I understand why a pro football player would run back on the field minutes after suffering a concussion. The answer is money. And I understand why NFL team owners and coaches let players return to the game, and even encourage them to suck it up. The answer is more money.

But given the emerging science linking brain injuries and early deaths to concussions from playing football, I don't understand why parents today would let their kid play the game. (Fortunately or unfortunately, given their father's genes, my young kids are unlikely to face this dilemma.)

Even for the very best athletes, the odds of getting to the NFL are slim. So why take the risk if the chance of reward is so remote?

For the few who do make it, a parent or a player still has to wonder if a couple of years of fame and fortune are worth risking their life. Just watching a few minutes of the Eagles game last week was gruesome.

Forget the fullback out for the season after his knee was bent back the opposite way. Same goes for the center who tore his right triceps and is done for the year. Those guys should at least recover.

But who knows what lasting damage will haunt the two players who suffered concussions and were sent back into last week's game.

Coach Andy Reid says the team followed the proper league procedure before allowing quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley to return to the field briefly after suffering head injuries. Perhaps. But Reid's lame defense comes from a league that for years has ignored and downplayed the effects of brain injuries.

Given all the recent attention to the early deaths of many former players who suffered concussions, the decision to send two players back into the game minutes after suffering those head-banging blows was an outrage and a disgrace. It demonstrates how the NFL still views players as raw meat to be fed to famished lions. The players share some of the blame. So do the fans who pack The Colosseums every Sunday to cheer on the carnage.

Kolb was smashed to the ground by the Packers' crazed linebacker Clay Matthews. When Kolb finally stood up, a clump of turf the size of a pastrami sandwich from the Famous 4th Street deli was wedged between his face mask and helmet. He was clearly woozy. Even after a few minutes on the sideline, Kolb looked dazed as he struggled to get his jaw re-hinged.

Six plays later, Bradley collided with his own teammate. He stood up and staggered a few yards before falling down as if he had mad cow disease.

Bradley returned to the game after four plays. About 20 minutes later, Kolb was sent back on the field to get chased by 300-pound linemen. Go, Iggles!

Common sense finally prevailed when both players sat out the second half and are not expected to play this Sunday. But they will be back soon, knocking heads with other players. Such continuous rattling of the brain is what leads to lasting damage.

Just last week, it was disclosed that a brain autopsy of a University of Pennsylvania football player who killed himself in April had the same trauma-induced disease found in more than 20 deceased NFL players.

The disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is linked to depression and impulse control. Autopsies on two other NFL players who committed suicide, including former Eagle Andre Waters, showed they also had CTE.

Doctors said the suicides can't be attributed solely to the disease. But the discovery of CTE in the 21-year-old Penn player shows how brain damage can occur at a young age.

The player's parents said their son was never diagnosed with a concussion. Doctors said he could have ignored the concussions or suffered numerous subconcussive hits while playing football for 12 years. It's death by 1,000 hits.

That cuts to the heart of what's at stake for youngsters playing football in pee-wee leagues, high school, and college. Given the poor medical guidance and oversight that elite athletes get in the NFL regarding concussions, one can only imagine the third-world treatment provided by many training staffs at the lower levels.

Not to mention the intense pressure on players from all angles, including some parents, fans, and teammates, to get back on the field. Trainers who urge extended rest won't be trainers for too long. Same for a coach who dares to keep a star QB on the sideline. Just win, baby.

The drive to win at any cost often extends to the high school level. In fact, many youngsters take their lead from watching the stars in the NFL and college, where often players with concussions are urged to shake it off. Since there's no broken bones or blood, it's hard for a player to complain about a headache.

The players know that if they can't play, there's a long line of hungry guys eager to take their job. Short of changing the rules from tackle to touch - which won't happen - this problem isn't going away.

If anything, the number of brain injuries and deaths is likely to increase as players continue to get bigger and faster. That means parents and kids must decide if the Friday Night Lights are worth risking their life.

E-mail deputy editorial page editor Paul Davies at pdavies@phillynews.com.