For over 30 years football has been the favorite sport in the United States, but youth participation in the sport is dropping and it may be a sign of a troublesome future for football.
ESPN’s Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported that the nation’s largest youth football program, Pop Warner, saw participation drop by nearly 10 percent between 2010-12. It indicates that the concussion problems in the NFL are causing parents to think twice about letting their children play.
According to their report, Pop Warner lost 23,612 players during that time period, which is believed to be the biggest drop since the organization began keeping statistics.
It is very true that other factors such as a struggling economy could be contributing to the drop in participation, but brain injuries and their possible long-term effects are clearly a factor in the decline. Dr. Julian Bailes, Pop Warner’s own chief medical officer, told Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada that concern over brain injuries is the primary reason for the drop:
“Unless we deal with these truths, we’re not going to get past the dropping popularity of the sport and people dropping out of the sport,” said Bailes, a former Pittsburgh Steelers neurosurgeon whose 10-year-old son, Clint, plays Pop Warner outside Chicago. “We need to get it right.”
One of the doctors cited in the study, Tony Strickland, associate clinical professor of neurology at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, did suggest caution when discussing the issue. While he agrees it is right for most parents to be cautious with such a serious issue, it is important to understand the limits of what we currently know. He said, “I have felt that the pendulum swung way ahead of the science and what we know.”
We have discovered a great deal about concussions and traumatic brain injuries over the past few years, but there is still a great deal we don’t know. While we understand how brain injuries occur, there is still a large amount of debate about methods for lowering the risk of concussions, treating more serious brain injuries, and the amount of time athletes should be sidelined following a concussion.
The source of the controversy surrounding the NFL is partially based in concern over the health of players we send to battle each other for our entertainment. But, the lawsuits and searing documentaries are equally the result of a questionable response from the league to laboratory findings about brain injuries and withholding information from players.
Parents have every right to be worried about the latest headlines about brain injuries in football, but the best way to decide if football is right for your child is educating yourself about the most up to date information on concussions and having a serious discussion with your family. Brain injuries are a serious problem in football, and there may be another sport your child will excel in.