During the height of football season in October 2014, the nation was forced to accept the sobering fact that football is a dangerous sport and high school football should either be modified or eliminated altogether. In just one week, three high school football players in three different states suffered brain injuries during a game and died.
In the words of one father, “No coaching technique can result in safety when the point of playing defense is to play with reckless abandon. The kids today call it blowing people up. The game is violent, and people get hurt in violent games.”
Doctors Emphasize Vulnerability of Young Developing Bodies
High school football concussion rates are 78% higher than in college, according to the Institute of Medicine, and doctors are adding their input. Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and concussion expert at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, has advocated for banning tackle football for children younger than 14 because “the young brain is much more susceptible to the shock associated with concussion.”
Robert Stern, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, says “The 16-year old brain is still developing. It’s a vulnerable brain, in many cases being struck by big, adult-sized bodies.”
High school players also have weaker neck muscles than college and pro players causing a “bobblehead effect,” says Jamsid Ghajar, professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. “The whiplash motion causes the jostling of the brain that leads to concussions and worse.”
Recent Steep Decline in Number of Young Football Players Despite NFL Efforts
To keep kids in the game, the NFL initiated the Heads Up Football program. Coaches are educated on how to deal with concussions and how to teach safer ways to tackle, where players are taught to keep their heads up and to lead contact with their shoulders, not their heads. But is it enough.
A recent poll conducted by HBO Real Sports and Marist College Institute for Public Opinion found that one in three Americans say knowing about the damage that concussions can cause would make them less likely to allow their sons to play football. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans believe the risk is too high.
Football has seen a steep decline in the number of young people playing the game. According to a report last November from ESPN.com, Pop Warner youth football leagues saw a participation drop of 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012. USA Football, a national governing body partially funded by the NFL, said participation among players ages 6 to 14 fell from 3 million to 2.8 million in 2011, a 6.7 percent decline.