Columnists, Sports

A Fan’s Perspective: What must be done about concussions in football?

In the National Football League, one of the most common injuries players incur are concussions. Despite numerous additions and modifications made to the helmet, concussions continue to happen at a rapid pace. The question has changed from “how can we fix this concussion problem?” to “how can we prevent it?”

The safety of players has become more of a priority over the last couple of seasons, as not only have multiple helmet adaptations passed through equipment rooms across the country but new penalties and rules have been implemented in order to help limit the amount of head contact made during tackles and hits.

On Sept. 30, Ann McKee, professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University’s School of Medicine, and Chris Nowinski, co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, spoke at BU’s Metcalf Ballroom about the future of football and the effects concussions have on the brain and the mindset of former NFL players.

The panel revealed that the average football lineman endures 900 to 1,500 sub-concussive hits per season. The combination of these hits can lead to eventual concussion and possible brain damage. A repetitive series of hits like these leads to the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain called tau. When there is an excess of tau, it can lead to a disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, 79 brains of former football players were analyzed, 76 of which showed signs of CTE. This neurodegenerative disease is associated with repeated trauma and can lead to violent behavior, increased aggression and suicidal tendencies.

According to pbs.org, there were 228 diagnosed concussions in the NFL in the 2013 preseason and regular season combined. While this number has dropped from 261 in 2012, this is still far too many injuries that can be avoided.

The desired outcome for the NFL, as well as all levels of football, is to reduce concussions through coach education. There has also been talk of certifying players to learn the symptoms of concussions and diagnose them accordingly. This might mean that even more rule changes and penalties could be in the making. More modifications could also be made to the helmets, so that the head and neck remain stabilized during contact.

One possible solution could be decreasing the amount of games in a season so that more bye weeks could be added to ensure that players are at full health. Pre-season play could also be lessened and even possibly eliminated altogether to lower the amount of contact that the average player endures.

One big change that has also been proposed and discussed is changing the way players tackle. During the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl last season, head coach Pete Carroll experimented with a new type of tackle. He was disappointed with the way his team was tackling the previous season, due to injury and repeated missed tackles. He decided to teach and utilize the rugby style tackle, which aims lower on the body of the intended target.

Not only does it require the defender not to lead with their head, but it also diminishes the risk of the targeted player from being concussed. With this hit employed, Seattle’s defense stayed mostly healthy all season, playing a big role in the team’s first Super Bowl victory in February. Utilizing new techniques such as the one employed by Seattle could be a major factory in lowering the amount of head injuries in the NFL.

Early exposure to concussions has also been an issue the longer someone plays football, the more risk they have for CTE and concussions. Despite the equipment being adjusted so that it is safer for the Pop Warner and high school players, children and young adults have more difficulty self-reporting issues and signs of concussions. The main reason for this difficulty is because the players are too young to realize that the headache, spinning, nausea and stars they see and feel is serious and not just a temporary pain from a hard hit.

At all levels of the game, it is important to redefine rules in order to make the game safer for everyone. After all, the fans are not the ones who lay themselves on the line every Sunday on the field. While some have criticized the league for catering to less contact through rules and regulations over the years, it is ultimately in the greater interest of the NFL to protect the players whom fans idolize rather than expose them to more frequent and serious injury.

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  1. Include more about fan perspective