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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Parental consent

By Shaun Assael
ESPN The Magazine

Hand me all the eye-opening data you want. I watched my son's football team go undefeated last season, and I'm a bigger believer than ever in the game's ability to foster camaraderie, clean living and focus. Of course, I am also the dad who encourages an anticoncussion workout, carries cognitive tests on my smartphone and keeps a neurosurgeon on speed-dial. Neurotic? No, just cautious. Here are tactics that make it easier to enjoy a game with my kid in it.

Helmets should be snug but not too snug; the pads or air cushions inside need some play to absorb shocks. One sign the hat is too tight: forehead bruises that linger. A sign it's too loose: bumps on the nose. Each manufacturer has different specs for fit, so check their websites. Also, take a look at the National Athletic Trainers Association's safety checklist, at

"High schoolers are less developed than adults are, so their neck muscles are less able to control the head after a hit," says Steven Broglio of the University of Illinois. Brian Robinson, head of NATA's secondary-school committee, suggests dumbbell side raises and military presses to strengthen the upper trapezius muscles, and isometric exercises such as pressing a hand to the sides and front of a teammate's head as he pushes back.

3. TEST.
At White Plains High in New York, science director Timothy Selg gives the team's linebackers a quiz before and after each gamenot just before and after the seasonto test brain function. Simple stuff, like Mom's maiden name or what number in a series doesn't belong. A drop off of 15-20% from baseline after a game is cause for follow-up. And if your high school has no such testing provisions, then ...

4. ...TALK.
Heading home from a game, I say three words to my son, like "girl, dog, spoon." Later, I ask him to repeat them. Failure to remember those words can signal a head injury. What do you do if you suspect one? Most symptoms clear in a few days, but if they persist, find a local specialist who can do further testing. A good place to start is