Copyright 2014 The Deseret News Publishing Co.
Due to mounting evidence that football injuries are causing long-term brain trauma, U.S. school districts are considering removing tackle-football programs for their younger students.
Even in a place where high school football is way of life, Marshall, an east Texas city, is seeing a major shift in football programs for children.
"The school board here approved plans in February to shut down the district's entry-level, tackle-football program for seventh graders in favor of flag football. There was little objection," wrote Ken Belson for The New York Times.
These measures have been rolling out across the nation for the last few years, "but because it is happening in Texas, an otherwise small move to end a seventh-grade tackle program reflects how the issue of brain trauma has begun to affect the football landscape," Belson wrote.
According to research released in 2013, the impact of hits to the head doesn't differ with age. "Football players as young as 7 sustain hits to the head comparable in magnitude to those absorbed by high school and adult players," Belson wrote in another New York Times article.
Clint Harper, athletic director of Marshall Independent School District, told The New York Times that the move to drop seventh-grade tackle football was based mainly on the potential for injury that results from not having adequate time to prepare all 120 boys on the team to play games. His plan is to focus on developing skills for a year before they put on pads and helmets in eighth grade.
According to a Virginia Tech study, seven to eight-year-old boys sustained an average of 3,061 hits to the head during one little league season, with 60 percent of them occurring during practice. On average, each boy sustained 11 hits of 80 g or greater, a level at which the risk of concussions is high.
"This study demonstrated that some head impacts at this level are similar in magnitude to high-severity impacts at the high school and collegiate level," the researchers wrote.
Michael Smith, a lawyer, former city commissioner in Marshall and avid football fan, told The New York Times that he had the same misconceptions about hits in football as other people.
"My assumption was the same as everyone else's: It never occurred to me it would have a long-term impact," Smith said. "It's not fictional. There's too much evidence now."
In the last few years, head injuries have gone from an overlooked result of a rough sport to a culture-altering reality. Smith's oldest son played football, but his younger sons show more interest in basketball, baseball and soccer. Smith said that football is becoming "an acquired taste."
The Virginia Tech researchers who conducted the study on youth football said football could be as safe as other popular sports as long as it's played safely and children are properly trained.
USA Football has taken measures to help keep young players safe by encouraging correct tackling form, proper helmet sizing and concussion awareness. Heads Up Football is USA Football's training and accreditation program designed to prevent amateur players from sustaining long-term injury.