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November 14, 2013

Giving One Pause

Blaine R. Young

A front page story in Tuesday’s Washington Times caught my attention and really hit home, for a number of reasons.


This was a very in-depth report on the death of a college football player at Frostburg State University. This young man died from a brain injury, apparently suffered during football practice. As might be expected, the death has spawned lawsuits, accusations, and, of course, a grieving family.


This really hit home for me. First of all, I am an alumnus of Frostburg State. I know the school. I still know a number of the people there, and I pay attention to what is going on at Frostburg. And when I read about this incident, it unsettled me.


The other reason this story really got me thinking is my own recent experience with both of my sons. Both Andrew and JR play football. They love it. And I love watching them.


But some recent developments have given me pause. First of all, JR suffered a blow to the head in a recent game. Now, the league he plays in has very good procedures for dealing with something like this. He was required to sit out for a week, with no practice and no game time. He then had to be examined by a doctor before he could come back to the team, and, to his credit, this shook him up. He was asking questions about head injuries, and we discussed why the rules had been put in place. I have no issue with how his coaches and the league handled this; but, as I said before, it really got me thinking.


JR is 12. Andrew is only nine. And he was also required recently to sit out a game because of a bump to the head.


Again, I am not criticizing the coaches or the league. I think they handled both of these situations appropriately.


But what got me thinking was this: What is going on in a sport where children are routinely being sidelined as a precaution due to potential head injuries? And what are we to think about a sport in which this is so prevalent that even pee-wee leagues have to have detailed mandatory concussion policies?


For years football has been grounded in the culture of “Mano a Mano.” In other words, each of the 11 guys on the field is supposed to beat the hell out of the guy in front of them. That’s the culture of football; and, frankly, it explains a lot of its popularity among people who have no experience with it other than watching it from their sofas.


As such, for years football players have squared off against each other, and have suffered and continue to suffer from it. The violent headfirst collisions have been a part of the game since Teddy Roosevelt intervened at the beginning of the last century and threatened to ban it unless rules were adopted to reduce the number of routine deaths incurred during games.


Lawsuits are being filed everywhere, at the professional, college and lower levels of competition. We seem to be learning more and more every day about the long term impact that playing football has on many people’s lives.


As I said above, these recent events got me thinking. I’m not sure that I want my children to continue to pound themselves on a football field for the next 10 years. They both like basketball, and that is certainly a much safer sport.


And I’m not sure where football is headed. There is a part of me that thinks 25 years from now the game we know today will be no more. We all have a choice whether we want to support it, participate in it and put our children in it.


I think a lot of people are rethinking these decisions.


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