For $765 million, the NFL last week settled — pending approval — a concussion lawsuit with former players.
What remains decidedly unsettled, however, are the discussions in kitchens across America — including an ongoing one I was privy to this weekend.
My 13-year-old brother has been granted the opportunity to play organized tackle football for the first time. This came after much back-and-forth and hand-wringing, much of it having to do with what is now known about concussions and football.
He is already my size and will get much bigger over the next several years. Among his eighth-grade peers, he is one of the largest on the field and has secured a spot on the “A” team despite not playing in seventh grade. On offense, he will be a left tackle; defensive positions will be assigned Wednesday, with the first game to follow.
And away they go.
A portion of the weekend was spent chatting about the finer points of football — even though, as certain friends are quick to point out, I never played the game. We talked about rules. We talked about strategy. We talked about how he is playing the same position as Michael Oher of Baltimore Ravens and “The Blind Side” fame.
Some of this was conducted in the midst of cooperative games of Madden 25 (I always got to be the quarterback because being much older still has its advantages). Video game football is a great piece of connective tissue from generation to generation, as strange as that might sound.
Some of the discussion, though, was conducted offhand and symbolically at the kitchen table. My brother says participation in football at his school is lower than it has been previously. At the high school level, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that 11-man football participation declined in 2012-13 for the fourth consecutive year.
Concussions and other dangers cannot explain all of this, but they can explain some. The more we know about dangers, the more we rightfully worry. The gap between what was known and what was told provided the heart of the NFL players’ lawsuit against the league, even if the league didn’t have to admit culpability as part of the settlement.
Back at the kitchen table, Dad didn’t sound completely sold. You’re playing this year, he said, but this isn’t the year he’s worried about. Next year is another story.
“I’m playing next year,” my brother said.
“We’ll see,” Dad said.