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, susceptibility 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.
Athletes put themselves at higher risk of injury when they are involved in full contact sports. The seriousness of their injuries is not always known until it is too late to help them. The players that are affected may not be aware of the complications until it is too late for them to recover or get help. Diseases and debilitating injuries can lay dormant in the athlete for years with little to no symptoms. Studies in the past ten years have begun uncovering numerous diseases and injuries football players suffer. Athletes and families lives are negatively affected and even ended by terrible injuries that could have been prevented.
Rugby players do not suffer as many concussions as football players because of their body awareness on the field of play, use of safe techniques, and the strict enforcement of safety rules. They are taught to tackle differently and not use their heads as a device to bring down the opponent. Players need to be keen on their body awareness and careful of their position when going into contact. There are rules in rugby to protect the players from being exposed to serious injury. High tackles, dangerous tackles, unnecessary contact, and many other penalties are in place to keep players safe. Chris Bodenner wrote an article for The Atlantic that states, “An equal one is the ‘culture of respect’ that’s one of the game’s foundations and most carefully guarded traditions. Players rarely deliberately hurt one another; when they do, they are banned for months on end.” The culture of respect between rugby players is a known agreement to leave the fighting and differences on the field. It is a rough sport and has a sense of brotherhood for all players, regardless of the team or skill. Safety is of the utmost importance for the referee. When a player commits a dangerous penalty, they are sent off of the field and must stay off for a time range of two to ten minutes. If the official overseeing the match deems the action seriously dangerous, the athlete in the wrong will be suspended anywhere from one week to indefinitely. Participants understand the results of their actions and take extra precaution to keep themselves and their opponents safe.
Naturally, football has a lot of contact and physicality involved. The problem is not the physical nature of it, but the unnecessary and unsafe techniques players use. The basic contact in football is blocking and tackling. Football players risk career-ending, even life-threatening injury every time they slam into an opponent. Even worse, recent studies have shown that injuries to the brain may lie dormant and symptomless for years. Cumulative injuries that could have been prevented if detected in time result in mental illnesses ranging from depression to dementia and even suicide.
Football players can receive “mini” concussions over one-hundred times throughout a game when they slam into an opponent. These mini-concussions are small, unnoticeable concussions are caused by repetitive blows to the head causing the brain to slam into the skull, but without any symptoms of a concussion. Players that are blocking and tackling often have more of these mini-concussions. The complications that come from cumulative mini-concussions do not show up for years. Down the line, a person may begin to have symptoms of dementia, aggression, and personality changes. They will not be aware that they are changing, but their family will notice. This is CTE. CTE is caused by repetitive head trauma that cumulates and slowly destroys the brain. It may not show any symptoms for ten or more years. Doctors have no real cure for CTE, and it can result in life-ending consequences.
Elite level football athletes are more likely to end up with horrific complications from concussions compared to any other elite level athlete. For example, NFL players, like Junior Seau, have taken their own lives because of CTE complications. Junior Seau was a linebacker in the NFL that was recognized for his passionate play and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He received countless blows to the head throughout his football career and was found to have suffered CTE. CTE does not show a person’s true emotions and personality, but it distorts their thinking and turns them into someone they never would have become. According to Mary Pilon and Ken Benson, “Researchers at Boston University, who pioneered the study of C.T.E., have found it in 33 of the 34 brains of former N.F.L. players they have examined.” The disease can only be identified after death with the close eye of a trained doctor and a microscope. The NFL has turned a blind eye for too long and left these traumatic injuries and complications to the wayside. The techniques used in football must change, or future and current players will follow the footsteps of those that suffered before them.
People that participate in football and other high-impact sports are accepting of life-changing injuries when they agree to play the sport, but they do not expect it to be life ending. Football players are padded, and they do not receive as much of an immediate effect from high-impact head injuries. The small amount of pain or “ringing” is brushed off as a good hit. The player then goes on to receive countless of these impacts which eventually manifest into permanent brain damage and at the worst, CTE. Football fans and players can be ignorant of the facts, but outsiders do not desire to stop them from participating. The conversation about football and life-altering injuries only pushes to make it safer, not eliminate it.
When good techniques are used, it is not always good enough. Bringing down an opponent at full speed is not easy and can be extremely unsafe. Rugby players also receive head injuries, but it happens less than football players. The pure inertia of stopping someone running full speed can compress the spine and cause havoc on the skull. The symptoms are not always immediate but can cause future, unforeseen complications. Overall, contact sports display numerous possible injuries, and the players are not always able to avoid them. The decisions players make on the field, and the techniques they employ are a deciding factor in most injuries. No athlete is safe, but every athlete should think about themselves and their health before pushing too far and engaging in dangerous play.
American football players have been plagued with concussions, unknown to them for years. Typically, these concussions occur during tackles. The padding that players wear gives them a false sense of security and some players use their head as a tackling device. Rugby also gets a lot of criticism because of injuries players receive, but the concussion rate of rugby players is far lower than football. They wear no padding or head protection, yet there are fewer concussions. The difference comes down to the technique. The tackling technique rugby players use is safer for the head and spine. There are some football coaches and teams that have adopted the rugby-style of tackling, but not all coaches believe it is practical for their team to follow suit.
Football requires a team to move the ball a minimum of 10 yards for a first down and they have four tries to do this. Each and every yard in a football game matters. Stopping an opponent from getting one more yard can make or break a game. Football players will dive head first into opponents crushing their neck, compressing their spine, and smashing their brain against the inside of their skull just to stop them from getting one yard. There is no first down in rugby, so there is nothing bad about giving up a couple yards. Rugby players can sacrifice yards and it will not affect the game. Not all rugby tackles involve tackler stopping the runner immediately. The runner will normally get another one to five yards during the tackle. The goal between the two games is to score at the end of the field, but it should not require players to destroy their brains in order to win the game.
In a rugby match, the attacking player will not try to squeeze every last inch out of a run because it will not greatly affect the game, and they do not want to risk getting injured. Football players need to push for the extra inches and get the most out of every play. The battle for that extra little bit can cause injuries and unsafe play. Although it may be dangerous at times, football players must hold the attacking team to the minimum amount of yards on every play. The tackling technique football players employ is to stop the runner as soon as possible, with them gaining the least amount of yards. This requires tremendous force to be output by the defender and does not always result in safe play. The risk of personal safety is a price that football players pay to be good athletes. If a player is giving up the slightest amount of yardage, they are not doing their job to the best of their ability. The Seattle Seahawks have adopted the rugby style of tackling, and they are one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Ohio State University Buckeyes have also adopted the rugby-style technique. Jeanna Thompson wrote an article on sbnation.com that reads, “Ohio State’s defense jumped from No. 47 in the country in 2013 to No. 19 the next year. In 2015, the Buckeyes boasted a top-10 defense, surrendering just 311.3 yards per game.” For any college football team to move up twenty-eight spots for defense is very difficult. The team attributed their success to the newly adopted tackling technique. A safer and more effective tackling method did not lose a collegiate football team any games.
When rugby players attempt to make a tackle, they are risking their body without padding, and are careful and follow the proper technique. Players risk gruesome injuries in a tackle that could be prevented by using proper technique. The rugby tackle is a wrap technique that is not aimed at stopping the attacker immediately but by safely stopping the attacker and keeping the defender in a safe position. It eliminates the use of the head in the tackle and does not force excessive pressure on the spine. Living With Sports Injuries, a book written by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers and Clifford D. Stark, reads, “Players frequently experience concussions, as well as neck and shoulder injuries, usually as a result of open field tackling.” Open field tackling typically results in high-speed collisions and poor technique. When an attacker is running full speed and the defender must make the stop, they will do it by any means necessary and not pay attention to technique. The lack of a safe technique often leads to injuries. The injuries that football players suffer from include fractured bones, dislocations, concussions, and “stingers”, the loss of feeling and inability to move the arm.
USA Rugby is the national governing body for rugby in the United States. They oversee national, collegiate, and high school teams. The organization is always working towards educating themselves and athletes to make the game more competitive and safe. A study done by USA Rugby compared concussions in collegiate rugby and collegiate football. Out of one thousand players in the study, an average of two percent of rugby players received concussions and four and a half percent of football players received concussions. Based on USA Rugby’s study, football’s concussion rate is more than double that of rugby’s. The rugby tackling technique is effective for tackling the player and keeping them safe.
Although the fate of a football game may be decided from a few yards, the impact of how players tackle can leave a mark on them forever. Football has a major concussion problem because of how the athletes tackle, and the false sense of security equipment gives them. Every inch matters to them, but not every brain cell. If careless tackling techniques continue to be utilized by football players, the sport may not exist due to the health hazards it poses.
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.
The rugby style of tackling is much safer for the brain. Rugby players suffer from concussions and will continue to do so, but it is the fault of the tackler and the improper use of safe techniques. Players can be taught and encouraged to use the safest method of tackling, but they may continue to resort to easier approaches. Safe technique starts with the coaches not accepting laziness and dangerous tackling at practices, then it continues to the referees game-time decision to remove players or penalize a team. If football adopts the rugby-style tackling technique, it may result in the loss of a couple yards, or even the loss of a game. The sacrifice of losing one game can save a player the sacrifice of destroying their brain.
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