CHICAGO (CBS) — After an alarming number of high school football player deaths, a leading doctors’ group is suggesting new guidelines to address player safety and save lives.
The recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics include requiring athletic trainers on the sidelines of youth football games, offering non-tackle football games as an alternative and instituting a zero-tolerance policy for illegal head-first hits.
“There’s too many head-on-head hits, and leading with the head – known as spearing – that’s been against the rules since 1976, and for some reason referees and coaches have gotten away from enforcing that rule,” said Dr. Greg Landry, a pediatrician who co-authored the AAP policy statement.
The AAP says flag football is an alternative for parents and students who are concerned about recent injuries and deaths linked to the sport.
“Definitely on the lower levels, yes there should be flag football,” said Barrington High School athletic trainer Russ Schellhase.
Pop Warner football, serving kids 5 to 15 years old, offers flag football as an alternative, but says those teams make up only about 15 percent of leagues.
The Chicagoland Youth Football League, the largest in the area, offers it for five to seven year olds, with no plans to expand citing low demand.
The IHSA doesn’t host flag football on the high school level, due in part to lack of demand.
The AAP announcement comes as the Bogan High School community mourns the death of 17-year-old Andre Smith. He collapsed during a game Thursday night against Chicago Vocational Academy, after taking a hard hit on the last play of the game.
Over the weekend, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Andre Smith’s death accidental, caused by blunt force head injuries due to football.
Andre was the seventh high school football player to die from game-related injuries in the U.S. this year.
Many advocates have been pushing for changes in youth football rules to bring that number to zero.
“Just be aware; protect yourself, and be cautious, because something as simple as a football injury can end a whole life,” said Andre’s brother, Erick.
Meantime, a high school football player in Tennessee was in critical condition Monday morning, after a head injury during a game on Friday. And on Oct. 18, 16-year-old Cam’ron Matthews died two days after collapsing during a football game in Texas.