|Photo by Elijah Stewart|
NEW YORK -- Anika Edmund stood shivering on the sidelines of Kissena Corridor Park’s football field on a particularly frigid November afternoon last year. Edwards, bundled up in a big black winter jacket, stood tightly huddled together with other parents from the Bayside Raiders youth football team, braving the conditions to support their children.
“Do you like playing football?” Edmund asked her son Malik, 12, while she rustled to fix the hoodie he was wearing underneath his practice jersey and shoulder pads.
“Yep!” Malik said with a huge smile on his face hugging his mother.
“All right, go back out there then” Edmund said before sending Malik off to practice for a sport a growing number of people around the country argue is too dangerous for kids to play.
As the NFL Superbowl approaches, football player safety still remains a heated topic of discussion around the country. Recently, a judge rejected a $765 million settlement for concussion-related brain injuries filed by lawyers representing more than 4,000 former NFL players.
But concern around concussions isn’t limited to the pros. In November, ESPN reported that Pop Warner football participation has been down 10 percent over the two last years due largely to the growing spotlight on head injuries and player safety in football.
Despite the growing concerns nationally, parents for the Bayside Raiders say they have no issue allowing their sons to pursue their love of the game.
“Whatever he wants to do I am very supportive of him,” said Edmund, 40. “Right now he says he likes football, he wants so stay in it. So I support him.”
Parent Diana Ginnane said her son Thomas, 12, has been playing competitive football since he was 5. Despite the risks, Ginnane said she would never consider taking him out of football as long as he still wants to play.
“It’s a contact sport,” said Ginnane, 44. “No one is in the dark about the dangers involved.”
Most of the parents agreed their decision to keep their kids in the Bayside Raiders football program relied on their trust in the quality and experience of the coaching staff. The coaches have been tasked with the responsibility of keeping the game as safe as possible for the kids.
“You gotta have faith in the coaches teaching them the right things and the right technique,” said Ginnane. “If we didn’t have great coaches I wouldn’t put him in it.”
The coaches take that responsibility seriously. Assistant coach and athletic trainer Lew Jast said he went to a youth concussion seminar at New York Hospital Queens this past summer, where he learned about the diagnostic process involved in looking for concussions.
“What I have done different since the seminar is looking for the signs,” said Jast, 53. “Just because they get hit doesn’t mean they have a concussion. Just because they are woozy, doesn’t mean they have a concussion.”
Bayside Raiders Head Coach Daniel Sierra said the coaching staff makes a concerted effort to ensure kids don’t lead with their head when delivering tackles or running as ball carriers.
Sierra, 27, said all helmets are taken back to the equipment company Riddell after the season for crash testing and reconditioning.
According to Riddell, the reconditioning process includes a full rebuff and sanding of the helmets, close inspection for cracks, and reinstallation of interior cushioning and facemasks. All helmets that don’t pass testing or have been used for 10 years are replaced with brand new ones.
Jast said he has had to pull kids from games this year because of concussion-like symptoms. Despite all of the treatment and precautions being taken by the Raiders, Jast said there’s only so much you can do to prevent concussions from happening.
“You can’t tape the head,” said Jast. “You can tape an ankle or a wrist, but not the head.”