'Friday Night Lights' Author Warns Against Allowing Children to Play Football
Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Friday Night Lights," penned a column for Time magazine Thursday condemning parents for allowing children to play football.
Bissinger cites the risks of developing long-term brain damage as his main concern, saying "there are [too many] studies out there showing the risk of concussions on young players, even if it's only one concussion." (To wit: A study released earlier this year found that some football players' brains might not fully recover from hits endured even after six months of no-contact rest during the offseason.)
Despite the best efforts of the Heads Up Football campaign and others attempting to emphasize proper tackling techniques, Bissinger suggests it's all for naught. "It is not a good sign of future health when a plastic projectile is clamped around your head," he writes. (He's not the only one to raise a red flag on Heads Up Football; an ESPN Outside The Lines report detailed concerns from former NFL players about the viability of such a program.)
Accordingly, Bissinger calls for even more emphasis on education regarding the long-term risks of concussions:
What is needed is an organized campaign much like the campaign on the dangers of smoking. If high school kids want to play football, and their parents want them to play football, then they must be reminded of the risks. Over and over and over. Just like a smoker is every time he buys a pack of cigarettes with the warning label of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and complications of pregnancy.
Put the warning in the locker room instead of the weary and tired Vince Lombardi quotes. Slap it on the side of every helmet instead of all those decals. Announce it on the scoreboard after every quarter. Substitute it for the ad from the local car dealer. As parents and fans walk into the high school stadium at the beginning of the season, give them a handout showing what the brain of a former football player looks like when it has atrophied.
Bissinger notes that it's "difficult for any teenager to truly embrace the concept that what he does on the field today could have an irreversible impact 40 or 50 years from now," but calls it a "moral obligation" nonetheless.
It may seem somewhat counterintuitive for a man who once wrote an entire book on high school football to now be questioning why parents would allow their children to participate in the sport. Keep in mind, however, that Bissinger published "Friday Night Lights" in 1990, long before "concussion" was a buzzword in sports.
While no study has overtly called for youths never to participate in football, some measures have been taken to limit youths' exposure to head impacts. In his 2012 book "Concussions and Our Kids," Dr. Robert Cantu recommended disallowing youth-athletes under the age of 14 to play tackle football. Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law back in July that prohibits high school and middle school football coaches from conducting more than two full-contact football practices per week. The NCAA and College Athletic Trainers' Society released guidelines this summer that call for a similar restriction: no more than two live-contact football practices per week during the regular season, postseason, and college football bowl season.
Bissinger's essay in Time cuts to the heart of the matter when it comes to youth football: Given everything that's been revealed in recent years about concussions, can parents be comfortable with their children playing the game? According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released last month, 44 percent of parents aren't.
It's pretty obvious which side Bissinger falls on.
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