Somebody Has To
Many of you that are coaching youth football have been inundated by attacks on the game and you don’t know what to think or how to respond to it. The first part of this five part article will share some findings that many don’t know about, they certainly aren’t being quoted by those who are attacking the game and their fellow travelers in the media. A number of youth football programs I have spoken to have numbers that decreased in the last year. This was primarily due to misinformation and fear spread by a small poorly informed but very vocal and political savvy group of people whose end intent is to significantly change or ban youth football altogether.
We all love our children and the kids who play for us, we all want our children to be safe and grow up to be productive and happy adults. But don’t for a minute think these attacks have the purpose to “help and protect” our youth. The scientific facts and what the naysayers are telling people simply don’t add up. Some are calling for an end to the game. Others like suburban Illinois lawmaker Carol Sente are taking a more gradual approach. She proposed to the Illinois legislature a bill that would cut the amount of contact a youth football team can have to just 1 day per week. Nevermind that Chicago’s bond rating is less than many third world nations.
If the goal is to make the game more safe, how will a youth football player learn how to safely block and tackle if he is only allowed to do that for a very short period of time? Many youth football teams practice for just 3 weeks prior to their first game. Will little Johnny, an 8 year old rookie player know how to block and tackle in a safe manner with just 3 contact practices under his belt prior to his first real game ? This type of knee-jerk reaction legislation will make the game LESS safe for the kids, not more safe.
Much of the hysteria about concussions seems to be driven by some injuries amongst NFL players. The image they like to portray to their willing accomplices in the media is of poor broken down 50 year old former NFL players that are punch drunk and dying off far earlier than the average US male. Well the problem is that scientific facts simply don’t mesh with that fabrication. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a study and released the findings in 2012. They collected data for the study starting in 1990, looking at 3,439 players who were in the N.F.L. for at least five seasons from 1959 to 1988. The study found a lower death rate among former N.F.L. players than among men in the general population. The institute had expected to find that 625 members of the group it studied would be dead based on estimates from the general population, but instead they found that only 334 of the retired players had died. There were nearly twice as many former NFL players living compared what should have been, comparing them to the average US male. Have you heard of this study? Why isn’t it being trumpeted by the media?
On the contrary, what you do hear is about people like Junior Seau. The mouthpieces try to make the connection between the Seau tragedy and concussions. Never mind that studies show that former NFL players don’t have higher suicide rates than the average US male. You probably didn’t hear that Seau was at the time of his death dealing with numerous personal tragedies, that increased his suicide risk. He was in the midst of a divorce, had financial problems, had a failing business and being Samoan, was part of an ethnic group that has one of the worlds highest per-capita suicide rates. He retired hastily from the game he loved only to twice try to make comebacks to a game he once dominated. He was arrested for domestic violence and ran his SUV off the road. According to many Seau was depressed, but there hasn’t been a conclusive relationship drawn to the concussions and his depression.
Many former NFL players have a tough time coping as they enter the real world. They suffer the loss of not being in the limelight and no longer earning huge paychecks. But not all former NFL players who are depressed or suicidal are feeling that way because of a concussion injury. One would expect that the transition back to the “civilian world” would be difficult for many. The University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, did a study on the rate of depression among former NFL players 35 to 44 years of age was 14 percent; the rate for the general population is 8 percent. “That disparity begins to shrink as they age up,” says Kevin Guskiewicz, a UNC research professor and head of the center. So the research shows, there isn’t much to see there, nothing out of the ordinary considering the NFL players circumstances.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, stay tuned for more in the coming week. We will explore what the professional medical community says about the dangers of playing youth football compared to other sports. We will look at how playing competitive team sports affects a young persons health, personal development, self esteem and academic performance. We will also look at some of the motivation behind those that would like to destroy something that is uniquely American and masculine.
In conclusion let me say I’m 100% fine with those who choose for their own reasons not to have their own children participate in the youth football. I’m very tolerant of them making that choice for their own family and their children. While I know there are tremendous benefits for those participating in youth football, I’m not suggesting we make playing tackle football mandatory for all kids. I don’t think it’s fair for me to impose my beliefs on those families. What I do have a problem with is for those same people not showing the same tolerance to me. They in essence are saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to make the decision to play or not to play for my own children. I guess they feel they are in a better position to make that decision for me, my family, my children and for the nations children as well. There are legitimate injury risks in any sport, including youth football, but let’s make sure all the facts are put on the table.
My apologies if I got a little political, that isn’t what this site is about. We have people that love and appreciate the value of youth football from all sides of the political aisle. But those of us that understand the value of this game in the lives of children need to make sure the entire story is being told.
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