A new chapter in life always brings a certain amount of excitement and apprehension.
In September, my wife Melissa and I found out we were pregnant with our first child. It’s something we’ve been talking about since we first started dating, the thought of having kids and creating our own nuclear family.
When the pregnancy test turned up positive, we were full of joy, although still astonished that we were actually getting a little one to call our own.
We announced it to the social media world on December 10, 2017, the same day my dad passed away from cancer the year before. It was a bittersweet announcement, knowing my dad would’ve so loved our baby and getting the opportunity to spend time with his grandchildren.
As some of you know, my dad Rick Klassen was a professional football player for 10 years. He played in the Canadian Football League at a position, on the defensive line, that is not friendly to one’s brain. His brain took the biggest beating out of his whole body, and following his passing in 2016 that very brain was analyzed and detected with Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
CTE is a condition my dad knew he had and the results were not entirely surprising to our family.
I grew up idolizing his football career and what he accomplished. Grey Cup champion. Member of the B.C. Lions 50th season All-Time Dream Team. Wall of Fame inductee. The list goes on.
The notoriety he received, both around the community and at football games we attended in my earlier years, was something I wanted. I saw how people admired him as a football player. It’s partly why I sought the limelight as a television reporter.
But the day my dad was diagosed with CTE and results hit the airwaves, it changed my perspective and how I view sports. While it’s still entertainment I enjoy, I can now put myself in the players’ shoes and somewhat understand the incredible risk in which they’re putting themselves, as well as the potential reprecussions they will face after retirement. I saw those reprecussions first-hand through my dad’s inability to control his emotions.
Furthermore, as much notoriety or fame as my soon-to-be-born child (boy or girl) may receive, it’s not worth the risks associated with contact sports. My wife Melissa and I have talked extensively about how we’re going to handle our children in sport, and at this point our kids won’t be playing football. After seeing what my dad and our family went through, it’s not happening. I’m stopping the cycle.
Hockey, on the other hand, is a whole other story. As a Canadian I grew up playing hockey, so that’s still in play. Then again, it’s a violent sport with heavy contact to the head at times. It will be a situation, if our kids decide to lace up the skates, where we monitor them. Once they get to the age where they’re hitting, we’ll just need to sit them out if we feel their brain’s been rattled.
That approach to sports, where parents aren’t afraid to sit their kids out for long periods of time until their brains heal, is something parents of all athletes should implement, especially those who are determined to send their kids to the big league. Parents should be educated on brain injuries and the true risks involved. My goal is to have all parents whose kids are involved in contact sports be required to take a course on concussions, the signs and symptoms, and when to know to sit their kids out. A concussion is like any injury and needs to be addressed.
For parents or athletes striving to play professionally, especially in a contact sport, remember that after retirement, even if an athlete is in their mid-30s, they still have 50 or more years of life to live. From what we know about CTE, athletes may not fully feel the affects during or shortly after their playing days. But as they age, it will get progressively worse and do serious damage, both to the individual’s brain as well as family and friends at large.
I don’t want that for my children and I am going to do everything in my power to protect them, whether that’s in sports or elsewhere.
Written by Chad Klassen