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Parenting, coaching must be team effort

It’s happening in stadiums all over the country. Football is America’s most popular sport.

It’s my favorite sport, too, but that doesn’t mean I can turn a blind eye to the severe health consequences that can happen to those who participate.

I played for a while, in my much, much younger years, though I wasn’t really built for the sport (I was too skinny back then; that’s not necessarily the case now). I never really enjoyed the pain inflicted on me while playing the game, but I must admit to a certain satisfaction when I was the one who did the inflicting.

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I think that’s a big reason why a lot of boys play football, to hit someone. It’s one of the few places in our “civilized” society where violence is both permitted and encouraged.

I also think some boys need that kind of outlet. Growing up can be tough, and a young man’s angst can be difficult to control. Football gives some of them a way to direct their hostilities in a productive, disciplined manner. That can’t be all bad.

But if a boy grows into manhood and makes his way into the National Football League, it’s a whole new ballgame. Sure, the rules are essentially the same, but the level of physical and mental intensity is so high, and the expectations so great, you can barely call it a “game” anymore.

Moreover, with each additional year of playing football, the odds of a life-altering injury increases.

These days, a great debate is raging over just how much of an impact football has on players’ health, with concussions topping the list of concerns.

Enter the difference between participation and popularity. As for football’s fan base, it’s as strong as ever — a Harris poll earlier this year, which found professional and college football to be the first and third most popular sports among U.S. adults, verifies the sport’s continuing popularity.

But when it comes to participation, the nation’s most popular youth football program, Pop Warner, has seen a 9.5 percent drop in the number of players over a three-year period (2010-2012).

Here in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal recently examined New Mexico Activities Association tallies and found a significant drop in participation as well (although, curiously, the number spiked up between the 2012 and 2013 seasons; it’s uncertain if that one-year rebound is continuing into this season, but with all the talk about concussions these days, I doubt it).

The solution to closing this gap between declining participation and strong popularity could prove difficult. Modifying the rules to prohibit helmet-to-helmet contact and to better protect “defenseless” players may be good ideas, but they won’t stop the injuries. It’s a full-contact sport. That’s what makes it popular.

When I was a kid, I remember a staggering teammate, after a severe hit, being told to “shake it off.” Now we know better. Today, it’s a prerequisite to responsible parenting and coaching to take such signs seriously.

That’s as it should be.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]