Why I decided to ALLOW My Son to Play Youth Football

Originally posted in our Facebook Page. Re-published with authority from the author, Kristin Jones-Bleier, May 24, 2018

Over the last few months I have read article after article as to why mothers choose not to allow their sons to play youth football. Being a parent who allows her son to play, I felt like another voice needed to be heard. I have a son who is built, as many say, to play football. Jack has always been athletic. From the time he could walk, he has played many different sports. We started with soccer, then t-ball turned into baseball, and basketball, he also tried a year of rugby. Over and over Jack asked to play football and I told him he needed to start with flag. Like many parents, I listened to others first, and projected my fears onto my son.

After a year of flag football and hearing Jack complain over and over that he was bored and really wanted to play tackle football, I started to do research. I read articles about the potential dangers. I researched the youth football league in my home town of Livermore, CA. I went to a few youth football games. I talked to parents whose children were playing the sport. I talked to a friend who helped start the league and the more I talked and read, the more I leaned toward allowing Jack to play.

When I made the final decision to allow him to play, I was amazed at the unsolicited comments I received. No one seemed to care that he played baseball, basketball or soccer, but almost everyone had an opinion about him playing football. I was told I was an irresponsible parent for allowing him to play. I was told I was putting his life in jeopardy. I was told that I was stupid for allowing him to play. I asked these people if they had done their homework? Had they ever watched a youth football game? What articles had they read about the sport? I was actually surprised by the responses, probably 99.9 percent of the people that had an opinion, had never watched a youth football game or done any research. They were basing their opinion on one article they had read or what they had heard about the NFL. Now, let’s be honest, there have been issues with the NFL, but youth football is NOT the NFL. There is no way I would allowed my 12-year-old to play in a NFL football game, I am not that crazy.

The conversation around youth football is at an all-time high. Many states, mine included (California), have been working to pass laws to ban children under that age of 12 from playing youth football. In some states the ban is no one under that age of 14 years old could play youth football. With these conversations at an all-time high, and all the reporting about concussions, many people question why I still allow Jack to play football. I am not stupid. I know that every time Jack steps on the field, there is a risk he could get hurt. I also know that every time he steps on the mound to pitch a game, he could be hit with a ball. Every time he steps up to the plate, he could be hit with a fastball. I also know, that with the world we live in today, every time I drop him off at school there is a risk of a someone showing up at his school with a gun.

For me, the decision was made based on what my husband and I felt right for Jack. We did our homework and will continue to allow him to play. As Jack gets ready for his fourth year of youth football, I am still asked why I allow him to play. My answer is always the same, because I believe I know what is best for my son.

I am very much against the youth football ban. I am not against it, as some believe, because my head is in the sand and I don’t think there is a chance of Jack getting hurt. I am against it because this is about my choice. Not the government, not another parent, not a former NFL player, my choice. I am the one who will do the homework and make the decision if my son plays youth football.

Football is not for everyone, but neither is baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer or any other sport. I would never make someone else’s decision regarding their child. A ban against youth football is not the answer. If legislatures want to do something for youth football, work with the leagues across the states on regulations. Talk to coaches about how they are working to make youth football safe for kids of all ages. I have talked to many coaches and they want to work with legislatures on these issues, but these representatives have stated they want youth football banned. There is no middle ground.

The decision to play youth football should be left up to the parent, not the government. This is not about who is right or who is wrong, this is about choice. The choice should be mine regarding the sports Jack plays. I am his parent, the government is not my son’s parent, therefore I know what is best for my child. To parents that think I am putting my child in harmful situations, or that I am a child abuser, I am not. I will always have Jack’s best interest at heart and I will always work to make the right decision for my son.

I am not a bad mom because Jack plays football and no mom is bad because they choose not to allow their son to play football. I think the conversation needs to be about choice and allowing parents to be parents.

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An Historic Moment

On Thursday, April 26, 2018, we received word that AB2108 was being pulled back by the authors Assemblymembers McCarty and Gonzalez Fletcher because they didn’t have the support of the Committee to hear the bill, under the leadership of Assemblymember Kansen Chu.

A tight group of 5 men helped to orchestrate this result, with the help of many others, visible and invisible. While this California Coalition did the heavy lifting of organizing 130,000 members of the youth football community in California, the real work was done by the boots on the ground in all of the communities of California from Sacramento to Oakland to San Francisco to San Jose to Bakersfield to Los Angeles, San Diego, and every hometown in between.

As a co-founder of the California Coalition, I am deeply humbled by this outcome. Our opposition letter details the why and what of our opposition as well as recommendations on how the State of California could actually make youth football safer.

AB2108 failed. It failed for a bunch of reasons that will be dissected over time, by me for sure, and others.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement of the fate of AB2108, I have these thoughts to share.

  • When the facts don’t line up, people need to tell a story, to themselves and others.
  • In the end, football is not as dangerous as some people say. Like all things in life, you can live safely or unsafely, and how people live / choose cannot be legislated beyond a boundary, based on the prevailing facts.
  • AB2108 was intended to take away our choices based on a false narrative.

So, where do we go from here?

We now need to come together as a football community in a new way to optimize the safety of our sport across the great State of CA as well as America.

Stay tuned for best practices in the form of process, technology, and coaching culture to help everyone increase their football safety.

The Mission of Save Youth Football still holds true. We remain committed to supporting the youth of California and America so they can play the safest form of football possible.

Cheers to the Football Community in America!

Joe Rafter

Founder of SaveYouthFootball.com

Co-Founder of the Save Youth Football California Coalition

President of the Southern Marin Football and Cheer Association