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N.H. Board Member Proposes Districtwide Ban on Football

A school board member in Dover, N.H., made national waves recently when he proposed banning all his district's students from playing football because of safety concerns.

Dr. Paul Butler, a retired physician, told his fellow board members that it was the "moral thing to do, the ethical thing to do to try to stop football at Dover High School and throughout all of Dover," according to minutes from the Oct. 1 meeting. "The lawyers will probably stop it for us if we don't do it," Butler said.

Not surprisingly, the proposal generated immediate negative backlash from fellow board members and local school officials.

"Concussions happen in every sport," said Rocky D'Andrea, chairman of the board and a youth-baseball coach, to the Foster's Daily Journal. "I know it's an issue, and I'm not trying to belittle it. But getting rid of a sport? If you get rid of football, you might as well get rid of all sports."

Ernie Clark, who serves as a supervisor of football officials for the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, was equally dismissive of Butler's proposal when interviewed by the Daily Journal, noting that coaching changes and evolving techniques can improve the safety of the game.

"I think it's such a defeatist attitude," Clark said to the paper. "I can't see it happening. Kids can be coached to play the game in a different manner than it was 20 years ago. I've seen a lot of improvement in technique and how the kids are coached. As officials, we can quickly recognize who the good coaches are simply by the technique their players are using."

This issue, like most everything else, doesn't boil down to a clear, black-and-white choice. Both sides make valid points.

Can football players be taught to play the game safer? Absolutely. Taking Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's advice ("Don't hit the head, don't use the head") is a great place to start.

Can teams drastically reduce the frequency of concussions by cutting down hitting in practice? Research from Virginia Tech and Dr. Robert Cantu suggests that a majority of the hardest hits to the head for youth-football players occur in practice.

Have these changes made the game of football "safe" for youths? The jury is still out there.

During the recent board meeting, Butler correctly informed the rest of the board that a football helmet can't fully protect a player's brain from sustaining a concussion, according to the meeting's minutes. When a player's head collides with something, his or her brain moves around inside the skull and has the potential to collide with the skull's walls. No amount of technological sophistication with helmets will prevent that simple fact of physics.

Butler also warned board members about the slew of concussion-related lawsuits that have been filed against the NCAA and NFL over the past year or two. If either organization is found guilty of having intentionally deceived players about the risk of sports-related concussions, it could be of grave concern to districts.

Does this blog have an editorial position on whether or not students should be allowed to play football? No. We won't be determining a winner or loser in the Paul Butler v. Dover football debate.

But assuming Dover football carries on, as D'Andrea said it would in a statement published on MyFoxBoston.com, it wouldn't hurt to attempt to make the game a little safer, at the very least. Teaching proper tackling techniques should be step one.

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