Paying Greater Attention to Sports and Youth

by Dr. Faye Williams
There’s little question that parenting is a more complex endeavor than it ever was. The goal of most conscientious parents is to create as many options for opportunity and success as possible for their child(ren). Consistent with that goal is the additional objective of developing that child into an injury-free, healthy, independent thinking young adult who is a productive member of the community. However, this parental desire is often frustrated by the goal itself. Let me explain.

In order to realize the best and most rewarding opportunities, life has become more competitive for youth. More than ever and earlier than ever before, youth are required to distinguish themselves from their peers. ‘Mere academic success’ is no longer the exclusive measure of capability. Most evaluators of our youth now do so with a “whole person concept” that allows for other measures of capability. Mainly among these is the participation in sports.

While sports activities are an excellent means of maintaining fitness and the development of unique reactive and performance-based physical skills, they are also the cause of serious and debilitating injury to youth. The statistics and costs of these injuries are staggering.

In a 2012 survey of emergency room visits, the organization Safe Kids Worldwide discovered facts that are significant to the welfare of our children. Their study revealed that 1.35 million youth were seen in a hospital emergency room for a sports related injury. That total reflected a youth sports related visit at a rate of one every 25 seconds. It was determined that among those visits, at a rate of one youth every 3 minutes, a child was seen for a sports-related concussion. Among those seen for concussions, younger athletes from ages 12 to 15 made up a staggering 47%.

At an annual cost of more than $935 million, sprains, strains, fractures, contusions, abrasions and concussions are the most frequent injuries experienced by youth ages 6 to 19. These reported figures do not reflect injuries to youth who are too poor to seek medical treatment or those who choose to “play through the pain.” Not surprisingly, these injuries are sustained by males and females in sporting activities that include football, cheerleading, soccer and basketball. Surprisingly for many, in sports in which girls and boys participate, girls report a higher percentage of concussions. Football resulted in both the highest number of all injuries and the highest concussion rate. Wrestling and cheerleading had the second- and third-highest rates.

Though these rates are regrettable, the parental challenges of rearing an African American child are even more daunting. There are few African Americans who have not personally experienced the verbal admonishments of the mother urging the personal safety and behavioral restraint of her child. Even comedians have made these chastisements a part of their acts. Who among us has not heard the oxymoron, “If you fall out of that tree and break your neck, I’m going to kill you!”
Successfully rearing the African American child takes on a more serious tone than that of the general population.

Most of our children were taught that “Children should be seen and not heard” in the hope that the child wouldn’t say or do something that would offend white law enforcement or other hostile whites. The Emmitt Till story is among the most dramatic in this regard.

Times, however, have changed. The ‘safety’ lessons we teach our children seem no longer sufficient. The recent lessons of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice demonstrate that APPEARANCE can be as great an offense as any miscreant behavior.

The lessons of Flint, MI, illustrate that the welfare of our youth can be sacrificed to the goal of saving money. We must do more to avoid injuries of all kind to our children.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at:, or at 202/678-6788)

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