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Questions Remain About Dangers of Youth Football

Last week USA Today published a tale discussing the effect that increased attention on brain injuries is having on youth football. At this point, growing fears about long-term damage caused by repeated head contact is making many parents second-guess their decision to allow their children playing the sport. At the same time, league officials are trying to minimize the effect by enacting more safeguards and educating parents, coaches, and players about the risks.

One of the main efforts to address the concussion problem at all levels is spearheaded by the National Football League (NFL). Known as the “Head Up” program, the goal is to teach safer ways to play the game involving tackling methods that lessen the concussion risk. The program is technically run by a non-profit entity, but it is supported and funded by the NFL.

It is little wonder why the NFL would increase its safety awareness efforts. That is because recent years have come with a drop in youth football participation. According to USA Football, the organization which leads most youth football programs, last year saw 18,000 fewer players in the game nationwide. In 2011 the total participant level was near 3 million. Last year that had dropped to 2.82 million. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues with a drop this year. Most leagues are just getting underway with game beginning in the Fall.

The concussion controversy is not only rooted in increased awareness of the injury risk but also criticism of response to the risk. As most know, the NFL faced lawsuits from thousands of former players alleging that the league’s conduct put players at risk unnecessarily. Similar suits have also been filed at the collegiate level against the NCAA.

NFL Settlement
In fact, just last week the NFL reached an apparent settlement with the over 4,500 players who had filed suit. According to reports, the agreement was reached following court-ordered mediation. Per the agreement the NFL will allegedly pay $765 million over several years without admitting any wrongdoing. Former players with the most severe brain injuries (like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy) would receive larger individual disbursements, up to $5 million. Others funds would go toward compensation for players with less serious injuries and toward concussion-related research.

In questioning the effect of the settlement, one former player penned an op-ed for the New York Times. He noted how the settlement may not actually spur teams to make real changes. The editorial argues, “I imagine most N.F.L. clubs jumped at the opportunity to settle for roughly $1.5 million a year for the next 20 years. It’s fairly easy to cover that expense. Just pay 15 players $100,000 less each year in salary. Or raise in-stadium beer prices a few bucks. Problem solved.”

Procedurally, the matter is not yet settled. The judge in the case must accept the settlement. In addition, certain plaintiff may decide to opt out of the settlement, dragging thing out.

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