Student Well-Being

HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ Examines Risks, Safety Efforts in Youth Football

By Bryan Toporek — November 23, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In Tuesday night’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the safety of youth football came under the microscope.

Correspondent Bernard Goldberg, who hosted a feature on the “trophy culture” of youth sports in July 2015, focused on a number of topics that longtime readers of this blog will be plenty familiar with: the alarming number of high school football players who have died from football-related ailments (whether head trauma or heat illnesses) in recent years; the long-term ramifications of playing football in terms of brain health; and the safety initiatives such as USA Football’s “Heads Up Football,” designed to make the game safer.

Three parts of the segment notably stood out, however.

First, Goldberg traveled to visit one of the best youth football teams in Texas, the San Antonio Predators, whose coach openly boasted about prioritizing hitting during practice.

“We believe in hitting a lot,” head coach John Collins told Goldberg. “We do believe in aggressive football because if you look back and you watch old football games on TV, those aggressive-hitting football guys, they’re dominant.”

As Goldberg noted, the Dartmouth College football team has taken the direct opposite approach, prohibiting contact-tackling practices during spring practice, preseason, and the regular season. Head coach Buddy Teevens told Goldberg that prior to implementing the ban on contact practices, his players suffered upward of 20 concussions per year.

Last season? Only two of his players suffered a concussion.

The Dartmouth players do tackle during practice; they just use sleds and dummies instead of tackling each other. (Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer delved deep into Dartmouth’s innovative program this summer, for those who are interested.) Teevens’ ban on full-contact hitting in practices, which he implemented in 2010, is now inspiring imitators: All eight Ivy League head football coaches unanimously voted earlier this year to eliminate such practices.

Goldberg highlighted Heads Up Football as an initiative aimed at reducing the risk of youth football, but he questioned how much change it’s causing. On the day he visited the San Antonio Predators, many of the players were reportedly leading with their heads rather than their shoulders when tackling, and they participated in 90 minutes of full-contact practice, three times the recommended limit.

When Goldberg asked Collins what the USA Football restrictions were on hitting, the coach replied, “I don’t even remember. I’m not gonna lie, I have to go look it up.” Collins noted that USA Football has made “recommendations,” not hard-and-fast rules. USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck told Goldberg that the organization cannot mandate youth football teams follow their recommendations, noting it lacks a sanctioning system to punish coaches who don’t comply.

Goldberg also spoke with Joseph Curtatone, the mayor of Somerville, Mass., who declared his desire to prohibit organized tackle football from all city fields and all city fields for players below high school age. Dr. Ann McKee and Chris Nowinski, co-founders of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, likewise expressed their belief to Goldberg that given the risks, children shouldn’t play tackle football before reaching high school.

The full Real Sports episode will be available to stream later Wednesday on HBO GO.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion What 9/11 Can Teach Us Today
We can only guess at what weighs on other people. Hurts and wounds are not always visible on the outside.
Pamela Cantor
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion Educators, Be Future-Ready, But Don’t Ignore the Present
Being ready for what lies ahead is important, but we also need to gain a better understanding of the here and now.
5 min read
shutterstock 226918177
Shutterstock
Student Well-Being Opinion How to Prioritize Student Well-Being This Year
Use the Student Thriving Index to find out where your kids stand. Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Supporting Teachers & Students
In this Spotlight, evaluate your district and what supports your schools offer, assess attendance policies to avoid burnout, and more