John Orsini and his wife, Janice, are in the midst of a disagreement. There’s nothing notable about divorcees not seeing eye to eye on an issue, particularly when it relates to the children the couple shares. But the subject of the disagreement is notable, and especially the lengths to which this spat has now gone.
The couple’s youngest son plays football, and John doesn’t want him to. John played the game himself in high school, has rooted for his hometown Steelers his whole life, and the couples oldest son, Giuseppe Orsini, plays now at Case Western Reserve. But the Orsinis’ youngest son has suffered three concussions — the first was unrelated to football, but the last two weren’t.
John couldn’t get his wife to agree that their youngest son — who is 17 and will be a senior in the fall — should not play out of concern for his long-term cognitive health (the boy was cleared by doctors). The couple shares custody, so, ahead of the boy’s junior season, John told his son’s Pittsburgh-area school that he should not play. Janice took her ex-husband to family court, eventually, won the right for her son to play. He completed his junior season concussion-free, but the fight isn’t over. John says he’s willing to take the case to trial.
And while that is an interesting case study, it’s not the reason I brought this New York Times story to you. Turns out the Orsini family is far from alone in this argument. From the Times (emphasis added):
It is impossible to say precisely how many disputes over football are occurring in family courts. Most records are sealed and disputes often settle before they go to trial. But Joe Cordell, the founder of Cordell & Cordell, which specializes in divorce law, said that about a third of the 270 lawyers at his firm, which is spread across 40 states, said that they have seen an increase in custody battles over whether a child should be allowed to play football. In some parts of the country, football has replaced hockey as the sport at the center of custody battles, other lawyers said.
For all the talk about the National Anthem and TV ratings and WiFi at stadiums and all the other issues the football culture argues about, this is it. The future of football will be decided in millions of living rooms across America — and, short of that, the American family court system.