In a time when groundbreaking research studies are revealing the dangers and the long-term consequences of concussion, many parents find themselves in disagreement about whether their child should play football. When those parents are divorced and share custody of the child, things can get complicated.
The New York Times highlighted the story of a Pennsylvania family in which the father, who used to support his boys’ desires to play football, is now in a contentious custody battle with his ex-wife because he wants to forbid their youngest son from continuing to play high school football. She disagrees and is requesting that the court grant her sole custody so that she may allow her son to pursue football. Mr. Orsini, a former lawyer, is willing to take the custody battle to a trial, while Mrs. Orsini holds fast to her conviction that the boy is fully aware of the risks, and should be allowed to play football if he chooses to do so.
The Orsinis are participating in court-ordered mediation, but the two sides are not getting any closer to agreement. Mr. Orsini fears that the clock will run out if the case continues to drag on because his son turns 18 in November.
Is this really a matter for the courts?
This is not the only child custody case involving football. The Times story reported that a major law firm with more than 270 lawyers on staff in 40 states finds about a third of its attorneys seeing an increase in battles between parents over whether a child should be allowed to play football.
Playing tennis or soccer, or joining the chess club, or starting dance or pottery lessons: these activities lead to discussions between divorced parents all the time when they share legal custody. So why does the choice to play football seem different?
Perhaps it is because of this: Another New York Times article considered the results of a Boston University study based on a sample of 214 former football players, with an average age of 51. Of those players, 43 played through high school, 103 played through college and the remaining 63 played in the National Football League. Researchers found that the players in all the groups who participated in sports before age 12 had a two-fold risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function, and a three-fold risk of clinically elevated depression scores. Robert Stern, one of the study’s authors said, “The brain is going through this incredible time of growth between the years of 10 and 12, and if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life.”
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), has said that allowing children under the age of 18 play football is child abuse. He explained that the fundamental definition of child abuse is the intentional exposure of a child to the risk of injury.
We’re not neurosurgeons. We don’t want to wade into the debate about whether or not football is dangerous. But when terms like “child abuse” are being used, we can see why these types of cases may become more prevalent in our court systems.
At the Law Offices of LaFevor & Slaughter, our clients benefit from our knowledge and experience when it comes to deciding child custody in divorce. You may give us a call at 865.272.4454 or you can complete our contact form to schedule a consultation with a competent Knoxville divorce lawyer today.