Buffalo, NY - An astonishing health study just released from the American Medical Association discovered a link between football and a degenerative brain disease called CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
The study looked at the brains of 111 NFL players and found 110 of their brains had signs of the disease. That study also included a limited number of high school football players. Three of the 14 players at that level had CTE.
We spoke with a successful high school coach here in Western New York and a Section 6 official for their takes on the potential impact on younger players and ways to reduce the risk.
Coach Tim Delaney won a state football championship in 2015 with the South Park High Sparks and he is looking forward to another season, but with this mind set on his young players.
"Take your head and your helmet out of play as far as blocking and tackling." That's the philosophy of the "Heads Up" safety program, which as we've shown you before has been taught in numerous clinics for coaches and league officials as they emphasize using the shoulder instead for the tackle.
Section VI Football Chairman Ken Stoldt explains other safety policies on and off the field.
"We're doing a lot less contact during the week than we've ever done in the past," he said. "And I think that helps reduce our injury rates. Coaches and parents understand the signs and symptoms of concussion, I think now better than they ever have. The state has a return to play protocol put in place so that kids aren't coming back too soon."
Some of that was learned from tragic and even fatal injuries at the high school level.
But the nature of the sport is a consideration as 2 on Your Side mentioned to Coach Delaney: "It is a contact sport to begin with...so while you're looking for ways to make it safer...there may be limitations there."
Delaney's response: "Yeah... people die in car accidents and everybody still drives. It's the same thought...you don't have to play football. It is a tough physical game and we just try to make it as safe as possible for the kids that are getting involved."
Coach Delaney also points out the duration of a playing career, size of the players, and speed of the game at the high school versus college or especially pro levels are all considerations.
But 2 on Your Side asked Stoldt: "Is all the CTE concern having it's own impact?
Stoldt replied: "Five years ago when I started with USA Football, we saw a lot of parents who were under the feeling that I'm not gonna let my child play and now I think ...more and more are becoming educated as to the things that we're doing to try and prevent some of these issues."
Coach Delaney says popular flag and touch football leagues for younger players may draw more participants.
But there is always the goal of 11 on 11 "tackle" football with safer equipment, like upgraded helmets and again that Heads Up tackling emphasis.