Youth Football & Collisions: Really, Really, Really Bad News

Youth Football & Collisions: Really, Really, Really Bad News February 22, 2012

ESPN just released this frightening data from the first study of youth football and the impact of head-to-head collisions:

The first-ever study to measure the head impacts among youth football players has found that some hits absorbed by second graders are as forceful as those in the college game, and that unlike at in high school and college football most of the severe hits occurred during practices.


The sample size was small, just seven players in a Virginia youth league between the ages of seven and eight. But its findings will help shape the debate about safety measures — and for some whether children should participate at all — in youth football, which is played by 3.5 million children below high school age. The average player in the study sustained 107 head impacts during the course of 9.4 practices and 4.7 games.

Most of those hits were modest in force, as measured by sensors installed in the padding of helmets. But some topped 80 g’s, similar to “some of the more severe impacts that college players experience, even though the youth players have less body mass and play at slower speeds,” the authors wrote. Boys of grade school and middle school age often lack the neck strength of teenagers, among other factors that can make them vulnerable to injury.

Read the whole piece (with thanks to Denny Burk).  It is positively chilling.

I wrote a piece on this kind of evidence two years ago for First Things Grantland recently published a piece that mused out loud whether football will be outlawed in the future in America; Malcolm Gladwell wondered the same a few years back in the New Yorker.  I don’t know what the future holds for American football, but it should be clear to anyone who cares about children that the physical nature of the game is jeopardizing their health.

Note that this is just the first study on this matter.  More will come. I suspect we will find exactly what many mothers and grandmothers have known by way of common sense for decades: that football as it is currently played is far more dangerous than we pretend it is.  In other words, I think many of us intuitively know that the game, though very fun and not wrong by nature, is in its present form nearly gladiatorial.  We treat the sport as if it’s low-risk, but in reality it is not.  It is high-risk.

There is a real challenge for Christians here.  I’m not saying that we cannot participate in or enjoy football, but studies like this one should alarm us.  Football is very dangerous for children, youth, and adults as it’s currently played.  Are we going to write material like this off?  Or will we realize that athletics fall under ethics, and help to lead the national conversation about how we can reform football to make it much safer?

Why have many Christians been silent on this issue?  Readers of this blog know that I love sports.  But I can’t love them more than I love wisdom, right?  The old translation of Proverbs 4:7 says it nicely: “In all your getting, get wisdom.”  I love that.  May we strive together on this point.

Some might counter by saying “football’s a way of life where I’m from.”  I understand that, but isn’t this whole gospel-driven movement about bringing all of life, not just your eternal destination, under the Lordship of Christ?  After all, setting widows on fire was a part of life in 19th-century India, but William Carey, heroic Baptist missionary, led the charge against that practice.  I hope that we will remember, with the Reformers, that Scripture is the “norm that norms all other norms” and bring the full force of the biblical conscience to a game that, though a gift of God’s common grace, is in dire need of Christian influence and wisdom.

(Image: Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

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