MAKE BRAIN DAMAGE GREAT AGAIN: The putrid politics of Tuesday’s Save Youth Football spectacle

By Sam Tarr

April 2019

BOSTON- On April 16, dozens of people stood in front of the iron fence of the Massachusetts State House. Shielding themselves from a surprisingly chilly spring breeze with hooded sweatshirts and football jerseys, they listened to Damien Jarrett, a former rugby and football player turned youth football advocate.

Another small demonstration in support of refugees had been pushed aside for something important…a rally organized by the Save Youth Football organization of Massachusetts.

Born in England, Jarrett spoke about the “heads-up” method of football coaching. Despite his difficulty speaking American, the crowed feigned interest as he droned on about safety and training.

Eyes began rolling into the backs of dented skulls as he looped around again to celebrate what they’re doing for player safety across the pond. But then he struck a chord.

“I didn’t want to make this overly political,” he said, apologetically.

Oh no, please do, the crowd leaned in.

“I do not believe that government should be making decisions like this, this is a parental decision. It will not stop at football,” Jarrett said.

The crowd woke up. Government…BAD! Their eyes lit up like 100 bright yellow Gadsden flags.

“If you want to load a gun,” Jarrett said, “and hand it to the government at the local and national level and tell them to start making life decisions for you, you have to be prepared to get the gun turned on you in other situations and for them to abuse that power.”

The crowd frothed with excitement. Did somebody say gun?!

“You as parents all know what is best for your children. You put your child in whenever you want, don’t let the government make that decision,” he said. No one argued. Science has never outpaced a parent’s intuition.

Applause overtook the rumble of a midday bus.

At first, I was worried that this might be a dull event. But it’s clear I’ve stepped right into it now. This was no mere seminar on polite tackling, proper training, and new and improved safety measures.

I found myself smack dab in the middle of a full-blown Make Brain Damage Great Again rally.

With statues of the American Revolution peering out from the shrubbery, this group of patriots were drawing a line in the sand and declaring to the tyranny of the state government that you shall not cross. Today they would be heard, that no fat cat under his golden dome or neurologist with their fancy pants Ph.D. would prevent their child from a life of impaired cognitive ability.

To hell with the precautionary principle. To hell with the CTE Center’s early findings that continue to show troubling data that early sub-concussive brain trauma can lead to a neurodegenerative condition in adults as well as a host of other issues.

These white coats were coming for their sport, and if they had to throw all their children into Boston Harbor like so many crates of tea, they were not going to let some “expert” or “state official” tell them what’s best.

American hero Joe Rafter, President of the California Youth Football Alliance, has already helped keep the Golden State from destroying the lives of children by letting their brains mature before smashing them into pulp.

Local buzzkill, Robert Stern, director of clinical research at Boston University’s CTE Center, was just peddling “fake science.” With all his numbers, samples, and mumbo jumbo, Stern was just getting everybody all worked up so some nefarious reason they’re looking into.

His study that showed disturbing correlations with early participation in youth sports and impaired brain function was not a reason for pause, but a call to action. Busybodies like Stern have sent the snowflakes into a blizzard in the commonwealth. It was time to rise up and slap those government hands away from our children’s developing brains.

If a parent wants to let their son or daughter start putting in small deposits in the brain disease bank as soon as soon as their necks can support their head, so be it. This is America. Get in their Timmy, a little delayed response time, faulty short-term memory, mood swings, and depression never hurt anyone. Remember, it’s your parent’s right.

I looked at the children put on display on the stone steps. I wonder what reward they’d get for sitting with their signs for the news cameras. I wondered if they’re parents ever discussed any of the concerns from the scientific community and let them know that they too could wait until high school like Saint Brady had to because of his father’s rule.

Craig Karahuta, American Youth Football Vice President of football and cheer operations, said the alarming data that has public opinion polls turning against football was no comparison to his “concrete evidence” of youth tackle football’s benefits.

You know, concrete, empirical, no-doubt-about-it stuff like “sportsmanship” and the fact that some youth football participants use their bruised brains for good and go on to be “leaders in their community.”

“What’s going on in the room, is completely un-American,” he said.

One after the other, speakers took the stage to fight for their right to make repetitive childhood head impacts great again. At first, I looked on with contempt of the parents, unable to understand a complete disregard for even the suggestion that having your infant playing full-contact football wasn’t a good idea.

But, like everything else in this god-forsaken country of ours given enough time for inspection, it filled me with a deep sadness. These parents were being used, played by their primitive heartstrings.

This wasn’t about football, it was politics.

Marc Lombardo (R-Middlesex 22nd), despite not being a “football dad,” talked about his God and football Sundays and rallied the crowd against the oppressiveness of government regulations.

“Over the years I have watched continually as big government has eroded the rights of parents,” Lombardo said. “What you can say, who you can talk to, what type of medical decisions you can make, now what sports you can allow your kids can play.”

Under the red-hatted rhetorical spell of conservative political discourse, these parents were raging against the liberal elite and “big government,” at all cost.

They probably didn’t even realize it.

“Today it’s football and tomorrow it’s your sport,” he said.

The crowd applauded again as they told a DJ to spin a few songs so the kids could stretch their legs.

I scribbled down a few last notes and broke loose from the crowd. And took one last look before I made my way back down to the train.

I saw parents with their beer bellies stretched in too-tight polos who talk about childhood obesity as a reason for tackle football. I saw a man hobble around, probably mangling his leg in a pileup.

The kids made me the saddest. All those smiling faces dancing and horsing around, not even knowing that their parents are unwittingly offering them as pawns in the political game.

Joe Rafter dug deep into his bag of tricks and hit the crowd with a rehash of Nixon’s “silent majority” bit. Trump used that line too while he fired up groups. The “us against them” dynamic is a powerful thing.

The kids, well, they don’t know any better.  I just wished we lived in a country where the parents did.

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