Slusher: The eternal struggle to balance excitement, impact

Posted3/29/2018 1:00 AM

Here's an interesting news judgment question for you. Which of these two events happening next Monday night will attract the most interest -- a debate over a law setting a minimum age to play youth football or the NCAA March Madness championship game, possibly featuring the local Cinderella team, the Loyola University Ramblers?

The answer is so obvious that the question seems almost ridiculous, but let me ask another question. Which of those two events is likely to affect you or our society more directly? For college sports fans, even the fair-weather folks like me who just tune in for the dramatic conclusion and the occasional heartwarming story of the triumphant underdog, the NCAA championship game will create a brief fond memory. If Loyola participates, and especially if Loyola wins, the memory may last a little longer and certainly may provide some psychic and psychological benefits. But the state legislature's action on a bill forbidding children from playing organized tackle football until they're 12 years old could have a lasting impact on whether thousands of kids develop serious brain injuries as adults.

And that prospect looms over the legislation from supporters and opponents alike. Supporters, like House sponsor Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, say the minimum age is needed to limit the potential for head trauma in young athletes and reduce the chances they will develop brain injuries as they get older. Opponents contend the restriction could have the very result it aims to prevent, because coaches will have lost opportunities to train pre-adolescents in the appropriate, safe techniques for tackling before they've grown to the size and age when they can really hurt each other.

Does that change your mind about where to shift your attention Monday night? I didn't think so.

But I hope it will at least stir for you some interest in the topic, as well as serve as an object lesson in the kinds of news judgments our editors make every day as they try to find the balance between stories that entertain people and stories that affect their lives and communities.

Doors for the debate open at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Vernon Hills Park District Sullivan Center for the youth football debate. The program starts at 6:45 and will end by 8:15 -- five minutes before the scheduled tip-off for the basketball game. I'll be the moderator. Sente will lead supporters, joined by Dr. Chris Nowinski of the Concussion Legacy Foundation; Tregg Duerson, son of Dave Duerson who suffered from brain injuries related to his football career; and Northbrook neurologist Dr. Larry Robbins. Bill opponent Geoff Meyer, president of the Chicagoland Youth Football League, is putting together a panel of coaches and doctors who are concerned about the proposed law. If you want a deeper look at how issues become laws or specifically how this issue could affect your children or those of your community, you can register here online to attend:

Whether you attend or not, we'll have coverage of the program in the Daily Herald. I'm under no illusions about which story -- the ponderous pleas in a youth sports debate or the immediate thrills in a championship basketball game -- will attract more of your attention. But, in such circumstances, in the interest of informed policymaking and community service, it is the abiding hope of every editor I've ever known that both stories will get some of it.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.