All football fields are not equal

Decades ago, in excruciating August heat, teenage boys gladly subjected themselves to leg-numbing sprints over 10, 20, 50, 80 yards of grass.

They lifted weights then ran some more. They learned offensive and defensive plays and ran some more.

At one point they even did it twice a day. Then with thick helmets on their domes and awkward pads clattering in their shoulders as they sprinted once more across the 50-yard line.

They subjected themselves to tortuous physical conditioning in anticipation of the payoff—full contact.

For the dozens of high school boys trying out for their school’s football team, the summer time ritual was, in hindsight, a rite of passage. An attempt at setting themselves apart from everyone else.

At the time, however, it was just an excuse to finally be allowed to smash into one another. The high school football field was a proving ground for a boys tenacity and manhood, demonstrating how tough you were each time you bounced up from a bone shocking tackle or how fierce you could be in delivering a breath snatching hit.

Coaches loved it nearly as much as players whenever a clattering pop was delivered.

Scoring, winning, was the point of the game but delivering hard tackles and bell ringing were bonuses.

There is an abundance of physical contact in American football, a small portion of it violent and fleeting. Nonetheless the high school sport is the one with the leading number of injuries among players, roughly 25 per 100 per season.

Over time regulatory federations and state legislatures have implemented rules to make the sport safer for students and they have widened their precautionary scope, taking concussions and head injuries more seriously than they have in the past.

This year marks the first year girls flag football will be played in San Diego’s CIF high schools. There are no pads or helmets in flag football, and no tackling. Presumably there will no bone-crunching hits. The fields are smaller and the games shorter in duration.

In those ways the game differs from the boys’ version of high school football. Is one form safer than the other?, time will tell. My guess is yes. Will we see a time when the boys game abandons the tackle version in favor of flags? My bet is no. Ours is to ponder why.