Friday night, thousands of fans will fill stadiums throughout the Carolinas to watch the semifinals of the N.C. and S.C. high school football playoffs. Teams will be trying to earn a berth in the state championship, and a chance to win a ring and create a lifetime of memories.
But Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and ABC News chief health and medical editor, said he worries about the future of the sport because of the elevated risk of concussions that football introduces.
“This is a tough one,” Besser said on ABC’s Good Morning America Monday. “We know how valuable organized sports are. It teaches teamwork and leadership and winning and losing and physical fitness. But the big concern about football is the risk to the brain. We have two sons and we did not allow them to play football. As a pediatrician, when I’m talking to parents, I say sports (are) great, but I recommend something other than football.”
But Besser doesn’t think high school football should be banned.
“If you look at all sports there’s a risk of concussion,” Besser said. “Football is highest, mainly because participation rates are really high. But lacrosse, ice hockey, girls soccer (are all sports where kids can have) concussions. It’s not about eliminating all risk. It’s about saying are the risks playing football acceptable and are there things you can do, if you’re going to have a football program, to lower those risks?”
Besser advises that younger kids play flag football instead of tackle. When they start playing at older ages, he urges state associations to reduce live tackling during practice and to have a certified trainer on the sideline who doesn’t report to the coach, but reports to the head of school or a school doctor.
“Lastly,” Besser said, “you want to look at other things that might be a little more controversial, possibly getting rid of the kickoff return. It’s so exciting to see someone run the whole field. It’s also the most dangerous play football because you have these teams running full velocity smashing into each other.”
Pop Warner football, at its youngest levels, eliminated kickoffs this year.
“A lot of parents are saying to their kids, ‘Don’t play football,’” Besser said, “and in the long term (that will cause) problems with football if they don’t make it a little bit safer.”