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Does High School Football Have A Problem?

There have been two deaths in two months on high school football fields across America.
Damon Janes of Brocton (1997-2016)

On average a student athlete dies in football once every 4 months and 24 days in the United States.

Source: Nat'l.  Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury 
Damon Janes, 16  of Brocton (pictured L)  died on Monday night.  Janes was a running back on the Westfield/Brocton football team and lost consciousness after a helmet-to-helmet hit during a game against Portville on Friday. He was a junior at Brocton Central School.

  In August,  a high school football cornerback near Atlanta died after a scrimmage. Authorities say De'Antre Turman, 16, fractured a vertebrae in his upper spinal cord during what appeared to be a routine tackle.

Should incidents like this change the way football is played at the amateur - even pro -  level?

According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research prepared by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, there were 25 fatal injuries to high school football players in the U.S. between  2003 and 2013. That means on average  a student athlete dies once approximately every 144 days.

Until 2012, there had been at least one direct football-related death at the high school level every year since 1994, though those numbers were down considerably from the '60s and '70s.

An average of 14.9 kids died every year from football injuries between 1966 and 1976, which is the year the blocking and tackling technique known as “spearing” was banned. That was the last year the rate of direct fatalities was more than one per 100,000.


On The
    Depew School Supt. Jeff Rabey,  Pres.,
NYS Public HS Athletic Assoc. Section 6

Former Buffalo Sabres
Winger Andrew Peters
on sports-related concussions

  HEAR More from Peters on
Sports Related Concussions :

Related: Benefit for Janes family announced  | Football Helmet Safety Ratings | Earlier Coverage    SEE ALSO: Damon William Janes Obituary from the Dunkirk Observer

Do you think scholastic contact sports are more dangerous now than when you were in school?
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Meanwhile......in the NFL
The AP's
national sports columnist Jim Litke writes

Roger Goodell can try to make the NFL safer, but he can't legislate that, either

The commissioner's power in such matters relies on coercion, and judging by last weekend's slate of games, some of the same people he's trying to reach couldn't care less. A few seemed more determined than ever to wring their opponents necks, regardless of the consequences.

A rough count turned up at least four reported concussions. There were another three helmet hits in the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game that were questionable at best and cringe-worthy at the very least. And in what can best be described as frontier justice, Washington safety Brandon Meriweather concussed Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy with a helmet-to-helmet blow, then suffered a concussion of his own trying to administer the same punishment to another Packer back later in the game.

Incredibly, neither blow drew a flag on the field, though Meriweather was fined after a review by the league. Not surprising, coach Mike Shanahan defended his player in both instances.

"On the first one it looked like the running back was kind of going downhill, and when Brandon went for the tackle it looked to me like it was perfect and then all of a sudden when (Lacy) ducked his head, I couldn't tell," the coach said.

"The second one on the sidelines, that's what you're supposed to do. That's a legal hit," Shanahan said, and league director of officiating Dean Blandino agreed.

Even less surprising, Packers coach Mike McCarthy saw it differently.

Of the first play he said, "The Washington safety definitely led with his helmet, so I know that's not what we're looking for."

About the second hit, on James Starks, McCarthy added, "Same thing, different result."

It didn't help Meriweather's case that he had a rap sheet dating to 2010, being docked $40,000 for a pair of helmet-to-helmet hits while playing for New England, and another $20,000 for a similar incident a year later playing for Chicago.

But Meriweather wasn't the only repeat offender on the weekend. That honor was claimed by Tampa Bay's Dashon Goldson, who finally got suspended for all his efforts - but only for one game.

Goldson was fined $30,000 just last week for a hit on Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland. He's collected more personal fouls than anyone in the league - 15 total - since 2010. That history hardly stopped him from trying to lower the boom on Saints' running back Darren Sproles, or worrying too much about the suspension afterward.

"The NFL has its own rules, but we're just trying to play football," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "We're not worried about those penalties, we're really not. That's just football. We learn how to tackle when we're young and (we've) been doing this for a long time."

Goldson is right; both the part about leaning into tackles with the helmet, and ignoring what follows.

The recent $765 million settlement ending a lawsuit by thousands of former players against the NFL reminded us of that. Granted, those players didn't know how much damage the game was causing. But just like today's better-informed cohort, most of them played without dwelling for long on the consequences.

We can argue whether Goodell has been an honest broker. On the one hand, he hired independent experts to study the concussion problem not long after taking over, instituted brain baseline testing and standardized reporting and preventive measures, even helped push through rules - including one introduced just this season - to reduce collisions and punish blows to the head.

On the other hand, he and his owners had to be shamed into those steps by the improving science on concussions and mounting threats of legal liability. He's also pushed for an 18-game regular season, and taken the lead in an increasingly disingenuous PR campaign - aimed at the game's fans, rather than its players - suggesting that football can somehow be made safe.

Goodell has lent his powers of persuasion to the NFL's "Heads Up Football" initiative, which purports to teach kids and their coaches tackling skills that would minimize potential head and neck injuries. He knows how little difference those measures would make, and in case he needed reminding, a 16-year-old high school football player outside Buffalo died Monday night after a helmet-to-helmet hit in a game on Friday.

It's not just Goodell's fight, of course. He can't protect players from themselves.

But the league could spend less time instructing officials to crack down on cursing and faked injuries, and err more often on the side of caution in helmet-to-helmet hits. Fining repeat offenders like Ndamukong Suh, James Harrison and more recently Meriweather hasn't made a dent, not with the paychecks they cash nearly every week. Goldson's suspension is a good first step, so long as it's not the last.

Goodell can't stop players from playing too fast and reckless any more than authorities can stop the same behavior on highways. But he can do everyone a favor by taking a few of them off the road now and then.