Coaches, experts express pros, cons for young athletes
A proposal was announced by assembly members Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) to ban youth organized tackle football on Feb. 8, which could have an impact on collegiate level playing.
It’s too early to tell the specifics of the proposed legislation, but its purpose is to establish a minimum age of 14 to play youth organized tackle football, meaning high-contact elements in football programs would begin at the high school level.
The press release states that the bill “would follow the advice of medical professionals and allow high contact elements from football programs only at the high school level.”
Researchers from Boston University have suggested there is a link between youth football and cognitive impairments later in life.
If passed, California would become the first state in the country to set a minimum age for youth organized tackle football. California is one of four states considering limits, alongside Maryland, Illinois and New York.
ASUCD Senator Jake Sedgley played high school football for the Davis Senior High School Blue Devils varsity football team and thinks that youth need football for the camaraderie the sport build and parents should understand the risks involved.
Sedgley recounted a play where he was defending a kickoff return that resulted with a cracked helmet and a concussion.
“The pads and gear kind of give you a false sense of security,” Sedgley said. “I know our high school took specific measures to deal with [injuries] because our team had a problem with it.”
Programs have been implemented to handle the dangers of tackle football in youth programs. Heads Up, funded by the NFL Foundation, provides coaches with various tools to make the game safer for youth and high school players. Tools include courses built by health professionals, concussion recognition and response protocols along with Heads Up-style Tackling and Blocking which enforces techniques to reduce helmet contact.
These efforts intend to make the game safer, according to Jason Ingman, who has been coaching Sacramento area youth football for seven years. Ingman started a change.org petition in response to the proposal that gathered almost 40,000 signatures in 10 days.
Ingman played for UC Davis football in 1998-99 as a walk-on offensive lineman under coach Bob Biggs.
In fact, Ingman contends that banning the youth from being able to tackle will decrease the safety of the game when players enter high school football programs.
“It’s like being told that you cannot get your driver’s license until you’re 21, then you start out racing in NASCAR,” Ingman said. “Kids miss out on the opportunity to build skill sets that will make them safer players in high school.”
Ingman thinks that football is unfairly targeted by the proposal, where other sports like soccer, karate, lacrosse and wrestling also can result in concussions.
Other football coaches agree that football is safer today than it was before it came under scrutiny.
Davis Senior High Blue Devils head coach Stephen Smyte coached football on multiple levels, including assistant coach at UC Davis and Boise State, and worked with the Davis Junior Blue Devils to help grow the program.
Smyte pointed out that the tackle style taught at the program is the hawk style tackling that the Seattle Seahawks Assistant Head Coach Rocky Seto introduced to the Seahawks 2010 to reduce the risk of injury among NFL players. The Seahawks produced multiple videos on hawk style tackling that have been sent to over 8,000 youth football programs across the country.
“There has been a lot of movement in football circles to make football safer, more than any other sport,” Smyte said.
The Blue Devils have added technology to increase safety on the field, using Riddell helmets with sensors to detect potential head impact.
“Our new Riddell InSite helmets have a sensor inside of them so if a player gets hit in a certain way, they don’t even have to be concussed,” Smyte said. “It registers immediately and that player comes off the field right away.”
Blue Devils football trainers look at these readouts and determine whether the player should stop playing at that point.
UC Davis economics professor Scott Carrell, who coached the Davis Junior Blue Devils from 2011-16, thinks there is a positive social outcome for kids that play football.
“The one thing about football that is different than most sports is that it takes a group of kids — a large chunk of them are low-income kids — and it gives them structure and discipline,” Carrell said. “We have to think about the benefit that football provides to young kids, and weigh that against what happens when kids don’t have structure in their lives.”
Carrell thinks it is still too early to tell what effects this will have on the skills of California’s youth and high school football players, but speculated that it may put some of California’s kids at a disadvantage when it comes time for them to pick a college.
Clinical professor of medical pathology and laboratory medicine at UC Davis Bennett Omalu, who rocked the football community with his groundbreaking research that identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy in Pittsburg Steelers’ Mike Webster’s brain in 2002, is an advocate of banning the sport for children under the age of 18.
Omalu believes the choice is clear.
“No brain damage is worth the excitement of a touchdown,” Omalu said.
In his new book, “Brain Damage in Contact Sports,” Omalu claims that helmets do not prevent concussions or sub-concussive blows to the head. Omalu believes that whether or not the brain suffers a concussion, there is still the possibility of active unseen brain damage.
Omalu and other public health experts have given parents of young football players quite a bit to think about.
On the one hand, football builds camaraderie and discipline, and as Smyte put it, “football is the fabric of American society.” Conversely, brain damage may be too risky now that researchers have uncovered the effects of football on the human body.
Written by: Bobby John — firstname.lastname@example.org