Should high schools end football programs? Are risks to players too great?

Family, friends, teammates and classmates gathered Saturday to mourn and remember Burke County High School player Rod Williams, who died Monday after collapsing during a practice two weeks earlier.

Rod Williams of Burke County High School died Monday. (Augusta Chronicle)

The funeral for football player Rod Williams of Burke County High School was Saturday. (Augusta Chronicle)

The 17-year-old offensive lineman for the Burke County Bears became the fifth U.S. high school football player to die during a game or practice this season. He was the first Georgia football death this year. The Burke County coroner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “His heart failed and his lungs failed.”

As the AJC reported:

Williams is the third high school player to die from football-related issues in the last two weeks. Kenny Bui, a senior at Evergreen High School in Washington died Monday following injuries sustained in a game Friday. Evan Murray, a quarterback for Warren Hills High School in New Jersey, died following an injury sustained in his team’s game the previous day.

My neighbor, a freelance sportswriter, made a prediction a few years ago: High schools will stop fielding football teams due to the threat of brain injuries. The combination of parental fears and school liability would eventually bring down the goalposts. I told him I could never see that happening. Now, I’m not so sure.

While high school football remains king in Georgia —  about 34,000 Georgia students played last year the sport is losing status and players in some states.

More parents are telling their sons they cannot play high school football. Play soccer or lacrosse, run track, join the swim or tennis team, but no football.

Schools in New Jersey and Maine have recently scrapped their football teams. A suburb of St. Louis built its recent homecoming around a soccer game even though its football team won the state title in 2010.

As The New York Times reported:

The school board in Maplewood, a St. Louis suburb, disbanded the high school’s football team in June, even though it reached the state championship game five years ago. A decade ago, such a move would have seemed radical. But concerns are growing about football players’ safety, and soccer and other sports are gaining popularity. “Over all, it was, ‘Can we field a team that is competitive and safe for the kids to perform?’ ”said Nelson Mitten, the president of the Maplewood Richmond Heights School Board, who said players’ injuries last season included a broken ankle, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a significant head injury.

In some cases, schools are canceling their seasons because they cannot find enough players to fill the roster.

As CBS reported:

The total number of high school students playing football across America has dropped by more than 25,000 over the past five years. “Youth participation is declining, high school participation is declining. This trend is going to continue,” Time magazine senior writer Sean Gregory said.

“I’m not ready to call ‘Friday Night Lights’ off in the next 10 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if coaches are having kind of a more difficult time attracting quality players,” Gregory said.

The Portland Press Herald in Maine wrote this week about the falling rosters on football teams in the state, noting: Overall, high school football participation in Maine declined 14 percent from 2006 to 2014, according to data from the Maine Principals’ Association. That compares with an 8.3 percent decline in the state’s high school enrollment over the same period. Nationally, participation in high school football has declined by 2.4 percent over the past five years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

A principal of a Maine high school that cancelled the rest of  its football season explained in a public statement: “Dwindling numbers of players have created a serious safety issue and we are simply not willing to put any more students at risk.”

The main risk to youth athletes is a concussion. Here are some facts from the Sports Concussion Institute:

•CDC estimates reveal that 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occur each year

•5-10% of athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season

•Fewer than 10% of sport related concussions involve a Loss of Consciousness (e.g., blacking out, seeing stars, etc.)

•Football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males (75% chance for concussion)

•Soccer is the most common sport with concussion risk for females (50% chance for concussion)

78% of concussions occur during games (as opposed to practices)

•Some studies suggest that females are twice as likely to sustain a concussion as males

•Headache (85%) and Dizziness (70-80%) are most commonly reported symptoms immediately following concussions for injured athletes

•Estimated 47% of athletes do not report feeling any symptoms after a concussive blow

•A professional football player will receive an estimated 900 to 1500 blows to the head during a season

•Impact speed of a professional boxers punch: 20mph

•Impact speed of a football player tackling a stationary player: 25mph

Impact speed of a soccer ball being headed by a player: 70mph.

New Jersey player Evan Murray died of a lacerated spleen caused by a football injury. (AP Photo)

New Jersey high school quarterback Evan Murray died two weeks ago of a lacerated spleen caused by an injury sustained in a game. (AP Photo)

quarterback

In a column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger this week, Robert Hoatson, a former high school principal, coach and athletic director, wrote about why schools should drop football:

Football has become too dangerous. Training programs are bulking kids up to an extreme degree, steroids and other growth enhancers are rampantly available and technology and other factors have speeded up the game to a frightening level. What once was a “contact” sport has become a “collision” sport, and we know what happens in collisions: one or both parties end up with serious damages, including permanent brain trauma.

If I were a parent today, there is no way I would allow my son to play youth football. I saw too much through the years, including sitting in hospital emergency rooms with parents awaiting news of the extent of their children’s injuries. I comforted families whose sons suffered ruptured spleens similar to the one that recently took the life of Evan Murray of Warren Hills High School in New Jersey. We should not risk that type of tragedy for the sake of tradition.

What do you think? Will we ever see soccer anchoring homecoming weekends in Georgia rather than football? Should we?

 

Reader Comments 0

84 comments
popcornular
popcornular

This just in from the CDC.

More than half (55%) of Traumatic Brain Injuries among children 0 to 14 years were caused by falls. 

I demand an end to recess, running, standing, walking, sliding, swinging, skipping, and any form of playing for all children under the age of 14. 

bu2
bu2

Maybe you should be for keeping girl's out of sports since their concussion rates for soccer and basketball are much higher than boys.  Softball is higher than baseball and girl's lacrosse, despite contact being illegal, is nearly as high as boy's lacrosse.  3 recent studies have girl's soccer concussion rates at .34 to .36, compared to .47 to .60 for football.

CSpinks
CSpinks

RIP, young man.


Our condolences to the Williams family, to Rod's teammates, and to his classmates at Burke County High School.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Gee, this week-end so far there seem to have been a lot of bad knee, ankle, and head injuries in college and professional football reported...

popcornular
popcornular

@OriginalProf

Unintentional fall death rates among seniors have skyrocketed over the past 10 years. Time to ban walking?

popcornular
popcornular

@Astropig @popcornular @OriginalProf

From U.S. Sports Academy:

Cheerleading is the No. 1 female sport and No. 2 in catastrophic injuries when compared to all sports – only American football ranks higher.

Not only does it cause injuries, but their outfits are distracting! That's a two fer. Ban it all!

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

When taxpayers start having to pony up for the large lawsuits that are coming, then and only then will folks seriously consider this issue.  Until then is will be business as usual with the entrenched going on about having to pry the pigskin out of their cold, dead hands.


If we found out that Algebra 1 was giving kids long term brain damage, you can be sure their would be folks screaming about banning it immediately...


Football?  No way, Jose.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit


Typical liberal understanding of economics. Schools have thick layers of insurance to protect them financially when injuries or (God forbid) death occur. The insurance company is the deep pocket that gets sued. Only when the liability insurance cost becomes prohibitive will there be any serious possibility that contact sports will be in jeopardy. But it's not going to happen because some lib crybabies want to wish it away.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @Quidocetdiscit


And who do you think ultimately pays for the insurance costs?


"Only when the liability insurance cost becomes prohibitive..."       Which is basically just what this "crybaby liberal" just said.

Lord Zontar
Lord Zontar

@Astropig @Quidocetdiscit Typical conservative ignorance of how things actually work.  With every insurance settlement, premiums get jacked up across the board.  In a high-risk activity or environment, premium costs soar.  Eventually, the mathematics of the situation becomes impossible to ignore: premiums will become cost-prohibitive for schools and school districts, and insurers will become less willing to underwrite the risks as more high-dollar settlements have to be paid out.  With the upshot that high school football will end up pricing itself out of the insurance market altogether.

bu2
bu2

Have you looked at concussion stats for soccer?  Its the most dangerous sport for HS girls.


And note, this player died of a heart condition.  That could have happened following any activity, not necessarily a sport.

popcornular
popcornular

So far we have 'get rid of football'  and 'blame boys for distractions caused by girls' clothing'. 

Clueless. 

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Here we go again, Ms. Downey, still beating that dead horse.  I believe you wrote a column last year on the same subject about this same time.  It ain't gonna happen, football WILL NOT be banned at any level; however, that being said, there are "some" high schools that probably should because the only interest in the football program is the revenue derived to support all of the "minor" sports teams.  Again, high school football isn't going away anytime soon.  There are those athletes who work all their young lives to attain stardom so as to make a better life for themselves and their families by getting a college degree and, if they're good enough, playing on Sundays.  Do we really want to take away those opportunities from these young people?  Think about it.

Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Zimmerman

This article should be retitled FOOTBALL SAVES LIVES. Bear with me:

The Death Rate per 1,000,000 football players is roughly 5. The Death Rate per 1,000,000 teenagers is roughly 495. Now, players practice and play football is about 360 hours per year. So when you multitude that to meet the 8760 hours of a teenagers life you get a Death Rate of 121. So kids who play football have reduced their chances of death by 75%. 20 per year would have to die just to equal the kids who left school and went home.

Before you wrote this article did you look at the number of kids who died 50 years ago per year?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Ryan Zimmerman Fifty years ago, no one knew the extent and prevalence of brain injuries from football. (Nor do we keep good stats on sports deaths 50 years ago.)

But we are not just talking about football deaths; we are talking the growing science -- unfathomable 50 years ago -- that shows the long-term physical toll of football. 

Consider 50 years ago pregnant women were encouraged to smoke, something that science has since shown is dangerous to developing fetuses. Today, everyone understands pregnant women should not smoke.

Many of you are overlooking the concerns and fears of the professionals who play football and face the prospect of diminished capacities due to brain injuries. 

Participating in a team sport does help kids, but it doesn't mean overlooking the growing body of research on the long-term implications to their health and well being. Football is not the only sport to teach kids about sportsmanship and team work. 


Here is a relevant excerpt of a recent NPR story. Take a look at the full segment:


Scientific studies have shown that the kind of repeated hits NFL players take is linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease. CTE is associated with memory loss, impulse control problems, depression and eventually dementia.

Some players are rethinking their careers — like up-and-coming linebacker Chris Borland, who quit after his first season with the 49ers a few months ago — for fear of head injuries.

Parents are weighing the risks as well. So when someone like Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka talks, they listen. When host Bryant Gumbel asked Ditka on HBO's Real Sports earlier this year whether, if he had an 8-year-old now, he would want him to play football.

"No," he answered. "That's sad. I wouldn't, and my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward."


http://www.npr.org/2015/08/09/430877562/is-football-worth-the-brain-injury-risk-for-some-the-answer-is-no

Shar1
Shar1

Football should not receive any public funds, whether in the form of direct payment or tax exemptions.


High school football teams should pay for their own stadiums, transportation, coaching, uniforms etc.  College football programs should be spun off and treated as what they are, businesses that pay taxes on all revenues.  Donors to such programs should not be able to write off that money.  Professional football should not be permitted access to public money for stadium building (and we all know that the new Falcon's stadium would never have gotten public funding if the taxpayers had been able to vote) and corporate box holders should be treated just like personal seat holders - that money comes from their pockets and is not reimbursed through tax exemptions. 


Any organization sponsoring a football team should be required to carry insurance against accident, including coverage for death or life-changing injuries.  Again, the tab for that should not be charged to the taxpayer.


Football is just too dangerous.  Taxpayers should not be in the position of paying for young men to be slammed, crushed, bashed and knocked out.  If private groups want to sponsor it and some parents want to allow their kids to play, so be it.  But not one dime of taxpayer money should go into it.

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

We have lost at least one teenager to an auto crash every year for years, yet our educational system REFUSES to have Drivers Education in public schools.  Talk about misplaced focus.

Shannon the Grouch
Shannon the Grouch

@RexHavoc There is a difference between not teaching something that may save lives if it were taught... and deliberately teaching something that harms.  Neglect is a lesser sin than committing.

GB101
GB101

After reading this column I counted the football pictures on the front page of ajc.com.  37.  

1Robert
1Robert

Lets ban all things deemed unhealthy.  I think it was in Oregon where a school system banned tag because some kids could not handle being "it".  The parents revolted and the school system relented, they have tag again.  Not to upset anyone but more gays die of aids than kids die from playing football.  If we are really interested in saving lives will we try to ban sexual activities that result in slow, expensive deaths ?

sim_namore
sim_namore

@1Robert  Hi Robert.  Tag does not equate to football.  I guess you probably know that already.  Perhaps.  You think you're arguing by analogy, but you're not; you're arguing by stupidity.  How about this one:  YOUR son has a debilitating brain injury;  YOUR son goes blind; YOUR son's life is shortened; YOUR son dies. There.  See how that works?  Our high schools and universities must not be in the business of damaging our students abilities to think!!  Here in Georgia, that's already an issue, apparently.  Next up: AIDS.  AIDS has nothing to do with concussion injuries.  I guess you probably already know that.  Perhaps.  I suppose you know that AIDS is treatable.  As it turns out (and I hate to break it to you), stupidity isn't.   Here's the deal, Robert: people will starting suing the school systems for injuries to students--their children.  They will win their suits.  Insurance companies won't like that at all and they'll begin raising rates.  Insurance costs will stop us from injuring our children for our amusement, Robert.

RolleTheorem
RolleTheorem

End high school football and end football as a major American sport. 

If we end football we need to take a look at boxing. We also need to look at what we would do with all these football stadiums. Football is probably one of the last activities that still proves a cultural marker that Americans are a tough, rugged and fearless people.


With that amount of pantywaists we have running things maybe football should be the next DoDo bird.

Mandingo
Mandingo

Ban the automatic pay raises for teachers based on the number of online internet degrees they obtain. Two of my wife's friends that teach school obtained  Masters Degrees during the summer break.

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

@Mandingo Online internet degrees are the educational source of the future.  To believe that they don't count is complete ignorance.  Almost ALL reputable university systems now offer them.

Roger142
Roger142

Of course there should be sports in Public High Schools!  The problem is because every high school wants a football team, that is why we have so many high schools with 1000 + students.

Wouldn't it be cheaper to start funding more charter schools that don't have foot ball teams?  Schools that have a teacher to student ration of 1 to 18.  Maybe some kids just need an education with out all the pep rallies?

1Robert
1Robert

@Roger142 Do you think ending football will cause the teacher ration to improve ?

popcornular
popcornular

Until someone can demonstrate that these kids are actually learning anything in school, I say let 'em play football. The risk of brain damage on the field has to be less than in the classroom. 

Zeri
Zeri

I support banning ALL sports from peewee to professional because someone at some point may get a scratch or die. Please America. Think of the children. We must ban and incarcerate all individuals who won't think of the children! No injury is to small. We must protect all individuals from cradle to grave from themselves. Anything less is criminal and all persons involved MUST BE EXECUTED!

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

@Zeri Yes.  Anything less than the best is a felony.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Absolutely - anything that helps poor young black men have an actual reason to come to school and try in class needs to be abolished.  Much better to take away the one reason they have for caring and trying, and have them end up in jail.


Says those who supposedly "care".


Of course, liberals never actually think of the real world ramifications of their ideas.  If they had, we wouldn't have paid young black moms more in welfare if they weren't married than if they were....and other incredibly damaging insanely stupid ideas.  Gotta love what's happened to the black family since that program was put in place.....

Astropig
Astropig

@dcdcdc



"Of course, liberals never actually think of the real world ramifications of their ideas".


Ban football and athletically fit,bored teenagers will be turned loose on society on Friday nights. Not to mention that the actual athletes won't have any focus or direction from (in some neighborhoods) the best role models they will ever see.Ban the band and the GDP will fall by several percentage points as fundraisers will become a memory (at leats in my town,anyway)


Add in the rising teen alcoholism and pregnancy rates,the sundered social fabric in many small communities and you'll create a problem of such gigantic proportions that it could only be solved by...Another giant liberal program that will, in turn,create an even bigger problem. Eventually, we'll achieve closure when President Chelsea Clinton holds a news conference to blame it on...George Bush.

redweather
redweather

@dcdcdc If football is their "only reason to come to school" I doubt there is much a teacher could do for them, or to them, or with them.  

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@redweather @dcdcdc Then you have no clue what you are talking about.  I've watched literally hundreds of young men turn their life around strictly because of their interest in football - because it forced them to attend class and work on their school work - just to be eligible.


But I realize that real world results of lib programs and ideas are never actually considered by folks like you.  You'd much rather just consign young at risk men to jail, rather than actually think about what the true impact will be - and then blame conservatives for "not caring".


Sick...

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

I'm not sure a student "whose heart failed" means that we shouldn't have high school football anymore.    That is not to say I'm insensitive to this tragic death.   In this particular case, it's possible that this could have happened with any sport, not exclusive to football.


There are certainly other types of injuries that are symptomatic of playing football.   My feeling is that we already know that football enrollment is down, largely due to the major press about the concussions and other long-term medical issues stemming from former NFL and NCAA football players.   The sport is trying to mitigate the risks by improving the equipment and eliminating certain types of contact.   Parents and players are well aware of the risks and the proper disclaimers/waivers are likely filled out by the families.  They know the risks.


So with that in mind, it doesn't seem plausible to simply eliminate the sport of football from high school programs.   I never played football competitively - it wasn't something I was interested in.  I played other sports.   But I wouldn't take that opportunity away from kids who may want to play football knowing the risks that come from such a high contact sport.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

While we're on the subject of sports, my favorite high school sport from a parental aspect is cross country.  I always enjoyed watching the final five or ten contestants in a race.  These were the kids who were not strong / fast / coordinated enough to play the other sports, but they could run.  The final 50 yards or so they ran the gauntlet line of fans / parents / contestants from all teams - and all were cheering them to the finish line.  

You want to talk about sportsmanship?   There you go.....

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Lee_CPA2 Sportsmanship? What's that? I've heard of gamesmanship and of one-up-manship. But sportsmanship? Is it anything like a bass boat?


Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@CSpinks

"Sportsmanship' is an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors."


In other words, it is the Golden Rule of sports.

What's that?

Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

GMAB
GMAB

I was talking about pre-existing conditions. Let them drive but not play football. Great.

GMAB
GMAB

Calm down, the article is not about brain injuries. Sports matter.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@GMAB 

But brain injuries (and later brain-damage) as a result of football concussions is the "risk to football players" that is being prominently discussed nationwide.

Da_Mick
Da_Mick

Banning football is kind of like banning guns -- it will never happen in this country.  And the rationale is very much the same: "What the heck, it's only the injury and death of a few kids here and there, compared to what we get out of it, that's nothing."  But if mothers can shut down the bar industry in this county, they might be able to do the same thing to HS football.  I have to admit that, unless you have a really huge kid, it's probably not a good idea to let your kid  play.  Now it that powerful mothers lobby would only set their sights on gun control, and maybe get the help of our cowardly law-enforcement lobby (who privately claim to want gun control, but mysteriously don't speak out about it).  We might make begin to make some dent in the violence that's taking over this country.  

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

This young man's death is a tragedy, but heart/lung failure could happen in many strenuous instances.   Poor Hank Gathers died of heart failure playing basketball, but we're not talking about banning that.

The incidence of brain damage, however, is another problem entirely.


gapeach101
gapeach101

Mothers will be the death of football.  It may take a generation or two, but enough mothers will say no and football will end.

Football reminds me of boxing.  It too used to be a popular sport.  

cigs
cigs

I think that if football is dropped from high school there will be city or park teams that will take the place of school teams.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"“He had hypertensive heart disease and he went into pulmonary edema,” Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “His heart failed and his lungs failed.”"


It wasn't football that killed him.  Judging by his picture, it was mashed potatoes and gravy.   Harsh, but true.

Ironically, improvements in sports equipment have enabled these football players to crash into each other at full speed.  Look back at some of the old films when players only had leather helmets and shoulder pads.  The tackling technique was to wrap your arms around the player and drag him down.  Now, everyone seems to be going for the "big hit".

Yes, I played high school football back in the 70's.  Had a great time for the most part.  Dreaded summer camp and those "two-a-days".  Remember the adrenaline rush of running through the banner onto the field.  Even today, driving by the local high school and hearing the marching band practicing brings back a lot of fond memories.

That said, if I had sons instead of daughters, it wouldn't have disappointed me if they didn't want to play football.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 

I thought when I read the original news article about this death that he never should have been playing football in the first place.