Head injuries or concussions — it’s been called “getting your bell rung” — have been around since Fred Flintstone strapped it up for old Bedrock U. Too bad that in recent years it took pending lawsuits against the NCAA and the NFL to finally get the issue the rightful attention it deserves, including any long-term and short-term effects from head injuries.
Some even have suggested doing away with such sports as football among youngsters, which frankly is a knee-jerk reaction, since anyone is susceptible to concussions by simply falling down while walking. Instead, what’s probably needed is better teaching at the youth level.
Mike Pettis, a longtime North Commons youth football coach, strongly disagrees with those critics who advocate the end of youth football, calling them members of “a scared society.”
“I’ve been coaching [youth] football for about 35 years,” continues Pettis. “The first time I’ve heard of a concussion with one of our kids was last year. What we have to do as coaches is notice when a kid has a concussion or a headache, and don’t push
him as hard as we once did 10 years ago.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it is going to have to come from the coaching, and it is not going to happen overnight. But we are going to have to change our way of doing it or the numbers are going to diminish,” Pettis believes.
Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., a Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, earlier this summer donated 1,000 football helmets to Minneapolis Park Board youth football teams.
“These helmets are the exact same helmets that I wear on Sunday, every single week” as a NFL player, Fitzgerald said on July 8 to youth football players at Martin Luther King Park in South Minneapolis. “I wanted you guys to have the same protection that I am running out there with, that I wear on my head every single Sunday that you are wearing on yours.”
“Obviously there’s no 100 percent anything in life,” said Fitzgerald. “But these are the highest rated [helmets] that you can find. I’ve been wearing Riddell since I was at the park. If they are going to play [football], I wanted to put these young people with the best there is out there.
“Riddell does a tremendous job. When I was given the opportunity to align with them, I thought it was great,” Fitzgerald told the MSR afterwards.
Riddell is the NFL’s longtime official helmet supplier. The new helmets Fitzgerald gave out this summer are the company’s latest that at least a dozen urban-based youth football programs, including Minneapolis, have recently received around the country from the firm.
“No helmet can prevent a concussion,” noted Riddell President Dan Arment, who was in town with Fitzgerald. “But [with] the latest technology, research and development that we brought, we believe the innovations have improved the protective capabilities of the helmet. That’s really what our job is.”
He admits that his company hasn’t as yet been involved in any youth football elimination discussion. “Our focus is on producing the best equipment and the best helmets that we possibly can. That is where our focus needs to remain,” said Arment, who added that he agrees that better coaching and better awareness about concussions and head injury prevention, especially at the youth level, is crucial.
“Certainly there is a good deal of research and education that needs to be provided to help improve player protection. It’s an ongoing effort,” he said.
Pettis pledges, “Youth football will never die — as long as I live, I probably will be around it. It is a team character-building sport. I love it.”
Go to the MSR website to read two previously published articles on the concussions issue.