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Football season almost here

“It’s a boy’s last dream and a man’s first loss.” — Jason Isbell.

It’s almost time. The smell of burgers, nachos, freshly-painted grass and sweat will once again fill the air.

Soon, the band will play, the floodlights will shine, the whistle will blow and football season will be here.

In most communities in the South, nothing matters more than high school football — especially in smaller towns. A football team can unite a community, give the old-timers something to talk about over coffee and keep kids out of trouble.

It’s a unique experience for those who play. The camaraderie, joy, heartbreak and pain combine to form an experience that those boys will remember long after they’ve left the sidelines.

Those Friday nights will be special for the communities and schools they represent, too. Lifetime bragging rights are up for grabs. When the home team wins, life is good. At least for another week.

Here at the newspaper, we’re just as passionate about football as you are. Our sports editor Cliff Furr loves putting the highs and lows of a game to ink and paper.

But the game is changing. Safety has become the buzz-word at high school football games, and for good reason. Too many young athletes are injured on the football field.

There have been numerous safety measures put in place at the high school level. Proper tackling technique is now taught; coaches and trainers are taught to recognize the signs of concussion; proper hydration is preached at every practice and game.

But football is a sport that carries the risk of injury, and that will never change. Sports science can reduce that risk, but can’t eliminate it.  Anytime a human body crashes into another, injuries are a possibility.

As a society, we have to decide if all the positive things that come out of football are worth that risk. As a former athlete, I want to say those risks are worth it. But as a father, I’m torn.

I played football growing up, both in backyards without helmets and on the field in full gear. I was never seriously injured, probably because I wasn’t good enough to spend much time on the field. I didn’t know anyone who was seriously injured either. But that’s the exception, not the norm.

Most former football players have war stories, and those stories tend to include injuries.  My grandfather played in the days before helmets had face masks, and his stories of broken, bloodied noses and bruised faces are riveting.

Football safety has come a long way since then. But is it safe enough? That’s a question schools, coaches and parents need to look squarely in the face and answer honestly. If it is, then play on. But if it’s not, I hope they will be brave enough to speak up.

Email publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.