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Steigerwald: Will There Be Anyone Left to Play Football?



Where are the football players going to come from?

Pitt and Penn State will always fight hard over the local high school football players and Pat Narduzzi is off to a good start in those recruiting wars because winning head-to-head in the game that will be most closely watched by Western Pa. high school players is the best way to sell the program.

Pitt needs to win more and play in a few major bowl games to be competitive for the top recruits in the country and that chicken or the egg question has been hanging over the program for more than 30 years.

But that’s not the purpose of my question.

I’m wondering where every college football program from Alabama to Youngstown State is going to find players a generation from now or sooner.

Last week the New York Times ran a story with the headline “110 NFL Brains.”

It was about a study done by neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee. She looked at the donated brains of 111 deceased former NFL players and 110 of them showed signs of CTE, the brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

The conclusion was not that 99% of NFL players will develop CTE. Dr. McKee admitted to the Times that there was, “Tremendous selection bias.” Many of the brains were donated by families because the former player showed symptoms of CTE.

Those include, short memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia.

Without getting too scientific on you, the studies seem to show that, whatever the effects of CTE are, and however common it may or may not be, the consensus seems to be that it’s probably caused by repeated blows to the head.

And not necessarily bell ringers. The studies claim that it’s the cumulative effect of lots of small dings that could begin on the first day that a kid comes out for football.

Plenty of NFL players have said that they won’t let their kids play football because of the fear of CTE. How long before parents are accused of poor parenting bordering on child abuse if they let their kids play organized tackle football?

I’m old.

When I was a kid there were five sports to choose from in high school: football, basketball, baseball, wrestling and track.

I didn’t know anybody who played hockey and the only thing I knew about lacrosse was that the NFL’s best player, Jim Brown, was an All American in it at Syracuse.

Soccer was something played in Europe and nobody in my world wanted to play it.

I’ve been told for 40 years that soccer was going to be the most popular sport in America in 10 years and, fortunately for this great country of ours, it’s still not close to happening.

But hockey and lacrosse are keeping kids from playing football. Cost and the unwillingness of high schools to fund teams keeps a lot of kids from playing hockey, but lacrosse is available to everybody.

I’ve been told by a few people that the best athletes at one South Hills school with a great football tradition are picking lacrosse over football.

I can’t verify that, but it makes sense to me.

With all the stories about potential brain damage from football, why wouldn’t parents try to steer their son toward lacrosse, hockey, baseball or, (gulp) soccer?

More and more you hear people in football saying that they think it’s a bad idea for kids to be playing organized tackle football before they’ve reached puberty – which means eighth or ninth grade.

The big question is, why would it take the fear of brain injuries for parents to get clued in on how stupid it is to put helmets and shoulder pads on 8-year-olds?

I’ve heard of kids playing organized tackle football at six or seven?

How can anyone look at that for more than 10 seconds and not see what a bad idea it is?

I’m not a child psychologist but I’d be willing to bet that very few of the kiddies are wearing helmets and pads because they thought it would be a good idea.

Most of them would rather be playing in a dirt pile with their trucks. Organized sports at that level have always been and will always be about the parents.

Is organized flag football the answer?

Maybe, but 8-year-olds trying to play flag football is probably a waste of time.

It’s inevitable that high school coaches everywhere are going to have a tougher time finding enough good athletes to field a team.

And Pitt and Penn State football coaches may find it tougher to recruit against soccer and lacrosse than it is to recruit against each other.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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