NFL quarterback Shaun Hill pushes to replace tackle football for Parsons students

Shaun Hill (14) throws an incomplete pass for St. Louis in 2014 as he is tackled by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor.
Shaun Hill (14) throws an incomplete pass for St. Louis in 2014 as he is tackled by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor. Associated Press

Shaun Hill has played for four teams during a 14-year NFL career.

Not bad for a kid from Parsons who didn’t get a scholarship offer out of high school. He attended Hutchinson Community College and later transferred to the University of Maryland.

Hill, who is on the Minnesota Vikings roster, is still active in his hometown, including working with the Parsons Recreation Commission on the local youth football league. The Parsons Sun reported that Hill covered all registration costs last fall.

But Hill ruffled some feathers when he and the recreation commission recently changed tackle football for third and fourth graders to flag football.

In a letter published in the Parsons Sun, Hill outlined his reasons for the change, and acknowledged that brain injuries were a hot topic.

In a collision sport like football some hits to the head are absolutely unavoidable, and therefore the injuries incurred are unpreventable. But a large number of brain injuries do occur from the head striking the ground. It usually occurs with a violent whiplash action forcing the head into the turf at an accelerated rate. One major push in recent years by the NFL and its players has been to strengthen the neck to give the player a much better chance of slowing the head prior to impact, thus limiting or eliminating the brain injury all together. That said, the board and I felt strongly that adding the extra weight of a helmet to the underdeveloped neck of third and fourth graders tackling and hitting each other made no sense at all. Our plan is to play flag football with these kids to keep them off of the ground. We still plan to put them in helmets for protection, and for building neck strength for their future tackle football years.

Hill said that before the change was made he contacted two friends. Former Detroit Lions guard Dylan Gandy (who played at Texas Tech) and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

Two questions were posed to both players, Hill wrote: When did you start playing tackle football? And when will you allow your boys to play tackle football?

Both said they intended to have their sons wait to play tackle football. Here is what Hill wrote about Smith:

Alex didn’t play tackle football until he was in the 8th grade. He intends to hold his sons out of it until they are in the eighth or ninth grade. A little side story about Alex, after a game his freshman year his dad approached him and told him that it wasn’t too late to switch to cross country. (Six) and a half years after being a gangly kid with moderate coordination he was taken as the first pick in the NFL Draft. Imagine if that kid had played tackle football at an early age and been humiliated to the point that he never wanted to play again. In his text to me he wrote “I’m really happy you’re battling this. I think it’s really important for parents to hear.

Then there is me. I am going into my 15th year in the NFL. I did not play tackle football until the sixth grade. I begged year after year to play. In hindsight my parents did exactly what was best for me. In seventh grade I suffered a scary, but not severe, neck injury getting tackled into a bench on the sidelines. I did not play my eighth grade year. Much like Dylan and Alex, I will try to keep my boys from playing tackle football until middle school age.

Hill wrote about his love of football, and how it teaches life lessons and is an inclusive sport.

But, he believes, tackle football can wait.

The sentiment provided by my two colleagues and I aren’t limited to just us. It is the feeling of a growing majority of men who live in this sport and understand it best. I get that some parents have kids that adamantly want to play tackle football in the third and fourth grade. My parent’s son wanted to play too, but he didn’t get to. And he is eternally grateful for their decision.

I understand that Parsons has a long history of playing tackle football at an early age. This change is something that many people have a hard time identifying with. But let me ask a simple question about how this has suited our youth. How many state championships in football has it brought the City of Parsons and USD 503? The answer is zero. Don’t you think its time to change the culture? And if zero championships aren’t reason enough, we just graduated a class that did not win a single game until midway through their senior season.

While Hill wrote that people had the option to join a local youth football team (the Berserkers), the change to flag football didn’t sit well with some people, including Kimberly Whitaker of Parsons, who also wrote a letter to the Parsons Sun.

This decision seems to hinge on Mr. Hill and his friends in the NFL. These people have more authority in our Parsons’ community on the topic of brain injury, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and child sports safety in general than our own local pediatrician.

The opinions of the parents and coaches of Parsons, those of us that actually live here, work here and have children participating in these activities, are of no concern to the Recreation Board or to Mr. Hill.

Then again you are not saying “don’t play tackle football.” You are saying “go play tackle football for the Berserkers.” This is where I have the issue. Mr. Hill wants to talk about how our high school can’t win a football game, but thinks a “change of culture” to playing flag football with helmets on is going to improve the picture? I find little necks with big helmets with no shoulder pads for support more dangerous. But I’m just a mom and a health care worker, not an NFL quarterback.