By Luciano Rapa
Featured writer for Sideline Report
While driving for hours, I was listening to a discussion on head injuries playing football, as it related to young kids. Frankly, I figured it would be more propaganda to blame the game for brain issues at a young age.
I decided to explore the area further, and see if I could come up with an interesting article.
Please bare with me, the numbers have to be written, boring, but important. Twenty-eight percent football players ages 5 to 14 get injured while playing in a football game, according to the National Center for Sports Safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that hospitals have recorded a 62 percent increase over the last decade in children under the age of 19 suffering serious head injuries while playing sports and engaging in other physical activities.
Young men, more likely to play sports involving intense physical contact, accounted for seven in 10 cases. And football was most often the sport that sent them to the emergency room.
This is all very scary, no doubt. But, I think we are blaming the game, without really looking at facts.
I grew up in the North East were there are numerous Pee-Wee leagues, and young kids from 5 year of age on, do play, and engage each other on the field. I have always admired these little boys, but what I always paid attention to was the coaches and the parents. The biggest eye opener was when I moved South, I just didn’t realize how big kids football really was. Here, its not about a game, its a way of life and respect.
In the area I live in, the leagues are organized by the Boys & Girl Clubs. In my previous town, Bentonville, Boys & Girl club leagues are huge. Parents fight to have their child placed on the team of their choice, usually because the coach was a good University of Arkansas player.
There are concerned organizations trying to make changes to little boys playing this tough game at such a young age, and even considering banning the game. I say, bull, football is not the problem, people are.
For example, the league I spoke of in Bentonville is funded by Walmart Headquarters and their vendors. As such these kids have incredible equipment. Their helmets are professional/college level. Each team can afford to have a HC, OC, DC, ST coach, and numerous other helpers. These guys fight for such position of prestige. All the coaching and proper equipment should easily curtail any serious injury. After all these are little boys hitting other little boys.
The parents at these game are insane. Yelling at 5-6 year olds as if they were playing against Florida State for the NCAA Championship. Most of the games are played at one of the many High School Stadiums. There are days that those bleechers are filled with thousands of yelling screaming dads, moms, grandmas etc. The coaches have so much pressure to win, because this is their ticket to get to coach the high schools and beyond.
I remember one such coach, who made the transition from these leagues to a local High school powerhouse and on to UofA, Tulsa, and now HC of Auburn, Gus Malzahn. Someday he will be an NFL HC too. His motive since coaching Boys & Girls Clubs was not for those kids to have fun, he was using them to further his career; which is natural, and nobody can blame him for that.
You see, all these people are pushing these young kids to extreme conditions, and as a result injuries do occur. Blame the coaches, the dads and moms for it, not the game. Bring back the system that allowed for these little kids to have fun playing a game with their friends.
I had dinner with my Doctor and his wife last night, and I wanted to pick his brain a little, about this issue. He is father to a football player at the high school. What he said, really opened my eyes the most, and it just maybe the REAL problem.
Dr. Yawn treats many of the local kids at a regular basis. He said that he has noticed that many kids do get head injuries playing football, but nobody is blaming the culprit, the helmet.
Because of all the attention head injuries have received, these helmets have become heavier, padded more so than ever before. Dr. Yawn feels that the weight of these helmets is too much for the tiny necks to hold in place. When a little boy gets hit, the weight of the helmet overtakes the strength of the neck. That motion creates more head hits in the same play; the head shakes hard, and the result usually is a visit to the emergency room. Neck injuries are even more common than head injuries; yet, it is not an issue that gets discussed.
I hope that the industry that supplies these little leagues begin to make helmets designed for little boys, weaker necks. I am sure with the technology we have today, effective lighter materials can be used. Decreasing that weight may diminish the issue. But most of all, I hope that dads stop trying to see their son become the star they failed to become. Or at the very least allow the kid to grow and get stronger before pushing him to act like a pro, at 6. I also wish coaches would remember that coaching 5-6 year olds should be fun for everyone.
Unfortunately, I think the political correctness that has hit the NFL and football at all levels, will result in age restrictions as to when young kids can begin contact. Slowly this could really hurt the talent level that eventually reaches the NFL.