The nation’s biggest youth football organization is nixing the traditional kickoffs in its games in hopes of reducing the number of child injuries among its youngest players.
According to The New York Times, the organization cited a concern about concussions inflicted on players by the practice. No doubt, the organization is still reeling from a series of high-profile injury lawsuits that have inevitably resulted in declining enrollment. This measure is an effort to reduce the number of child athlete injuries and perhaps paint the group in a more positive light.
There is an increasing awareness of the danger of the sport, as a range of players – both professional, student and youth – have come forward to reveal the devastating injuries they incurred as a result of the hard and often repeated blows they suffered to their head and bodies.
Kickoffs have long been recognized as one of the most perilous plays in the sport, resulting in countless child injuries, including concussions and even traumatic brain injuries. In tackle football, it involves defenders racing full blast down the field to slam as hard as they can into those who are carrying the ball and those who are defending those carriers. Some of those who are tackled have no time to brace for the impact before it comes, leaving them virtually defenseless in the impact.
For now, the kickoff ban is only applicable to those who play in the three youngest divisions of the sport, meaning children between the ages of 5 and 10. Instead of kickoff, organizers say they will simply position the ball at the 35-yard-line at the start of each half and after each score.
Whether this change in rules will eventually be applicable to the older children remains to be seen. Officials say the are likely to make a decision on that next year. Even the National Football League (NFL) has considered the move, but no final decision has been made. The league has, however, worked to lessen the number of kick returns by moving the kickoffs up several yards. In 2011, the league moved the position to the 35-yard line (up 5 yards), which resulted in a reduction of return fells from 80 percent down to 54 percent. It’s now down to about 40 percent.
This move by Pop Warner is one of a succession of responses to child head injuries resulting from play. Six years ago, the organization implemented a rule that any player removed from the game for a suspected head injury had to be first cleared by a physician before they could return. Then in 2012, the organization put a stop to head-on tackling drills, where players face up in a row just 3 yards apart to tackle.
These efforts are significant not just because they hopefully will significantly reduce child injury, but because the agency has served to foreshadow action that will be taken by other leagues. After all, this is the organization from which most professional players get their start. This is how they are trained.
On the other hand, there are those who argue children younger than ninth-grade shouldn’t play tackle football at all. Rather, they should play flag football and begin the contact sport once they are in high school.
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Pop Warner Bans Kickoffs in Hopes of Protecting Its Youngest Players, May 12, 2016, By Ken Belson, The New York Times
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City of Beech Grove v. Beloat – Trip-and-Fall Injury Lawsuit to Move Ahead, April 22, 2016, Margate Child Injury Lawyer Blog