From the first days of peewee ball to the stadium lights of the high school field, it’s abundantly clear that physical harm is a reality of football. For years, it was just “the norm” for adolescents and young adults to break a bone or suffer a concussion here and there. If a young player was injured, odds were they had been playing their hardest out on the field, and that was glorified.
Today, much of America’s youth has been born into the luxury of protection. From more effective airbags to an actual bomb detection shield in Israel, safety has never been as advanced as it is today. But within that world, football is taking new hits for the harm it poses to players’ health.
“I think that especially at younger ages even before high school, parents do worry about the physical and the violent aspect of the game and how it may affect their child, mostly regarding possible injuries they could suffer,” said Riverside Brookfield High School senior Louis Grigoletti, who committed to playing for Central Michigan next year. “Concussions are picking up steam in terms of being a worry of parents and players alike, so I’m sure these worries do keep kids from getting opportunities to play the game.”
The facts surrounding football injuries are frightening. Many former NFL stars have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative condition caused by constant head trauma that can lead to depression and dementia. A 2014 Boston University study examined the brains of 79 deceased NFL players and found evidence of CTE in 76 of those brains. When Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself in 2012, the autopsy showed he had been suffering from CTE.
These startling reports have trickled down to the game’s youth. Pop Warner, one of the nation’s largest youth football programs, experienced a participation drop of roughly 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012. ESPN reported that Pop Warner lost 23,612 players in that time period–the largest two-year decline since the organization began keeping statistics. gapersblock.com