Why LeBron James Doesn’t Let His Kids Play Football

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LeBron’s two sons made a few heartwarming appearances during the 2014 NBA Season, specifically in those omnipresent Samsung ads, but there’s at least one thing that’s totally off the table in the James household — they won’t be playing football. On the surface, this seems like a bit of a contradiction to LeBron’s own youth, because even though he had been earmarked for basketball glory for what seemed like an eternity, he was also an All-State wide receiver while he was in high school, and has gone on the record saying that he’d love to have a chance at playing in the NFL, so clearly this prohibition isn’t born out of an inherent distaste for the game. He’s made no secret of his love for the Dallas Cowboys, at any rate. There’s no confusion here: LeBron is clearly a football fan. No, this is about health, and safety.

“”Only basketball, baseball, and soccer are allowed in my house,” James said to reporters (what, no love for lacrosse, LeBron?) before clarifying that it was, indeed, a decision motivated by the health risks associated with football — he didn’t say it explicitly, but our assumption is the propensity for concussions and other brain injuries that are unique to that game, since there are no athletic activities that are entirely free from an injury risk. In this regard, the world’s best basketball player sounds a little bit like the former smoker who is cautioning others against the habit, since the information about football’s possible relationship to a poor life afterward wasn’t widely available when James was his sons’ age — his oldest, LeBron Jr., is 10 and his youngest, Bryce Maximus, is 7 — in the early 90s. At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s strictly an analogy, not an equation.

This leads into one of the very real concerns about the future of football, though. One that’s amplified by LeBron’s role as a significant public figure in the sports universe. Specifically, if there is ever a distinct, definitive correlation drawn between playing the game and suffering serious brain damage, the cost of insurance is going to go through the roof, to the point where the NFL, now a billion dollar behemoth, could be reduced to the shadier corners of public appreciation — following the path laid down by boxing. That’s what would happen if it became too expensive to insure at the high school level, also known as the first step in the feeder system that leads to the professional leagues.

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In short, it’s hard to find much fault with James’s statement, even before you wander into the human reality of the situation, namely that they’re his kids and he has the right to raise them the way he sees fit, despite how the NFL and football’s proponents would perhaps wish that his entire public relationship with the game was one of a devoted fan (if you follow James on Twitter, you know he’s sending out a steady stream of football love to everyone from Randy Moss to Johnny Manziel). He could’ve dodged the question, we suppose, but that would be disingenuous as well. It could also have been the steady stream of injuries this week, even though they pile up every season, it’s hard to shake things like Cam Newton being visibly eviscerated on the field or listening to Carson Palmer tear his ACL in real time, particularly when those are the “good options” compared to the concussion lawsuits and the dementia.

If you’re emotionally invested in sports at all, you see these things, and while they’re definitely risks everyone knows about when they sign up to play any sport at any level, it makes a bit of sense for a parent to want to set up circumstances to ensure that their kids are as safe as possible, particularly when it comes to being active. That’s all James is doing, but because of who he is, it could become a referendum on the game itself.