If you are any kind of sport fan, play sports or have a kid who plays sports you have to have heard about the concern dealing with concussions and head injuries. Over the past several years there has been an increased sensitivity with regard to concussions in sports, especially football, and this week Congress announced it was going to get involved, which is never a good sign.
As a high school football coach, former player and a dad who has two sons playing the sport this is an issue that interests, concerns and – pun intended – has an impact on me. I don’t have any real answers but I want to offer up my thoughts and observations on the subject.
Most guys of my generation – guys who played football during the early 70s through the early 80s – are probably mystified as to how concussions are such a huge problem. After all, we played with plastic helmets with canvas and leather straps, and later on foam padding, that were little more than upgrades from decorative helmets.
I can remember the first year I got a helmet that had the large, substantial foam padding. It was quite an upgrade the canvas and leather strap contraption that protected my gray matter for the first few years I played football; I loved the feeling of having a big strip of dense foam rubber between my forehead and the helmet. The smaller, but just as dense jaw pads helped to keep the helmet in place and made the whole helmet-wearing experience much more bearable.
The word concussion was not part of our language. We were taught to tackle with our heads up and would never lead with our heads. Hit with your shoulder. Head up. Wrap the arms and drive the hips. In my career I know of only one teammate who had a concussion of any consequence.
When it came to mouthpieces, we had simple rubber models that we molded to our teeth after putting them in boiling water. We didn’t chew them down to nubs and we didn’t have to be reminded by the refs to put our mouthpieces in.
So how is it that today that every football team in America has a concussion problem?
The high school team I coach just got outfitted with the latest model of helmets, state-of-the-art beauties that are supposed to reduce the risk of concussion. In less than two weeks we’ve had four concussions. At this pace we’ll lose half the team to concussions by the time the season ends. The kids hate the helmets. They are uncomfortable. So much for comfort fit and “science.”
By the way, during our three-and-a-half weeks of pre-season, wearing our “old” helmets we didn’t have a single bell-rung or other concussive event. The kids want their old helmets back.
In college and the pros – despite all the teaching, warning and penalizing – football players still spear and lead with the head. Watch any game on TV and you’ll see this kind of head first tackling, and see it usually go unpunished. I see it at the high school level all the time. Were told that the kids’ safety is of the utmost importance, but the refs will drop more warnings and flags for coaches being out of the box on the sidelines than for spearing.
There’s an old saying that refs can call holding on every play. However, refs won’t call spearing when they should.
For what it’s worth, especially at the lower levels of football, I think the helmets should get a great deal of the blame for the problem. Tell kids their heads are protected by “concussion helmets” and they’ll use their heads to tackle no matter how much instruction they get to the contrary.
Eventually, high school athletes who suffer concussions will sit out for the season. It sounds crazy, but we are heading in that direction. Liability laws are a bitch.
Like I said, I don’t have any answers. Just observations. And more questions. Why are there more concussions in soccer, baseball, lacrosse and basketball?