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A part of the responsibility of adults is protecting our young people. Yet, for some unidentifiable reason we tend to miss the target at some obvious junctures. Smoking has been identified as a hazard since the Surgeon Generalís Report of more than 50 years ago. Yet, cigarettes are still sold across the counter to almost any young person who wants them. Nearly 10,000 American children are injured or killed by guns each year. Yet, guns proliferate in all areas of society. Texting while driving killed more than 3,000 children and youth last year. Yet, 20 percent of our states still permit that practice within their boundaries. And I hesitate to bring up the obvious youth, high school and college football problem.
Yes, I know. Now I have begun to meddle. Football has become our national game. High school, college and NFL stadiums are filled each weekend through the fall, and those who donít attend are generally glued to their TV sets. Yet medical research casts a shadow over the entire structure of football as it is played at all levels.
In recent days the brain injuries of professional football players have been in the news. Last year the National Football League faced a suit related to past head injuries, and settled at a level of $765 million. And there are only about 2000 active NFL players on 32 teams.
The problem at lower levels dwarfs the liability faced by the NFL. There are more than 70,000 college players on approximately 1,500 teams in the U.S., and the number of high school, junior high and youth teams are impossible to count. Tragically, research shows that the younger the brain the more susceptible it is to injury. Suffice it to say that the number of young people we have involved in school-sanctioned jeopardy is in the millions. The potential financial cost of such jeopardy may well be into the trillions. And who can measure the human tragedy of a non-functioning brain?
Worse, we know the problem exists, because of the published research, and still we continue to create opportunities for brain mayhem at younger and younger ages. We trust coaches who are schooled in the fundamentals of the sport. They spend, literally, years learning how to move a football down the field. Unfortunately, most high school and college coaches will admit to having no more than one or two courses that teach them how to protect the health of the young people in their charge. And youth coaches? What orientation/training program gets them ready to handle possible concussion problems? Just as bad, the technology of the equipment today has proven incapable of preventing the constant jarring that causes long-term brain injuries.
From a personal perspective I lament the state of what has become our national game. I played it, coached it at both the high school and college levels and still love to watch the weekly pageantry through the fall season each year. Would I play it and coach it today considering all that is known about jeopardy to our young people? In a word, no.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at email@example.com.
MARK L. HOPKINS: Protecting our youth
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