The CNN documentary “Big Hit - Broken Dreams” reported a stunning discovery that high school players are more susceptible to permanent brain injury due to routine repetitive injuries while the brain is developing. It is hard to imagine someone watching the CNN brain Injuries in football special and unable or not willing to recognize that youth football needs major change.
Where will the change come from?
Certainly not the players. Early on in the documentary players used slang terms to describe their routine experiences with violent impacts to their heads; “I got my bell rung” and “Dinged.” While minimizing the routine violent play, these words describe personal head trauma as if was expected if you play hard; almost a badge of courage. Their adolescence exposes a total commitment to a culture that condones, legitimizes and justifies a definition of toughness as the acceptance and infliction of injury. Fortunately towards the end of the show a noted researcher in the field challenged players to eliminate those seemingly harmless terms and substitute the actual term, brain injury, instead.
In her book the “Primal Teen,” Barbara Strauch details noted medical professionals describing why lack teenagers lack the ability to see the consequences of their actions. The research details the fact that the last aspect of the brain to mature is the frontal cortex; which influences the ability to foresee consequences of one's actions. This should come as no surprise to parents.
For too long, some in the coaching population have relied on information from the players. “I checked with him and he said he’s OK,” is code (an excuse to transfer responsibility to the player for the decision) for, ‘well he may be injured,… but we need him in to win.’ Whether a pitcher in baseball throws his hundredth pitch or a football player receives a blow to the head, coaches should not rely on player’s socially motivated opinions and inexperienced perspective.
Will change come from parents?
Truly concerned parents have already acted by preventing their child from playing football. Those that remain must resist the temptation to call scientific fact, over reaction. Parents must also resist the social stigma of rocking the boat at the high school. The player’s safety should not be restricted to a coaching decision. Educated parents need to provide mature leadership at the high school. Safety concerns should be a welcomed initiative not parental intervention.
I am well acquainted with generations of high school sports parents who inherently know that a policy is incorrect, but are afraid to speak up feeling that their child would receive retribution and lack of playing time as a result. Is your politically correct silence worth an injury to your child? The painful slow nature of change is regrettable especially when seemingly unpopular safety improvements are required; no smoking laws, air travel, texting while driving, even seat belt enforcement. Change comes more quickly when people die. Nothing was likely to change in Greenville, North Carolina high school football until the tragedy of a player's death. Now there are significant safety procedures in place as well changes in how coaches teach football fundamentals.
One can only wish that local football interests heed that warning particularly of how the game is played. Recently Penn State coach Joe Paterno was asked how he could make the game of football safer. He replied simply ... take off the facemask. What he was saying was very clear; players then would not use their helmets and heads as weapons and they would tackle differently. That is not likely to happen.
But in the meantime schools like South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, who are about to invest $1 million in a new playing surface, might better invest in new digital helmets. As detailed in the CNN documentary helmets exsist that record the force of blows to the player’s brain. Data is sent from sensors inside the helmet to a computer on the sidelines for analysis. According to recent research, a football player receives an average of 650 blows to the head each week. Some of those impacts generate 150 “G’s,” similar to that of a car accident.
Although the legislation was far too long in coming, little league baseball now limits the number pitches a player can throw in games (amazingly high schools ignore the research and refuse to participate). After the tragedy, Grenville, NC football has limited traumatic brain impacts by the way they teach fundamentals and the actual number of incidents of head trauma limiting by limiting full contact practices. One day you may see a standard helmet that indicates when a player needs to be removed from the game due to repetitive traumatic brain incidents. How many will be injured until then?
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