It is no longer a suit in a courtroom or a precursory thought in the back of a parent’s mind.
The concussion epidemic now has a face, that of a 17-year-old boy right here in Arizona, and the elephant in the room has been replaced by the image of the Hopi nation in mourning.
The unthinkable became reality on Monday when Hopi football player Charles Youvella died after sustaining a traumatic head injury in last week’s Division V playoff game.
Youvella caught the ball between two defenders and was tackled, but the senior running back/wide receiver then quickly got back up despite falling hard on his back and neck.
Two plays later, the Bruins’ team captain was down on the ground. By all accounts it was just an ordinary play that led to tragic results. Those who take the field aren’t naïve; the dangers are known but mostly go unspoken.
The ramifications of concussions while playing football is no longer just a hot button issue that gets talked about when former pro players sue the NFL, a Super Bowl winning quarterback like Jim McMahon openly talks about not wanting to get out of bed or between parents in the stands on Friday nights when a player visibly wobbles while coming to his feet after a big hit.
It’s a reality in the form of the funeral service that took place Friday, the same day 12 football games were played in Arizona, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located on the Hopi-Tewa Reservation in northeastern Arizona.
“Charles touched a lot of lives,” his father, Wallace, told AIA365.com. “Not only on the Hopi reservation, but around the state. He exemplified what a Hopi Bruin is. I am biased of course, but it’s my son. My son was a true Bruin.”
As parents we are supposed to be biased. No worries there, but there are plenty of things to worry about. It might be the thing we do best as parents.
It doesn’t matter their age, what they are doing or how safe a situation might be, we worry.
And when it comes to a physical sport like football there is a different level of prevailing concern — play after play after play. The increased coverage of concussions in recent years might have something to do with the ESPN study that found the nation’s largest youth football program, Pop Warner, saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010-12.
The concussion talk in the news has possibly led to some parents shying away from putting their children in a sport that is considered the most physical and dangerous.
But living your life scared doesn’t work for most people.
“I worry about Jalen like that every time he walks out the door and drives off to school, or friends, or whatever, in addition to when he takes the field,” said Sarah Barnes, the mother of Mountain Pointe senior Jalen Brown. “There are so many things out there that I cannot control that could cause harm to my kid, so I guess I have just resigned myself to the fact that I will worry no matter what, but I cannot let that worry or the risk he might get injured, or worse playing football, driving, or whatever get in the way of letting him live his life doing what makes him happy.
“At the end of the day, as parents we all know there are dangers lurking everywhere, including in many careers, hobbies, and choices that our kids make — that’s life. I have to let my son live his, just hoping every minute of every day that it will be a long, healthy and happy one that far exceeds mine, and one in which the risks he does take are coupled with great reward instead of the very tragic alternative suffered by the Youvellas.”
The prevailing thought is something we all contend with and deal with differently. The notion of something terrible might happen is usually pushed into the outer reaches of our minds.
“Like a policeman will tell you, there is no routine traffic stops,” said Bishop Lister, the father of Desert Vista senior Jarrell Lister, who missed two games this season with a concussion. “Well, it’s the same in football. On any play a serious injury can occur. It’s on the mind of all parents and school officials. Main question is where it is placed, front or the back of your mind.”
As parent of a 6-year-old girl I haven’t had to and probably never will worry about it on the football field, although she plays just about every other sport and some day she will get her driver’s license, which has to be maddening.
Until then the only thing I can come close to comparing it to currently is the fact that my wife works 12-hour night shifts. When she is even a minute late from her usual return time in the a.m. my mind starts working toward the negative.
It starts out subtle, and I can usually quickly squash it by thinking of something else, but when it starts to reach 10 to 15 minutes my mind starts thinking about all of the things that could have gone wrong until I hear that garage door open.
Then a wave of relief overcomes me.
I imagine it is just like that for parents after certain plays until the pile clears and their son gets back up.
Unbelievably, Wallace Youvella came to find out it isn’t always the case. He won’t get that garage door opening sense of relief. His son won’t come home again.
For him there is only one thing that settles his mind when it comes to the tragedy.
“One comfort that I have along with Charles’ immediate and extended family is that we believe that when we move on to the next world we will be reunited,” Wallace said. “He is now with his mother and his oldest brother (Lane), who passed away as an infant. Charles doesn’t have to ask more questions about his mom now.”
Maybe so, but his death does force us to question so much more without any clear answers.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.