Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for November 24th, 2009

YouTube's small child football concussion videos

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In an earlier post, I talked about youth sports injuries in light of the NFL’s public efforts to look less like it’s giving its players early dementia and death through greater review of concussions. The hope is that if the NFL takes them more seriously, others will at all levels of football. Maybe that will happen. But given the pre-concussion youth football videos all over YouTube, I’m not sure.

I hate to post any of these, because I feel like a preacher airing porn films over and over and telling people, “Would you look at that filth!” But I have to show you a few examples of what I’m talking about — video all over YouTube and elsewhere of small children knocking each other into next week, which given their ages, is a comparatively long way to get knocked.

These videos are posted by parents or others PROUD their kid is the baddest badass on the block, when instead they make Malcolm Gladwell’s argument that football isn’t that far removed from dogfighting.

For example, this one is THE HARDEST HITTING 6 YEAR OLD IN THE GAME!!!, a video that’s recently made the rounds on sports blogs such as Deadspin and With Leather.

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The above video was a response for a two-year-old video, with 323,000 views (porn is popular), Football Hard Hits from a crazy 9 Year Old!!!!! (Note slo-mo replays, gratuitous “Bring the Pain” quote, and five, not three, exclamation points. Warning: Creed is the soundtrack.)

[youtubevid id=”1gD0auefars”]

Here is one uploaded today (Nov. 24). Apparently whomever did this promised this 8- and 9-year-old if it won its championship, he would post a highlight reel of its biggest hits. So they won, and so he did. (More slo-mo, but no exclamation points. But some great shots of small children writhing in pain!)

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Hey, I know football is a violent sport, and many of the hits in the above videos are well within the rules. But lest you think 8-year-olds don’t hit hard because they’re small, their hits can hurt bad if they are hitting other 8-year-olds.

I’m not going to pass judgment on any parents who would sign a 6-year-old or 8-year-old for tackle football. However, I do think any parents screaming, on YouTube or elsewhere, about what a pain-bringer their child is THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE ON THE SIDELINE!!!!!! (Yeah, that’s six exclamation points!)

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Written by rkcookjr

November 24, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Youth sports not so gay, even if participants sometimes say it is

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John Buccigross at ESPN.com has a nice piece about the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager and overall NHL icon Brian Burke coming out to his family, and to the college hockey for which he serves as student manager — and about how basically nothing changed as a result.

Unfortunately, Brendan Burke’s story counts as news not only because of his father’s prominence but also because an athlete coming out as gay is news, and nothing changing as a result would be an even more unusual story. Look at all the amazed coverage when Corey Johnson came out to his high school football team in 2002, and his teammates supported him.

Even in Brendan Burke’s story, there is a key part that shows just how much homophobia still reigns in the lockerroom. He quit his high school hockey team before his senior year because of the pressure he felt over being found out. He suspected, like most gay athletes, that the response in a lockerroom ringing with offhand homophobic slurs would be more like Greg Congdon, the Pennsylvania football player run off his team for coming out, than Johnson.

On one hand, you would think that sports and homosexuality would be less of a big deal than it used to be. A 2005 Sports Illustrated survey showed that 78 percent of fans said it would be OK for openly gay athletes to participate in sports, and 76 percent of fans disagreed with the statement that they would be less of a fan of a certain athlete if the player were gay. On the other hand, the gay marriage debate has shown that people are worried about gay marriage because they’re not so big on gay people. Even if you live in Liberaltown, USA, there are still plenty of people waiting to make your life hell because you’re gay. Double that if you dare do that in the environment of sweaty, musky, shower-sharing, naked-wrestling, totally-not-gay-in-any-way environment of men’s sports.

(Women’s sports certainly has its own issues — cough, Rene Portland, cough — but to the society at large, there are still a lot of people who assume if a woman plays a sports it’s BECAUSE she’s gay.)

A few years ago, in a piece for MSNBC.com, I interviewed University of Missouri lacrosse coach Kyle Hawkins, who had recently come out of the closet after two years as “Frustrated_Coach” anonymity on the Outsports.com message boards. Hawkins comes from a Southern Baptist upbringing and was surely worried (as it turns out, with reason) what his family would think. But that wasn’t what Hawkins feared most.

“If you put yourself in a gay person’s shoes, the outright fear is not what people think of you, but what people can do to you,” Hawkins said.

That was before the 2006 season. After that year, a dozen players left the club-level team, and before the 2007 season started, Hawkins was fired — by his players, who have ultimate control in a nonvarsity sport. No one said any of it was because he was gay, but it seems hard to believe them, particularly after an Associated Press story that ran a month before Hawkins’ firing described explicit, homophobic langauge between high school players at a Hawkins-run camp and quoted a Missouri player and team vice president saying having a gay man as coach was “awkward.” Hawkins is now coaching lacrosse in Germany.

It’s not what people think of you, but what people can do to you.

So what is going to take to make youth sports more gay-friendly? I may as well ask, what it’s going to take to make society more gay-friendly? Of course, athlete sexuality generally isn’t an issue at the elementary level where I coach. However, what is an issue is the language that parents and coaches use. Not that fourth-grade coaches are calling their players fags, but homophobic language about players being girls and sissies can slip in. The first thing that can be done is that at least people coaching boys can stop defining manliness as something that’s not being anything a girl is.

The tougher issue is at the high school level, when sexuality of all kinds is a big deal. At the least, coaches should also not allow homophobic language in the locker room. But their fight is an uphill battle in a country where a large number of the population still thinks of homosexuality as a sinful abomination, and where “don’t ask don’t tell” is still the law of military. My guess is the reason most coaches don’t deal with it is because they just don’t want to step in sexual discussions in general. They ultimately get paid to coach and win. The next youth coach who gets fired for not putting the clamps down on homophobia will be the first.

What would help tremendously is if professional athletes would come out. Not after their careers, but during, or even before. That wouldn’t solve the problem of homophobia and youth sports, but it at least would send a message to all the mouth-breathers that some goddamn faggot can be the manliest of men after all. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. In this excellent video below, news accounts of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier are edited to show what would happen to the first out player.

[youtubevid id=”qJ5ZfTSnQD4″]

Written by rkcookjr

November 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Youth sports can be hazardous to your child's health

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The other day the NFL agreed to allow doctors not on individual teams’ payrolls to evaluate and monitor player concussions, as evidence mounts that traumatic brain injuries do long-term damage, that the NFL for years has underestimated that damage, and that this misunderestimation takes place at all levels of all sports, right down to the bitty, barely formed-cranium level. The numbers on youth sports injuries are so stark, sometimes it makes letting your kids play video games all day, every day, seem like the better option.

For good reason, concussions and other youth sports injuries are getting more attention, particularly as it’s clear that parents and coaches, most of them not being physicians or medical personnel, are pretty adept at self-misdiagnosing them. For example, one study out of Canada this year found that most parents and coaches believe you have to lose consciousness to suffer a concussion (you don’t), and that hockey players at the youth level suffer 2.8 concussions per 1,000 player ice-hours. Also, this year Washington became the first state to require a youth player diagnosed with a concussion to get medical clearance before returning to action. That law was inspired by 13-year-old Zackery Lystedt, who got a concussion after a hard football hit, went back in the game, got hit again, got another concussion, and spent 30 days in coma.

The reason the NFL (and other leagues) are taking so much heat about concussions is because of players who, not wanting to buck years of tradition or lose their job, come back too soon after suffering such an injury. The video below shows then-Chicago Blackhawk Martin Havlat taking a vicious hit from Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in game three of their NHL playoff series last year. Rather than being dead, Havlat came back to play game four. Great for hockey, terrible for Havlat, who someday will be drooling in a cup from the damage he suffered in whatever number concussion this was.

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One major survey found a rapid increase in youth sports injuries that coincided with the rapid increase in the obesity rate, with the report’s authors, American Sports Data, surmising that’s because more kids are getting into more intense organized activities at earlier ages. A study released recently by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons counted a current annual count of 3.5 million sports injuries for athletes younger than 14, with half of those injuries coming from another subject of great concern — overuse injuries, another result of kids specializing in a single sport at an early age.

In my mind, that number isn’t just about kids (and/or their parents) pushing for that elusive college scholarship or pro career. It’s also about a family building its entire social life and network around youth sports. I know of people (I won’t say who they are to protect the guilty) who were told, after their teenaged son suffer two concussions in hockey (the first one, his coach sent him back on the ice, even after he blacked out and threw up), their doctor told them to get him off the ice immediately if they ever wanted their son to go to college. Given the family had traveled all over the country and establishing themselves as Hockey Parents since their son was 5, they were hesitant to follow that advice — and didn’t. Their son, a bright kid, ended up barely graduating high school. Oh, and he played lacrosse, too — just the sport for someone with a history of head injuries.0405091950a

Of course, you don’t have to be a hardcore travel sports parent to feel the pressure of coming back quickly from injury. There seems to be something primal as an athlete that doesn’t let you easily accepting being hurt. My then-11-year-old son last year sprained his right foot in the third quarter of his final basketball game of the year. I had to carry him off the court. Yet in the fourth quarter, my son, not the most competitive person I’ve ever known, asked if he could get back in the game. I said, uh, no. Later, when we went to the urgent care center to confirm the sprain, my son (right, waiting to go to his X-ray) made sure to tell everyone he misdirected the shot taken right before he landed on the shooter’s foot.

On the fifth- and sixth-grade team I’m coaching now. I have two kids who are asthmatic. I have to instruct the referee and the boys’ mothers to jump in if they see anything wrong, because I tell the kids to raise their hands if they’re hurting, but I’m not sure they will. One of the boys, for whatever reason, never told me he was asthmatic. I learned only in a quarter break when he went to throw up. The other boy is growing more intense with every game, and doesn’t want to get off the floor.

So, in that sense, they are no different than the 30 of 160 players who told The Associated Press in a survey that they have downplayed the effects of a concussion.

In light of all this, what are we supposed to do to prevent sports injuries? The first thing to do might be to make sure we never get the idea we can make sports injury-free, and that we can make athletes recover as long as the rest of us do when we get hurt. Accidents will happen, and athletes will want to play. It appears the best efforts are to see where we can best mitigate risk, and protect athletes from themselves. The efforts on concussions are good places to start, as well as the growing awareness of how single-sport specialization causes injury.

But perhaps on a youth level, the strongest message needs to be made to the coaches and parents that the child playing is not a million-dollar athlete, or even a potential one. Above all else, you need to protect children, so when they’re hurt, you treat them like normal people, not like pieces of athletic meat. If it means you lose a game, if it means you lose a chance at a scholarship (assuming the child ever had one), so be it.

Maybe I’m the weirdo, but I think children are better served, mentally and physically, exploring all sorts of different activities, sports and elsewhere. Some kids do find their niche early, and that’s great. But you also have to be a parent and let your child get exposed to other things just in case that niche isn’t going to work out. At least pro athletes who suffer injuries have team-paid medical care and their million-dollar contracts to fall back on. Generally, your child does not.

Written by rkcookjr

November 24, 2009 at 1:53 pm