BERGEN COUNTY, N.J. (PIX11) — Two New Jersey high school football players were in the hospital over the weekend, just days after another local high school player died from injuries he suffered on the field. The situation has intensified the debate over whether or not football should be played at the high school level at all.
While some sports organizations express support for the game among teens, a growing list of studies shows that injuries on the gridiron lead to brain damage.
The injuries this month in Central and North Jersey are adding to evidence to which people calling for an end to Friday Night Lights can point.
Randall Curren, an education ethicist and chair of the philosophy department at the University of Rochester, is among the increasing number of people calling for high school leagues’ ending.
“Don’t sponsor an activity which we know is causing kids’ brain damage and declining cognitive ability,” he said in an interview.
Curren co-authored, with J.C. Blokhuis of the University of Waterloo in Canada, an essay in the Harvard Educational Review analyzing the preponderance of data linking football injuries with brain damage.
One study reaching that conclusion came from the University of Rochester, where Curren is on faculty.
Regarding high schools having football programs, Curren said, “You’re in the business of educating children. Why would you be sponsoring an activity that is going to make it harder for them to learn and to function in society in the ways that you have a legal and ethical mandate to provide [to] those children?”
The recent injuries in North and Central Jersey have been serious. Last week, Xavier McClain, a Linden High School player, died from injuries he’d suffered on the field in a game against Woodbridge High School.
Then, this past Friday, the quarterback for St. John Vianney High School, Aaron Van Trease, had to be taken off the field and airlifted to a hospital due to a serious neck injury.
On that same night, AJ Schwartz, the quarterback at Marlboro High School, suffered a season-ending knee and leg injury during varsity play.
Curren said that he supports sports. However, he added, he finds it wrong for schools to promote football specifically, since it’s been shown to damage the brains of as many as 25% of players.
“Are we in the business of educating?” he asked. “If we are,” he continued, “let’s focus our resources in educating, and not risk damaging kids’ brains.”
In recent years, the number of participants in high school and youth football has declined.
One analysis shows that from their peak activity about a dozen years ago, participation in high school football is down about 10%, while participation in football programs for children ages 6 to 12 is down more than 30%.