Stop me if you’ve heard this joke before: A 4-to-5-year-old in full football pads and a helmet launches into another 4-to-5-year-old in full football pads and a helmet, knocking the hittee down and rendering him seemingly unconscious. HILARIOUS! Let’s post it on social media and let the video go viral while everyone praises the inflicter of punishment.
There are a few problems with this practice, but one stands above the others:
CTE research paints a terrifying picture for those involved in these scenes.
Over the last week, two youth football videos have flooded social media where big hits were made and social accounts celebrated the moment as if were some sort of joke. The first was a random youth football game where the runner was lifted off the ground by the defensive player and driven into the turf. The person who was hit did not fully get off of the ground until (hopefully) after the video ended.
The second video came from Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, who filmed a (presumed) family member of his hitting another player in what appears to be a tackling drill. The kid he hit, like the first child, staggered as he attempted to get to his feet.
And yet: With all we know about CTE, with all the devastating effects it had on players like Junior Seau, who was diagnosed with the condition after his tragic suicide, or Andrew Luck, who retired from the NFL because of the pain from injuries, these youth football plays were lauded by the largest social media accounts in sports. ESPN (SportsCenter deleted their tweet), Bleacher Report (they deleted their Instagram post), Yahoo. They all helped make the clips go viral.
All those captions extol Fournette’s family member, but what about the kid on the ground, struggling to stand up? Are we not concerned about him? Are we not concerned about the other kids who see this video and want to do the same thing unaware of the impact it could have of them? Do we not care that sites talk about Luck’s injuries and Ryan Shazier’s recovery seriously, but then turn around and celebrate this kind of hit?
It’s bad. This practice needs to stop now.
A little over a year ago, neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee analyzed the brains of 211 deceased football players who had been diagnosed with CTE coupled with information from family members about those people. Her conclusion following that research was people who play youth tackle football suffered from brain diseases, as well as cognitive, behavioral and mood swings, earlier in their life than those who didn’t.
Now, go and watch those videos above and tell me how funny they are again.
Football is, unquestionably, the most popular sport in the United States and big hits are a large part of the draw. It’s also, unquestionably, among the most dangerous sports in the world. Shazier was nearly two years ago. Zach Miller almost had a leg amputated. Alex Smith may never play again. It’s part of the game and these men know what they’re getting themselves into when they play. Children don’t know that risk and it’s up to their parents to decide what’s best for them.
There are plenty of positives playing youth football, including learning about teamwork, hard work, and persistence in the face of adversity. But celebrating one kid hitting another doesn’t exalt those lessons. It glorifies the worst part of the game, the most dangerous part of the game, the part that could lead to something terrible for those same kids when they’re older.