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A Clear Mission

Head trauma dominates the headlines, forcing many to debate the future of football. But a high school coach in Arizona wonders how society could ever eliminate something so beneficial?
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By Jeff Scurran

Scurran is the head football coach at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Arizona. Click here to read a counterargument by a high school coach questioning the value and purpose of football.

I understand why people are nervous about the current state of football, especially pertaining to head trauma. There is much we don’t know about concussions, and that is scary to both parents and coaches around the country. It scares me, too.

Football is at a crossroads right now, but that doesn’t mean we should eliminate it and it doesn’t mean we should back off. We need the right people to help guide the sport in the right direction.

Football will survive; it has to. There is just too much love of the sport, too much money involved, and it’s just too important to our society. When someone tells me they’re from a baseball town or school, right away I know their football team isn’t very good. That is our culture.

The main reason I believe football will survive, though, is because it is important. As a society, we need the sport.

In football, we are training the troops. It has become the last bastion of discipline.

I’ve been a coach for 40 years. In the 1980s, I took an 0-10 team to the state semifinals the following season. In 2001, I started the Pima College football program. In our first game, we stunned the defending NJCAA national champions. In 2007, I was back in high school with yet another 0-10 team, and we posted three consecutive 11-win seasons, appearing in two Arizona state championship games.

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Can football change? Will the sport become safer? How are concussions impacting the game’s future?

Introducing an in-depth series where we tackle those questions, starting at high schools and continuing into college and the NFL. Read the entire series.

That’s the part I like the best. It’s the building of something great. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, mediocrity became acceptable in this country—and it happened in almost every part of society.

Football has become the last bastion of discipline. Every good football coach knows you can be the greatest mind in the world when it comes to strategy, but if you don’t train your troops, it’s all a waste. In football, we are training the troops. We are teaching kids traits desired by many professions, including the military. I took my team on a trip to West Point a few years ago. I wasn’t surprised to find out that every freshman cadet was required to play on an intramural football team. Because in football, we are teaching kids hustle, determination, teamwork, effort, discipline, intelligence and that hard work pays off.

If the high school football coach doesn’t teach this, who will? And if a coach is trying to teach these essential life lessons through brutality, punishment, and negative reinforcement, it just means the coach is a bad teacher.

Ask any rookie varsity football player who goes against upperclassmen every day at practice in an effort to move up the competitive ladder. Look at the ones who stay, learn, and put in the work to develop their technique—and put in the work in the classroom to remain academically eligible. Other sports promote this, but the combination of teamwork and toughness in football is second to none.

These are the essential qualities to being successful in life; the intangibles are everything. We are teaching kids how to handle pressure and overcome adversity through football. That’s what excites me. How could our society eliminate something so beneficial?

I am as aware of the concussion issue as anyone in our sport. In 2007, I was fortunate enough to receive the NFL-SCA National Coach of the Year Award at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. As part of the proceedings, I was sent to a conference at the IUPUI National College for Sports Medicine and saw the scope of the problem. It was apparent then that the knowledge and technology exists to bring about necessary and overdue changes. It involves re-education of coaches on all levels, mass production of better, safer equipment, and developing new techniques.

We are teaching hustle, determination, teamwork, effort, discipline, intelligence and that hard work pays off. If the high school football coach doesn’t teach this, who will?

At the same time, we can’t take toughness out of football. Toughness is valued in our society, particularly when people display it in the proper venue. Every family endures tough times, every business goes through tough cycles, and our country values toughness in its leaders. The culture surrounding this “toughness factor” is attractive in all areas of society, particularly to military and business leaders. And since we love having tough hombres around, progress in changing this will be slow. There are no easy answers, for sure.

Winslow Townson/AP

Winslow Townson/AP

Hopefully this issue will not just be the cause du jour, as we see so often with many things. Look no further than the violence that we associate with boxing; at one time, hard and multiple punches thrown during a match were considered the most violent thing imaginable. Now we have Mixed Martial Arts and Cage Fighting, which to me seems just as violent—if not more—than boxing; it doesn’t make sense.

We can’t let the issue of concussion awareness slip away. But we can’t abandon football, either. It is too important in our culture. It has meant too much to too many people.

And it really is the last true bastion of teaching discipline in our society.