Last week The Aspen Institute hosted a round table discussion on “Playing Safely: The Future of Youth Football” to address growing concern about the epidemic of concussions on our youth. It should be noted that professional athletes are both more mature (in size and brain development) and are adults who can make informed consent decisions. The issue this panel discussed was for the youth football.
The speaking list was both wide and deep including: DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA, Dr. Gerry Gioa, Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu amongst others in attendance;
At the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, a panel featuring concussion experts and former NFL players considered the health safety risks of playing football. Since then, concerns have sharpened, with many parents of young boys saying that tackle football should not start before age 14. At the same time, football also plays a role in addressing the epidemic of physical inactivity. Our roundtable dives deep into the state of football at the youth/community level with a discussion on reforms — and implications on the game up to the professional level.
With awareness beginning to gain traction and definitive research in the area starting to bear fruit this round table took place at an opportune time. This topic of youth tackle football will be very hotly contested, mainly due to our traditionalist thinking and lack of full understanding of this injury.
PBS will televise an edited version of this event on November 20th, so check your local listings. In the mean time if you want to listen to the proceedings you can do so by clicking HERE.
I was able to get comment from one attendee or attendee by proxy, Michelle Trenum, who watched online. Her husband – and father of Austin Trenum – was able to go and get some insight as well. Michelle had the following thoughts (mind you all of her sons played football and she continues to be a fan of football);
What bothered me the most were the frequent comments by USA Football, Pop Warner, etc. that the reason they would not prohibit tackling under age 14 was that “the kids love it”, “the parents want their kids to look like what they see on Sunday”, “the kids and parents say tackling is fun”.
What I thought was the most profound were the comments that all the precautions and demands (limited contact practice, independent medical people, extra trainer in sky box to look for concussions not spotted on the field, etc) that the NFL players unions have demanded (negotiated) from the leagues are not precautions we take with younger kids. Instead we have the little kids doing the same thing as the adults with NO athletic trainer, no medical people, no constraints on tackling practices, etc.
Michelle is exactly right with her last sentence, we have all the “bells and whistles” for the professional athlete, yet most if not a massive super majority of youth sports have nothing other than parents and coaches. The first line of defense at the professional level is a health care provider, the athletic trainer, and at the high school level only 42% of schools have this much-needed coverage.
If you have followed me long enough I have sort of “flip-flopped” on the 14 and under issue. I fully endorse exposure limits for all athletes at all ages. If we are limiting exposure for professional athletes (14 contact practices with 16 games in the NFL, 30 total days) why would we do LESS for younger individuals. Those same younger individuals that are skeletally immature, brain immature, don’t have the best/proper equipment, and don’t have the coverage at the highest level. That makes no sense. For example at the high school I am contracted at we have 32 contact days from early August until the end of October. Basically if HS and youth teams take the model of; five preseason days and two hit days per week along with nine regular season games, that group is being exposed to more hits than the professionals and all their “bells and whistles”.
If you break down the two (my HS and NFL) you can see a massive disparity in the way we limit exposure to the younger athlete. I may not agree with an arbitrary (as of now) age, but what I do believe in is cutting down on concussions; the only way to do that currently is limit exposure.