Football injuries are in fashion again, although history suggests that the very parents who could bring meaningful change will continue allowing their sons the risk of inadequate medical care and incompetent coaches.
That only about 1.5 percent of the nation's high schools that sponsor football have athletic trainers in a skin beyond belief. Schools pay insurance costs that rise geometrically, yet they refuse to hire a professional who could help prevent injuries or keep them from becoming severe.
"Everybody cries brutality, but look at the high school situation," said Otho Davis of the Philadelphia Eagles, president of the National Athletic Trainers Association. "Look at the level of coaching. Are all the coaches qualified? Are they teachers or are they in other businesses and just helping out.
"I think the great majority are not true professionals, not able to teach the fine poinnts of the game, the best and safest ways to play. This is where it all starts. You'd be surprised how many techniques pro coaches have to break."
In some respects, the high schools have advanced further than the colleges and pros with rules that encourage safety without eliminating the rugged aspects of football, although the NFL has had a player-management study committee in force for more than a year.
The NFL has taken some useful steps in recent years, although safety was not always the prime consideration. It needs to get tougher with the headhunters who still lurk in defensive backfields. There are far too many flying elbows and neck tackles that go unpenalized.
Two come to mind, from the Redskins' final preseason game. Several seconds after an Atlanta receiver has missed a pass, cornerback Joe Lavender smacked him hard out of bounds.
Later, Joe Theismann was beginning the baseball slide that now seems to end all quarterback scrambles when Falcon linebacker Robert Pennywell mistook him for a steer.
With the technique of a rodeo cowboy, Pennywell grabbed Theismann by the neck and twisted him to the ground. A simple shove would have served the same purpose. No penalty was called in either situation.
In fact, that sort of thing is encouraged.
It ought to be stopped - and one way is for the NFL to tell its officials to call even marginally late hits for clear instances of intimidation. Like soccer, the offender's name should be taken - and when that happens a certain number of times he should be suspended.
But everyone has been picking on the defense lately. Most of the significant rules changes have been helpful to the offense.If we eliminate the flying elbow, we also must eliminate end-zone spikes and dances by the offense.
Any would be enraged enough to give a Billy (White Shoes) Johnson and some others a forearm to the throat after being humiliated twice on the same play. Because of the possible after-effects, anything other than dropping the ball in the end zone or handing it to an official should be penalized five yards on the next kickoff.
"There's no more elbows now than when I was playing (in the '40s)," said Bucko Kilroy, player personnel director of the Patriots and a defensive lineman of questionable taste with the Eagles. "Tell me. If I was so dirty, how come the officials didn't call me for unnecessary roughness?"
The should have.
Kilroy has been one of the best personnel men in the league for nearly 30 years. As one who relished contact as passionately as he did during his career, Kilroy still is alarmed at the injury rate of late, at how many excellent players are leaving college hurt.
"You can't limit it to one simple reason," he said, listing the obvious and adding: "You know, there's so many more (NFL) teams than there used to be. But there's the same number of great players. Only the cannon fodder has increased.
"And when big boys play against little boys, what happens?"
Also, players entering the NFL are not always the brightest creatures. And when they grow a bit older or lose the edge in a business to which they have worked to the exclusion of a well-rounded education, some of them - probably many of them - get their inspiration from pills.
Only the extremely naive believe no one used amphetamines, despite strict NFL controls on team trainer and physicians. Cynics perhaps assume too many use them. The point is that no one knows, and someone had better find out.
The players and league officials object to spot drug checks, for they are a clear invasion of privacy and tend to strip the sport of much of its dignity. But the World Cub use drug tests. So does the Olymphics. If a teen-Pixie of a gynmast can endure it, so can an NFL tackle.