Sports

August 2, 2013

Tom Lindley: When it comes to football, are we using our heads?

It’s time for a return to some old-fashioned, smash-mouth football, which is a good thing unless you happen to be the one getting smashed in the mouth, I guess.

The violent nature of the game, which is built around high-speed collisions and jarring tackles, sells tickets. But perhaps at no other time have players, coaches, fans and administrators been more worried about football’s inherent dangers, especially those linked to traumatic brain injuries.

Concussions are a hot topic in all sports — not just on football fields but any playing surface. Not just for boys and men, but also girls and women. But in few sports are head injuries as much of a focus as they’ve become in football.

We fans live and die with each heart-pounding play, but football is a vicarious experience that comes with a heavy price. We’re attracted by the game’s fierce nature but worry about its brutality, fearing the players have become too big, too strong and too fast.

The suicides of several former high-profile NFL stars — Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson and especially Junior Seau — have created a frenzy. Among the most concerned are parents who question if allowing their children to play football and other impact sports is the right thing to do.

“We get the Junior Seau question a lot. ‘Is that what my kid is going to be like?’” Dr. Michael O’Brien of the sports concussion clinic at Boston’s Children’s Hospital told The New York Times. “Parents are sitting in our office wringing their hands with nervousness.”

The bad news is that concussions are serious injuries, and reports show more and more athletes are being treated for them. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency rooms treated 173,000 temporary brain injuries related to sports or recreation among people younger than 19. Worse yet, the CDC reported, hospital visits rose 60 percent in the previous decade.

The good news is that concussions generally aren’t fatal, and players return to practice after a few days or a week. The worry should be that players return to action too quickly; a repeat blow leads to a much more serious medical condition.

The problem is drawing attention from all corners. Everyone, especially those connected to football, are looking for guidelines and solutions — anything to give them comfort they’re doing the right things to protect players. But if finding ways to significantly reduce the number of brain injuries is the goal, the likelihood of that happening anytime soon isn’t promising.

Doctors in sports medicine report there is no simple test to confirm whether an athlete has even had a concussion. A brain scan might disclose bleeding, but in most cases a diagnosis involves a doctor conducting a neurological exam. Symptoms include confusion, headaches, vomiting, irritability and drowsiness, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

In football, some believe constructing a better helmet will greatly reduce brain trauma.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

Helmets are designed to prevent skull fractures, and they earn good marks for that. However, they don’t protect athletes from brain injuries.

Bill Simpson, recognized as auto racing’s “Godfather of Safety,” set out to build a better football helmet using carbon fibers and Kevlar. Professional players gave it good reviews. But asked if he could claim that his helmet would reduce concussions, Simpson was adamant in responding to a question from a Popular Science reporter: “Oh, hell no. I would never make a claim like that.”

Most serious injuries result from the whip action involving the head. It’s the force of the collision that causes the brain to move within the skull, resulting in a concussion. What worries researchers the most are repeated hits and the long-term impact of numerous concussions. It’s also an area that doctors understand least.

In the mean time, litigation is mounting. The NFL and NCAA face major lawsuits from players who claim they sustained life-altering brain injuries. High schools aren’t immune from legal action, either.

The dilemma is challenging at the start of a new football season. Rabid fans love their sport. Administrators have a responsibility to protect players without changing the game.

Is there a way to strike a balance, to protect both the sport and its players?

That’s a question that so far remains unanswered.

Tom Lindley is a national sports columnist for CNHI News Service. You can write to him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Report: Boggs now with Giants

    Dalton’s Mitchell Boggs has signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants, according to baseballamerica.com. Contract information, along with which minor league affiliate Boggs, a pitcher, will start with, was not available in the report, and Boggs was not listed on any of the online rosters for any of the Giants’ minor league affiliates.

    July 21, 2014

  • SE wrestling practice 5 mlh.jpg Herndon leaving Raiders to coach at Calhoun; new coach named at SE Whitfield

    Michael Herndon’s successful three-year run as Southeast Whitfield High School’s wrestling coach has come to an end.

    July 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Hipp makes cut at qualifying tourney

    Chatsworth golfer Colby Hipp earned the chance to play on today in a U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament at Reynolds Plantation-Great Waters in Eatonton.

    July 21, 2014

  • 7on7 day 2 '14 17 mlh.jpg Devin Golden: Friday signals gridiron days’ official start

    Seven-on-seven football was a good placeholder, but it’s time to begin talking about the real thing.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • CCAC-B&W.jpg CCAC has strong showing at 14-and-under state meet

    The Carpet Capital Aquatics Club had 16 club records broken in a 12th-place finish at the 2014 Georgia 14-and-under Long Course State Championship meet Saturday at Georgia Tech’s swimming facility.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Loran Smith: Golf now in era of McIlroy after Open

    Royal & Ancient officials, under whose auspices the Open championship is conducted each year, were blessed with a sun-kissed start of the final round of the 143rd playing of this historic event.

    July 21, 2014

  • Motocross kid 6 mlh.jpg Dirt, gas and guts

    Lucas Amos is like a lot of other 6-year-olds who will be going into first grade at Tunnel Hill Elementary this school year.
    He likes to play the video game sensation Minecraft, building different structures and fending off zombies when the sun goes down. He likes to spend time with his grandparents, traveling around the Southeast with them most every weekend.
    And he likes to play in the dirt.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Loran Smith: McIlroy at his peak at Hoylake

    HOYLAKE, England — It’s the setting which enraptures those who appreciate the things that accompany a championship, The British refuse to let a downpour or two, intermittent and inconvenient, to make them fret.

    July 20, 2014

  • MMA guys 1 mlh.jpg Up close and personal

    Dustin Dyer remembers his first fight — and he has wisdom to share with North Georgia Hayastan Mixed Martial Arts Academy’s three new mixed martial arts fighters.
    “It’s just another day in the gym,” Dyer said, “just with a bigger crowd. Here (in the gym) is where you work. Out there is fun.”

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Loran Smith: Change is needed for major titles

    HOYLAKE, England — This is a good time to be Bubba Watson — long off the tee which brings golf aficionados through the gates, two Masters titles which puts him in the pantheon of the greats at Augusta, deal-makers hovering about, more perks than a palace prince, exempt status to the end of the decade and a cash flow that resembles a raging river.

    July 19, 2014