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Safety concerns surrounding youth football underlined by recent serious injuries

MINNEAPOLIS — A high school football player is recovering from emergency brain surgery, after he was hurt during Friday’s game. 

An ambulance rushed 17-year-old Connor Erickson, the captain of the Brainerd High School football team, to a Fargo hospital. He’s the second young athlete hurt during a football game in as many weeks. 

Bloomington freshman Ethan Glynn left his last game paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Safety concerns playing football have proliferated in the last 10 to 15 years, and it has affected youth enrollment in the sport. The number of young people playing football in America dropped by 2 million from 2009 to 2017.

More recently, enrollment in the Twin Cities North Football League has been more steady, according to John Swanson, the league’s commissioner. Swanson is also a coach at Fridley High School.

“The numbers aren’t overall significantly down,” he said. “Some communities, definitely, but I think there’s a lot of communities where numbers are up.”

Two league games between fifth-grade teams took place at Maple Grove Middle School Monday. Jackie Engels admits to squirming a little bit when she sees her grandson, Josiah, get hit. 

“You always worry about the injuries,” Engels said. “You worry about them getting hurt, but so far it’s been a safe sport.”

Tim Healy is the president of TackleBar, which he looks at as the closest thing to a solution at the junior high level.

It’s a happy medium between flag football and full contact, where players wear a harness around their waists with detachable foam handles that act as the “flags.”

“Many, many moms are choosing not to enroll their kids in football because they feel it’s dangerous,” Healy said.

He says TackleBar is being used in more than 50 Minnesota schools.

The schools and leagues are doing their part too to make the game safer, including stricter concussion protocols.

“Better equipment, practicing differently [with less contact], we’ve changed the rules and enforced a lot of the late hit targeting,” Swanson said.

Engels says Josiah loves playing football and for her, the benefits of the sport outweigh the risks.

As for the two injured players, Conner Erickson from Bemidji is recovering from surgery that required part of his skull to be removed.

Ethan Glynn from Bloomington just spoke for the first time since his injury. His first words were “Roll Tide” for the University of Alabama football team.


Source: CBS Minnesota

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