In wake of latest CTE report, football’s to-do list
The Journal of American Medical Association released a report on the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former NFL football players on Tuesday.
The report’s results were not surprising — playing professional football is not good for an athlete’s health. In the study, the brains of 111 former NFL players were examined and 110 showed signs of CTE.
Is this the study that destroys the NFL? No. Should this lead to the abolition of football in high school? No.
Does something have to change?
The NFL ain’t going anywhere
As much as anyone hates to see former players mumbling and incoherent during their later years or relatively younger men committing suicide, the NFL isn’t going out of business.
Concussions are the price of doing business on the professional level for the players and something that fans accept in the process of being fans.
It doesn’t make football fans bad people. We will sit down on Sept. 7 to watch the Chiefs and the Patriots as the season begins, a week capped by the Chargers at the Broncos on Monday Night Football.
And we will watch it all the way to Super Bowl LII, or 52 for the Roman numeral impaired.
Football is this country’s guilty pleasure, its gladiator sport. Sure, there is grace, athleticism, teamwork and strategy in the game, but it is the brute violence that adds that extra something that makes it our country’s most popular sport.
The NFL has moved in recent years to limit head injuries because it covered up evidence of CTE and its effects, and it’s been sued by former players. The league doesn’t care a wit about the health of its players. It does care about being perceived as not caring.
Truthfully, how much can be done? Not much.
The players are bigger and faster and there’s a lot of money on the line. In 1977, the average weight of a Broncos player was 222 pounds. In 2016, that number is 241 pounds.
Even with new rules to prevent blows to the head, it’s nearly impossible to stop concussions. Player A knows that Player B is about to tackle him. Player A ducks. Player B was trying to lead with the shoulder at Player A’s midsection, the proper technique, but ends up hitting the guy in the head because A ducked. Player B wasn’t head-hunting; reflexes took control and everything’s so fast to adjust.
Without changing vital essences of the game, this isn’t changing.
Remain calm on high school ball
Now before everyone considers shutting down Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and Vail Christian football, let’s get a little perspective here.
Yes, there’s a chance of getting hurt playing football. There’s a chance of getting hurt playing any sport. Class 3A football in Colorado simply does not move as fast as the NFL does. (Great observation, Freud.)
More importantly, our local football teams have independent trainers and have had a concussion protocol longer than the NFL. Concussions in all sports are not “getting one’s bell rung.” They’re taken seriously.
Players are removed immediately and they sit until they’re checked out and show no symptoms for a sustained period of time.
The sideline trainer has all the authority. The coaching staff has no input.
Learning from high school
And this is where the NFL and major college football can take a cue from preps football. There need to be independent monitors who can pull a player from a game when he or she thinks a concussion has occurred.
Yes, in theory, the NFL has these so-called monitors, but they aren’t doing a very good job of it.
Remember Rams quarterback Case Keenum getting drilled and staying in the game, even though the NFL theoretically had spotters for such situations?
What the NFL calls “independent certified athletic trainers” or ATC spotters must have the authority to pull a player. What’s more, teams need independent medical staffs. A trainer paid by a franchise is more likely to green-light an athlete to play when his or her check is signed by that team.
This is more important at the college level, where players aren’t being compensated and, more often than not, rely on their athletic scholarships to stay in school. The NCAA needs independent observers to pull student-athletes from a contest if the situation requires. What’s more, if a student-athlete gets a concussion and can’t continue playing, the scholarship offer needs to stay in place.
By the time a player is at the NFL level, he knows what he’s facing. Well-compensated, the athlete can make his choices. And there will always be people to take those chances.
But more can be done for the amateur player.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.