Commentary

Parental consent

How one dad strives to keep his son safe

Originally Published: January 6, 2011
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

Hand me all the eye-opening data you want. I watched my son's football team go undefeated last season, and I'm a bigger believer than ever in the game's ability to foster camaraderie, clean living and focus. Of course, I am also the dad who encourages an anticoncussion workout, carries cognitive tests on my smartphone and keeps a neurosurgeon on speed-dial. Neurotic? No, just cautious. Here are tactics that make it easier to enjoy a game with my kid in it.


1. CHECK THE HELMET.
Helmets should be snug but not too snug; the pads or air cushions inside need some play to absorb shocks. One sign the hat is too tight: forehead bruises that linger. A sign it's too loose: bumps on the nose. Each manufacturer has different specs for fit, so check their websites. Also, take a look at the National Athletic Trainers Association's safety checklist, at www.nata.org.

2. WORK THE NECK.
"High schoolers are less developed than adults are, so their neck muscles are less able to control the head after a hit," says Steven Broglio of the University of Illinois. Brian Robinson, head of NATA's secondary-school committee, suggests dumbbell side raises and military presses to strengthen the upper trapezius muscles, and isometric exercises such as pressing a hand to the sides and front of a teammate's head as he pushes back.

3. TEST.
At White Plains High in New York, science director Timothy Selg gives the team's linebackers a quiz before and after each gamenot just before and after the seasonto test brain function. Simple stuff, like Mom's maiden name or what number in a series doesn't belong. A drop off of 15-20% from baseline after a game is cause for follow-up. And if your high school has no such testing provisions, then ...

4. ...TALK.
Heading home from a game, I say three words to my son, like "girl, dog, spoon." Later, I ask him to repeat them. Failure to remember those words can signal a head injury. What do you do if you suspect one? Most symptoms clear in a few days, but if they persist, find a local specialist who can do further testing. A good place to start is www.biausa.org/state-affiliates.htm.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"