Column: Dangerous way for kids to emulate pros

Column: Dangerous way for kids to emulate pros

What looks like the NFL's latest nightmare played out on a football field an hour from Boston nearly six weeks ago. In a Pop Warner game between longtime rivals Southbridge and Tantasqua, five kids between the ages of 10 and 12 were concussed, all on the losing team, three in the first quarter and the last one on the final play of the game.

``Disturbing,'' is how Jon Butler, Pop Warner's executive director, described it.

It gets worse. The score at the end of the first quarter was Southbridge 28, Tantasqua 0. It was 52-0 at the final whistle.

Winning coach Scott Lazo, whose brother, Doug, is the Southbridge association's president, told the league committee that investigated the game he didn't notice the injuries piling up. ``It was a football game, not a Hallmark moment,'' he said to the New York Times. Losing coach Erik Iller, whose wife, Jen, is president of Tantasqua's association and whose team filed a complaint afterward, defended his decision to keep playing by telling the same committee he wanted his kids to score so they could ``leave with something.''

``From what we were able to put together, it was a combination of things, as bad events often are,'' Butler said over the phone Tuesday. ``There were two coaches who ignored several Pop Warner rules and, evidently, officials lost control of the game early.

``All we can do right now is reassure parents is that this is not typical at all,'' he added. ``It doesn't in any way exonerate the people involved. All of us are upset about that. We've imposed sanctions and if we hear about anything like this again, we won't hesitate to ramp up the severity of the penalties. Those people need to get the message that we won't tolerate it.''

After a hearing last week before the Central Mass Pop Warner league, both the coaches and association presidents were suspended for the rest of the season and put on probation through 2013. The three officials who worked the game were permanently banned for, among other things, failing to apply the mercy rule and end the game earlier.

The comforting thing - or not - is that Pop Warner is one of the most responsible youth sports programs around - it's the umbrella organization for 290,000 of the nation's roughly 3 million football-playing youngsters - and as safety-conscious as any.

It trains coaches to recognize concussion symptoms, provides guidelines about when players should be pulled from games, and after a preliminary study this summer concluded more devastating hits were delivered in practices than games, officials implemented a rule limiting contact drills to two of the six hours of practice allowed each week. It's begun a baseline survey to determine how many youngsters suffer concussions each season because currently, the only way to track them is through Pop Warner's medical insurers and last year, a total of only seven were reported.

Even Dr. Robert Cantu, who is co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and argues against youngsters starting contact sports like tackle football and hockey before age 14, called several Pop Warner initiatives ``good first steps.''

``In this case, the punishments handed out seemed appropriate and I'm encouraged that the officials were held accountable for this debacle, too,'' Cantu said. ``You get crazy, one-sided games in a lot of sports, but in most of those, the mercy rule is applied to protect kids' psyches. In football, it's even more important, because what you're protecting is their bodies and brains.''

There's no mercy rule in the NFL, and not much more mercy, even at the top. During Commissioner Roger Goodell's tenure, the league has begun to address the wide-ranging problem of concussions with better information, stricter protocols covering player safety and changes in the rules. But none of it has discouraged Goodell from moving games to Thursday night to bulk up the NFL Network's profitability, pushing to increase the regular season to 18 games and launching a PR campaign that could be charitably described as disingenuous. A new commercial featuring Tom Brady and Ray Lewis reassures parents the league is concerned about player safety - without ever mentioning concussions - and earlier this month, the commissioner turned up at a youth football gathering in Virginia to promote the league's ``Heads Up Football'' program, designed to teach kids and coaches tackling skills to minimize potential head and neck injuries.

But the science on concussions increasingly suggests all those measures combined - and applied at every level - will reduce the numbers only so much. Cantu acknowledged what happened at that game in Massachusetts last month was an anomaly - ``I hope it was nothing more than an isolated event,'' he said. ``But it points out the dangers of brain trauma in a stark way. I hope no other game results in five concussions. But from what we know, from what I see increasingly in my practice, there are plenty of other games where concussions are taking place as well.''

Ultimately, Cantu believes the only answer to the problem, at the youth level, anyway, will come from parents. He co-authored a book that was released last month laying out the case to have kids play flag football instead of tackle.

``They haven't understood the dangers their kids are being subjected to. Once they do - and it won't happen in weeks, or months, maybe even years - they'll demand changes,'' he said. ``So we'll see.''


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 


—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some point this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 


—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.