He was ‘jacked up’, got his bell rung, he was clocked. He took it like a man. This is real man sport. Only a real man could take a hit like that. Have you ever heard any of those sort of comments regarding football? Have you ever used those terms yourself. I have. And I am embarrassed to admit it. There is something terribly wrong in the culture of youth football.
Time Magazine just did a cover story on “The Most Dangerous Game.” And with cause. The game of football has become more violent as the competition for big contracts grows. The concern of this post is directed to youth football. I have two grandsons who are eleven years old and play the game with relish.
A few facts about concussions before we continue with the culture of youth football. Normal men in the age of 30-49 have a 1-in-1000 chance of being diagnosed with dementia. For NFL players the diagnosis rate is 1-in-53. The stark reality is highlighted by people like Kurt Warner and others who elect to retire rather than risk any more concussions. The players themselves now recognize the danger – this is not just some ‘liberal rant’ about violence.
To illustrate the point of culture problems with youth football we have only to look to youtube. The following posting on youtube does not seem to aggrandize the tough mentality of the game – but it does show a practice session that focuses on physical brutality. Listen closely – you will hear the sound of a hurt child. This is a helmet to helmet hit – the sort that is the cause of concussions:
The next example is a college football game of a hard helmet to helmet hit. These young men are taught to lower their head and hit with their helmet. We hear the announcer at the end of the clip noting that ‘you can’t let that man back in the football game.’ His comment comes as a result of rules changes as concussions have become virtually pandemic.
Now check out this short video of proud adults encouraging and promoting the proper means of knocking someone down:
The following clip shows children that must surely be of nine year old children:
So what is this all about? There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of youtube videos of the manliness of youth football. Who is posting these things? Well, someone feels strongly enough about a ‘good hit’ to stand around with their video camera – waiting for the perfect crushing blow. Then they bother to upload their video to youtube. The problem is not just with the game of football – it is with the culture of the adults who promote physical violence – and somehow find reward in watching boys act like their misguided version of being a man.
The Time magazine article is well done. The writers do not focus on the travesty of violence in football. Rather they focus on means of making the game more safe. One example is recommending that linemen position themselves in a two-point stance rather than the traditional three-point with two legs and a hand on the ground. The lower three point stance provides a leverage advantage – but leads directly to helmet-to-helmet collisions. This is the most common cause of concussion. So some rule changes would help promote the game while minimizing long term injury.
The most important point made by Time directly relates to youth football. The big question involves how youth football coaches are trained. Many people in many professions are required to have a day of CPR training – most of us have accepted this as a matter or practicality. The Time article suggests something similar for youth football coaches – “the coaches should be trained in a concussion management program approved by the Centers For Disease Control and prevention and be certified before strapping a whistle around their neck.”
We are in complete agreement. Coaches who hold the health of our children in their arms should understand consequences of particular models of football training.
I should note here that the Bantam League Football Coaches for my two grandchildren are naturally sensitive and caring men. When a child complains of any physical ailment the coach is right there to assist and will remove the child from the game if there is any hint of a problem. My family is just lucky. We have witnessed coaches on the other side of the field who are physically and verbally abusive to ten year old boys. In the fall of 2009 one of the coaches was barred from the sidelines. He stood in the spectators gallery and observed the progress of his team so he could abuse them at practice.
Most of us have watched youth sports. Whether basketball, baseball, soccer, or football – most of us have seen overzealous coaches and parents. The problem with football is the nature of the game – players are required to use physical force to stop an opposing player. This simply means that overzealous adults can put the physical health of children in harms way.
The NFL has grudgingly acknowledged the problem with concussions. New rules require a player who receives a concussion to stay off the field for the remainder of the game. ESPN is becoming more sensitive to the issue – they no longer broadcast the popular weekly ‘jacked-up’ series.
Society is making progress – but we must move more quickly in the area of youth football.
(As an aside – it could be worse – we could be raising our children in Spain):