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SLI: Youth football should curb hits in practice

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm •  Published: February 1, 2013

SLI director Chris Nowinski stated that researchers believe the developing brains of children, particularly those younger than 14, are more vulnerable to long-term damage from head trauma than the adult brain.

"In terms of safety, the NFL is really the model," Nowinski said. "In a world where NFL players are more protected than the teenage players, we have a problem and we need to correct it."

Nowinski said at least 29 states currently allow high school programs to engage in offseason contact practices in spring or summer, including Texas (30 days of contact in spring), Illinois (20 days), and Florida (17 days).

The former players speaking on behalf of SLI included quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, former linebacker Ted Johnson, former offensive lineman Kyle Turley and former linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski.

The players all said they still love football, but want youth and high school programs to be proactive about making easy, inexpensive decisions to team kids how to practice without pads and drastically reduce young players' exposure to repetitive head hits.

"I love the game of football and I want it fixed," Turley said, who has struggles with vertigo since his pro career and often wears sunglasses indoors to help with the symptoms. "We demand that it be fixed."

"If places like Texas don't want to value kids' lives then they don't love football," Turley said. "Facts and stats speak for selves. You don't need to hear it from me. ... If you don't believe in statistics, you're an imbecile."

Hasselbeck said curbing offseason contact in all levels of football is the "smart thing to do," and compared those who resist such measures to coaches who saw water breaks as a sign of weakness back when his father, Don, played pro ball.

"Now we know this is just foolishness, stupid," he said.