When do we just do away with youth football?
Admittedly, that post title is me just being a tad sensationalist. But it does get us started on the path of what I think is an interesting conversation. This stems from another death over the weekend where a 16 year old high school athlete dies after a helmet-to-helmet hit. That is tragic, of course, but the more disturbing news comes from The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
Over the ten years of 2003-2012, 25 high school players have died playing football. Another 78 suffered irreversible brain damage. And 71 received ‘catastrophic’ cervical injuries. That is 174 kids. Just over 17 a year. I bring it up because I think there does exist a number where we would have to throw our hands up and say, ‘Ok, that’s enough. We just can’t have this happening anymore.’ Apparently, 174 isn’t that number. It gets a bit creepy if you think about that. Taken from that perspective, what we are saying as a society is that destroying the lives of 17 kids a year is a reasonable price to pay to keep football in the equation. So where is the line? Is it 50 kids? 100? 1000?
Take football out of the equation. Imagine if the playland at a restaurant chain was randomly killing and maiming children. The kids that didn’t die or suffer life-altering injuries were having a great time, but there was still this pile of statistics that showed that every year a certain number would die or be catastrophically injured. What would the number be for that? I’d wager it’s a far shot lower than 17.
I’m sure that the argument is that more work needs to be done to make football safer. Better equipment. Better coaching. I’m not buying it. It is a sport based on violent collisions. Short of putting everyone in those inflatable sumo suits, you’re not going to do anything about that. I’m just cynical enough to believe that much, if not most, of the inspiration behind the various ‘make football safer’ campaigns has as much to do with protecting the money machine as it does about actually improving safety.
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