Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports



There has been much discussion surrounding the health risks of playing football both among youth and at the pro level. Doctor Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist and expert in the study of the effects of concussions who first discovered the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), recently said that letting our youth play football is akin to child abuse.

"Someday there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed," said Omalu, who is currently San Joaquin County's chief medical examiner. "It is the definition of child abuse."

On Wednesday, former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith, known by many as "The Cowboy," joined the "Joe, Lo & Dibs" show on 95.7 The Game and shared his thoughts on the risks and benefits of letting our youth participate in the physical game.

"I've been around a lot of those guys who played years and years before me," Smith said. "It was mainly the guys in the 80s and 90s that had those problems. I don't know. Maybe there were guys from the 50s and 60s that had them as well. I don't think I've experienced any yet. Hopefully, I don't. I don't know any of the science behind it. I don't know.

"All I know is that football is great for young kids to learn. It teaches you about team building, how to be on a team, getting along with all different types of people. People you would have never met in your life. I think it was well worth it."

Smith believes that football helps our youth learn to work together toward a common goal and gets them away from less physical activities.

"All these kids in high school, you're fighting for a common goal," Smith said. "You're trying to get to a state championship, trying to get to a playoff berth in high school. And to see the participation in that stuff drop, I mean, what are these kids doing now? Is it just staying home and playing video games? Is it Pokemon Go?

"What are these guys doing that would originally be out there together, working out together, training together, making sure guys are going to class? Where's the accountability if you don't have that as a young man? I definitely needed that and I'm sure most kids 16, 17, 18 (years old) need that as well."

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan recently shared similar sentiments during an interview on KNBR.

"That's always a concern," Shanahan said of the science behind CTE. "We're finding out more and more in this day and age about head injuries and things like that. I know I played football my entire life throughout college and stuff. It did a lot for me and it is a physical game. There are risks to it. I'm looking forward to when we can find out more about that. I think the better we can make this sport – which I think we're doing everything we can to do that.

"But you have things like that and that is concerning. But I also know through my own experience, football brought a lot to me. I feel safe doing it. I know if my kids ever want to play, that's something I would let them do. That's not something I'm going to pressure them to do or make them do, but if my son's ever interested in football – I had a lot of experience playing it also and I think it brought a lot of good things to my life. Not only did I enjoy playing it, but I think it helped me be a better man."

Of course, no interview would be complete without the obligatory question about Colin Kaepernick and his protest last season. Smith was asked about the ex-49ers quarterback and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who also chose not to stand for the national anthem during a recent exhibition game.

"All I know, if I was in that locker room, I'd want to make sure every guy was on the same page and that's to win football games," Smith explained. "And if that's not distracting from that, go ahead and do what you've got to do. As an ex-team leader in on any team, you want to make sure your guys are all driving in the right focus of winning football games and, outside of that, go do whatever you feel is necessary to do."

You can listen to the entire interview with Smith on 95.7 The Game's website.