An East Texas school district is changing its seventh-grade football program from tackle to flag football amid concerns over the safety of players, the New York Times reports.
The Marshall, Texas school board voted to shut down its entry-level, tackle-football program in February, and according to the Times, “there was little objection.” From the story:
“I’m surprised, in some ways, because you know how it is in a one high school town where football is everything,” said Marc Smith, the superintendent of the Marshall Independent School District. “I anticipated a little more resistance and concern. But the safety factor really resonated with our parents. They get it, and they see their little 11- or 12-year-olds getting slammed to the ground.”
The Times singles out this one school district’s decision because of the history of passion the area has for football. Marshall made an appearance in the book “Friday Night Lights” 25 years ago, and residents travel long distances to see the the town’s high school team play.
Head injuries in football have become a major topic of discussion in recent years as former NFL players have filed lawsuits over chronic health problems following their time in the league. ESPN reported in November that participation in Pop Warner leagues fell by 10 percent from 2010 to 2012. A 2014 study published by researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest and reported by the Times showed that players as young as 7-years-old sustained hits to the head comparable to those of older players, and that most of the damaging hits are sustained in practice.
Clint Harper, Marshall’s football coach and athletic director, said the move to push tackle football off until 8th grade was in part motivated by the lack of time to properly train younger children to play in games safely. Jim Harris, a retired doctor who has been stressing the damage football can do, told the Times, “The pot needs stirring. Someone has to start to say we don’t need to play football. If it’s harmful to kids, then it shouldn’t be done.” He added, “It’s fixing to be a big deal,” he said. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”