Steinberg: Children's long-term health is key

August 13, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

As fall approaches, the health risk to young athletes is ever-present and parents, coaches, schools and leagues need to take an active role in educating themselves to protect the athletes from unnecessary risk.

There is a culture of denial inherent in the way athletes think about injury and long-term health. From Pop Warner, Little League and AYSO, athletes are taught to ignore injury, tolerate pain and focus solely on the  the next play. They desperately want to play, are inherently competitive and don't want an injury to isolate them from their teammates. They will put anything in their bodies to enhance performance and will expose their bodies to stresses that are unhealthy.

Most people would have the following priorities when it comes to health:

•Long term health

•Ability to play in a season

•Ability to play in a game

•Ability to participate in the next play.


Athletes turn this dynamic on its head. For them, the next play is the highest priority. As young people, the future is an abstraction, they have a feeling of omnipotence and the belief that "it won't happen to me."

It is incumbent on those family members and people who care for young athletes to play a protective role in restoring some perspective to this dilemma.

Some example are the use of steroids, supplements and excessive lifting. Coaches tell players to get bigger, stronger and faster if they want to be a starter or make the roster. At the high school level, there is a large subgroup of young men who become obsessed with a buff upper body.

Warren Moon, Bill Walsh and I testified in front of State Senate and Assembly committees advocating a ban on use of steroids, having strict controls on supplements and generating the money needed to fund education on these subjects for coaches, athletes and parents at the high school level.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the steroid ban but vetoed money for education. I spent much of my early career trying to get our clients to stop using steroids. They were easily identifiable with doughy muscle growth, hair loss, pimples and behavioral changes. Steroids created extraordinary mood swings, alternating between grandiosity to "roid rage" to depression.

When players stopped using them, they were still emotionally addicted. They got cancer in certain cases. We had several suicides among football players.

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