Is high school football worth the injury risk?

Everyone knows football is a dangerous sport. No matter how much protective equipment kids strap on or how leagues alter or impose new rules to reinforce player safety, injuries are bound to occur.

While in the past those injuries tended to be reported as things like sprained ankles or the occasional broken arm, lately it seems like more and more young athletes are suffering serious, even life threatening traumas.

From back in the day when players first strapped leather padding to their heads, helmets have been associated as the go-to in football protective gear. More recently, as people began taking serious notice of concussions, tackling and “targeting” rules (specifically prohibiting helmet-to-helmet contact) have been imposed league-wide in an attempt to stave off unnecessary injury.

The problem is that with players now tackling lower on the body, from the knees to shoulders, it has unintentionally opened up a different problem: “liver” hits.

In September 2015 alone, three high school football players died from game related injuries and, according to CBS News, another 16 have died in the past two years. The Denver Post reported that that number jumps to 77 if you take it back to 1995.

In early October, 15-year-old Taylor Haugen died of a massive liver rupture after getting hit simultaneously from the front and the back during a football game in Florida. The week prior, a player in New Jersey died from a lacerated spleen after he was tackled around the midsection.

Both were legal hits.

While cases of head injury are now more documented, enabling players and coaches to take protective measures, body hits typically aren’t.

According to The Denver Post, although 1.1 million kids play high school football across the country every year, over the past five years, that number has dropped by more than 25,00o as schools are disbanding their programs due to injuries or low student interest.

The question remains: Is football too dangerous to be a high school sport? Opinion varies.

Proponents of the game will usually agree that while the sport can have its risks, players know what they’re signing up for and pretty much any sport carries some risk factor in play, which is true. A study commissioned by USA Baseball showed that between 1989 to 2010, 18 children younger than high school age died of injuries from baseball.

A report put forth by the University of North Carolina concluded that high school wrestling has been associated with 63 “direct catastrophic injuries” over the past 30 years.

So it’s not just football.

The problem isn’t that people don’t know that football is dangerous, it’s that the sport is so ingrained upon the culture that the slightest change in a regulation sparks mass outrage — even if the new rule is only meant to protect the players.

So, what’s next? Flag football? Honestly, especially in the Southern states, that will probably never fly. But the situation is well on its way to becoming a more discussed topic.

Football has become an issue of safety versus tradition, but which is more important? And keep in mind that we’re not talking about professional athletes here. These are kids.

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