February 16, 2016
Youth Football Facing New Scrutiny
It’s a constant controversy in today’s concussion-conscious environment: how young is too young for tackle football?
There are injuries, but even most doctors are fairly tolerant of the injuries kids sustain in what is, undeniably, a violent sport. While anti-football groups continue to challenge public opinion, the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed more adult supervision, not fewer youths playing tackle football.
Detractors argue this is more about public relations than actual medical evidence. Football is an American obsession, they argue. From the NFL on down to pee-wee league, adults invest huge amounts of time and energy in this game. They love it, give it their time and their treasure, so it stands to reason they also give it their children.
Proponents counter, of course, we love it. Football teaches discipline, competition, fair play and how to both win and lose gracefully. More so, football encourages kids to push their boundaries, to excel where they think they cannot. and earn rewards for tasks previously thought impossible.
Football insiders – coaches and veteran players – credit youth football with a better appreciation for and understanding of the game. They argue kids who start to learn the game early are less likely to be injured than those who take it up late, in high school or as adults.
Detractors fire back, pointing out that younger kids are more vulnerable to injuries, particularly of the head and neck, which can have lifetime consequences. They point to startling statistics: 13 percent of all injuries are head or neck injuries, and 11 high school players died playing football last year. Of course, these stats don’t point out HOW the kids died, which is a point tacitly pointed out by youth football proponents. At least some of the kids suffered injuries due to heat stroke, which could happen during any athletic activity.
Anti-football crusaders aren’t buying that argument. They want pro-football factions to acknowledge the risk and take steps to restrict youth football activities. It’s an unpopular position at the moment, partly because of the universal regard for football and due to the unsuccessful PR campaigns pushed by the opposition.
One popular pro-football initiative, the Heads Up program, encouraged coaches and youth leagues to require “heads up” football camps, clinics and training for all players. This step mollified parental fears and put another layer of protection between youth leagues and disgruntled critics. So far, the detractors have found no way to crack that wall of public sentiment.