For N.F.L. Mothers, ‘Injury Is at the Forefront of Your Mind’

As with any great American endeavor, women have been in football from the very beginning. As far back as 1926, women were playing the sport, albeit as halftime entertainment during home games of the Frankford (Penn.) Yellow Jackets. Since then, women have populated bandstands, infiltrated sidelines, officiated games, coached and owned teams in the National Football League, their ranks growing as opportunities and attitudes continue to shift.

Most notably, women have become a powerful — and sought after — consumer of the league, comprising about 45 percent of its fan base. Among female fans in the coveted 35-and-under age grouping, viewership and attendance at N.F.L. games are on the rise, a stronghold among the cord-cutting populace. And with 70 to 80 percent of household spending being decided by women, the N.F.L. has belatedly come around to marketing the game to them.

The league’s efforts have not been universally acclaimed. From its annual “NFL Women’s Summit” that has been criticized as pandering, to tutorials on the fundamentals of the game nobody seemed to ask for, to its often erratic handling of players accused of partner violence, the league’s approach can come across as ham-handed as a “Take my wife, please” joke setup.

Still, the future of football might largely be in the hand of women.

With participation rates around the country in decline and estimates that women make 80 percent of family health care decisions and the majority of choices that affect their households, we asked a handful of N.F.L. moms if they would make the same decision, in favor of football, if they had to again.

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Her husband, Mosi Tatupu, played in the N.F.L. for 14 seasons. He died in 2010, and had a brain disease associated with repeated hits to the head. Their son, Lofa Tatupu, began playing football at 6. He was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2005 N.F.L. draft and played six seasons in the league.

How worried are you about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head?

N.F.L. players think they’re bulletproof as far as they’re concerned. Most of the time, they’ll never say they are too hurt to play. I was cognizant of C.T.E. until Mosi was passed and had his brain studied and they found he had stage three C.T.E. and Parkinsons. He died the year before Lofa retired.

Do you think football is more or less safe than other contact sports?

Nothing is as dangerous as boxing. Football is safer than boxing because of the pads.

If you knew what you know now about player safety, would you have still let your son play tackle football?

This is a hard, hard one for me. I probably would have done my damnedest to stop him. If I knew then what I know now, I would have said no. But I don’t have that power.

Would you like to see your grandchildren playing tackle football?

I don’t have a say. It’s not your child. Can I hope they get all caught up in golf and art and performance? Absolutely. But can I say there, don’t let him play football, I can’t without stepping over boundaries.


Her son, Geno Atkins, began playing football at 15. He was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and is still in the league.

How worried are you about C.T.E.?

He’s less worried about it than me. We pray before every game, we will ask for protection. A good game is one where you can walk off the field win or lose. If you can walk to the locker room after the game, that’s a good game.

Do you think football is more or less safe than other contact sports?

Look it’s a contact sport, and I worry for the younger kids playing. There’s no protection in soccer though, at least guys here have shoulder pads and kneepads.

If you knew what you know now about player safety, would you have still let your son play tackle football?

We know the risks but there’s risk in everything — I tell people that if he wanted to be a pilot and I’m not going to say ‘no don’t be a pilot, the plane could crash.’ It’s a great game and it’s been great for our family. I have no regrets.

Would you like to see your grandchildren playing tackle football?

Look I don’t think 9- or 10-year-olds need to be playing tackle football. Those are the guys I’m worried about. I have a grandson and if he wants to play I’d let him play. But starting in high school is fine — what are you doing in middle school? Go run track. Everybody needs to run.


Her son, Kyle Moore, started playing football at 10. “He was a big kid and he had a lot of girth,” she said. “He could just drag kids down.” Kyle was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and played four seasons in the league.

How worried are you about C.T.E.?

It wasn’t until toward the end of his career when everything really started coming out about C.T.E. He wasn’t as concerned as I was, because when you are living out your dream, you aren’t worried about that kind of stuff.

Do you think football is more or less safe than other contact sports?

People think soccer is a great sport but watching them hit the ball with their head? I don’t think that’s any better than football. All sports have some kind of danger.

If you knew what you know now about player safety, would you have still let your son play tackle football?

If he had to do it all over again, he would do it. It was his dream. When people are living out their dreams, a lot of time, there’s not a lot a parent can say about it. You just keep your child in prayer, and hope when it’s all said and done they come out healthy, not having to deal with any type of memory issues.

Would you like to see your grandchildren playing tackle football?

Knowing what I know, I would prefer that they try another sport. At the same time, both of my grandsons are playing football. I’m hoping that they decide to play a sport that’s not contact.


Her son, Eric Berry, began playing football at 5. He was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 2010 draft and played eight seasons in the league. He is currently a free agent.

How worried are you about C.T.E.?

Growing up he was always taught helmet safety and tackling correctly. Now that C.T.E. has come to light, I just pray that everything is O.K., that it doesn’t affect him later in life. But he’s a hard hitter, he’s a rough player.

Do you think football is more or less safe than other contact sports?

You can get knocked out in baseball, I’ve seen injuries in all of sports. I know part of the issue is the brain injuries, yes, but injuries are happening in every sport now.

If you knew what you know now about player safety, would you have still let your son play tackle football?

My husband and I both talk to our sons about protecting themselves, to play smart. They are the only ones that know their bodies. I can’t say ‘oh you aren’t going out.’ They’ve been trained from day one to go out and play smart.

Would you like to see your grandchildren playing tackle football?

I think it would probably be a good thing, as they would have more guidance from my husband and I. It would be an opportunity to educate and guide a player, as opposed to saying no.


Her son, Jeremy Hill, began playing football at 8. He was selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2014 draft. He is now a free agent.

How worried are you about C.T.E.?

Injury is at the forefront of your mind but you don’t let it govern or control your thoughts. When your child is on the field, if they don’t get up immediately, you get this rush of “oh my goodness.”

Do you think football is more or less safe than other contact sports?

Football is way more dangerous, especially as a running back. For the most part people don’t understand the risk that players endure every time they are on the field. And not just on the field for a game, but in training too. It’s a contact sport and these guys are 6 foot 5 inches and 300 pounds — this is not a game for the faint at heart.

If you knew what you know now about player safety, would you still let your son play tackle football?

Absolutely I would. You cannot allow what could or would happen diminish your ability to live your life. I’m not intimidated by the possibility of injury.

Would you like to see your grandchildren playing tackle football?

Absolutely, it’s a great American sport. If we didn’t have it I think it would diminish the world at large.