Head-trauma fears fuel debate at Duke on future of youth football

Friday, February 16, 2018 11:30PM
The documentary "Requiem For a Running Back" was screened by dozens at Duke University on Friday.

DURHAM, NC - Despite Jim Millay's appreciation of the game of football, he and his wife, Sandy, are increasingly turning away from the game.

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"I love the spectacle of the game. It's so beautiful. It's so beautiful to watch these exquisite athletes," Millay said.

They don't have children. But, if they did, playing football would be a non-starter.

"It would be a no," Sandy said.

Jim, a former high school football player, agreed.

"I loved the game. I know the game inside and out. But I really question as to whether it has a viable future," he said.

The mounting concerns about the safety, health and long-term future of football was the big topic Friday night at Duke's Nasher Museum.

Jim and Sandy joined dozens of others for a special screening of Rebecca Carpenter's new documentary, "Requiem For a Running Back."

The film documents the impact of football on the life of Carpenter's father - years of big and small hits and the CTE, the degenerative brain disease it caused that ultimately killed the former Green Bay Packer.

Duke Economics professor Lori Leachman helped organize the event.

"My father died from CTE in 2012," Leachman said.

Her father, Lamar Leachman, was a player and longtime coach with the Lions and the Giants. But, after a life in football and the head trauma that came along with the game, Leachman wants to amplify the discussion about making the game safer. She thinks her father would be proud.

"A lot of coaches and participants in football of his generation have some guilt about how they were coaching, the techniques they were using, and the implications of that long-term, Leachman said.

It was last fall when an entire community rallied around Orange High School football player Thys Oldenburg. He spent weeks in a drug-induced coma at Duke Hospital after a hard hit during a junior varsity football game.

Leachman wants more high schools to modify practice - the schedules and techniques; wants better mouth guards, stronger helmets, and more effective neck guards.

She thinks the NFL should foot the bill.

"I think the NFL should be providing that all to the high school teams - it's the pipeline. It's a tax deduct for them," Leachman said.

The conversation continues through Saturday at Duke. At 1 p.m., the law school is hosting a series of panel discussions including the culture of football, the brain science and the future of the sport.
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