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John T. Reed response to a CA editorial urging banning of youth tackle football because of concussion danger

Posted by John T. Reed on

Regarding banning youth football in California in the editorial page of the East Bay Times for 2/15/18

I coached youth tackle football in San Ramon and Danville for nine seasons, flag football in Lamorinda for one season, and high school football for six seasons at Miramonte, Grenada, and Monte Vista. My three sons played youth and high school football. And I wrote eight books on coaching football—one about flag, one about clock management that is used by NFL and college coaches, one about offense that applies to all levels, one about coaching freshman and junior varsity football, and four books about youth tackle football.

I also wrote two books about coaching youth baseball. Readers of my books have used them to win the CA state high school championship (8-man two consecutive years) and the Pop Warner national Super Bowl. I played tackle football off and on in high school, college, and the army until age 25. I also coached youth baseball and soccer.

I coached or was in the same program at the same time as Kevin Simon (De La Salle, Tennessee, Redskins), Drew Bennett (UCLA, Titans), Ken Dorsey (Miami, Niners), Ryan Whalen (Stanford, Bengals), Roy Helu, Jr. at summer camp (Nebraska, Redskins, Raiders), and Zach Ertz (Stanford, Eagles).

My son Dan was Ken Dorsey’s classmate and tailback at Miramonte High School and was recruited by Ivy League Columbia, Dartmouth, and Yale as well as high academic D-III schools like Amherst and Pomona. He played tailback in the Ivy League for four years at Columbia, graduated with a computer science degree and is now an SAAS enterprise software expert in San Francisco. My youngest son Mike was an equipment manager at the AZ football team for five years where he was part of the program that included Nick Foles and Rob Gronkowski. He has a business management degree and works at the same firm as Dan doing the same software expert work.

I have a B.S. from West Point and a Harvard MBA. I am a professional author who has written 35 how-to books, mostly about finance, and one novel. I am also a paratrooper, ranger, Vietnam vet.

Outlawing youth tackle football is preposterous.

  1. I do not think you or the Boston study authors you quote are against concussions. I think you don’t like the people who like football. If you were really against concussions, you would be outlawing all the activities that cause them: football, soccer, gymnastics, cheerleading, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, bicycling, etc.
  2. In a 16-season coaching career, I was at or studied the film of about 300 youth football games. I recall no concussions. I saw two concussions at the high school level in about 250 games or films of games. My son who played tackle football from age 8 to a semi pro game at age 22 never got a concussion. I played from sandlot to age 25 and never had a concussion.
  3. Youth football players must meet weight limits before each game. Big kids like Zach Ertz never get to play youth tackle football because they weigh too much. There is no other youth sport that requires players to play with kids their own size, not just age. I do not know which youth sports Zach played, but he could have collided with your kid in soccer, basketball, baseball, flag football. Not youth tackle football.
  4. Flag football is not a “safer alternative.” Not only do they also have concussions in flag football; they have skull fractures! I remember one in the summer passing league our various high schools played at DVC. Thereafter, De La Salle players wore helmets in the DVC passing league. When I coached flag 11-year olds, one of my players and an opponent both ran full speed to catch the same pass from opposite sides of the field. Their unprotected skulls collided with a sickening crack. They were okay, but that “safer alternative” damned near killed two 11-year old boys. I have also seen skull-to-skull collisions in baseball, basketball, soccer and I have seen youth baseball players get hit in the head by baseballs going fast enough to kill them. I interviewed the parents of a ten-year-old boy who was killed by a pitch that hit him in the thorax in a Little League game.
  5. Flag football is not even football. I coached freshmen at Grenada and Monte Vista high schools. My three sons played freshman football at Miramonte, San Ramon Valley, and Monte Vista high schools. It is standard for freshman football coaches in the Bay Area to ask incoming freshmen if they played youth tackle football. Those that do are immediately assumed to probably be leaders and starters. They lead calisthenics starting on the first day of practice. They demonstrate how to play the game. They are about two years ahead of their teammates who did not play youth tackle football. Freshmen football coaches can spot the veteran tackle players in a matter of minutes in the first drills in pads. Incoming freshmen who played flag are utterly invisible as such for their whole high school careers. I was surprised to observe this, but youth flag participation is a big zero for high school tackle football. I would prefer a youth soccer player to a youth flag player when coaching a freshman team.
  6. The main mistake all the “football is dangerous” people make is assuming that youth tackle is the same as NFL tackle injury wise. The youth players are—wait for it—small and light and slow and wearing the same quality equipment as the NFL players. The lesser quality equipment that we had when I was a youth in the 1950s has not existed in decades. The weight of the equipment a youth player wears is a much higher percentage of his body weight than that of a college or NFL player. Young bodies are different. High school junior and seniors are constantly getting treated for cramps and pulls on the sideline of games. Sophomore and younger players never have those injuries. We occasionally had a broken rib or collarbone or forearm, but when our players missed games because of injuries, it was as often an injury the player suffered on his skateboard or bike or horse play as it was from football.
  7. Roughly speaking, NFL players get a blue license plate from football injuries. The force of the hits at that level is monstrous. And believe it or not, people over age 16 are more susceptible to injuries that do not get better than 15 and younger players. College players like my son Dan and I can point to some injuries they got at that level. High school and youth tackle players generally cannot point to any remaining injuries, but can tell you about some that got better. Sorry to disappoint you haters of football fans, but that is the truth about youth tackle football injuries. When it comes to tackle football injuries, youth and high school are worlds apart from NCAA and NFL.
  8. Are you aware that football has been around since 1869? That reducing its injuries have been the subject of rules changes almost annually since 1869? That the players’ parents love their children? That many, maybe most of the fathers played the sport? That almost all teams have had MDs on the sideline at games since the beginning of the sport? The notion that the football world has been waiting for the Bay Area News Group or politicians to tell them how to run the sport is breathtakingly ignorant and conceited. You quote some studies as if all the doctors in the U.S. who have not demanded the end of youth tackle football should lose their licenses to practice medicine. Would it ever occur to you that you have been the victim of some football-fan-hating academics with regard to those studies? Would it ever occur to you that if it was as bad as those studies say, football would have been outlawed a century ago? Your final statement about “everything…clearly show[ing]…” youth football needs to be outlawed is a lie. The sport has been around and been loved by its players and monitored by its doctors for 150 years. And the symptoms you describe—behavior regulation, apathy, depression, emotional impairment—went totally unobserved by me and my wife and my sons and millions of other parents, coaches, doctors, sportswriters for 150 years. When I first got into coaching high school football I expressed concern about getting teenagers to behave to a teacher. She laughed and said the football players in a high school are the best-behaved boys because they are afraid of being thrown off the team. When Dan went away to New York City I feared he needed a New York friend of mine to help him adjust socially. “Are you kidding?” she, a graduate of a college with a football team, said. “Football players and their parties are the center of social life on a college campus.” My impression was even the premeds and other eggheads at Columbia found the football players to be the most fun, social guys. Hell, you could spot the athletes at Columbia from about seventy yards away on campus. Literally. A friend of mine laughed when I said that. Later we were at Columbia together and he said, “I’ll be damned. You’re exactly right. They look like two totally different species.” They were the social, happy, hail fellows well met. The non-athletes seemed to dart around like the animals in the forest who survive by diving into holes too small for predators to pursue them.
  9. The big danger in football and other sports is heat-exertion disease like heat stroke. Also, paralysis. Concussions need to be dealt with according to current medical advice, and maybe some changes to equipment and rules, but that goes without saying and has been happening continuously since football began.
  10. I am the most safety-conscious coach I ever met. See my article on the outrageous lack of baseball safety: I want to see football made safer by better enforcement of rules like spearing and late hits in the end zone and mean players who get fined repeatedly need to have those fines and other penalties escalated faster and faster until their recidivism ends.
  11. In short, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It is the same liberal political agenda that runs throughout your coverage of everything. You and the study authors are biased and engaging in the well-known behavioral-economics mistake of “confirmation bias.” Football would have disappeared a century ago if half of what you and your studies said were accurate.
  12. The administrators, medical personnel, parents, players, and coaches in football are perfectly capable of running their programs appropriately. The activities you should go after along these lines are boxing, skateboarding (which I never allowed my sons to do), gymnastics, soccer, basketball, cheerleading (About half the time an ambulance came to our youth football practices it was for an injured cheerleader, not football player—really). These sports which laymen think are safer than football need to adopt mouth guards, eye protection, helmets, etc.—all of which football long ago required.
  13. Football and ice hockey and boxing are collision sports. Collisions are part of the game and permitted and encouraged. But baseball, basketball, soccer, etc. are contact sports where collisions are not encouraged or even allowed by rules, but they happen. Yet those sports refuse to require the protective equipment the various medical authorities have long told them to adopt. There is much about that in my baseball-safety article. You seem to be saying you can get a concussion from colliding in a sport where that is encouraged, but not in a sport like soccer where people collide all the time. Bull! A collision is a collision whether the sport encourages it or it just happens because of the design of the sport. Also, non-sports like skateboarding and bicycling are often far more dangerous than tackle football. You seem to imply that if there’s no coach or organization running the activity, it’s safe. That’s crazy.
  14. You wanna nominate yourself for sainthood by being anti-concussion? Fine. But if you were really anti-concussion rather than just anti-football fans, you would have written an editorial about concussions from all the activities that cause them, not just youth tackle football. 
  15. My next book will be about how to spot intellectually dishonest arguments. One topic in it will be failure to discuss issues like this in a balanced way that show the net of the advantages and disadvantages of the activity in quest. All you looked at here was one negative. It we applied your logic to every activity that has injuries, children would attend school by internet and all activities that result in injury, like riding in their parents cars, would be outlawed. Most of us who played football loved it and feel we benefited enormously from it. Journalists often mislead by omission, and your editorial condemning youth football because of possible concussion damage is a classic example of that. You don’t want to know whether youth tackle football is a net benefit to its participants. You don’t want to protect children from concussions. You just want to attack people who are fans of a sport that liberals don’t like because they don’t like it.


John T. Reed


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