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A Clashing Debate: Concussions in Football

posted Apr 30, 2014, 6:05 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 1, 2014, 8:15 AM by Unknown user ]

Alisa Warren

Football, the sport characterized by its grittiness and hard hits, is widely considered to be a staple in American culture. The National Football League generates billions of dollars in revenue every year, and at the collegiate level, millions are made off of the football programs of big-name Division I teams. The roughness that defines the sport is no longer being rationalized, though, as more and more research is being conducted on the possible effects of head injuries as a result of its roughness, particularly concussions.

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A concussion is defined to be a minor traumatic brain injury when the head comes in contact with an object, which can cause a temporary loss of consciousness. The blows to the head in football are argued to be the cause of these brain injuries, which have many questioning the safeness of the sport. In the midst of studying brain anatomy, Mr. Niekamp’s Biology II class was shown a PBS Frontline documentary titled Football High, to raise a discussion on the effects of the sport and brain trauma.

The documentary explores the aftermath of suffering from concussions by playing football at the high school level, and features several elite high school football programs in the United States. The film also discusses the possible long-term brain damage caused by these concussions, such as memory loss.

In response to the documentary, much debate was generated by the Biology II students as to what should be done to prevent these head injuries, and what will happen to the future of the sport.

Junior Lucas Huber, a wide receiver and defensive back on the varsity football team, has never had a diagnosed concussion, but acknowledges the possibility that he has had some during his high school career. He isn’t particularly concerned about this, and will continue to play without hesitation.

Huber expressed that he does think more could be done as far as preventing concussions, but he feels that the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) has already made significant strides in protecting high school athletes from the dangers of concussions.

Some of these strides include athletes being pulled from athletic competition when showing signs of concussion symptoms for at least 24-hours, and until cleared by an authorized physician. In addition, if an athlete suffers from multiple concussions in his or her high school athletic career, the fate of the remainder of the athlete’s athletic carder will also be determined by a doctor.

Senior Jimmy Irving does not play football, but has experienced a concussion in basketball. He said that while concussions can’t be prevented, he feels that the OHSAA should limit the total number of allowed concussions in an athlete’s athletic career before getting pulled from sports indefinitely, and this number should include middle school sports, in order to prevent the long-term brain damage caused by suffering from multiple concussions.

Jake Kelley, senior offensive lineman and defensive end, experienced a severe concussion in his senior year of football in a game against Vanlue.

“I just stood up, and my eyes were crossed,” said Kelley, describing his concussion, “so I went to the trainer, and then she did a test on me and said I have a concussion. On the way to the hospital, I threw up. And then I had a CAT scan and I ended up having an aneurism from it.” He also added that he couldn’t read for two weeks.

Despite the severity of his experience, Kelley still feels that nothing can completely protect players from the dangers of football head injuries, including stricter rules. He expressed that if more rules and regulations were added, then the sport of football would no longer be the same, and spectator interest would be lost.

“Continue it the way it’s going. You’re never going to prevent it unless you stop the sport,” said Kelley.

Coach Shoup, Van Buren varsity football coach, feels that the root of this issue is at lower-level play.

“If coached properly and continually to kids, I think a lot of it can be avoided,” expressed Shoup. “The biggest importance is at the youth level, just so they’re not learning bad habits with regards to how to use their helmets and how to tackle. Once they get those bad habits, it’s really hard for me to break them. The attention needs to be brought to the younger ages versus the higher levels. They’ve been playing that way since third grade.”

He also feels that there are other problems in the sport outside of head-to-head contact. “To me, a facemask is more dangerous than head to head contact because you can snap someone’s neck, but we penalize that 15-yards. And when you lead with the head, guys are getting ejected from the game. I just think it could be modified,” said Shoup.

As far as other preventative measures go, many say that helmet technology is improving greatly, including Huber. “I know there’s more that they can do, but they have made leaps and bounds in helmet technology,” said Huber.

Kelley even said that at the initial hit, he did not even feel his concussion.

Although Shoup acknowledges the improvements in the technology, he also sees this as a risk in itself for the safety of the sport. “People think that these ‘latest and greatest’ helmets mean there’s no way they can get a concussion, and they don’t have to worry about precautions and changing the way they play, and that’s not true. A lot of the times, it’s a false sense of security. They’re more apt to use their helmet or lead with the head.”

Irving suggested a redesign of the helmet itself by removing the helmet’s face mask.

In regards to this, Shoup is in favor of the idea, saying, “I think people think that’s ridiculous or that it’s a joke, but I actually think that would be better, because guys lead with their head because they think every bit of their face and head are protected. If my face is exposed, no way am I throwing it in front of a 200-pound running back. I’m going to use my shoulders and things that are more durable than my face.” However, he doesn’t see this being implemented in the near future.

Besides regulations and helmet design, Shoup has been doing research on other preventative measures. He stressed the importance of hydration in concussion prevention, as well as proper-fitting helmets.

Many are at a disagreement over what should be done in order to protect players from the proposed dangers of this sport.

“There’s a lot more to live for than high school sports,” said Irving, feeling that the dangers are not worth the possible consequences.

Although some share Irving’s sentiment, others say the fate of football is in danger due to the threat of heavier restrictions and rules in the sport. Will this American tradition be changed forever, or is risk only sewn into the culture?