Can Serious Head Injuries be Prevented in American Football?
Many athletes and their families lives have been altered forever, or ended because of concussions or spinal injuries due to playing football. When a person plays a high impact sport, their chances of a life-changing injury dramatically increases. Repetitive head injuries have been proven to cause CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Football is a popular sport across America, and research on brain damage from playing continues to prove the dangers it has to a player’s health.
When watching a football game, at any level, spectators can expect to see powerful hits that radiate through the athlete’s head and spine. The high energy hits are thrilling for both the fans and athletes, but cumulative hits cause serious damage to the player’s health. NFL players are the highest level football players in the world, and they are the ones that receive the highest number of head injuries causing the most damage. CTE is a disease that slowly kills brain cells and will completely alter someone’s mental state and thought process. It causes increased aggression, suceptibility to dementia, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Studies have proven that playing football at a young age increases the risk of brain damage tremendously. Boston University conducted research on the damage that football has on developing players. In an article by the Washington Post, they wrote, “Those who started playing contact football before the age of 12 suffered more behavioral, cognitive and emotional problems than those who started playing after they turned 12.” This is hard evidence of the detrimental issues football can have on young players. Society needs to be careful about allowing young athletes to participate in football. Children do not fully understand how playing a sport can affect them in the long term. All football players are susceptible to serious brain injuries, but children are much more vulnerable to these life-altering injuries. As more people become aware of the dangers, they are less likely to support the game or allow their developing children to play. If there is a way to prevent or entirely eliminate concussions, people would feel more comfortable with allowing their children to play football.
The risk of concussions and serious injury are prevalent in full contact sports, but other sports do not have the same life-altering injury rate as football.Rugby does have concussions, but it is typically from improper tackling technique. Safety of the player being tackled is also of high importance. There are rules in the game that do not allow unsafe tackles. If a tackler is to spear, tackle above the runner’s shoulders, tackle a player without the ball, or lift the player from the ground, the result will be at least a yellow card removing them from the game and possibly a multiple game suspension.
Certain teams and players have adopted techniques that reduce the chances of serious head injuries. The professional football league has worked towards implementing new rules that keep players safer.Teams like the Seattle Seahawks have adopted this rugby style of tackling and it has improved player safety and tackling efficiency. The different tackling technique may not be accepted by all teams, but the game will eventually have to do something about the head injury epidemic. An article published by The Telegraph states:
Several American colleges have studied this way of tackling. The Seattle Seahawks have worked with Fijian rugby sevens star Waisale Serevi on “taking the head out of the game”. Rugby techniques have subsequently been introduced at Washington, Florida and Michigan State – whose head coach Mark Dantonio extols the benefits of rugby–style tackling.
This type of tackling emphasizes player safety and not allowing the head to be put in danger during contact. Rugby players do not wear padding or helmets, so tackling must be controlled and properly executed. The players must be cognizant of their body position and in complete control of the tackling movement. When using proper technique, athletes executing a tackle will make contact with the shoulder and drive through the opponent.
The way that football players tackle is careless and does not usually follow any specific technique. Players will throw their body into a tackle because their padding gives them a false sense of security. The head is not protected and there is not enough absorption of energy to protect the athlete’s brain. Young athletes are taught some techniques, but proper technique often gets thrown out the window during play.
Intense impact on the shoulder and neck area can cause a stinger. A stinger occurs when the neck is pushed to the side and the main nerve from the brain to the arm is pinched. This can cause the sensation of an electric shock or burning/stinging. Although a majority of the time this injury resolves between hours to days, it can become frequently occurring and could become a lifelong injury. In an article about stingers and the possible health hazards by Alexa Royston and Lindsay Ramey, it reads,”Terminal stingers/burners are characterized by severe neurotmetic injuries, where incomplete reinnervation may lead to permanent weakness and atrophy.” Motor weakness, loss of muscle, and paresthesia occur in extreme stinger cases. There is a number of rugby players that have had stingers, but the statistics are far less than football. The probability of stingers and nerve damage increase when the tackler and runner are playing with the false sense of security that padding gives them. When players continue to participate despite their injuries, they put themselves and others at higher risk because their technique deteriorates.
People that do not support football could argue that players accept the risk of serious injury upon participating in football, but walking away with a life debilitating injury is not a thought for any of players. A high contact, high impact sport that risks permanent injury to the brain, spine, and skeletal muscle system needs to support safer rules and techniques instead of pushing players to create bigger and harder hits.
Tmg. “Is Rugby or American Football More Dangerous?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 25 Jan. 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/concussion/is-rugby-or-american-football-more-dangerous/.
Royston, A., & Ramey, L. (2013, September 20). Stingers and Burners. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://now.aapmr.org/stingers-and-burners/
Wilkerson, R. (n.d.). Our knowledge of orthopedics. Your best health. (S. J. Fischer, Ed.). Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/burners-and-stingers/