Is Youth Football Safer Than Ever?

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Three million kids participate in youth football nationwide but that number is expected to fall over the next few years because of a concussion crisis.

"I'm just concerned about all the things that I have been hearing about head injuries from the NFL players, high school and college players across the country. It just seems to be scary," said Jon Alexander, a youth football parent.

Alexander is like a lot of parents nationwide. He is signing up his kid to play youth football but is a little nervous that his son could get a concussion.

"It can persist over a lifetime, not just immediate things, but things that are going on over 10-20 years, and things that people don't see immediately that they are finding out about 20-30 years later," he said.

One thing that has changed is the safety of the sport thanks to all the nationwide attention concussions are receiving.

"It's probably less of a concern now than in the past because we have so much more awareness," said Dr. Mary Vargo, Director of Concussion Clinic at MetroHealth Medical Center.

Concussions at the youth level of football are less common than they are in adults and teenagers, according to Vargo.

"In younger kids, other causes of concussions are far more common: playground activities, bicycling," she said.

"Youth football is safer than it has ever been," said Steven Green, Football Commissioner of Northeast Ohio Pop Warner.

Green says they error on the side of caution when it comes to any injury.

"The rule of thumb has always been, 'When in doubt, take out,' meaning that child should be removed from the practice or game," Green said.

On Wednesday, Pop Warner, the first national youth sports organization, made two important rule changes for 2012. One rule limits the amount of contact drills per practice and the second prohibits full-speed, head-on drills like blocking or tackling.

"They are just trying to stay on the cutting edge of the awareness of what is going on out there," said Green.

The decision to let your child play may be difficult, but remember, "There is a lot of good that comes from athletics, you know, that sense of fun in that basic way," Vargo said.

Legislation to put safer return-to-play guidelines in place for concussions in youth sports passed in the Ohio House Wednesday.

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