Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who spent 13 seasons as one of the NFL’s most dominating forces, will not allow his grandson to play football over concerns about long-term brain injuries.
“I’ve sort of made the decision, as the dictator of my family, that my grandson was not going to play football,” Carson said May 4, per Nathaniel Vinton of the New York Daily News. “He understands where I’m coming from. He’s not going to be playing football. I get him involved with other sports.”
Carson, 62, was speaking in Albany, New York, to a group of state lawmakers. He has had post-concussion syndrome for a long time and has become an advocate for brain health since the end of his playing career. He was speaking to lawmakers in support of a bill that would ban tackle football for children 13 years of age or younger.
“I think that parents should think long and hard about what they’re signing their kids up for,” Carson said. “There is definitely a correlation between head trauma and problems down the line, whether it’s in older adults with dementia or young people with post-concussion syndrome. It affects their quality of life.”
Carson played for the Giants from 1976 to 1988, making nine Pro Bowls. He and Lawrence Taylor rank among the best linebacker pairing in the sport’s history, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl XXI victory. They are both members of the team’s Ring of Honor, and Carson joined Taylor in the Hall of fame in 2006 after a lengthy wait.
All the accomplishments Carson had on the field began taking a toll soon after he retired. He was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome in 1990 and has dealt with ongoing symptoms for more than a quarter century. Vinton wrote of Carson’s day-to-day sacrifices just to deal with the pain:
The damage was permanent, but there were coping mechanisms. He always carries sunglasses on flights, to protect himself from the sudden flash of sunlight when fellow passengers raise their shades. He selects restaurant seating to minimize unfiltered noise, which can spark a migraine headache. He doesn’t look at television screens from certain angles.
Carson is far from the only former player to express a similar sentiment. Former quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Brett Favre are just a few of the dozens of players who said they’d be concerned about their children playing football. Jim Trotter of ESPN.com also spoke to a number of current players, and most of them said they’d prefer their children play football at a later age—if at all.
Most of the worry stems from damage that repeated head trauma can do to the developing brain. A study by the American Academy of Neurology found that “more than 40 percent of retired National Football League (NFL) players in a recent study had signs of traumatic brain injury based on sensitive MRI scans called diffusion tensor imaging.”
Posthumous studies done at the University of Boston found 87 of 91 (95.6 percent) former NFL players suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition linked to repetitive trauma.
Carson said he will not donate his brain to any studies.
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