MSNBC has done a terrific story on the problem of concussions for school-age female soccer players. Girls, the experts the network interviewed, are particularly vulnerable to concussions, second only to football players in terms of risk.
But what's disappointing is the questions the reporters raised to the players and their parents: Why take the risk? Why continue to play the game?
We're not talking about skydiving here, or drag racing. This is a sport. It is a contact sport. Girls and women are more than capable of playing competitive, contact sports. The rules of the game, as well as the equipment used, should be designed to protect the players (male or female) against concussions and other damaging injuries. But why even suggest that the girls just give up soccer?
Yes, it's true that the whole soccer culture has gotten a little out of control, with parents getting as involved in the play as their child athletes. Team sports for kids are supposed to be for the kids, not the parents. Many of us have been at student games and wanted to toss out parents who are screaming or backseat coaching from the stands. But the answer to that problem, as well as the concussion problem, is not to discourage girls from soccer or other competitive sports.
Title IX, which forced schools to achieve parity in sports offered for males and females, has had a tremendous impact for the positive on the girls and women. Females who participate in competitive sports are more confident. They see their bodies as instruments of athletics and not just as something to dress up. They learn (we hope, unless they have bad parents) to win gracefully and to lose gracefully. They learn that competition is not just for boys and men, and that makes the females more ready to compete in the work world later on.
We should be long past the era when we accepted injuries—even the occasional devastating one—among male football and hockey players, but couldn't imagine it among female athletes. It's the same mindset that had people for so long unable to accept the idea of women in combat. Women now do fight and die in wars, and those deaths are tragic, too. But that doesn't stop the nation from going to war.
So why discourage girls or anyone else from soccer—especially when childhood obesity is such a troubling trend? Make the game safer; make the rules safer, and make the equipment better. Girls might need to be protected from the threat of concussions. But "protecting" them by steering them away from soccer or any other sport makes them weaker in the long term.