Concussion Research Leads to New NFL Policies: Similar safety measures should be taken to ensure safety in high school football

John Coupin

The NFL has changed its rules on hitting so that players won’t use helmets as “weapons,” in the hope of reducing concussions and other serious injuries.

The movement to protect their players began in 1997 when Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders severed Darryl Stingley’s spinal cord. Unfortunately Stingley was never able to walk again. John Madden, the coach of the Raiders at the time of the accident, was horrified by the result of the hit, and since then, Madden has been one of the biggest advocates for change of the NFL’s hitting policy.

Despite ongoing recommendations for change from the players union, the NFL took a long time to seriously address the issue. They finally concluded that a player who hits helmet first can get ejected from the game and/or a 15-yard penalty depending on the harshness of the hit and the referee’s discretion.

This season the NFL has become more serious with their punishments, and a few players every week have been fined for excessively aggressive collisions. Their hope is that high priced fines will force players to collide shoulder pad first rather than helmet first, resulting in the decrease in the number of serious injuries.

Recent research on former NFL players has shown that concussions have extremely serious and long-term effects on the brain.  A 2000 study surveyed 1,100 ex-NFL players and found that more than 60 percent had suffered at least one concussion and 26 percent had had three or more.

Players with multiple concussions were found to have more problems with memory, headaches and neurological problems.

A 2007 study done by the University of Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that of the 595 retired NFL players that were tested, those who sustained three or more concussions were about three times more depressed than players who haven’t sustained any concussion.

With these staggering newly released results, there is no question why the NFL has decided to crack down.

Similar reports to those released on players in the NFL have also been released on high school football players.

Every fall 1.2 million high school football players take to the field. According to the New York Times 50 percent of these players have suffered at least one or more concussions.

Since 1997 more than 50 high school players in more than 20 states have been killed or have sustained serious head injuries on the field.

Of course there are always random and uncontrollable accidents, but if high school players were forced to attend mandatory proper tackling workshops, injury rates could decrease.

“I think that these workshops could help prevent injuries,” said Head Football Coach John Wade. “By ensuring that all high school players know how to properly tackle and the risks of an improper tackle, I think concussion and neck injury rates would decline.”

New plans to protect Miramonte High School athletes have already been taken. Trainers throughout the district have requested software that detects brain activity.

“If this technology is approved, players will be forced to undergo testing to see if they are at risk for serious brain damage,” said Trainer John Grigsby. “This would be much safer because as of now all we trainers can do are simple tests, and then base a conclusion off of the inconclusive results.”

After analysis of the new research, there is no question that new measures need to be met in order to insure safety and preserve the minds of athletes young and old.