NPR's Tom Goldman reports:
But in fact, amid the cheering, there's concern — a growing anxiety about head injuries in the sport, from the NFL all the way down to the pee-wee leagues. Some say kids shouldn't be playing until their teenage years. High-profile NFL players have gone on record saying they don't want their children playing at all because of the concussion risk.
Yet, despite increased awareness of the risks, in some parts of football-mad Texas youth football participation has gone up.
This is the first year that STYFA [South Texas Youth Football Association] has had a concussion policy, featured on the association website homepage. Lonzie Helms, STYFA's safety coordinator, helped write up the policy.
"We didn't want to get caught behind the curve if something comes up," he says. "There are people actually talking about not playing football before high school. So we wanted to be proactive as possible."
Still, Helms was worried about a possible drop in participation this year. During STYFA's sign-up period, there were many media reports about concussions, including the story about the suicide of former NFL star Junior Seau. There was speculation at the time of his death that it was prompted by brain disease from football head injuries.
But Helms was amazed to see a 20 percent increase in football sign-ups.
"We had so many kids so early, we thought that maybe one of the other leagues had gone away or something. We were getting kids so fast," he says, adding, "It turns out, the other leagues were doing just as well as we were."
Helms says he has no idea why the surge happened. But there is one possible clue: Helms says this year 3,000 people are expected at Pearland Stadium to watch the pee-wee championship game between 7- and 8-year-olds.
"This is Texas," Helms says. "This is what we do. We play football."