Over the last couple years, America's favorite sport has been hit with countless tragedies, controversy, and even the Presidential Seal of un-Approval -- so is it time we take a cold, hard look at football? In June, a Missouri high school cut football from its schedule in hopes of keeping their students safe and, according to an article published in the New York Times yesterday, a school in Maine announced that the last five games of their season would be canceled due to a slew of serious injuries. Then, of course, there was the study released a week ago revealing that a staggering 87 of 91 donated brains had links to CTE. However, all that pales in comparison with the recent trauma-related deaths in the high school football community.
These events have concerned parents across the country calling for the sport's disbandment from the high school level all the way up to the professional leagues. But, with fixes, there's no reason why football can't regain its place in American culture as a safe and exciting activity. In 2012, Hines Ward suggested that helmets allow players to use the equipment as a weapon, just as they would their shoulder pads. By eliminating the hard polycarbonate blend completely, players would stop skirting the head-to-head collusion rules in order to keep themselves safe -- unfortunately, this seems like a vast oversimplification of the issue.
For high school athletes in particular, they're still developing their body and brain, so these traumatic injuries can stick with them forever. So what can be done? Ultimately, I think this responsibility falls upon the coaches and leaders of these young players to teach the sport the right way. This means ditching any win-at-all-costs mantras, teaching safe tackling techniques, and stressing the importance of the rules. If our coaches at the youth level are able to instill the ideals of clean and safe play into the next generation of athletes, they'll be far less likely to bend contact rules in the future. Sure, the NFL has attempted to take head injuries more seriously in recent years, including rule changes in 2010 and promised studies on concussions, but without satisfactory changes, it has become a community-at-large responsibility to fix.
As it stands currently, players that commit head-to-head contact are given a personal foul that results in a fifteen yard penalty, an automatic first down, and, in some cases, a fine from the league offices. More often than not, referees are unable to see these hits in real-time and they go unpunished. At the professional level, this can be solved with the immediate ejection of the infringing player and the loss of a game check -- once these athletes learn that intentionally breaking the rules will come a a price, they'll stop.
Although I don't think the elimination of football is necessary, it's never been more painfully obvious that a transformation must happen before its too late. Parents absolutely have the right to be concerned about the tragic injuries and startling studies, but a re-focus on safety and the rulebook could help return the sport to its former glory. Bottom line: don't pull your children out of football practice just yet, but make sure you help them understand the importance of a clean, proper hit. If you're a coach, do your part in shaping the next generation of athletes by teaching them the right way to play, both physically and morally. Together as parents, coaches, and athletes, we can work towards eliminating head trauma from the sport at our lowest levels and hope that the NFL follows suit.
CoachUp -- Proper Tackling Technique
New York Times -- As Worries Rise and Players Flee, A Missouri School Board Cuts Football
NFL.com -- Barrack Obama says he would not let son play pro football
PFT.com -- Hines Ward: "If you want to prevent concussions, take the helmet off"
CNN.com -- 87 of 91 tested ex-NFL players had brain disease linked to head trauma
NFL.com -- New NFL rules designed to limit head injuries