It’s not your father’s football.
Today’s gridiron warriors, starting in youth leagues as young as age 5 and continuing through high school and beyond, are learning how to play a kinder and gentler version of America’s favorite contact sport — in part, because of the result of a growing concern that playing the sport can lead to debilitating head injuries.
At least, that’s the idea behind several trends designed to make the sport safer and to attract more participants, say youth league officials, such as Towson Recreation Council Spartans football commissioner John Putnam.
With an increasing emphasis on shoulder-first “hawk” or rugby-style “heads up” tackling, strict concussion protocols and well-informed coaches, the sport’s administrators, proponents and coaches are attempting to allay fears of parents and players who are well aware of recent reports showing that repeated head trauma can result in the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, Putnam and other youth football coaches and officials said.
The result of one recent study hit close to home for fans of the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens when backup offensive lineman John Urschel retired at age 26, just two days after a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of former donated NFL players’ brains showed that 99 percent had CTE.
While the study has been criticized as being biased for, among other reasons, not having a control group, concussion-related issues have been in the forefront of the news in recent years, making parents of prospective players wary of potential injury.
Two years ago, a lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of former NFL players forced the league to provide up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma. Last year, an NFL official publicly acknowledged a connection between…