WJTV - Football is the most popular sport in the nation, but in recent years it has also become one of the most scrutinized because of concussions. It's a topic of discussion that draws plenty of debate no matter the level of the sport.
With the stroke of a pen by Governor Phil Bryant, Mississippi officially became the last state in the America to have a youth concussion law.
For Lee Jenkins, the director of the Mississippi Brain Injury Association, it was a long time coming.
"We've been working for 3 years actively in the legislature to get it passed," she said. "Really for about 5 years indirectly."
As director of the Mississippi Brain Injury Associaton, Lee speaks all over the state about the importance of knowing the symptoms of a concussion.
"If somebody gets their head hit really hard and their brain is bouncing around in their skull, something is going to be a little bit different," she said.
UMMC neuro-psychologist Dr. Edward manning says in his study of concussions, one thing is really clear.
"If you have a concussion your are more likely to have another concussion for some period of time, and that period of time is not really clear. So the speculation is that somehow a concussion makes you more vulnerable to the possibility of another concussion," he said.
This new information is something retired NFL player and Mississippi native Willie Richardson didn't have and he remembers well those early days as a youngster playing ball. Jenkins is celebrating the passage and signing ofthe new law, knowing it will help athletes.
Jenkins is celebrating the passage and signing as well, but she knows there's still work to do.
Despite the new studies
"I wish that the age range was broader because the bill says its for athletes from 7th grade to 12th grade and we had been trying to pass a bill that was from age 7 to 18, which would have included the recreational leagues and those are the little kids."
Despite the research indicating risks involved in playing the game, the Mississippi Youth Football Association says its enrollment numbers have been going up for the better part of a decade, even though the national average is beginning to see a decline. The MYFA cites increased safety precautations as a reason the numbers continue to increase.
Javorius Neyland is a 9-year-old football player. He just finished playing his first season of football with the Jackson Steelers. His team name is proudly shaved into his haircut and he takes a lot of pride in his jersey and the games his team won.
His mother, Demetris, doesn't seem to worried about the risks involved with his son playing this game.
Bobby Hall is the head football coach Madison Central High School. He says his enrollment numbers aren't dropping.
"I'll say this, you can't be too careful. I don't care how careful you are, you can't be too careful," Hall said.
Madison Central's equipment room is a testament ot that philosophy. Each year, all of their helmets are sent to a helmet factory to be refurbished. If they pass inspection, they're given a sticker of recertificiation. If not, they can no longer be used.
"In my opinion the most protective, most important piece of equipment is the helmet. So everybody I know of on every level is on top of that," Hall said.
One helmet is the Jaguars have in stock is the Xenith. It promotes itself as concussion proof. But even though precautions are going up, there are still concerns for player safety.
"To me the evolution of helmets have been a good thing but at the same time I think the increase in helmet development has gotten better or worse depending on how you look at it," MC offensive line coach Zane Thomas said. "The players are more comfortable in them, they lead with their hlemet a lot more."
While coach Hall is an advocate for football, he still thinks it shouldn't be played at the youth level.
"I think the 7th grade's plenty early to start football," he said. "I might be right, I may not be. That's what Archie Manning did with his 3 boys and they turned out pretty good."
And Hall isn't afraid to tell that to one of his players dad's Bubba Gunter. Gunter, whose son is a sophomore at MC, has been coaching youth football for seven years.
"Some say 7 or 8, some of 'em say older, I think that's the parents call," Gunter said. "We try to teach them the correct way to hit and how not to hit when they're out there."
Gunter, like the Neylands, understands the risks, and like the statewide trend, his enrollment numbers are up as well.
"If you teach properly and you mandaate that they do it the right way, I think that can cut down on injuries dramatically," Gunter said.