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Being a teacher in my second life in Southern California, after I was a journalist in my first life in New York City, my baggage is now full of systems to help draw the best work possible from young minds. In recent years, that program has expanded greatly from simple academic preparation to a holistic regimen for young people, and that includes proper diet, social and leadership experience and an appropriate fitness regimen.

But what if there was a program in America that in contrast to our formal education system even unknowingly did the opposite for young people, that even unintentionally worked to destroy their brains?

A lawsuit filed this year by two parents whose sons died after exhibiting CTE effects following their year in the Pop Warner program and whose autopsies revealed CTE brain damage have put this question up for public discussion.

CTC had been an increasingly common acronym for covering what is important about football right now, and every now and then it is explained that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a generative brain damage condition caused by repeated blows that shake the brain inside the skull (the definition of a concussion repeated and repeated).  That is, it is the repeated vibration force of the blow that creates the brain damage even more than the injury to the skull, at a young age, the vibrations are even more powerfully damaging, as babies and young toddlers have been known to die instantly from adults shaking them and shaking their heads as a punishment.

Today, Pop Warner Football is under a microscope – a biological microscope – because it starts young children playing tackle football as early as five years old and continues the program until they are sixteen.

The attorneys filing the suit against Pop Warner over the deaths of two young boys  in the league who died of CTE include Thomas Gerardi and Robert Finnety, who helped litigate the case against the NFL that has since been costing  the pro football league hundreds of millions of dollars even in what  widely considered just the beginnings of settlement processing.

So why am I interested in this particular story at this particular time?

Again, as I wrote in the beginning, I am a professional educator. As such  I am concerned that we have recently been turning junior football leagues into something that resembles dog fights.  This is where the dogs and the kids as young as five years are becoming damaged surrogates in NFL colors they don’t even understand for adults who are mainly looking for vicarious glory out of the whole thing. 

I have to go back to a conversation I once had with former major-league California and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Geoff Zahn, a former resident of Santa Clarita who had operated a pitching workshop for young people in the valley.  Zahn went on to become head baseball coach at Michigan University, where in 1999 he led the Wolverines to a Big 10 championship.

Zahn told me of the adults who asked if the children they represented could learn at an earlier age “adult” pitches such as curve balls, sliders and cutters.  Zahn said he uniformly refused to teach children these techniques, saying the physical requirements for this kind of pitching would put young and underdeveloped tendons at risk.

Instead Zahn taught young people the basics of power pitching and control pitching, adding that it would take years of building a foundation on this level of pitching before the students could go on to “adult” pitches.

But in youth football leagues including the Pop Warner system and its affiliates, it is not exclusion from adult style play that is the issue.  It is the exclusion of kid style play.

For example, as a grandparent of a budding young athlete, the last thing I would want is my grandchild dressed up in an NFL uniform like a tiny Minnesota Viking and play a game of “grind, grind, grind” and “hit, hit, hit” in front of a bunch of adults who are seeking surrogates in their need for fantasy football.  I would instead want my grandchild having fun, fun, fun for the kids who do not even care anything about Minnesota Vikings.  And I would want my grandchild to learn the basics of teamwork and the basic movement of football itself before they tested their brains and tendons on tackling and throw-blocks. 

Because there is certainly a great deal a child can learn about passing, running, catching and pursuing before the brain and tendons are ready to take on the game of tackle football.  In my mind that should not take place before they are sophomores in high school, when they are moving into their 16th year and their tendons and bones are in place and pretty fully grown.

Before that day, I would really prefer my grandchild to play flag football.

But in today’s reality, with all the bad news coming out about too much hitting on the football field for too long of a time, I know my grandchild will instead be driven where so many other young athletes are going these days – to soccer.

Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon