Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Making Youth Football Safer

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Making Youth Football Safer

Article excerpt

Football is an exciting game; it is also a violent one.

In addition to speed, skill and strategy, football depends on the ability of players to absorb and deliver contact. It is this last aspect of the game - the risk and reward element, which continues to draws millions of fans around the world - that causes concerns about whether parents should ever allow their children to participate in the sport.

This week, in the lead-up to the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, a new wrinkle has emerged in the long-running debate on the relative safety of the game - and especially the risk of significant brain injury that goes along with it. USA Football, the national governing body for amateur football, has proposed a number of drastic changes for the sport at the youth level, the full effects of which could be felt for decades.

Among changes expected to be implemented in some places as part of a pilot program later this year are cutting the number of players on the field - possibly from 11 to 7 - making fields smaller, eliminating the kickoff and banning the three-point stance. In recent years, the group has also advocated flag football for younger ages, while some medical experts have recommended no tackle football until at least junior high school.

All of the changes take into account the growing evidence that shows the risk of concussions in football, and also other sorts of brain injury, due to repetitive smaller blows to the head, such as those sustained by interior linemen.

"To me, it makes sense we would want to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate purposeful hits to the brain," Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at Boston University School of Medicine, told The New York Times.

Quoting the Sports and Fitness Industry Association on trends in the game, the Times reported that participation in tackle football by boys ages 6 to 12 had fallen by nearly 20 percent since 2009, though it rose 1. …

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