Pediatrics group reaches out to doctors in push to make football safer

The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging more non-tackle leagues, safer techniques, and additional trainers in its latest findings.

WASHINGTON: A leading pediatric organization is focusing on doctors in its new campaign to make tackling in football safer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness released a report on Sunday on tackling in youth football, which gave leagues more options to keep kids healthy and warned of the dangers of phasing out safe-tackling skills altogether.

Dr. Greg Landry, the report’s co-author and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said evidence does not call for the outright prohibition of tackle football, but tackle leagues need to strictly follow certain rules.

"They need to forbid head-to-head hits and leading with the head," he said.

Specifically, the organization has called for a zero tolerance policy on head-to-head hits. It also noted the benefits of non-tacking leagues and athletic trainers being on-hand to assist if needed.

However, a downside for doing away with contact at the youth level is that players could potentially risk injuries if they lean to tackle when they are older and more powerful.

The Academy’s main stakeholder group is comprised of pediatricians, as well as families trying to determine if they should let their sons or daughters play football, Landry noted. Aside from publishing the report and a statement on it on Sunday, the findings will also run in the publication Pediatrics in November. The Academy is not working with a PR agency to promote the report.

As research emerges about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries in professional football players, a number of high-school athletes have suffered critical injuries this season and as many as five have died.

Landry notes that safety standards in youth football began to drop more than 30 years ago.

"In the 1980s and 90s, players learned to use their helmet as a weapon and referees and coaches stopped banning the act of spearing," he said, noting that the practice should be stopped at all levels. Landry added that there has been some progress over the past two years as more people have expressed concern about the game’s potential dangers. 

"Things they do in the NFL tend to trickle down to the youth level," he said. "Anything it can do can help at other levels."

The NFL has thrown its weight behind the Heads Up Football program, which teaches youth players safe-tackling techniques and instructs coaches and officials on concussion recognition, among other things.

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