A Faithful Catholic Mission to Protect the Church from Youth Football

Cincinnati – Denny Doyle is a committed Catholic and lifelong football fan, and he saw little conflict between the two until his grandson was old enough to play the game. That’s when he began to read about the risks that tackle football poses to young boys, whose brains are particularly vulnerable to injury. To Doyle’s relief, his grandson opted for flag football.

But Doyle, having opened his eyes, saw a bigger problem: The Roman Catholic Church he loved was putting thousands of other boys at risk by sponsoring the Catholic Youth Organization, or CYO, which runs football leagues around the country.

A former lawyer, Doyle feared that Church could be sued if a player sustained a catastrophic brain injury on the field or developed neurological or cognitive problems years later. Eventually, the church resolved to protect children from harm in the aftermath of the child abuse scandals that led to billions of dollars in settlements.

Eventually, Doyle thought, an enterprising plaintiff attorney would make the case that the church was still exposing children to harm on the football field.

So Doyle made it his mission to get Church out of the tackle football business.

“Nothing like this disturbs my faith because my faith goes beyond Catholicism and my own relationship with God,” Doyle said. “But it’s disappointing and it’s sad because I think they’re making a terrible mistake and they’re hurting children’s brains. This is the second child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

Doyle, 78, is married and the father of four grown children, he also has nine grandchildren. He had a successful career at Chiquita Brands International, entering as a general counsel and rising through the executive ranks. Meeting him, you speak of his dark tan (he splits his time between Cincinnati and West Palm Beach, Fla.), the stroke of gray hair on his crown, and football and the Catholic Church with relentless intensity.

as a cradle Catholic whose family lays the foundation Donated millions of dollars to Catholic causes, including Catholic secondary school education and student endowments, he is an unlikely gadfly.

Doyle’s mission is also personal. He began playing tackle football at age 7 and concussed in grade school, high school, and college, leaving the team at Javier after a particularly bad hit. Doyle wondered if he could cope with the same cognitive and neurological issues that NFL players have faced.

In the four years since he began lobbying church officials, Doyle has urged the archdiocese in his hometown, Cincinnati, to recognize the risks he faces. He hired a Catholic sports law professor to write an opinion outlining the legal risk of the archdiocese by allowing youth football to be played on his property, and sent them to church officials.

Doyle gave a presentation to him in 2018 and offered to visit him in Boston to meet with scientists who study the relationship between brain disease and repeated head injuries.

“I didn’t ask him to make any commitments, just to listen,” Doyle said.

In a study by researchers In Boston, athletes who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 Those who started playing after age 12 were at greater risk for behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing.

Church officials politely but firmly declined Doyle’s invitation. The church said it had stopped operating CYO Sports decades ago and the church’s parishes were asked to run the league.

Doyle said the archdiocese is still at risk because CYO leagues often play their games in church-owned parochial schools. The archdiocese declined to comment.

The archdiocese, he said, is hesitant to regulate the CYO league because football is popular in Ohio and it doesn’t want to alienate young parishioners.

“With abortion, the church says that whenever someone’s life is on the line, we make the last effort to protect life,” Doyle said. “They hang themselves out there to protect life, but when someone says they must protect life from brain damage, they don’t want to be seen.”

Tim Neary, a historian at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island who has written about the CYO, agreed that the diocese is conflicting because there are many parishioners who prefer football. But “from a legal standpoint, a more protective stance makes sense,” he said. “There’s this agitation, there’s this real fear about head injuries, and it’s doubly present in the minds of dioceses that are in financial trouble.”

Doyle had no fun fighting against the football at the center of the game. Some of her neighbors, who are volunteer coaches, quietly admit they have concerns about the safety of the sport. But they don’t speak up because they fear the cash-starved league could shut down if they have to spend more on training, equipment and injury monitoring.

Unable to move to Cincinnati, Doyle donated money to the Concussion Legacy Foundation to pay for videos promoting flag football for children under the age of 14. He also sent letters and scientific research papers to the 40 diocese with the most youth football players in the country, and offered to fly them to Boston as well. His invitation was accepted by two officials of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

Sean McAleer, director of education at the conference, said during his two-night visit to Boston he learned about youth tackling football and their increased risk of cognitive problems later.

“We never thought it would have an everlasting impact on children,” he said. “Anything with youth that can cause injury, we want to protect the kids.”

McAleer said that some dioceses in his state have dropped tackle football because of liability, but they are still offering CYO programs in the game that now teach players to avoid face-to-face contact. He said that the trainers are trained to identify the injury on the field.

Still, some dioceses are exercising more control over their youth sports programs, not less. In Cleveland, the largest diocese in Ohio, CYO is managed by a full-time employee who runs 20,000 sports programs for 11 children, and has a set of charters and bylaws for accountability and legal protection. It introduced seven-on-seven tackle football to make younger players comfortable in the game, and has dramatically reduced the amount of contact in practices.

The diocese also works with the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital to track concussions and other injuries. University Hospitals Sports Medicine, which operates throughout Northeast Ohio, provides coaches with specialists to teach about the prevention and treatment of injuries, including concussions.

Dobie Moser, CYO director for Catholic Charities in Cleveland, expects the additional steps to tackle the football program, which has seen a 42 percent drop between 2014 and 2019 among seventh-graders and 58 percent among eighth-graders . The flag football program expanded rapidly during this period.

“CYO is not immune: trends and issues in football are also affecting us greatly,” Moser said. “We are not blindly optimistic that what we are doing will reverse these trends.”

All volunteer trainers must take courses on basic medicine and sports teaching methods. Soccer coaches must also attend nine-hour classes on football safety, to encourage coaches to stop using old-fashioned handling methods when head injuries were taken less seriously.

“The biggest asset at CYO is the quality of the coaches,” Moser said. “The biggest risk is the quality of the coaches.”

A group of coaches met on a Saturday in July 2019 at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor, Ohio, about 30 minutes from Cleveland. Marty Gibbons, a former student and former college sportsman, mentored three dozen volunteer trainers about new tackle techniques that focus on using the shoulder to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries.

“Everyone is saying football will be over, so we have to adapt,” Gibbons said. “At the end of the day, you are responsible, so take care of your players.”

Tim Tyrell, a football coach at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio, told a group of 20 volunteer coaches in a separate training session that the decline in the number of Catholic schools and the lack of national standards for teaching football have motivated players. Other sports and better organized leagues.

“It hurts a little bit because it takes the kids away from the game,” he said.

Despite slow progress in getting his message across, Doyle said he would continue to deliver his message to the church because the risks are too high.

Doyle said, “You are now litigating extensively for child abuse that you have covered, so you need to approach this issue as a church as you would if you put the issue of child abuse in the first place.” Reported once.” “You are the children’s steward, and looking back, you have done a great deal of damage. I hope they will look at this issue from the perspective of what happened.”

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