Guest opinion: Playing tackle football is not safe | News | Mountain View Online |


Guest opinion: Playing tackle football is not safe


After reading with interest the recent guest opinion in the Voice by Mountain View High athletic director and head football coach Shelley Smith, I felt it was imperative to comment on the promotion of tackle football at Mountain View High School. Athletic participation in high school has many benefits, but should be weighed against the risk of lasting injury, specifically in reference to football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

First, we know that football causes brain injury and kids who play football are at a disproportionate risk for brain trauma. A recent study by Boston University showed 87 percent of the brains of deceased football players showed CTE, including the brains of young adults who had only played high school football. One study found CTE in 99 percent of the NFL players' brains but also in three of the fourteen brains from former high school players (CTE can only be shown postmortem.)

Second, improved football helmets will not eliminate the significant risk of brain injury. Shelley Smith's position that new Riddell helmets will ameliorate the risk of brain injury is contradicted by the warning sticker that Riddell itself puts on the helmets. The warning includes the statement in all caps that, "No helmet can prevent serious head or neck injuries a player might receive while participating in football," as well as stating that, "Contact in football may result in concussion brain injury which no helmet can prevent." Shelley Smith may think the Riddell helmets can prevent head injury, but clearly Riddell's lawyers know otherwise.

Moreover, the real risk comes from multiple hits that don't cause concussions. A typical hit in football is the equivalent of a 30 mph car crash and a player might register anywhere from 250 to 580 crashes a season. A study from Wake Forest University showed that just these routine hits cause changes in the brain's white matter even without the player suffering a concussion. A Boston University study, published in Brain, used postmortem examination of teenage football players to show that early CTE could result from damaged blood vessels in the brain from repetitive head impacts without a concussion.

Third, the author's suggestion that improved tackling techniques will prevent head injury has been conclusively debunked. The NFL's "Heads Up Football" program to teach proper tackling was shown by the New York Times to have no demonstrable effect on injuries overall (Alan Schwartz, "N.F.L.-Backed Youth Program Says It Reduced Concussions. The Data Disagrees," New York Times, July 27, 2016). The primary reason for this is that the head and neck muscles of youths are nowhere as developed as the professional athletes who play for the Seattle Seahawks, who developed the program cited by the author. A young child's head-to-body size ratio can be four times larger than an adult's; combined with a thinner, weaker neck means an impact to the head causes more rapid head movements.

The medical evidence that football causes significant damage to our teenagers is overwhelming. The ongoing scientific debate as to the nature and extent of that damage should not be used to justify continuing to allow this damage to happen. It would be prudent to counsel to stop this activity until it can be proven that football can be played safely without inflicting lasting damage on our children -- not the other way around.

Sadly, given the attitudes of our school officials, this public health crisis will likely not be resolved until the costs of litigation and damage awards create crippling liabilities. I urge parents, the Mountain View Los Altos High School District Board of Trustees, and Superintendent Jeff Harding each to consider their responsibility for the future health and welfare of the students at Mountain View High School.

Sarah Eitzman is a retired pediatrician and resident of Mountain View.

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15 people like this
Posted by She has a hidden agenda
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2018 at 10:21 am

If Sarah Eitzman is so concerned about this issue, why is she only urging action for MVLA and not for other school districts or even for action to be taken at the state level? The reason probably has to do with her opposition as a nearby resident to the proposed MVLA stadium lights. Sorry, Sarah. We see through your thinly veiled argument a mile away!

7 people like this
Posted by Yes, totally transparent
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2018 at 10:43 am

The only reason she cars is because ot the lights issue.
These Nimby's are very selfish

9 people like this
Posted by Larry
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 4, 2018 at 2:30 pm

"A young child's head-to-body size ratio can be four times larger than an adult's"

Yes, babies have very large heads but aren't we talking about high-schoolers here? This type of out-of-context information detracts from what might either be a good argument or an argument full of other inaccuracies.

7 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 4, 2018 at 4:10 pm

I frequently ask how high school football still exists, particularly at public schools. The male brain doesn’t stop developing until ~25 and yet well before that people are running into each other at full speed with the odd conception that doing so could be done safely.

I have young children and spoken to friends with the same about this subject. None of us would sign a form to let our children play tackle football. Sadly, the sport is increasingly being played solely by the ignorant and/or the destitute.

16 people like this
Posted by No respect
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2018 at 4:38 pm

I have no respect for that NIMBY neighborhood. This is a new low.

12 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2018 at 6:48 pm

Football does not cause injuries. Any contact sport may result in injuries from improper techniques or a lack of conditioning. How about trying Rugby-style tackling?
By the way, even Badminton and Squash can result in injuries.

2 people like this
Posted by mike
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2018 at 8:44 pm

i note that around the bay many games have been cancelled or forefit because of insufficient number of players and that the numbers participating in pop warner and high school are decling -- parents and kids are voting with their feet

4 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 4, 2018 at 10:47 pm


Improper techniques or poor conditioning do not cause brain injuries from football, though it might lessen the extent of the injuries. Rugby, lacrosse and hockey all have concussion problems as well. Brain injuries come from the sports themselves. The brain floats in liquid and upon sudden deceleration will bump up against the skull. Even minor bumps add up when repeated. I liken this to a passenger in a car who isn't wearing a seatbelt. Slamming on the brakes will cause the passenger to go through the windshield. Even if the driver stops hard the passenger will be thrown forward, maybe not enough to go through the windshield, but enough to be bruised up. If that happens enough times, the passenger will become disfigured, which is kind of what proper tackling technique does eventually.

8 people like this
Posted by NIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2018 at 11:40 am

I agree with the statement no respect made. Such a small group of people standing in the way of something so great for the entire community. Side note: for whatever reason I now always seem to be out of poop bags when we go for our dog walks. No worries though, it's not in your back yard.

2 people like this
Posted by Too little land
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Jeff Harding tears it when he says lights are needed. No concern for player safety. Gladiators in the stadium used to be popular too. Surrounding communities are scaling back football. Because MVLA is on such small sites they perceive the lack of interest as a need for lights. Disregarding the academic and tech focus of the local students. I They should spend some of this funding propping up football on drama and orchestra. Nothing limits the concern just to the wate on lighting. Tloo much spent on coaching and other football costs too.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2018 at 7:52 am

When I played football sixty years ago, my coach said your doing your job when you put a hit on opponent, you get up walk away, he doesn't.

In todays NFL, there is a celebration among the players when they put a big hit on opponent.

4 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 7, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Gary is a registered user.

I am less concerned with whether a coach or neighbor has a special interest in the matter and more interested in the merits of the arguments presented. Proponents of tackle football will need better arguments for lights. Tackle football is riddled with life-long injuries - not just concussions. How many MV and LA footballers have been seriously injured so far this academic year? Don't ask; won't tell. It is a secret. This past Friday night, Mountain View and Los Altos played each other in football under the lights at Foothill College. The teams are among the weakest in the 93-team Central Coast Section but were evenly-matched with Mountain View winning 23-20 in overtime. Each team is now 3-4 against the bottom-of-the-barrel teams. But playing weak opponents is a good thing because playing St. Francis in football would probably land half of the starters at MV or LA in the emergency room at El Camino Hospital. The 93rd best team in CCS (aka the worst) is Lynbrook of San Jose. Lynbrook has had stadium lights for several years. Apparently, the lights have not made the football program any better. But as a football coach once said "WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING." I won't give you the rest of the quote. But those who say football is just for fun have not made a case for expensive and invasive stadium lights, noise and traffic. Lots of sports are fun. There are plenty of safer and more useful team sports. So football coaches and parents should work on a more persuasive case for stadium lights aiding other valuable activities. And remember, if Foothill College's stadium is ever booked on a Friday night by some other high schools and unavailable, there are dozens of nearby high schools not using their home stadiums. Half of the games are "away." Wouldn't it be fun to go there? Palo Alto. Fremont of Sunnyvale. Lynbrook. Monta Vista in Cupertino has a nice view of the mountains. MV and LA students could see lots of campuses - not just for "away" games but for their "home" games too. High schoolers see their own campuses every school day. Venture out.

6 people like this
Posted by Out of poop bags for Sleeper Ave
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 9, 2018 at 6:03 am

If your argument on safety has to do with a winning percentage, your a straw grasper.
If you remove that fluff and nonsense and "Could you imagine..." situations that all dreamers are capable of producing, your argument might have more teeth. It might help your argument, but you'll also need to come up with the horrors that band and other activities will produce. I men, if you're concerned with safety so much that it's time to start banning stuff.
Have you seen the lifelong injuries cause d by Cheer? Horrific, ban it!
Lifetime injuries in Soccer: Ban it!
Kids having coronaries on the basketball court: Ban it!
Kids driving cars: Ban it!
No discussions on football until there are lights involved? Oh, I see now. Clearly.

Like this comment
Posted by Hey
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2018 at 7:51 pm

But there aren't brain injuries or much trauma at all from soccer. You attempt to distract from the true danger...

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