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Father defends decision to let his young son play tackle football: ‘It toughens you up’

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ABC News.(NEW YORK) — A father is opening up about his decision to let his young son play tackle football, despite studies linking the sport to brain damage and concussions, saying he thinks football “toughens you up,” and has brought him closer to his son.

“It’s scary,” Luke Zaleski, the former research director for GQ magazine, told ABC News. “There’s been a lot of news and … conversation about the risks. So people are just using common sense.”

Zaleski, who played youth football and remains a huge fan of the sport, said it caught him off guard when his then 8-year-old son Wyatt asked if he could play tackle football.

“I never thought about whether or not he would play until he asked. And then it was like, ‘Oh, my God he actually wants to play football,'” he said.

Zaleski is no stranger to the risks of tackle football, and has been covering concussions extensively with GQ over the past few years.

“In fact, the movie … the ‘Concussion’ movie that Will Smith starred in was based on a GQ article,” Zaleski said, referring to the 2015 film. “So I knew that it was dangerous.”

Zaleski said he was torn between his safety concerns and his young son’s desire to play the sport, before finally deciding to allow Wyatt, now 9, to play. He chronicled his soul searching in a GQ article titled, “What Kind of Father Lets His Son Play Football.”

“I started thinking a lot about my past,” Zaleski said. “And what the game meant to me as … a young player, his age … I kept coming back to how much fun I had … and how hard it was.

“I want him to be the man he deserves to become or reach his potential. I think that football is going to be crucial in that. I really do. Because it’s scary, because it’s hard,” he added. “It toughens you up.”

Zaleski added that football was always a sport that he loved, saying, “I like tackling. I like running. I like catching. I like throwing … everything about football, I love.”

He said that he “would’ve been infuriated” if his parents had not allowed him to play.

While Zaleski decided to allow his son to play, his decision goes against a growing trend of parents refusing to allow their children to play the sport.

Since 2009, the number of children aged 6 through 12 who play tackle football has gone down by nearly 20 percent, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

A report published earlier this year from researchers at Brown University stated that all but one of the 111 former NFL pro football players whose brains they studied had a progressive brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Despite his decision, Zaleski said he still has some reservations.

“We’ve been taking it day by day. And if he does get hurt … it’ll be my fault in many ways,” he added. “I had some bad dreams about it. I had some heart-to-hearts with my wife.”

He adds that he feels football has brought him closer to his son, saying, “It’s been very special, a lot of one-on-one time.”

“I see him walk off the field with his helmet in his hand and his face is all red and he’s all sweaty. And I know he gave 100 percent out there,” he said.

“I am honest with myself that, like, it might not be the right … decision. But it seems like the right decision for us so far,” he said. “We’re going through this together.”
 
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