The country is having a conversation about football. As a culture and a nation we are asking questions like where, when and how the game should be played, in addition to whether it should be played at all. It seems the lower age limit on this discussion is trickling downward all the time.
Peewee league players with their helmeted bobbleheads are now on the covers of several books that review the history of head injury and its revelation in the NFL. Likewise, an excellent documentary film, Head Games, chronicles the same history in graphic detail.
Now, serious investigators and clinicians are asking whether the sport should be played by pre-teens at all. Schools, teams, leagues and others are trying to make sense of where football is or should be going.
But the sport isn’t going to slink into the history books so fast. Not as long as programs like Steve Clarkson’s in California continue to exist and thrive. This quarterback training camp, profiled in The New Yorker, shows us the lengths to which families will go to give their kid a “leg up” or a “head start “ on a football career, sometimes enrolling promising peewees as young as 8. Not surprisingly, this article also profiles the parents of these youngsters “who may be inclined to see an overreaction to the concussion controversy that has left youth football in a seemingly precarious position.”
NPR also just produced a show called “Head injuries rattle even devout football parents,”
It is troubling to read about such denial in the face of mounting data. It feels reminiscent of the deniers of global warming or the deniers of the effects of second hand smoke. That cultural mores and stubborn traditions may actually stand in the way of childrens’ mental and physical well-being is what is so disturbing. Every parent, coach, teacher, clinician and adult has the ability to prevent injury and long term consequences if they are educated.
And it starts with the players themselves. “This is a very important part of teaching concussion awareness, letting players know it’s their responsibility to acknowledge a problem,” writes Tom Goldman in his NPR story. “Historically that hasn’t often happened in football, where playing with pain and injury is a sign of toughness, a badge of honor.” What we need to teach everyone is the Four Rs: Learning to Recognize, Respond, Rest, and Reassess after a head injury is everyone’s responsibility, from the injured athlete (of any age) on up.