November 22, 2015
If there ever has been a sports story that has evolved more the concussion discussion it is hard to find one. Maybe the whole steroid issue has had as much attention, but the concussion crisis is much more wide ranging in scope. Steroids affected only certain percentage of athletes and mostly at the professional level. Head injuries are across the board affecting all athletes from small kids to seniors.
The rash of reported concussions in sports hasn’t really risen due to more people sustaining head injuries but more for the better diagnosis. Especially football where getting knocked in the head was something that you had to except as part of the game. In the past you would have to shake it off and gather yourself then go back into the game. That may be a simplified excuse, but you can ask any professional football player and they will tell you to a man, that is the reality. Even in today’s hyper awareness for concussions sustained in sports, many athletes are still reluctant to report symptoms of head trauma.
The few years there has been an abundance of the studies showing the effects of continuous head impacts and the chance to have long term problems. They are not as many disagreements on the short-term effects and the grading of concussions. Concussions have a grading system to the severity of the injury and I not sure what version the NFL is currently using. One of the new mandates of the NFL is to give each player that comes off the field with a possible head injury has to be diagnosed and cleared by a neuro-surgeon before they can return to game action.
This brings us to the questions of who is really benefiting from this new awareness. Certainly, the players do by having a safety net, but that is where gets into grey matter. Owners don’t benefit by having players not playing, fans don’t benefit by not seeing or having their best players performing for them. Helmet manufacturers will be called into action to create super prototypes to withstand a more direct impact. Rosters might have to be expanded to replace the injured players that are ruled ineligible to play.
The NFL will have to figure out this problem, not just to look after their players, but their own survival as a business. There will be an increase of lawsuits and drain on talent pool, as the youth is directed away from playing football. Super helmets may help with some of the injuries, but will this just create more boldness for players to use their helmets as battering rams. As the NFL gets deeper and deeper in penalty quagmires, add calling helmet spearing to be a more dramatic penalty. It is obvious the way to go is changing the tackling methods of players at all levels. The helmet should not be the first thing projecting into an opposing player, but more arm wrapping, and takedown methods need to be diligently taught. If rugby can be a sport that employs tackling, and the players do not use helmets, why can’t the NFL? I have even heard of eliminating face mask as one possible remedy as it would remove one of the barriers that players have to withstand impacts. That may be a long-term remedy, but the injuries taken on at the beginning might not be something the owners and fans want to see.
The violence and physical demands of football is going to in the news forever at this point. The NFL must be the frontrunner in player safety because they have the most at stake. As with the NFL, this will be a slow deliberating process that will take years. The concussion issue in football will continue to evolve to the point where in ten years, we will not recognize the game as it today. Each player will have an inflatable suit and the helmet will look like astronaut headgear, the game will have no on field referees and scoreboard will tell us everything we need to know. Hopefully this is not the future but as Bob Dylan once sang, “The Times They Are A-Changin”.