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Fall marks the beginning of football season, and fans come together to enjoy the thrill of watching their favorite teams battle it out on the field.  There is no more popular sport in America, consistently the highest-rated on television and the first thing many of us look for in our local paper.

However, an ongoing list of safety concerns spells trouble for the sport.

Although all sports carry a risk of injury, football's violent nature and "gladiator" culture place it in a category of its own, especially regarding head trauma.

The reality behind hits to the helmet is far more damaging than merely "getting your bell rung."

The momentum from contact propels a player's brain against the walls of his skull, repeatedly, throughout plays, practices, games and seasons.

Given this wear and tear, it is little surprise to see that former NFL players are three to four times more likely to suffer from brain diseases, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Arising from repeated concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy can cause symptoms of dementia and lead to erratic, even suicidal behavior.

While we might write off these injuries as consequences for playing the game, especially those playing it professionally - these are, after all, grown men with multimillion dollar contracts who know the risks they are taking - can we really say the same about high school and youth league football players?

The growing awareness of the risk of head injury is beginning to have a significant impact on parental attitudes. Increasingly, parents are keeping kids from the youth football field, and the science backs them up. Is this the beginning of the end for football?

Children and teenagers may be especially at risk for brain injuries because their brains are still developing, making it extremely important to protect them from head trauma.

Parents need to be aware of the signs of brain injury, including problems concentrating, headaches and in some instances, behavioral issues.

This new science stands against decades of coaches and parents telling athletes to "get back in the game" after head injuries, and parents are starting to take notice.

A survey conducted by ESPN Research and the Global Strategy Group shows that 57 percent of parents are less likely to allow their children to play youth football after learning more about concussions.

Many say that padding and better helmets are the answer, but too many of us know football coaches who push for more, with an utter disregard for safety.

As a result, parents are beginning to push back and are placing their kids in other sports regardless of the claims of helmet manufacturers.

Few forces are more powerful than a concerned mother. Across the nation, moms and dads are waking up to the dangers and long-term repercussions of playing football.

As entertaining as the game may be, and as much as I like my college football on fall Saturdays, I can't help but think about the grave risks that children playing the game face every time they suit up.

While the NFL is finally beginning to address these serious safety concerns, many high school programs are doing little to nothing to improve safety standards.

It is up to parents to hold our local schools and recreation programs accountable and demand action to protect our children.

Superficial changes are in the making at some levels; however, if the sport at every level does not make major and substantive changes soon, the worry over our children's safety will be the death of the great American sport of football.


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