In 2014, Marshall Independent School District in East Texas terminated its seventh-grade tackle football program because of concerns about head injuries. But last spring, the district’s board of trustees voted unanimously to reinstate the program. It was a controversial decision, but many in Marshall celebrated it.
Ken Belson is NFL reporter for The New York Times, and has been visiting Marshall since 2014 to follow the change in football trends.
“[In] 2014, there was a lot of research coming out about the dangers of repeated head hits and concussions,” Belson says. “Five years later, [in] 2019, at the same school board that voted to get rid of seventh-grade football … said, I think we’ve taken a lot of positive steps, and we can be a little more reassured that the kids are not in the same danger they might’ve been five years ago.”
Belson says that despite the town’s change of heart, and all the new regulations to prevent head injuries, the game itself hasn’t changed much.
“There have been efforts to reduce the number of risky plays through rule changes and penalties,” Belson says. “But at the end of the day, two bodies colliding end up creating a lot of energy. And even one body falling against the ground and a player hitting its head is still a way to get a concussion.”
Belson says one of the biggest reasons parents in Marshall are willing to overlook the risk to their kids is the importance of football culture.
“You get knocked down, dust yourself off and get right back up,” Belson says. “Parents appreciate, and almost want their kids to go through that ordeal to give [children] a ‘stiffer spine,’ so to speak.”
Written by Antonio Cueto.