Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Football, concussions and protecting Mr. Carter

You have heard about mothers making sacrifices for their children, and the stories usually include some form of heroics. A woman lifts a car off of her baby or forgoes wearing a coat so her little one can stay warm. Mine is not as dramatic but certainly impactful since it involves letting go of something that has been a large part of my life for quite a while.

I recently watched the movie “Concussion” on cable. Starring Will Smith, the movie tells the story of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former NFL players and the dangers of football-related head trauma. It is his work that has inspired modern athletes from a variety of sports to donate their brains upon death to further the research. Normally, I would just view this film as important historical content but now that Mr. Carter is here, I took it deeper than that.

Mr. Carter is just now turning 2 but has already been deemed a tall man. He is expected to be well over 6-feet tall, which means he will likely get the attention of coaches at school. Of course, it is far too soon to determine whether or not my son will even be interested in sports but if what my male friends have said is true it won’t matter. Coaches will approach him anyway and it will rest on him to answer the call. If Mr. Carter doesn’t want to be an athlete, he’ll say no. If he does, he may be willing to try them all. The latter scenario is what I want to make sure I influence in the right way.

I am a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee. While on campus I attended several sporting events, but the majority of my paraphernalia at home represents UT football. From a framed jersey to replicas of football helmets, it is evident that football has long been my favorite sport. Until now. How can I cheer loudest for the guys at Neyland Stadium in front of my son, yet tell him he is not allowed to play the game?

I am a believer that indirect influence by parents is more effective than directly lecturing to a child, so I have decided that other sports must overtake football as a priority in my house. I took down the framed jersey and donated it to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and will replace it with a Pat Summit tribute. I have purchased more Braves attire and have soccer balls in the house. I will return to the sport I played as a student, tennis, and will make the feel of a hardcourt as familiar to him as it was to me. I will still cheer for my Volunteer football team, but just not as exclusively as before.

I know I am not the only factor in my child’s life, and he will make his own decisions on what his preferences are. As his mother, his safety is supposed to be my top priority, and if I become the mother of an athlete I’d much rather mend a broken leg or busted knee than actively contribute to the destruction of his beautiful mind.