“My team is not dirty. All the issues were on their side of the field. This is a football game, not a Hallmark Moment.” Quote from Scott Lago – a Pop Warner football coach in Southbridge, Massachusetts after a game in which five opposing players all 12 or younger, suffered concussions. New York Times
My only grandson, a nine year old, announced that he was going to play football last year. It made me nervous, but the teams that he played seemed pretty reasonable, and everyone appeared to be fostering a spirit of careful football where little kids were being taught and nurtured. This year, his second year in the league, he blossomed into a high-speed runner and scored four touchdowns in the first game of the season. Believe me when I tell you that there was no one cheering more loudly on the sidelines than I was that night.
Several weeks ago, however, my experience totally turned around. Upon reaching the field, people began to tell me that the team that he was playing only played to win. None of that made a lot of sense to me until I saw our little guy running with the ball to cross the goal line and a human missile, twenty or more pounds heavier hit him straight on, helmet to helmet with the force of a predator drone. It was like watching the NFL but without the $75,000 fine attached.
My heart stopped. I saw my grandson’s head snap back, watched him hit the ground and lay motionless. Because I was standing only about five yards away from this hit, it left me in a state of complete shock. Was it possible that someone would train a player to tackle eight and nine year olds like this? Was it possible that the referee who was not near the incident wouldn’t call a penalty? Most importantly, however, was it possible that my grandson would not get up or would have a concussion that would negatively impact him for the rest of his life?
Yes, it was all possible, and with the adults from the other side of the field screaming as if each play, each player and each hit would get them a huge raise, or make their lives complete, I had seen clearly before me both the best and the worst of the game. These little kids, with weight differentials ranging from 20 to 30 or more pounds, are just that, little, and this particular game seemed to have become a blood sport for the adults on the opposite team.
Well, thankfully, he did get up, and he doesn’t appear to have a concussion, but, with four touchdowns from the previous game, he probably had a target on his back, and when I went to his next game, it was with my heart in my throat, and a prayer that saner heads would prevail, and these events will become what they were always intended to be, A GAME, and they did.
As a healthcare professional, I’ve seen too many former NFL stars take their own lives and ran the hospital that actually cared for a local football hero not to be aware of the fact that head injuries are a real potential problem at any age. This issue is obviously very controversial to people like Coach Lago and those rabid fans that live their lives through the wins of those little kids, kids who just wanted to have some fun.
Interestingly, I’ve been told that coaches are having problems fielding teams in places like Seattle, Washington because the parents who work for Microsoft and Amazon are concerned that concussions could end their children’s’ chances for intellectual advancement.
Maybe we should all spend more time protecting the brains of the teams’ leadership . . . because, if they teach little kids to hit like missiles, they can’t be thinking straight.