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Pittsburgh Family’s Debate Over Son Playing Tackle Football Heads to Court

The debate over youth football safety has become a legal battle for one family.


As the debate about kids playing tackle football rages on in the court of public opinion, one Pittsburgh family is taking the issue into actual court. John Orsini wants to stop his ex-wife from allowing their youngest son to play football, and he’s willing to fight her in court in order to make it happen.

It’s normal that two separated parents would have differing opinions on what is safe for their child to do, but Orsini is hoping to make his case with medical data as his backup. He wants to stop his son from playing football, citing overwhelming data that links repeated head trauma over the course of someone’s lifetime to potentially deadly brain damage.

This is one case in which one parent can’t simply write off the other one as being overprotective. It doesn’t help Orisini’s ex-wife’s case that – according to a report by the New York Times – Orsini’s son already has a history of concussions.

While there’s no official data that suggests an uptick in court battles over whether a child should be allowed to play football, the New York Times does cite lawyer word-of-mouth that suggests there is, in fact, a correlation: in that same report, divorce lawyer Joe Cordell notes that, among the 270 lawyers working for his firm all across the US, the number of court battles surrounding this specific question has increased.

Orsini didn’t always oppose his son playing football; in fact, Orsini himself played when he was a kid. However, after his son received several concussions from playing sports, Orsini was taken aback by how relaxed his son’s doctors were about the repeated injuries. After doing some of his own research, Orsini decided to stop his son from playing football, much to the chagrin of his ex-wife, who took him to family court over the matter. Her reasoning, according to her lawyer, is their son, a junior in high school, is old enough to accept the risks if he wants to play. Their case is scheduled to go to trial soon.

Local and state governments all over the country – especially in big football states like Pennsylvania, California, and Texas – are trying to address the issue of child safety within football. Kids who play youth football often don’t have bodies that are developed enough to safely withstand the impact of being tackled on the football field. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the M.D. who first linked repeated head trauma in football to degenerative brain disease, adamantly calls letting kids play football “child abuse.” Not to mention, when kids specialize in sports like football, the rigorous year-round training can often result in overuse injuries.