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On The Rise: Custody Disputes Over High School Football

A Pennsylvania man has gone to court to prevent his 17-year-old son from playing football. According to the New York Times, the case is part of a national trend. As public knowledge regarding the long-term effects of football injuries - and brain injuries in particular - has evolved, there has been a marked "increase in fights over whether to amend custody orders to prevent...children from playing the game."

The extent to which the number of disputes has risen is difficult to quantify, but the Times indicates that, in many parts of the country, football has replaced hockey as the sport most likely to be "at the center of custody battles."

Why prevent a child from playing?

Head injuries incurred while playing football, even if sustained at a relatively young age, have been linked with a number of health issues. These include the onset of depression, migraines, and brain degeneration. Indeed, in a study of 111 brains from former NFL players, 110 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that can lead to severe memory loss and dementia.

It was with such information in mind that the Pennsylvania father asked his son's school to prohibit the child from participating on its football team. Because the father shared legal custody of the boy, the school complied. Soon thereafter, the mother filed an emergency request with a family court judge to let her son play; when that didn't work, she filed for sole custody. Ultimately, though the mother wasn't awarded sole custody, the judge ordered that the son be permitted to play football.

Needless to say, the challenges of the case are being felt on a personal level by each family member. The parents are no longer on speaking terms, and the child refuses to have all but minimal contact with his father. Meanwhile, the father remains determined and distraught. His son has already suffered three concussions, and such trauma is seen as a leading indicator of developing CTE later on.

What's next?

The family has entered court-ordered mediation. However, reports note that they are no closer to resolution than at any prior point. The son still wants to play. The mother wants to let him. The father does not. He (the father) is willing to take the case to trial to, in his view, protect his son. But it's far from clear whether the courts would side with him--and what will happen next fall, when the child turns 18 and becomes a legal adult.

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