I’ve been warned not to write about football and brain injuries; however, those of you who know me realize that if something important needs to be said, I’ll say it. And I’m always willing to listen to those who disagree with me.
I want to start by saying that we get concussions whether we play football or not. Mine came from a car wreck when I was 26 years old; my son Lance’s came from an accident on the playground at his middle school; my son Quentin’s came from a wreck jumping ramps on his bicycle when he was a pre-teen.
From the time my boys were small, I said, “I am not raising them to be maimed or killed on a motorcycle or on a football field.” They didn’t ride motorcycles, although one day Lance walked one home, Quentin repaired it, and Lance quickly sold it. They did, however, play football. When boys are tall and strong (6’2” and 6’ 4”), peer pressure and pressure from coaches can have an enormous impact. Add to that a father who was not successful in football, and I found my objections silenced.
My son Lance says, “I had broken fingers. The coach was teaching us how to spear when I felt two pops in the top of my neck, and for a week I couldn’t stand up. In a pileup, I got three ribs cracked and had to wear a brace for a while. In another pile up, someone cleated my butt cheeks, tore my right glutes.” Quentin played reserve for a year and had no injuries.
We are vulnerable, but we cannot and should not live in a bubble. Statistical data is available on all sports and resulting injuries. Should we eliminate sports? No.
There was some discussion of concussions when the movie “Concussion” came out late in 2015, and the most recent dust-up comes from research at Boston University. Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times recently reported the following: “In a group of more than 100 professional football players whose brains were examined after their death, new research has found that virtually all suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition likely brought on by repeated blows to the head.”
Current attention to the possibilities of brain damage in football is having an impact. For example, John Urschel, who played guard for the Baltimore Ravens, retired last week at age 26. Questions arise. Who is responsible for football and life-threatening injuries to players? This is complex. Is it the fans who love the sport? Is it the universities that make money from it? Is it the players with dreams of the NFL and big bucks? Is it parents looking for the gravy train when they realize their son is talented? Is it kids seeing this is their ticket out of poverty? At what age should children be allowed to play football? Should PeeWee football be stopped? What plays should be allowed and what prohibited and at what level? Do some coaches care more about winning than about their players? How many blows are too many and over what time span?
Football as the most popular sport in America is not going away, but the ways in which we manage football to decrease the incidents of serious injuries should be considered. And, of course, expense will be involved. You might say, “Our school can’t afford it.” My response is “Cancel the program if you’re not willing to make the investment in the players’ safety.”
Equipment: Tremendous changes have been made since one of the first football helmets was introduced in 1903. It was made of soft, thin leather with little padding, so flexible it could be stashed in a pocket. If a raceway driver can walk away from a burning wreck on the racetrack because of safety features now required on the track, then surely we can expedite the development of equipment to protect our youth.
Workout/Conditioning Programs: There are all sorts of regulations, and parents and players must be aware of them and ascertain they are being followed. For example, Ohio high school football started this week on June 31, with required conditioning days and the addition of equipment on a prescribed schedule. With the Internet, there is no reason parents should not take responsibility for knowing what is required.
Changes in rules of the game: Of course, there have been changes in the rules, and penalties are now exacted for plays that were allowed in earlier times. We keep data on injuries, and we know which moves have the potential for most bodily harm. Ban them.
Education of coaches: A winning coach has professional opportunities, and at times the coach allows the desire to have these opportunities to override good judgment. Coaches need continuing education and oversight. The current system of certification for coaches seems inadequate according to one of my sources.
Ombudsmen: We have intermediaries for so many aspects of American life, and we certain need one in each school where any sport, and football in particular, is a part of the program.
Education of players: It’s difficult to stand up to a coach — especially to those skilled in bullying. Tell your child that he should know when to disobey dangerous/illegal orders and to do it — with your blessing. In Ohio, players are administered a concussion borderline test to see where they are on the assessment. A referee, a coach, a trainer can identify a player who has suffered a concussion, and there is protocol to be followed with that player before he is allowed back on the field.
Healthcare professionals available: A currently licensed nurse/physician should be at all practices and games.
In conclusion, I remember the Saturday I went to see my son Quentin off on a band trip. I said to a parent, “With all these precautions, you’d think these kids were going to be going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.” We need more of this kind of attention in athletics.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or email@example.com.