Should we let our sons play football?

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and by kickoff I'll have a pot of chili on the stove and a couple of beer mugs chilling in the freezer.

I'll sit down with the rest of the nation to watch over-hyped commercials and Beyoncé's redemption from "lip-syncgate." Oh, yeah, and the football game.

Sixty minutes of full-throttle collisions among men makes for a good show, especially when you throw in what may be Ray Lewis' final acts of brutality.

I want to pour a cold one and enjoy the spectacle. This year, though, a question dogs me like an unrelenting linebacker wearing No. 52: Will I let my own son play football?

We've heard a lot lately about NFL players with brain disease that may be linked to dementia, depression, even suicide.

Turns out those hits we love to wince at from the comfort of our couches may cause brain damage that builds up over time with every concussion. Even more-mild strikes to the head, neck and upper torso take a toll.

And when it comes to kids, scientists already know that three or more concussions before age 15 bring a higher risk of permanent memory loss and trouble concentrating.

That's enough to scare any parent.

President Barack Obama told the New Republic last month, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football."

The president gets to speculate. Those of us with sons who show an interest in the game will have to make the hard decisions.

So I called a couple of doctors who routinely deal with concussions in their practices, in hopes of gaining a little clarity. It turns out this parental dilemma is more complicated than I thought.

Not because football is so uniquely violent, but because other sports are also prone to sending kids to the sidelines with concussions.

Dr. Elizabeth Davis specializes in pediatric sports medicine at Orlando Health. She and her partners are the team doctors for the football programs at Evans High, Apopka High and Windermere Preparatory.

She's seen some scary stuff: 14- and 16-year-olds coming in for their second and third concussions, for example.

"I have seen two patients with multiple concussions, and I made the recommendation to the parents to take them out of contact sports," Davis said. "Both sets of parents agreed. It was almost like they wanted the OK to tell their kid that."

But those patients weren't football players. They were hurt on soccer and lacrosse fields.

Both sports also rank high in numbers of injuries among students.

Does this mean parents should question whether any contact sport is safe enough for their child?

Every sport carries some level of risk. But I tend to think that's outweighed by the good that comes with sport.

Physical fitness, leadership skills, discipline, team building and — let's not forget — fun are worth the risk ... if the right safety precautions are in place.

CHICAGO

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