and obtaining appropriate consent from women,” McManis continued.
“Football is also one of the only sports in which girls seem to be mostly relegated to the sidelines in a supportive role while the boys get to play the sport.
“For all of these reasons, we preferred that our kids not play football.”
When asked by The Enterprise if any of her negative views toward football had anything to do with current concussion research, McManis responded, “Given the latest research on head injuries and increased rate of subsequent dementia-related illnesses in football players, I definitely would not allow my child to play tackle football prior to high school. If my child was a late bloomer, I would be reluctant to allow them to play as a freshman or sophomore.
“I have been very blunt about the consequences (of football) and told (my kids) that they could be drooling in their soup by the age of 30. Even for teenagers, who tend to be invincible, they pause at the thought of losing brain function later in their life.”
Despite the negative feelings about their kids playing football from parents like McManis, The Enterprise’s survey did find a number of parents who are supportive.
Eleven percent of parents surveyed are neutral, while 9 percent are somewhat supportive and 4 percent provided enthusiastic support.
Group the results together, and 24 percent of parents surveyed are not opposed to their child playing football while 76 percent of parents are.
That means there are nearly double the number of parents who are fans of football (40 percent of parent survey) than there are parents who wouldn’t be against their kid playing football (24 percent).
But if parents are football fans, they are more likely to be in favor of their child playing football.
In addition, parents with more than one child are almost 50 percent more likely to be opposed to their children playing football.
Because the survey was extended to parents regardless of the age or gender of their child or children, there are some other important observations to make.
First, no correlation was found between the gender of the child and whether the parent was for or against a child playing football.
Only a couple of girls have played football at DHS in the past 10 years. According to the National Federation of State High Associations, only 1,804 girls participated in American high school football in the 2012 season.
Second, parents of junior high-aged kids also are just as likely to be in favor of letting their child play football as are the parents of high school students.
This suggests that there is no “babying” effect of parents worrying about children who are younger.
Third, there was no correlation found between parents’ attitude toward participation in football with their child’s actual participation in other sports.
The survey did not uncover anything about why some people have a negative opinion about football, nor did it collect any data on sports injuries, so no conclusions can be drawn about the actual reasons of the general negativity to participation in football in Davis.
However, one parent who is in favor of having her child play football is Jill Kasapligil, a local substitute teacher and mother of Cosmo Kasapligil, 14, who played on the junior varsity team this past year.
“There were several concussions on the JV team this year, all (I believe) during practices,” Kasapligil said. “The kids that were concussed reported having a hard time focusing and doing school work for a while.
“Like all parenting decisions, allowing football participation is a balancing act, one that requires weighing the risk of injuries — concussions in particular — against the benefits — improved self-esteem, focus, improved intellectual skills — as well as a strong sense of well-being Cosmo gets out of belonging to a team.
“Both of Cosmo’s grandmothers worry about my decision to let him play,” Kasapligil added. “I always remind them that in a year or two’s time, we will definitely allow him to drive a highly flammable vehicle out on public streets and highways with no control over all the other vehicles and drivers around him, and that I would be remiss in my parenting duties if I did not allow him to learn to do this.
“In comparison, the risks of playing football seem minimal.”
But why let your child risk anything involving football?
“I am not an athletic person myself, and my husband was raised by European parents who had no interest in American sports,” Kasapligil said. “However I do understand what happens when a child has an interest that sparks and becomes a burning passion. When that happens — whether the interest is classical piano, art, writing or football — how can a parent shut it down?
“Cosmo’s interest in football has made him physically fit, but it has also inspired him to focus on his academics, concentrate intently on his coach’s instructions and persevere through heat, cold, pain and disappointment.
“These are life lessons that will take him beyond the football field.”
Tyler Poland, who played in just four games in two years as a member of the Blue Devil varsity team because of concussions and was profiled in The Enterprise on Friday added:
“If I had kids who wanted to play football, it would be a tough decision to let them. I think the game teaches a lot of great values and helps shape you into a strong person, but there are obviously a lot of risks that come with it, more so than any other sport, I think.
“I probably wouldn’t hold my son out of football, but I would definitely make sure he’s the right age and not start him too early and make sure he knows the risks that come with playing.”
— Evan Ream is a freelance journalist based in Davis. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam. Karen Thome, an economist at UC Davis, and Steve Legé contributed to this report.