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JJ SAYS: Benefits out weigh the risks

I love high school football. I love the action. I love the strategy. I love the excitement it brings not only to the players and coaches, but to the fans, the student body and the community.

But, is it safe for the participants?

We seem to be learning more and more each day about the effects that continual blows to the head have on the brain. I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read and heard, many of the problems experienced by retired professional football players are directly related to the cumulative blows to the head suffered during their playing careers. To deny the scientific facts is akin to denying global warming. To deny the result of the head trauma resulting from the battering professional football players receive is to deny reality. We can ignore the obvious, as NFL officials long have done, but it doesn’t change reality.

Reality being what it is, the question being asked by more and more parents seems to be: “Is it safe for my son to play high school football?” That is a question only a parent can truly answer.

My answer would be that the benefits far outweigh the risks. High school football is not NFL football. There was a time when a player would get his “bell rung,” a coach or trainer would ask how many fingers he was holding up, and if the answer came back between one and five, the player would be patted on the butt and sent back on the field.

We’ve come a long way since then. Our coaching techniques are much better. The big change is that players are taught not to lead with their heads when making tackles. Helmet-to-helmet contact is not only discouraged, it is illegal. Casa Grande High School teacher and athletic trainer Heather Campbell was a pioneer in the Bay Area in developing concussion baseline testing and protocols for dealing with concussions.

Bob Padecky recently wrote a column for The Press Democrat about a new helmet being used by John Antonio’s Petaluma youth football team. The helmet contains sensors that monitor things like impact location, force and duration — things that might not be apparent to a coach or even a player.

Head injuries aren’t the only concern for football players. More prevalent are leg injuries, especially knee injuries. Horror stories are legion about NFL players who spend their post-playing years hobbling in continual pain.

But knee, ankle and other leg and foot injuries are all too common in all sports. I would guess that 90 percent of all runners have suffered some sort of leg or foot problems, and the same injuries happen with frequency in sports like basketball, volleyball and even badminton.

Injuries are part of any athletic endeavor.

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has a concussion as this is being written, the result of his head colliding with a baseball. Thank goodness baseball has evolved to the point where batters now wear helmets.

Sports test a person. They provide valuable life lessons — teamwork, perseverance, dedication, hard work, critical and quick thinking, sportsmanship — the list is endless.

Can a youth or teen get hurt playing football? Can a person of any age get hurt engaged in athletics? Are there benefits to football and other sports? Is the risk of injury by playing football or any sport worth taking? If I had a son, would I let him play football if that is his preferred sport?

The answer to all of the above is — yes.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)