As people across Minnesota lament the passing summer, many will find consolation in the coming fall. Comfort food, crisp weather and vibrant foliage make their return. Coziness is just a sweater away, and the truly stylish will revel in their expanded wardrobe options. Fall also seems to bring people together in ways that other seasons can’t. Perhaps it’s due to the dropping temperature. One thing is for sure, though — the arrival of football season is a rallying point for many.
It’s no secret that Americans love football. We are spectators, players and debaters of the game. Despite this, many people are unwilling to allow their children to fully participate in the fun. Over the past several years, there has been a substantial decline in the number of participants in youth football. Pop Warner, the nation’s most popular youth-football organization, reported a nearly 10 percent drop in participation from 2010 to 2012.
With the recent media frenzy surrounding head trauma, it may come as no surprise that the primary reason for decreased participation has been parents’ fear that their child will suffer a brain injury. Some will recall an article the Star Tribune ran about this time last year about how parental concern in Eden Prairie has led to a sharp decline in overall youth-football participation.
The root of these concerns lies in the concussion crisis facing the National Football League. The situation in the NFL has triggered a response that has trickled down to the very lowest rungs of U.S. football. The result is that parents are making emotional, misguided decisions to withhold permission for their children to play.
At first glance, these parents seem justified in their reasoning. Dozens of former NFL players have been found, after their deaths, to have suffered from CTE, a degenerative disease caused by repetitive brain trauma. Some of these players had even taken their own lives.
Many more people will point to the recent retirement of 25-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who prematurely ended his promising career, citing a concern over concussions.
It may seem logical to conclude that football is dangerous and that kids should not play. This is specious reasoning, however. The majority of evidence decrying football suggests that the game is dangerous for people who’ve played for many years at the highest levels — not for kids in youth leagues.
Let’s make an important distinction. The potential for brain trauma playing youth football is nowhere near the potential for brain trauma in the NFL. To even compare the two is ludicrous. It is a simple matter of physics. The force of something is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration. Young kids simply do not have the combination of size and speed necessary to cause serious brain injury.
In fact, studies have shown a correlation between age and the rate of concussions in football. Leagues across the state are now required to participate in the Heads Up Football Program. This mandates that coaches are educated on the dangers of head injuries as well as on preventive measures. The kids are learning to play in a much safer manner. The Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention conducted a study that found a 76 percent overall reduction in injuries, including a 29 percent reduction of in-game concussions, in leagues that participated in Heads Up compared with nonparticipating leagues.
So if your child loves watching football on fall afternoons and decides he wants to play, let him. Take it with a grain of salt that he is statistically unlikely to attain a prominent role at the high school varsity level, let alone at the collegiate or professional levels. It’s safe to say that he will never face the collisions that have caused so many traumas at the NFL level. If he does make it, learning proper techniques in an age-controlled league with ball-carrier weight limits will better prepare him for what lies ahead.
The game is evolving. Rule changes and an overall heightened awareness have made it safer than ever. Take it from the experts. According to a study from the Journal of Pediatrics, “youth football is a generally safe activity with regard to concussions.” So let the kids play.
Gary Lussier Jr., of Minneapolis, is an educator. He grew up playing football for McRae Park in Minneapolis.