Today’s health and safety news is dominated by last week’s Pop Warner game that featured five concussion. Coaches and administrators have received sanctions, but the scrutiny continued:
* The Washington Post published a deeper story looking at the safety concerns that are causing numbers nationwide to dip in youth football.
As concussion awareness and football player safety have become buzz topics at the professional level, the impact is being felt at the youth levels, where the risks have become too perilous for many and most leagues are ramping up precautionary measures. While USA Football, the sport’s national governing body, estimates 3 million children participate in youth football across the country, at least one study, conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, a Silver Spring-based trade association, found an 11 percent decline in tackle football’s “core” participation the past three years.
The Post, which conducted its own poll, brought new numbers to the table from parents about youth football.
A recent Washington Post poll found that 67 percent of Americans say they’d still recommend children play youth or high school football, while 22 percent would discourage it. Of those who would discourage participation in youth football, 80 percent cited a chance of injury as a reason. “That’s a real concern, and I believe that safety has a lot to do with it,” said former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who suffered 10 concussions during his NFL career.
* The Boston Globe reported on how that incident, among others, is bringing more scrutiny to youth football.
As evidence mounts that repetitive head injuries can have a cumulative effect, and leagues at all levels take steps to improve player safety, parents said games where one team is physically overmatched should be stopped right away. Football is tough enough when the sides are fair, some parents said. “That’s terrible for the kids,” said Kew Sumpter, a South End resident whose 12-year-old son plays Pop Warner. “We’re the ones supposed to be teaching them right from wrong.”
Jim Thompson sees opportunity in all the attention being paid to concussions and football. He founded Positive Coaching Alliance 14 years ago after being appalled at the “win at all costs” coaching mentality he saw when his kids played sports. His organization now runs 1,400 workshops a year and has offices in 10 cities. “Preventing kids from getting concussions has always been a very important issue. Now the spotlight is on it,” he says. “We should take advantage of that. Let’s do everything we can to make kids safer so they can compete safely, not get rid of football.”
* The Greenville (S.C.) News reported on how that community is trying to raise awareness about head injuries.
* The Associated Press reported that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was cleared to race again this Sunday when he passed neurological tests after his second concussion in two months made him miss two NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
* And the New York Times profiled Paul Butler, the doctor who has received notoriety for seeking to abolish football in one New Hampshire town.
Butler’s celebrity, if a bit baffling to him, has not seemed to wound him. He has heard from a producer at HBO’s “Real Sports” and a woman who identified herself as part of the N.F.L.’s Health and Safety Improvement program. A caller from Brian Williams’s office at NBC seemed mostly to want to know if Butler had grandchildren. And a company sent him a product called the Guardian Cap, a piece of padding fastened by Velcro over a helmet to mitigate the force of head-on collisions. More locally, any heat Butler has taken seems to stem more than anything from the notion that he had somehow spoken out of turn about a cherished culture in a tight-knit town. Local officials praise his standing in the community while making it clear they stop far short of siding with him about the need to end football.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor