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Is tackle football safe?

Aug 31, 2017 11:26AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

The amount of force a player can feel in a hard tackle can be five times what a fighter pilot experiences. (Greg James/City Journals)

Gallery: Football action [4 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Greg James |  gregj@mycityjournals.com

Professional, college, high school and youth football players have strapped on their pads and laced up their cleats this fall. The health of these players, as well as the risks they take, are again hot topics among fans and team administrators.

“We (parents and coaches) really need to educate ourselves. Football gets a black eye for things, we can do better at helping ourselves recognize dangers and learn to react appropriately. I wonder if the guys that get hurt are wearing a mouthpiece all of the time? Does their helmet fit correctly? This training is something I pride myself on. We have coaches that are aware and watching,” Herriman head coach and acting Utah Football Coaches Association President Dustin Pearce said.

Risk

Injuries in football are frequent. Knees, ankles and shoulder joints are often times the most commonly affected areas. Today brain injuries and concussions are making football executives wonder if the game is safe for its players.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99 percent of deceased NFL players brains donated for scientific research, according to a study published July 25 in the medical journal JAMA. The disease affects the brain in ways doctors still do not understand.

In 2016, the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time a connection between football and CTE. Concussions and head injuries being the most likely culprits.

The disease can be found in individuals who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. It can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy, but carriers of the disease have shown symptoms of memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal behavior.

“I think we have averaged 10 concussions a year, but it seems to be on the decline,” West Jordan High School head trainer Sarah Bradley said. “Even mild concussions should be treated the same. They (the injured player) need to go 24 hours without contact before they can get back at it.”

The force of even a youth player’s tackle can be startling. According to a Popular Mechanics 2009 study, a fighter pilot may experience a G-force rating of 9 g’s; an extremely hard football tackle can produce as much as 30 g’s and an NFL hit 100 g’s.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Symptoms that parents and coaches should watch for include dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and drowsiness. Bradley said to watch for lack of concentration and confusion in the athlete. She said players should be reminded to tell the truth about what they are feeling. 

Rest is the best treatment. The athlete should avoid watching TV and using a cell phone. Bradley said they should not return to play until they have been evaluated and cleared by a licensed health care provider.

“Something we forget that is simple is just staying hydrated, but they always need to see a doctor for the best treatment,” Bradley said.

Prevention

In high schools, the athletic directors are responsible for the safety of the players. In the youth leagues it’s the commissioners. Training and education has become important in the involvement of coaches and parents.

“I think our league did a lot to prevent injuries. We train our coaches with USA Football and teach about heads-up tackling. They are also trained to watch for symptoms and we have a concussion protocol. In our three years we have documented only six concussions,” Utah Girls Tackle Football league director Crystal Sacco said. “I had to trust our coaches. We trained them so well that we left it up to them.”

USA Football is a national program supported by the Utah High School Activities Association. Training includes emphasis in concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, proper equipment fitting and proper gameplay techniques.

Coaches and administrators agree that education is the first step to improving prevention of injuries.

“I have seen the numbers of concussions decrease after we implemented a neck strengthening program. We have seen good results from concentrating on the player’s development. We taught the players exercises they could do. During lifting workouts every other day they work on it. These kids are just learning about their bodies so we have tried to help them through it,” Bradley said.

The UHSAA supports a national recommendation on limiting contact in practice. The national task force suggests limiting full contact to two or three times a week. They also support an initiative to reduce two-way players (players who play both offense and defense).

Benefits

“Nothing can replace football, getting 11 guys to work together and depend on each other to win a game is a hard thing. Football is hard, not everyone can do it. It is easier to sit at home and play the Xbox. It is just like life, not everyone is going to be the CEO. It teaches life skills to these kids,” Pearce said.

In its injury prevention bulletin, the UHSAA stated it believes athletic participation by students promotes health and fitness, academic achievement and good citizenship. They agree that there is a risk in playing all sports.

“I personally would only feel comfortable with my kids playing if they were prepared physically, and I would want the coach to be safety oriented. I played when I was younger and know the commitment it takes,” West Jordan resident Mike Taylor said.

According to USA Football, every year nearly three million children ages 6-14 take to football fields across America. College and university fans pack stadiums on Saturdays and NFL fans are glued to every move of the NFL on Sundays. And, football is a multi-million dollar industry. Recently, the Dallas Cowboys franchise was appraised at $4.2 billion dollars. 

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