Amidst Concern About Head Injuries, Pop Warner Issues New Practice Rules
Follow @GretchenMargJune 14, 2012, 4:13 pm ET
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Starting in August, Pop Warner youth football league practices will likely look a bit different.
In a press release about the revamp, Pop Warner also reiterated that certain blocking and tackling techniques, including face tacking and spearing, remain prohibited. The league is in the process of updating its website to include easily accessible information about concussions and safety.
More than 285,000 children ages 5 to 15 play in Pop Warner leagues, and they’ve produced two-thirds of the players now in the NFL, according to The New York Times. Pop Warner is the first youth football league to implement across-the-board regulations when it comes to head-injury prevention.
The new rules will be enforced by regional Pop Warner associations, according to Josh Pruce, the league’s national director of media relations. He told FRONTLINE that these associations police themselves, but are monitored by the league. He also said that many coaches are already following these new rules, and that he expects that parents will have their eyes out for any violations.
Research over the past few years has sounded alarms about how repeated hits to the head can affect the brains of football players, from young people all the way up through NFL athletes. A condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is already a well-publicized concern for ex-football players, particularly in light of NFL safety Dave Duerson’s suicide in February 2011. Duerson requested his brain be donated for study before he shot himself in the chest; scientists later discovered he was suffering from CTE.
Recent research has found that Owen Thomas, the 21-year-old captain of the University of Pennsylvania football team who committed suicide in April 2010, was in the early stages of CTE. He had never been diagnosed with a concussion.
This spring, Stone Phillips produced a video report for Newshour on a study by a team at Virginia Tech that measured hits in 7- and 8-year-old football players. They found that impacts that measured 40g or greater — when hits start to get dangerous — occurred much more often than expected. And they occurred most often during practice.
Pop Warner is the first youth league to issue mandates about practices with limited contact, but by no means the first football program to do so. According to Purdue researcher Tom Talavage, who has studied head injuries in high school football players who have not been diagnosed with a concussion, it’s entirely possible to coach a successful team without impact during practices:
And in an interview with ESPN, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said that the youth summer camp run by the school emphasizes technique, not contact:
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