As medical research provides more and more evidence that young athletes’ development could be permanently hampered by repeated blows to the head, players on youth football teams are bound to suffer if adults shirk their duty to protect them. All too often, they do: At a now-infamous Pop Warner football game in Southbridge last month, players from one of the teams, Tantasqua, were being taken off the field with serious injuries almost from the beginning of the game. Southbridge’s lopsided victory margin — variously reported at 34-0 and 52-0 — was an obvious hint that the game should have been stopped. Subsequently, it became clear that five children from Tantasqua, ages 10 to 12, had suffered concussions.
The teams have been pointing fingers; Tantasqua accuses Southbridge of violating a variety of league rules, while Southbridge officials insist that monitoring Tantasqua players should be up to that team’s coach. But those who coach, manage, and referee youth contact sports — or simply place their children in them — should understand that they are all responsible for children’s well-being.