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Five Kid Concussions in One Game Have Parents Questioning Pop Warner Football

Those concussions have hurtled this game to the forefront of the ongoing debate surrounding kids and football

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In the middle of September there was a Pop Warner football game. Pop Warner is the country’s “largest and oldest youth football organization,” so this shouldn’t be remarkable. But the score of this particular game was 52-0, and five different players, all around 10 years old, got concussions. Those concussions have hurtled this game to the forefront of the ongoing debate surrounding kids and football, and have been pushing parents, officials and fans to reconsider whether children should really be playing a game that can give them permanent brain damage.

The New York Times summarizes the punishments doled out to the schools that fielded the teams and the officials of the game:

Late last week, league officials suspended the coaches for both teams for the rest of the season. The referees who oversaw the game were barred from officiating any more contests in the Central Massachusetts Pop Warner league, and the presidents of both programs were put on probation.

But neither of the coaches were particularly remorseful. The Southbridge coach—Southbridge being the winning team—blamed the Tantasqua coach, saying “If you lost that many players, you should have called a timeout and come seen me. My team is not dirty. All the issues were on their side of the field. This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment.”

The Tantasqua coach claims he didn’t even realize how many of his players were injured. And Tantasqua parents weren’t particularly unhappy that the game continued, despite the injuries and the rout.

Five concussions in one game seems like a lot, but there could have been more. Coaches for Pop Warner teams are competitive and generally have no training in medicine. Despite Pop Warner’s attempts to scale back the hits on its teensy players, on the field it doesn’t always work that way. Chris Nowinski, president of a non-profit that researches brain trauma on athletes, said this of coaches: “If you consider the coach is a fool, there are no rules that are foolproof.”

For some parents though, hearing about all these concussions is making them rethink sending their kids out on the field. A recent survey suggest that 57 percent of parents are less likely to have their kids play based on recent news of kids with concussions and injuries sustained on the field. ESPN writes:

Parents in the survey made similar statements. A mom from Maryland said: “I’m afraid of the injuries. I don’t want my son to become too aggressive.” A dad from New Mexico said, “Football is a sport in which severe injuries can happen when a child is not properly coached. Most youth football coaches are concerned only with winning.”

But it’s hard to take the hit out of football—that’s kind of the point of the game. When it comes to the NFL, fans are split on the hard hits. ESPN again:

According to the survey, there is a divide among NFL fans about what to do about the concussion conundrum. Half of NFL fans argue that hard hits need to be minimized to reduce injuries, and the other half say hard hits are what help make the NFL a great game.

“Football is a game of hitting and contact, but what we’re focused on is eliminating unnecessarily dangerous techniques and making the game as safe as possible,” said. “… There’s a way to make the game safer and more exciting at the same time. It’s been done in the past, and we believe we’re doing it again.”

Whether that hitting and contact should extend to ten-year-olds is another question.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Football Tech to Protect Players
Football or Rugby: Whose Players are Tougher?
Even More Evidence That Football Causes Brain Injury

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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