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Grappling With, but Not Yet Turning Away From, Football’s Violent Pull

“We’ve seen some devastation and injuries in the 35 years, but last night was different,” he said. “Time just stood still.”

McIntosh, too, said he would be a football fan for life. Though the game’s brutality could be unnerving, he said the N.F.L.’s safety protocols improved significantly since he began watching decades ago. He remembered, too, that back then, fans were more likely to cheer when an opposing player was knocked out of a game.

Still, as the severity of Hamlin’s condition became clear, McIntosh said he immediately wondered aloud whether his son would continue to let his 8-year-old grandson play football.

“He wants to start tackling,” McIntosh said of the boy.

Dobie Moser, the director of the Catholic Youth Organization, which runs sports programs that include football for the Catholic Charities in Cleveland, has long pondered how best to keep the young players in the program safe.

Hamlin’s injury, he said, became a moment to step back and assess the progress the organization had made in improving safety protocols — many of them implemented in recent years to address the growing unease in youth football — and developing trust among parents. He, too, held a staff meeting first thing Tuesday morning.

“To a person, it was jarring,” Moser said of the injury. “We’re talking about people who have been around athletics anywhere from five years to 45 years, and for every person, it was upsetting.”

O’Reilly said she often felt “torn” about letting her son play football one day, conceding it was “a scary thought.” But she said she could not imagine stopping him, either, if he understood the risks. She has an 11-year-old daughter who does gymnastics, a sport, she said, that has its own risks.

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