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What Arians Got Wrong
About Moms And Football

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Although The Head Coach Of The Arizona Cardinals May Be One Of The Foremost Tacticians In The Game, His Diminishment Of The Real Dangers Of Football Deserves A Dunce Cap


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

April 12, 2016 — Bruce Arians must enjoy the taste of leather, because he loves putting his foot in his mouth. While the Arizona Cardinals head coach is a masterful tactician on the field, he is notably less insightful, and often downright boneheaded, when the topic turns away from Xs and Os.

That might be precisely why he is a top-level football coach, but that is a column for another day.

Arians most frequently spouts off when it comes to criticisms of the style of football or the players he has coached. By regularly calling parents dumb for worrying about the very real health effects playing football has on their kids, this sentient Kangol hat has proven time and again that he is completely out of touch with reality.

Most recently, he spoke to a group of high school football coaches at the Cardinals training facility last week and blamed moms for being too afraid to let kids sign up for football. He then backtracked slightly on Twitter.

These comments are nothing new. In an interview with MMQB earlier this year, Arians belittled any parent that would not allow their son to play football by simply calling them “fools.”

Based on this statement alone, I’d say that the dunce cap belongs firmly on Arians’ well-shaven head rather than concerned, football averse parents. Why? Well, because of fact that playing football has been linked time and time again to increased risk of concussion, CTE and other severe injuries in both kids and adults.

Arians defended his “fool” statement by claiming that no other sport prepares young men for life like football. That may be true (though the victims of Adrian Peterson, Daryl Washington, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Aaron Hernandez, Justin Strzelczyk, Jim Dunaway, Darren Sharper, et al., may disagree). However, it still seems silly to fault parents for feeling a bit apprehensive about exposing their children to such risks just to achieve an ambiguous set of life lessons.

Meanwhile, there is no concrete connection between playing football and the development of that elusive, amorphous “character” in young men, despite what Arians will have you believe. Because that’s the crux of his argument: football helps boys become good men (whatever the hell that means) and no amount of hard scientific data about the sports negative health effects will change that.

Image of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Image by Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and used Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Even the NFL is starting to sound more open-minded than its most bombastic coach. After arguing against the link between CTE and football for years, the NFL admitted as much recently when Jeff Miller, NFL vice president of health and public safety, testified before Congress and acknowledged that a link exists between playing football and the development of CTE and other brain disorders. Numerous former players like Antwaan Randle-El and Chris Borland have either retired early because of head injury risks or stated they regretted entering the league because of the debilitating effects playing the game has had on them in retirement.

In Arians’ defense, he has spoken out about the need to make football safer at all levels by teaching players proper tackling techniques like he was taught during his playing days. This includes teaching players to tackle and block with the shoulder pads, taking “the face” out of the game and promoting “rugby style tackling.” The Seattle Seahawks have long promoted this type of tackling.

While this concern for player safety is refreshing, it is also a bit confusing. On the one hand, Arians is promoting player safety, but on the other he is flippantly dismissing parents as “fools” for being concerned about player safety, a concern Arians professes to share at times.

Additionally, Arians desire to return the fundamentals of tackling to something that looks like what he was taught decades ago misses one major fact: Players these days look nothing like the players of the past. For instance, look at the defensive end position. An All-Pro defensive end in the 1970s like former Ram Jack Youngblood (6’4”, 245 lbs.) looks positively puny next to someone like J.J. Watt (6’5”, 289 lbs.). And those height and weight numbers don’t account for the muscle mass and agility advantages today’s players obviously carry over their retired counterparts.

Suffice it to say, while proper tackling (in addition to player safety rules and better equipment) can reduce injuries for players of all ages, there will always be a substantial injury risk when two people collide with each other at full speed. The Seahawks acknowledge as much in the description for this video promoting rugby style tackling, stating “Like any athletic activity, no tackling technique can completely eliminate the risk of injury.”

Moreover, as long as networks like ESPN continue to glorify “big hits” like this one through fan-friendly replays and online videos, I find it difficult to believe that NFL and college players will stick to this safer tackling methods all the time, because the truth is the bone-jarring hits lead to more media exposure (and head injuries) for players seeking fame, glory and endorsement deals. In turn, these videos can influence the play of the young players who idolize the men on the screen.

That’s important because when it comes to head injuries, it’s not just pro football players who are affected. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine entitled “Epidemiology of concussions among United States high school athletes in 20 sports” found that of the sports included in the study, football is by far the leading cause of concussions in student athletes.

According to the study, sports participation is the second leading cause of concussions behind motor vehicle accidents. Of the 1,930 concussions tracked by the study, 47.1 percent came from playing football. The second most concussions came from playing girls soccer, which accounted for just 8.2 percent.

And, wait, there’s more. According to the Boston University School of Medicine:

“But a January 2015 study from Boston University School of Medicine (MED) researchers points to a possible increased risk of cognitive impairment from playing youth football. The National Institutes of Health–funded study, published online in the journal Neurology, finds that former National Football League players who participated in tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have memory and thinking problems as adults.”

If that is not scary enough, 13 high school football players died in the 2015 season, with at least half clearly linked to on-field play. While that number is quite small compared to the total amount of high school football players in the U.S., it is still rightly causing concern amongst actual child health experts.

You know who is not a child health expert? Bruce Arians. He’s not a child psychologist either. So, maybe he needs to stop spouting off about the supposed developmental benefits of playing football while dismissing the very real health implications that participation poses, and focus more on the game he is paid to coach.

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