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Controversial Pop Warner game highlights dangers of head injuries

In 2012, the NFL set a new record: 111.3 million worldwide tuned in to watch the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots, making it the most watched television event in history. While a crushing defeat for the Bay State – and one most would rather forget – this record-breaking viewership underscores our national love affair with the game. And with approximately 4 million young adults playing football each year, it also offers an opportunity to talk about new research that point to its serious dangers.

Five youths treated for concussions during a Pop Warner game

Last fall, five Tantasqua, Massachusetts boys suffered concussions during a Pop Warner football game with a team from Southbridge. Throughout the game, the more experienced Southbridge players inflicted numerous hits on the Tantasqua players, some as young as 10 years old. Southbridge ultimately won the game by a score of 52 to zero.

As a key advocate for safety among young football players, the Pop Warner league has developed numerous safety regulations and its coaches are thoroughly trained in concussion treatment. In 2010 the league informed coaches that an athlete must be taken out of a game if there were any doubts about his health. The coaches were recently advised to keep player contact during practices to a minimum. Certain tackling and blocking drills are now also forbidden.

Yet in spite of training for coaches and new league regulations, only three of the five Tantasqua players were taken out of the game as a direct result of the hits they sustained. The game continued despite the fact that the Tantasqua team no longer had the required number of players. And it was later determined that all five injured Tantasqua boys suffered concussions.

It’s noteworthy that Pop Warner suspended both teams’ coaches for the rest of the season. The three referees who allowed the game to continue took the brunt of the league’s disciplinary action; they have all been permanently banned from officiating Pop Warner games in Central Massachusetts.

Traumatic brain injuries and concussions increasing among young athletes

Brain injuries among young football players are increasing at an alarming pace, which prompted the strict guidelines implemented by Pop Warner in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the number of high school athletes treated for a traumatic brain injury has increased by 60 percent over the past decade. Additionally, between 11 and 15 percent sustain a traumatic brain injury or concussion each year.

These disturbing statistics are the inspiration for Heads Up, a program developed by USA Football, an official partner of the NFL. The purpose of the program is to decrease head injuries among players in high school and youth football programs.

USA Football trains players in appropriate methods of tackling. The group is currently studying the relationship between their tackling techniques and the rate of head injury. Videos, a website and advertising are other tactics the program uses to bring attention to the seriousness of head injuries.

Although head injuries can occur from helmet to helmet contact, Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine confirmed that an injury can even occur without a hit to the head. Sudden accelerations, such as the head rapidly whipping to one side, can also result in a concussion or traumatic brain injury. Cantu, the author of “Concussions and Our Kids,” also said that different tackling techniques may not necessarily decrease the risk of a head injury. He notes children are more susceptible to injury because of underdeveloped brains and muscles, and urges tackling ban on tackle football for children under the age of 14.

Head and brain injuries often produce devastating, lifelong consequences, from permanent physical limitations to emotional changes that affect relationships with friends and family. Additionally, some symptoms may not show for several years.

Whether your child is a student athlete or not, if he or she suffered a head or brain injury due to another’s negligence, consider setting up a meeting with an attorney experienced in the field of personal injury. He or she can help evaluate the merits of your case and assist you in obtaining compensation if it is due.

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