EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (KMOX/AP) - The serious concerns about life-altering head injuries that have been plaguing the NFL before and after Junior Seau’s high-profile suicide last week are moving down through all levels of organized football.
That includes local youth leagues, where grade-schoolers repeatedly bang into each other, often while wearing ill-fitting helmets that don’t protect them properly.
Mike Cox is vice-president for coaching at St. Louis Midwest Players Development League and oversees youth football played at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis.
“It could be a dangerous sport if not done properly,” Cox tells KMOX News, adding that they work hard to make sure their young charges are learning the proper way to tackle, even how to be tackled, in order to avoid injury.
But despite his deep involvement, Cox can’t even convince his own family that the game is completely safe for young players.
“I have a 5-year-old boy and we’ve been looking at football,” Cox confides, “but me and his mother have to have very open discussions about head injuries, because right now she doesn’t want him to play.”
He adds that it the concussion danger is widely recognized and something that is constantly being addressed by organizers of youth football leagues.
“Over the last couple of years there’s been a major improvement in helmets,” Cox says. “And me personally, I just teach better technique, you know, better head placement. And to use their hands more, not just the gladiator-style of banging your head all the time.”
A recent study by a team of researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest Universities found that unlike high school and college football, most of the severe hits suffered by 7- and 8-year-old football players happen during practice.
Meanwhile, researchers at Washington University are launching a study to determine the impact that concussions have on 1,000 athletes ages 10 to 18 over an extended period of time.
Dr. Mark Halstead says there is a growing concern of a potential link between repetitive concussions and a higher risk of depression.