Rising Concern Over Football Injuries Causing Parents to Think Twice


The conclusion of the football season has parents, politicians and pediatricians contemplating the effects that playing football has on children, some of whom are playing tackle football by the time they are five-years-old.

It seems that pediatricians would be shouting from the sidelines the dangers of the violence occurring in even kindergarten-aged football, writes Michael Hiltzik, reporting for the Los Angeles Times.

But Columbia University's School of Public Health's Kathleen E. Bachynski explains that doctors are amazingly tolerant of the multitude of injuries that occur in youth football. She adds that the group seems to be getting even more tolerant over time.

Bachynski refers to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics released in October that does not advise that tackling be removed from youth football. The AAP's principal proposal was to intensify the supervision by adults.

The basic path begins with 3 million American boys playing tackle football in middle school or high school. From there, boys who are the best at the game play college football, with a select few moving on to the National Football League. The fanship associated with the game assures that football is embedded in the culture of the US and helps it make tens of billions of dollars for major colleges and the NFL.

But it is the children who are most likely to suffer football injuries, particularly neck and head trauma. This physical damage can have consequences that last a lifetime and make up as much as 13% of all football injuries for school-age kids. There were 11 high school deaths of boys last year that came while playing football.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated concussions. CTE can only be discovered after death, but seems to be broadly present among those who have been NFL players. But some players are noticing effects on their physical and neurological health while still alive, including hobbled walking and memory loss.

According to the pediatricians, if youth football was banned, kids would not learn the safe tackling techniques they need if they play at higher levels. They also warned officials and coaches to enforce the rules of the game, such as eliminating spear tackling where the head is used as a battering ram, which causes many concussions and other significant injuries.

The AAP and the Canadian Paediatric Society in 2011 released a statement that explained:

"… physicians vigorously oppose boxing in youth and encourage patients to participate in alternative sports in which intentional head blows are not central to the sport."

Mark Proctor, writing for Harvard Health Publications, shares that their policy on football is noticeably softer. Their solution to the football issue, he says, was to enforce rules in a better way, have athletes assume more personal responsibility, have more athletic trainers at games, and encourage more non-tackling leagues.

Children who are involved in athletics are getting exercise, which is a deterrent to the rising obesity epidemic the US is currently suffering. And being involved in a sport does pull young people away from the ubiquitous screen. Proctor says what can reasonably be accomplished to protect our kids will mean fighting against a sport that "owns a day of the week."

He believes the medical community can and should continue to warn of the dangers of tackle football and encourage anything that will cause football's evolution into a sport that is safer.

The increase of information about CTE is causing more parents to keep their children off the football field. Even some NFL players, such as Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson and New York Jets star Bart Scott, have said they will not allow their sons to play football, according to Alex Haddon of Quartz.

Haddon adds that inexpensive equipment, the lack of fees required to play, and the safety factor have all boosted soccer's popularity. Will soccer ever be more popular in America than football? Haddon says if injuries continue to influence parents' decisions about their children's sports activities, it could.

Grandfather Bill Polian disagreed in an opinion piece for USA Today. He says he loves his grandsons, but if they are taught and play in the correct manner, football can be a rewarding, healthy, and important activity for them.

Polian thinks the game is safer than it has ever been, and points out that it promotes fitness, friendships, confidence, and fun. He believes that football is youth sports at their best.

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