There are so many visible and intangible forces sabotaging our kids’ lives that we just can’t seem to keep track of them all.

We’ve done a credible job, for example, with anti-bullying programs and by teaching them to respect people of different faiths, skin tones or other orientations. Yet somehow we fell asleep at the switch while two of their favorite recording artists staged partially clothed porn on basic cable.

The same pick-our-battles mentality prevails in the athletic realm.

Our schools have banged the drum on sportsmanship to the extent that the three seconds preceding every basketball free throw are quiet as a poetry reading. I suppose there are worse things.

Also, while I’m of the opinion that we can never learn enough about how brains and spinal columns respond to playing-field trauma, our awareness of concussions is at an all-time peak. The days of a teenage athlete going back into a game to a chorus of nervous laughter and chatter about “getting his bell rung” or having a “stinger” are just about over.

Progress, I dare say. And just in time for our next crisis, I’m afraid.

If you are the parent of a high school athlete, you should be aware that his or her travel bag probably is stocked with more than game warm-up gear and Gatorade.

The pervasive marketing of over-the-counter “energy shots” and other supplements has struck a nerve with young players who are eager to try something, anything, that is legal in order to gain a perceived advantage over the competition.

Check that. If we’re lucky, by the grace of God, it’s only striking nerves.

These chemicals are readily available at your local convenience store or in the mall in exchange for a few dollars. For the most part, they are unregulated by the Food & Drug Administration and not policed by your school district.

And that is a problem on both counts.

I’ve witnessed the increasing fallout on local sidelines.

With thousands of other spectators throughout the state, I set out for Friday’s opening night of high school football with unbridled enthusiasm. Even though it technically was still summer, there was enough of an autumn nip in the air to make this traditionally sweaty dude don a hooded sweatshirt and eschew the shorts.

Perfect football weather. Certainly not the conditions in which you would expect players to be succumbing to exhaustion or cramps after almost every play.

But that was what I witnessed, to an alarming degree, and from the Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm Department, confined exclusively to one side of the field.

Why would numerous players in the same uniform be fading like sunflowers underneath the stars? I consulted two trusted athletic trainers, both of whom have a decade or more of experience confronting hydration and nutrition issues.

“Some things never change,” one wrote back.

“It’s not even hot or humid,” replied another. “Damn supplements. They will never be educated enough to understand what they’re putting in their body.”

In the 1990s, there was thought to be a correlation between a certain workout supplement and cramping issues. If I were covering a game with a colleague from another news outlet and we saw a star player clutching his calves in the fourth quarter of a tight game, we would turn to each other and mutter “creatine.”

The problem with trendy energy supplements, besides the utter lack of understanding of both short-term and long-term negative effects, is that cramping could be the least of the evils.

One of the trainers in my informal survey has witnessed vomiting and rapid heartbeat in athletes who admitted to using these additives before a game.

As a nation, we didn’t concern ourselves nearly enough with concussions until kids were being sent back into games prematurely and dying for it. I’d hate to think we would drop the ball on “nutritional supplements” (there’s a generous label if I’ve ever heard one) until an unsuspecting child is lying on the turf and requiring resuscitation because the ingredients didn’t respond well to his body chemistry.

I’m no doctor. I only know what I’m seeing and hearing. I’m also not blaming any school or individual coach. Lord knows these men and women have enough on their plate today as traffic cops, babysitters, and in many cases surrogate parents.

This is a collective issue. We need to address it as an athletic community.

It’s time schools, administrators and athletic departments take preemptive strikes. If an outright ban is too draconian or too difficult to enforce, at least do research and disseminate information. Let athletes know what they might be doing to their bodies.

Adding another line to that list of perceived threats to our youth isn’t the most convenient thing at this stressful stage of the game.

Better to nip it while it’s a nuisance and before it becomes a nightmare, though.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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