Make no mistake, football holds a special place in the public’s heart. Our favorite football teams are part of our identities. Football is part of the fabric that connects tribes.

But when we block out the decorations, football necessarily boils down to young men hurling their bodies into one another.

If football is to survive, it will need to change – whether that means more education about the signs and symptoms of concussions, better equipment, changes to the rules of the game – or all of above. And the game can change, because that’s how it has evolved since the beginning.

So that’s why we brought together a panel of experts to talk about what the future of football will look like for kids, parents, schools and other officials.

Joining us were: Jim Laslavic, a sports anchor for NBC San Diego and a retired pro football player; David Casey Jr., an attorney who represented Junior Seau’s family; Howard Taras,  a professor and pediatrician at the UCSD who’s also an adviser to school districts and Roger Blake, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation.

As Scott Lewis joked at the beginning of the discussion, we weren’t able to find someone to represent the pro-concussion side of things. Here are a few compelling quotes from our conversation:

“When I put a helmet on, I thought it protected my head. Completely. I found out two years ago after I’d been retired for 30 years or so that it protected against fractures. It didn’t protect against having my brains possibly scrambled.”   Jim Laslavic

This much is sure: We now know more about concussions than we used to. Laslavic was echoing claims made by retired football players that they didn’t completely understand the extent to which their bodies could be harmed.

That’s why Laslavic said we should consider keeping contact out of the football, at least until kids are in high school.

There may be something to that, considering a recent study found a relationship between the age an athlete starts tackle football and diminished brain function later in life.

“We had a coach named Jerry Glanville who was, you know, kind of a wild man. And he wanted you to lead with your head. He used to say, ‘Give him a Riddell enema. Give him a Riddell enema, you gotta be tougher.’” Jim Laslavic

An enema. Made of a football helmet.

“I don’t see this as an epidemic of lawsuits being brought against our school districts. I see this as a need for education. A need for the coaches to be educated. The kids to be educated. The parents to be educated.”David Casey Jr.

In light of the growing number of lawsuits filed against football leagues, Lewis asked Casey how big of role he saw lawsuits playing when it comes to the future of high school football.

Casey’s answer might be surprising to parents and reassuring to high school football leagues: If parents sign a waiver before their kids start the football season, those waivers are upheld by the courts and protect school districts from claims of negligence, for the most part. Unless there’s a case of gross negligence, or egregious and reckless negligence on the part of the coach or school, parents have no legal remedies, Casey said.

“I’ve heard a few things about ‘maybe we should have players playing for fewer years, so that they don’t have so many years of injuries.’ ‘Maybe we shouldn’t have young children play.’ These are all good hypotheses. And maybe some of them will prove to be true, but we don’t know. Medicine is not there yet.”   Howard Taras

Taras was responding to Laslavic and others who’ve suggested football needs additional safeguards. But, Taras said, only time and research will tell whether the safeguards we choose will stem the bulk of serious injuries, or just help around the margins.

The question is: What do we do in the meantime?

Click here to read a transcript of the conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity.

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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