For two years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Big Pines in Marshall, Texas, discussed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the dementia-causing disease found in scores of deceased football players. This week, just days before the 50th Super Bowl, the board of the club voted 18-2, with one abstention, to end tackle football. The club’s program had 75 youth, aged 8-to-13.
It is a decision that should ring around America as a shot in the revolution to protect children’s brains. Two months ago, CTE pioneer Bennet Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion,” declared in a New York Times Op-Ed that a high-contact sport should be an adult activity on the same level as smoking, drinking and joining the military.
He is right about that and the Marshall Boys & Girls Clubs took a sane step in that direction. The club also may vote very soon to ban heading in youth soccer games, according do new guidelines by US Soccer. The club still has a touch football program with 175 youth.
For the tackle version of the sport, Executive Director Bryan Partee said many things added up, such as the tragic declines of Dave Duerson, Kenny Stabler and Junior Seau and photos of CTE-damaged brains. Partee also wonders if football is related to the Parkinson’s disease in his father, who once played for the San Diego Chargers.
A final thing that added up was the fact that a board member who voted to end tackle football is a former National Football League defensive lineman with two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants. Pittsfield native Erik Howard told the board there was no need for children to bang their heads at such a young age.
“When you have a man that big and physical say that,” Partee said, “that had meaning.”
Such sentiments should have even more meaning with the news this week that CTE was found in the brain of the late Giants safety Tyler Sash, who also had a Super Bowl ring from the team that beat the Patriots four years ago.
Sash was only 27 when he died of an accidental overdose of pain medications, making him the latest evidence that the repetitive hits sustained in youth, high school and college football may be as significant as blows in the pros. Most of his faculties were so disrupted after football that he could not hold a job. Researchers at Boston University have found CTE in the brains of football players who never went pro.
Particularly haunting to me is a New York Times story this week on the fact that Hall-of-Famer Willie Wood no longer remembers his interception that helped my homestate Green Bay Packers win the very first Super Bowl.
Whether they die young or degenerate in old age, we know enough not to start this process in children. Partee said reaction to the club’s decision on social media has been evenly split between supporters and detractors who say “I’m a chicken contributing to the wussification of our kids. But we decided that even though we tried to make football as safe as possible, it wasn’t safe enough.”
When a sport is not safe enough, take the children out of it.