Lawyers or insurance companies may end football as we know it

Dec 4, 2012 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press reported, National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell urged youth football players to make sure to speak up if their "head or ankle or anything else" didn't feel right.

Apparently Alex Smith, a former University of Utah quarterback who now plays with the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, listened to the lessons from that speech.

During a game on Nov. 11, quarterback Smith begin experience blurred vision and started to feel the classic symptoms of a concussion.

And he has now lost his job as the starting QB for the Niners.

What's the message?

Smith did as he is supposed to do. He self-reported concussion symptoms to his team, was removed from the game, and now has been replaced as the 49ers starting quarterback by Colin Kaepernick, even though he has been cleared to resume NFL play.

Most feel, and you can understand why, that injuries, including head injuries, are under-reported in the NFL. Tough-guy syndrome still lives.

"I feel sorry for that guy. A lot of people are now watching that one," Sheridan High School head football coach Don Julian said.

As we learn more and more about head injuries and now start to worry about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (a chronic brain injury resulting from repeated blows to the head over time), there have been changes to sports programs around the nation and right here in Wyoming.

Gone are the days (we hope) when I was a dumb parent and my kids were growing up playing sports. While watching our daughter play soccer in Billings, she and another girl smacked heads going for the ball. Back at the hotel that night, our daughter was not able to tolerate lights or sound.

Of course she had a concussion and, yes, she played the next day. I feel horrible remembering that.

Nobody understands more about traumatic brain injury and has thought more about how to properly instruct youth on how to play football safely than Todd Wright, who is Riverton's eighth-grade football coach and also is the director of Rocky Mountain Re-Entry Services, which cares for people who have suffered TBI in their lives.

Wright, a former University of Maryland football player, believes that the game can be taught safely even though he notes that players in the NFL don't tackle properly, and kids are exposed to the "big-time hits" on television.

"The game is in danger," Wright said.

He proposes that tackle football for kids prior to middle school be eliminated and be replaced with flag football so kids can learn to run, catch and block fundamentally correctly, and have fun while playing the flag game.

He also suggests that middle school kids have at least 20 practices before their first game (Riverton kids now have 13, according to Wright), and that stances and practice drills be modified to minimize contact. He also believes that rest between games be at or near one week, and that the practice of kids playing junior varsity games and varsity games in the same week be scrutinized.

Sheridan coach Julian, who coached Riverton to four state championships in the 1990s, wants to make sure that decisions on whether kids continue to play after an injury are made by experts.

"I want somebody making that call besides a coach. I really like it out of my hands. What she (our trainer) says, goes," Julian said.

In that regard, Riverton, with its full-time trainer, is lucky. Many Class 3-A and most Class 2-A and 1-A schools in don't have that luxury, and trainers are not required to attend football, hockey or soccer games games at the youth level in Riverton.

So what would you say if a respected surgeon came to a Riverton school board meeting and asked our trustees to eliminate football?

It happened last month in Delaware. Dr. Paul Butler said that he may have erred when he told the school board that if the city does not end football at Dover High School, lawyers will.

"I probably misspoke. I probably should've said either the lawyers or the insurance companies probably will do it for us," Butler told National Public Radio.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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