Get serious about keeping high school athletes healthy

Suppose somebody came up with a new sport and went to the local school board and said, “There is some violence involved, and, in all likelihood, 10 percent of the kids will be injured during the season enough to miss at least some practice time, but there’s only a slim chance that they will be permanently disabled or killed.”

Does anyone think the school board would approve such a sport?

And yet, for decades schools have embraced football and hockey, two violent contact sports, as the birthright of Minnesota’s high school athletes.

Now comes word of the permanent paralysis of Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player Jack Jablonski, checked from behind into the boards.

We don’t pretend to be hockey experts, but fans who know more about it than we do say that in Europe hockey is based more on skating ability and passing skills, while in America, the sport relies more on grab-and-hold and checking.

Why does anybody think this is a good thing for American kids?

We understand that occasionally accidents happen. Basketball and baseball have their injuries, and problems may even come up in tennis or gymnastics. But if the mantra is supposed to be, “It’s all about the kids,” then it would behoove the Minnesota State High School League to get serious about it.

If an illegal play results in serious injury to an opponent, why not suspend the offender for the season? If a legal play results in serious injury to an opponent, why not review the rules, and revamp them to make contact sports safer? In football, why not pad the outside of helmets like the inside?

Give game misconduct penalties to football players who break one of the injury-prevention rules like clipping or roughing the passer or kicker. Do the same in hockey for spearing and checking from behind.

Ironically, one development in recent years has been, as equipment has been redesigned to keep players safer, the players have become more reckless, thinking they are protected. Then, when injuries occur, they are more likely to be serious.

But should the kids be blamed for that alone? It’s up to the adults to put these sports into perspective and realize that no game is worth permanent injury or death. Then, they should change the rules to make sure high school athletes survive to live healthy adult lives.