Injuries in game has been addressed before, and it led to absence of game at Canandaigua Academy for 30 years

The idea has been put forth, but how much traction it has remains to be seen.

It’s a stunning proposition at first, this proposal from two downstate lawmakers to ban tackling in football for kids under the age of 14. The very popularity of the game today gives this measure an air of sacrilege.

But is it really that far-fetched?

Truth be told, it’s happened before and it happened to a much harsher degree. You remember the 1910 season at Canandaigua Academy, don’t you? The team was 3-2, which included a pair of losses to Hobart College.

It also was the last season before the sport took a 30-year break at CA.

The Ontario County Journal reported on the 1910 games for Canandaigua, it also included this season-ending statistic on the game nationally: “The incomplete record places the killed at 21 and and injured at 499. This is nine deaths less than last year, but the number of players injured all records are broken by a hundred or more.”

Dead? From football? It happened with alarming frequency in the infant stages of the game. To be fair, the safety equipment and rules were quite different than what we know today, but the number of people playing the game was far, far fewer than what we know today.

The issues with the violence of football didn’t just pop up in 1910. Concerns had been brewing for years, to the point that in 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke up and advised that those involved with the game take steps to clean it up. At one point, Roosevelt said football “brutality and foul play should receive the same summary punishment given to a man who cheats at cards or who strikes a low blow in boxing.”

But even Teddy’s words were not enough and by Sept. 1, 1911, local football fans were greeted with this Page 1 story in the Journal: “Football will be abandoned, but there will be plenty of basketball.”

Local football fans weren’t alone in their misery, though. It appears many area high schools declined to field football teams and it wasn’t until 1941 that the game returned to Canandaigua Academy.

By then, the game had evolved to be much safer than it had been 30 years earlier with better equipment and rules designed to protect players. 

Today, death isn’t the primary concern with football. At least not immediate death. Concussions are at the top of the list, and for good reason. It’s one thing to rehab a broken bone or torn ligament, but the brain? That’s something you don’t take lightly.

That’s because repeated concussions and brain injuries can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It’s an issue that catches up with people later in life, affecting memory, judgement and behavior.

And the unfortunate result for some is death, as we’ve seen in the suicides of Junior Seau and Chris Benoit.

The point? Banning tackling for young football players may not be as drastic as it appears. Because it doesn’t mean banning the game entirely;  flag or touch football is a viable option.

In Canandaigua’s Frank Baker Junior Football League, there is a flag football option for those in third grade or younger. At this age, is there really a need for full contact? 

Players under the age of 14 can play flag or touch football and still learn the fundamentals. Blocking, running routes, catching, protecting the football, footwork … all of these are basic tenets that can be applied later, when they’re older and their bodies are ready for the toll.

Of course, there is the question of learning to tackle properly. These fundamentals are covered in youth football leagues across the area, and some may argue that being a freshman in high school is too late to begin teaching this skill. You could also point to the higher rate of concussions among soccer players, so are we to require helmets on the pitch?

Football is a passion for many, no question about it. But maybe it’s time to let common sense dictate the passion, not the other way around. As evidence mounts pointing to the long-term effects of head injuries, is the risk really worth it? Especially when it comes to children?

So before we spout off about this proposal and condemn it, let’s hear it out and make a decision based with our heads, not our hearts.

Chavez is sports editor at The Daily Messenger. Contact me at rchavez@messengerpostmedia.com, or follow me @MPN_bchavez