While football remains the nation’s No. 1 spectator sport, participation in tackle football at the youth level dwindles year after year. High schools across the nation are seeing fewer players, and that’s also the case locally.
Head injuries — and fear of head injuries — seem to be driving the decline in participation. More and more parents opt to delay or ban their children from playing football because of the well-documented long-term brain injuries resulting from repeated trauma to the head.
The stand taken by these parents is understandable. Yet, despite the risk, many families opt to allow their children to participate for a variety of reasons — mostly because they see benefits to playing the game such as learning life lessons about working together as a team and overcoming adversity.
So, does playing football have to be a risk vs. reward decision?
Perhaps the risk can be minimized in the future as a Seattle-based helmet manufacturer is plowing new ground in developing helmets that can better protect players from brain trauma.
Seattle Times reporter Evan Webeck wrote that VICIS “SmashLab” promises a “revolutionary helmet technology that bends and buckles similar to a car bumper to reduce impact, as opposed to traditional hard-shell helmets.”
The problem for collegiate, high school and youth football leagues, however, is an age-old one — cost. VICIS signature Zero1 adult helmet retails for $950, while the youth model goes for $495.
The helmets are being used or about to be used on the field in the Seattle area.
Paying for the helmets is still a hurdle, but a Ballard youth football program has turned to crowdsourcing to fund the helmets. Still, it needs more cash, but Andrew Muller, president of the Ballard league (and also a coach) expects to raise the money.
“I look at VICIS, and while it’s expensive, no doubt about it,” Muller said, “… I look at it like, hey if there’s something that’s been proven and tested to be better — and significantly at that — we have to get our kids into them.”
About 1,200 high school players will wear the VICIS adult helmet in 2019, although most are still individually purchased.
That could change as the company is bringing the cost down. The Times reports that original cost was $1,500 each and can be sold as low as $700 for bulk orders.
It’s likely that will keep going down and, as is always the case, this advance will spur other advances in helmet technology.
No, this isn’t going to take the risk out of football, but it could — in time — make the game safer and thus is likely to encourage more participation from youths.
But, as always, time will tell.
Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin’s Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart
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