Two disparate U.S. cultural figures, basketball star LeBron James and author Malcolm Gladwell, expressed their concerns on Thursday about the dangers of America's most popular sport -- football.
James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers and an NBA All-Star, told ESPN in an interview that he did not want his children, 10-year-old LeBron Jr. and 7-year-old Bryce Maximus, to play the game: “It's a safety thing,” he said.
"We don't want them to play in our household right now until they understand how physical and how demanding the game is... But right now there's no need for it. There's enough sports they can play. They play basketball, they play soccer, they play everything else but football and hockey.
"As a parent you protect your kids as much as possible. I don't think I'm the only one that's not allowing his kids to play football,” James told the network.
In addition to James' comments, journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell said that the nation's most popular sport was a “moral abomination,” in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
Gladwell told the network, “We're not just talking about people limping at the age of 50. We're talking about brain injuries that are causing horrible, protracted, premature death.
“This... is appalling. Can you point to another industry in America which, in the course of doing business, maims a third of its employees?”
Gladwell is a longtime detractor of football, having compared the sport to dog-fighting in the past. Writing in the New Yorker in 2009, Gladwell compared football players to a dog entered in a fight. Gladwell has also called on major U.S. universities to cancel their college football programs, according to Forbes.
James, on the other hand is a football fan. The star athlete was an All-Ohio wide receiver at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, and closely follows the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and Ohio State football teams, and even took his sons to visit the Browns' Ohio training camp this summer, according to The New York Times.
Concerns about the violence in football have been mounting in recent years. The NFL, which for years had denied that professional players suffered from an abnormally high rate of brain damage, admitted in documents submitted to a federal court in September 2014 that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems, and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population, according to the Times.
U.S. President Barack Obama too has expressed concerns about the sport, telling The New Republic: “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. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.”
Football is not the only contact sport around the world to have come in for criticism. Rugby, which bears many similarities to football, and is played widely in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and South America, has been criticized for the numerous spinal injuries its players receive. According to the Daily Telegraph, 110 players in the UK alone have been paralyzed playing the sport.