A True Mental Game

The public is now becoming more aware of head injuries in athletics, the blockbuster “Concussion” staring Will Smith is evident of this. Precautions have been taken to make football a safer sport. Equipment has evolved, proper tackling is being taught at a younger age, and new rules put in place for player safety. Nick Sousanis, the author of Unflattening, writes on how only looking through one perspective we become flat, but seeing in multiple perspectives at the same time we become unflattened. This holds true surrounding how to better prevent head and neck injuries in football. Given the known dangers of playing football, is there enough being done for the safety of the athletes who play football? To a certain extent the answer to this question is yes, at the collegiate and professional level have taken great strides but not at the youth level.

Equipment changes have made the game of football safer, can you imagine watching a game on Sunday and seeing the players play in leather helmets? Mitchell Clark’s article “The History of Football Equipment,” walks through the basic history of how the football equipment we see today came to be. American football first started making appearances on college campuses during the 1870s; it wasn’t until 1915 that the first skull protection helmet was introduced. Over the years the helmet evolved. Ear holes were added, the leather was made harder, and more cushioning was added. It took until 1939 for the first plastic helmet to be introduced. That same year the NFL made it mandatory for its athletes to wear a helmet. Beginning in the 1960s more attention was paid to safety. Continuing through present time, helmets started being designed to absorb impact. In Nicole Casal Moore’s article, “A football helmet design that listens to physics”, she explains that research is being done at the University of Michigan to create a true shock absorbing helmet. Engineering researchers at the university created a system called Mitigatium. The prototype they have created has the possibility to make a lightweight and cost effective helmet that is able to sustain impact by transferring energy from hit after hit on the field. Current helmet designs can’t do this. The helmet though is only effective in player’s safety when receiving or delivering a hit.

The low man wins; this was something my football coach me in high school; looking back now the low man might win but is this the proper technique to avoid head and neck injuries? Coach Jeff Hemhauser’s article “How to Tackle with Proper Tackling Technique,” he lists the steps of proper tackling form. First, you approach ball carrier, chop feet and get under control. Second, you want to choose your aiming point. This is the inside hip of the ball carrier. Third, you want to stay low, sink your hips, and keep your eyes on the belt buckle. Fourth, you want to make sure you tackle while exploding through the target with head up. Last, make sure you drive through instead of stopping your feet on contact. Hemhauser also says that learning the proper tackling technique doesn’t have to be lining up ten yards and running full speed at each other. He gives multiple non-live tackling drills to practice in order to fine tune the athlete’s skills and encourage proper tackling form. Head and neck injuries, even with proper equipment and the correct tackling form, still occur.

The rules of football have evolved for the safety of its’ players also. During the 2011–2012 NFL season the league placed certified athletic trainers in every NFL stadium with a bird’s eye view of the field to watch for potential injuries. The reason for this was because Cleveland Browns quarterback, Colt McCoy took a helmet-to-helmet hit. Cleveland team trainers failed to test for a concussion due to attending to other players and that no one told them about the hit. After the game, McCoy was diagnosed with a concussion. The ATC spotters have gained more control in games as well. A new rule this past season empowered ATC spotters with the authority to stop a game using a medical timeout in order to remove a player from the field for medical examination. To do this, the ATC spotter must use two pieces of criteria. The first would be if a player is displaying obvious signs of disorientation or is clearly unstable. The second piece of the criteria is if it becomes apparent that a player is attempting to remain in the game and is avoiding the team’s medical staff. The player is then removed from the field and must pass the NFL’s concussion protocol checklist. Checklist items include: reviewing the video of the play that may have triggered the injury with the UNC and assessing the player by performing a neurological test. If there is any doubt that a concussion has occurred, then the full NFL Sideline Concussion Assessment will be performed by the Team Physician/ATC/UNC team in the locker room. Finally, if a player is diagnosed with a concussion they must remain in the locker room.

These three separate items all have the same goal; to make the game of football a safer sport. Teaching proper tackling form at a young age in conjunction with updated equipment; injuries should decline. Now, with observers in every NCAA and NFL stadium looking for possible head injuries, we should see a decline in head injuries.

Many former NFL players have had not only their careers, but their lives cut short due to head injures sustained in football. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE has been found in countless football players. CTE is caused by repeated head injuries, common with concussions. All the loss of life from former players taking their own lives due to depression caused by CTE is tragic. The one instance that hit the closet to home for me was Junior Seau. This was a player I grew up watching and wanting to be. Seau played in the NFL for twenty seasons and was an all pro player which earned him a spot in the hall of fame. It was only two years after his retirement that Seau took his own life. After his suicide, his family was contacted to do testing on his brain. When the results came back, his brain test came back and had tested positive for CTE. This really hit home with me due to the fact that I’ve had three diagnosed concussions, two of them due to football. Football taught me a great amount including teamwork and self-discipline. I would love for one day to have my children play football, but shouldn’t fear for their future by having them play. With a united front of the newest equipment with modern updates available to all, proper form techniques being taught from youth throughout all levels, along with another view concentrating on the players safety and not just the game, the future of football is improving. More funding should be put in place for youth football, so they may have the equipment and ATC spotters are made available for the athletes at their level and not just the collegiate and professional levels.

Works Citied

“2015 CONCUSSION PROTOCOL CHECKLIST.” NFL Health Playbook. NFL, 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nflhealthplaybook.com/article/2015concussionprotocolchecklistref= 0ap3000000553510>.

“ATC SPOTTERS.” NFL Operations. NFL. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <http://operations.nfl.com/the-game/gameday-behind-the-scenes/atc-spotters/>.

Clark, Mitchell. “The History of Football Equipment.” Livestrong.com. Livestrong Foundation 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

Ezell, Lauren. “The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” Frontline. PBS, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

Hemhauser, Jeff. “How to Tackle with Proper Tackling Technique.” Youth Football. Youthfootball.com, 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

Moore, Nicole Casal. “A Football Helmet Design That Listens to Physics.” Michigan Engineering. University of Michigan, 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.