Citing concussion concerns, Minnesota Vikings backup quarterback Shaun Hill is leading the charge against youth tackle football in his hometown of Parsons, Kan., according to KAKE-TV.
Hill, who started for three seasons at Parsons High and has hosted a youth football camp in his hometown, pled his case to the town’s recreation department in January, and the two sides came up with a plan to transition 8- and 9-year-olds from football to flag football, the report said.
“I think there’s a lot about CTE that is still unknown,” Hill told the local TV station of the brain disease that has been linked to repeated head trauma in football, “but I do know that it’s unnecessary to put them at risk at that age to play tackle football.”
Earlier this month, Hill penned an open letter to the town, published in the Parsons Sun:
“Since the topic of brain injury is such a hot button topic these days I will begin with that,” Hill wrote in a lengthy explanation of the decision. “In a collision sport like football some hits to the head are absolutely unavoidable, and therefore the injuries incurred are unpreventable. But a large number of brain injuries do occur from the head striking the ground. It usually occurs with a violent whiplash action forcing the head into the turf at an accelerated rate. One major push in recent years by the NFL and its players has been to strengthen the neck to give the player a much better chance of slowing the head prior to impact, thus limiting or eliminating the brain injury all together. That said, the board and I felt strongly that adding the extra weight of a helmet to the underdeveloped neck of third and fourth graders tackling and hitting each other made no sense at all. Our plan is to play flag football with these kids to keep them off of the ground. We still plan to put them in helmets for protection, and for building neck strength for their future tackle football years.”
Hill, 36, who has played parts of 10 NFL seasons for the Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams, added “a growing majority” of people involved in football support the elimination of tackle football for children younger than middle school age, specifically mentioning former Indianapolis Colts center Dylan Gandy and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Hill also suggested eliminating tackle football at the youth levels opens the sport up to more children who may be hesitant to participate otherwise.
In the most pointed defense of his position, though, Hill cited his high school team’s lack of success as proof tackling at such a young age doesn’t translate to victories at higher levels.
“I understand that Parsons has a long history of playing tackle football at an early age,” he added. “This change is something that many people have a hard time identifying with. But let me ask a simple question about how this has suited our youth. How many state championships in football has it brought the City of Parsons and USD 503? The answer is zero. Don’t you think its time to change the culture? And if zero championships aren’t reason enough, we just graduated a class that did not win a single game until midway through their senior season.”