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Durbin calls for lights out on controversial ‘Friday Night Tykes'

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is crying foul over Esquire Network’s controversial reality show “Friday Night Tykes.”

Durbin called on the cable net Thursday to yank the 10-part series from its line up “because it glorifies a culture of violent competitiveness that can be dangerous for the safety and long term health of children.”

The show follows five San Antonio, Texas youth football teams — with players as young as 8 years old — on and off the field throughout the 2013 season. For many in the series, which airs at 8 p.m. (Central) on Tuesdays, football is the lifeblood of their community. Winning means everything in this youth league, where the adults grapple with questions like: How much competition is too much? Is the sport safe for young kids? At what price are we pushing them to win?

In a letter to the network’s president, Adam Stotsky, Durbin cited instances where football coaches encouraged kids to deliver repeated blows to the head and to play through injury.

“Many school districts are making progress in reducing concussions by educating students, parents, and school personnel about how to recognize and respond to concussions. A show such as ‘Friday Night Tykes’ sends the opposite message and exploits these children for purely entertainment purposes,” wrote Durbin. “For the sake of America’s youth athletes, I call on you to immediately end this shameful, dangerous display on your network. With all we know about the risks of concussions in youth sports today, it is unconscionable to televise and celebrate the conduct of a league that directly endangers the health of children.”

Esquire Network responded to the criticism with this statement: “‘Friday Night Tykes’ is a documentary series that provides an authentic glimpse into an independent youth football league in Texas. We believe ‘Friday Night Tykes’ raises important and serious questions about parenting and safety in youth sports, and we encourage Americans to watch, debate and discuss these issues.”

Durbin also urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to adopt a concussion safety and management plan for its 1,281 member institutions that includes a strict “when in doubt, sit it out” policy, something the NCAA has supported for high schools. It requires students suspected of having a concussion to sit out for the rest of the day.

Here’s Durbin’s letter to Stotsky:

February 27, 2014

President Adam Stotsky

Esquire Network

5750 Wilshire Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Dear President Stotsky:

I write to ask you to remove from your line-up the new show on the Esquire Network, “Friday Night Tykes,” which follows the 8 to 9 year-old Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA).

Youth sports are a great way for students to stay healthy while learning important team-building skills. However, “Friday Night Tykes,” airing on your network, glorifies a culture of violent competitiveness that can be dangerous for the safety and long term health of children. Coaches on “Friday Night Tykes” are shown screaming, “I don’t care how much pain you’re in, you don’t quit!” and, “I want you to put it in his helmet. I don’t care if he don’t get up.”

In another episode, a coach tells his players, “If you all can hit everybody right here [points to the side of one of his player’s heads] they are going to lose players one at a time.” In that game a child left in tears after getting tackled and hitting his head on the ground. After telling the team’s manager that he hit his head, the child is allowed to return to the game. Minutes later he suffered another blow to the head, which left him lying still on the ground.

Concussions among young athletes are a growing problem. Youth athletes are at greater risk of sports-related concussions than college or professional athletes because their brains are more susceptible to injury. Over the last decade, emergency room visits for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries among children and adolescents increased by 60 percent.

The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council report in a study on concussions in youth sports that young athletes don’t always report when they might have a concussion because our culture encourages them not to. A 2010 Government Accountability Office study found many sports-related concussions go unreported. It is precisely the type of culture exemplified in “Friday Night Tykes” that leads many athletes to ignore their symptoms and play hurt. Athletes who continue to play while concussed are at greater risk for catastrophic injury if they sustain another concussion before recovering from the first one. This second injury can cause symptoms that can last for months and can even be fatal.

I recently introduced the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act, which would, for the first time, set minimum state requirements for the prevention and treatment of concussions. The legislation also requires schools to adopt a “when in doubt, sit it out” policy. This policy requires that a student suspected of sustaining a concussion be removed from participation in the activity and prohibited from returning to play that day. This policy is endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Neurology, which recommend that an athlete suspected of a concussion should not return to play the day of their injury, under any circumstance.

Many school districts are making progress in reducing concussions by educating students, parents, and school personnel about how to recognize and respond to concussions. A show such as “Friday Night Tykes” shows the opposite happening and exploits these children for purely entertainment purposes. According to David Castro-Blanco, a child psychologist at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, “Showing adults browbeating kids into being football players is dangerous entertainment.”

For the sake of America’s youth athletes, I call on you to immediately end this shameful, dangerous display on your network. With all we know about the risks of concussions in youth sports today, it is unconscionable to televise and celebrate the conduct of a league that directly endangers the health of children.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator