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    Monday, November 28, 2022

    ‘Are you going to let your kid play football?’

    They are precarious leaps, the assumptions and suppositions we make attempting to draw a straight line between the high school game on Friday night and the NFL game on Sunday afternoon.

    The lines cannot be straight, lest we think the Adonis-bodied millionaire in the downtown stadium shares anything but the same gender as the puny high schooler at the local field.

    But let me suggest that a straight line was the chief export from Cincinnati on Thursday night, imperiling a game whose popularity at youth levels is in steady decline – for the exact reason the Miami Dolphins ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    The organization chose to play quarterback Tua Tagovailoa four days after he wobbled and jiggled after his head violently hit the turf in a game against Buffalo. He played against the Bengals four days later and got slammed again by 340-pound Josh Tupou, forcing Tagovailoa to leave the field on a stretcher.

    The Dolphins said Tagovailoa suffered a back injury Sunday, which may be the biggest lie since Bernie Madoff, addressing a conference on illegal practices on Wall St., said, “in today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate the rules.”

    And then came boy wonder coach Mike McDaniel, who told reporters after Thursday’s game, “the best news that we could get is that everything’s checked out and that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”

    I think I’ve heard a coach say something dumber in my lifetime. But it may take me a while to think of it.

    I mean, the entire sport is awash in the long-term consequences of brain injuries and McDaniel makes it sound like a sinus infection. Again, I ask: Where is it, exactly, that we find these people?

    McDaniel’s mystifying malaise led to another day — Friday — when the yelping of the alarmists created another referendum on football and its safety issues. At a time — again — when participation numbers are youth levels are declining.

    This is where the NFL has no idea — zero — the harm it does to its game by practicing benign neglect (at best) over Tagovailoa’s health issues. To wit: Boomer and Gio spent time on their morning show Friday on WFAN debating the question, “If your kid comes up to you and says, “dad, I want to play football, how are you going to answer?”

    It is a perfectly legitimate question. It also tugs at the movement to increase participation. You think maybe some lackey might want to alert Commissioner Goodell that this stuff isn’t all that helpful to his precious shield?

    A study by the National High School Federation found that in 2018-19, year-over-year 11-player football participation by boys fell by more than 30,000 kids (3%) across the country. In 42 states, the number of players went down year-over-year. Most coaches in Connecticut would tell you declining numbers are an issue.

    “You can blame it on concussions, the demise of the three-sport athlete, social-climbing parents, video games, cell phones, the need for instant gratification, kids' lack of desire to work, whatever you want,” wrote Bob Cook, who writes a blog about youth sports called “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.”

    “At this point,” Cook wrote, “the only reason for that kind of exercise is to think seriously about why high school football participation is in a decade-long demise that shows no sign of ending, and think seriously about what to do about it.”

    Former Waterford High coach John Strecker, whose program numbers were declining at the time in the summer of 2019, had an idea. He invited the head of Sports Neurology for Hartford Healthcare to the school auditorium for a seminar about concussions.

    “A lot of people are interested in it because it’s timely,” Strecker said at the time. “I think a lot of kids out there are not playing football because of the concussion thing. I personally believe it’s gone beyond the point of reason, to the point of hysteria.

    “I had a conversation with a parent earlier this year. It was about 15 minutes long and I got about two minutes of talking in. I heard the name Junior Seau like 12 times. Junior Seau played football for 28 years in an era where you got your second concussion two plays after your first. It’s not the same game.”

    Problem: The Miami Dolphins just made it the same game all over again.

    The images of Tagovailoa wobbling and stumbling are powerful. They will make parents think twice, even if the realities of NFL and high school football are tangential. That old thing about perception and reality.

    Happily, both Waterford and Ledyard drew in excess of 1,000 fans Friday night to their games. It was Youth Football Night in both towns, where the kids wore their jersey tops and greeted the high school kids as they ran on to the field. But maybe those are the kids whose families don’t need to be convinced that at least in some outposts, precautions are taken for player safety.

    Other moms and dads are going to retain the image of Tagovailoa. They’re going to debate what Boomer and Gio did. And they may even remember the dopey Dolphins coach who said, hey, it’s only a concussion.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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