Ex-Bill Steve Tasker on safety in youth sports

His first concussion happened when he was 8 at a basketball camp, but it had nothing to do with the sport. He was on the sidelines, fell and hit his head.

Steve Tasker would sustain other concussions playing college and professional football.

“When you have a concussion, you need to treat it like anything else,” said the 54-year-old former Buffalo Bills wide receiver and special teams star. “You need to sit down for a while. Give it some time. Your body will heal, but the quicker you go back when it’s not 100 percent, the risk you had to begin with is multiplied.”

Tasker, who said he had three head injuries while at Northwestern University, will take part in Brainstorm, a series of panel discussions from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Hyatt Regency Rochester, the last of three events hosted by Catholic Charities Community Services and Rochester Regional Health to raise awareness of concussions among parents and medical professionals.

Tasker is scheduled to precede Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who took on the National Football League over its handling of concussions and was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie Concussion.

Two other educational events for parents and professionals are scheduled:

• Heads-UP! A Community Conversation on Concussion, is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 2 at Bazil Hall., St. John Fisher College.
• Breakfast with Friends with Omalu, 8 to 9:30 a.m. March 3 at the Rochester Hyatt Regency.

Catholic Charities serves more than 3,000 people of all faiths who live with traumatic brain injuries, HIV/AIDS, chronic illness or developmental disabilities. For ticket information, call Joan Brandenburg at (585) 339-9800 or go to www.cccsrochester.org/bwf.

Tasker played for the Bills from 1986 through 1997 and was named seven times to the Pro Bowl. He said he never felt pressure to play when injured and he feels no after-effects from the concussions.

Tasker tackled head injuries. His responses are edited for space and clarity:

On his concussions:

I had three concussions when I was at Northwestern University. The third one probably happened because I returned to play too early from the second one. Then I didn’t get another concussion for 11 years, until late in my professional career. The last one I suffered was in 1995. It was what happens a lot of times in concussions. It was a delayed response. I came off the field and felt fine and passed the protocol. I reentered the game. I few plays later, when a play was called in the huddle, I didn’t know what it was. A teammate waved to the sideline and said, “Get him out.” I had no symptoms until a number of minutes after the incident.

On proposed legislation to ban tackling in youth football:

I’ve coached youth football for a number of years with my own sons. Because of the equipment they are required to wear, the younger they are, the safer they are. The speed of the players doesn’t overcome the equipment that protects their bodies. When they’re very little, they can play rougher with each other than you can adults and they come out without a scratch. The time when it really gets dangerous, I’ve seen it time and time again is when a kid reaches puberty. Immediately they begin to play angry and they have a level of intensity that was not there when they are prepubescent. In the prepubescent levels, they play hard but they don’t play with an attitude. There’s a difference that makes it much more unsafe. You get guys trying to tackle very hard to send messages through their play. When you get to youth football and it gets to the upper level of that, you get one or two kids who’ve crossed in to puberty and that changes everything. That’s when it becomes uncomfortable.

On making sports in general safer for young children:

When you do organize it, I think you do assume some responsibility for making sure that it is well run and safe for the kids.

What about the unorganized (sports), where the kids can still play tackle football in the yard on Thanksgiving? There are sports that kids do that are downright dangerous that are unsupervised. You go to your local ski resort and you have kids going down halfpipes and railings.

On the role of sports, even for kids who aren’t going to make it a career:

I think the lessons of sports are difficult to teach in other aspects of our society. Football is particularly good sport for that because so ingrained in what it takes to be successful for the team. Kids who are very good learn they can’t be their best unless they help lesser kids be better. Those are valuable lessons to teach.

The arts, orchestra teach some of that, and acting productions is another way of being part of something bigger than yourself. They have their benefits. It would be one of the sad truths to see if sports and certainly contact sports went away. Those lessons would fall by wayside for a lot of kids.

On helping parents and kids understand risks and benefits of contact sports:

If the kid wants to do it, let him do it. It is a risk, no question about it. The benefits are there as well. I think parents need to hold the leagues responsible for the way they treat their kids. It falls to the parents and the leagues themselves that make rules that keep kids safe. If they handle it responsibly and have protocols in place and the safety of the kids is written in stone, I wouldn’t hesitate to let the kids participate.

 

Gannett


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