Football is a big deal in America. We love our favorite sport so much that college football will generate over $2 billion in revenue this year. The NFL will generate close to $10 billion. When we talk about football, we usually talk about our favorite teams, our favorite quarterbacks, and the big game coming up. These days, however, the talk isn’t about the Niners vs the Seahawks or the Broncos vs the Patriots. Instead, it’s about the long-term health effects of head injuries on its players.
We now know that very serious problems can and do occur from head injuries and concussions in college and professional football. Headaches, nausea, and dizziness are 3 hallmark indications of a head injury, but simply recognizing the symptoms isn’t enough. In its proper management, the standard for concussive assessment is to collect preseason baseline data on mental functioning. Comparisons can then be made to determine if some traumatic impact has occurred.
The Risk of Injury Is Higher for Children
More children are playing football in America than adults. So, logically, significant problems are occurring in this arena. Gathering research within youth football can be challenging because children’s neurocognitive function and their brain’s abilitiesare in a state of growth or flux. That said, previous research does show that children are more prone to head injuries than adults. Within the age group of 5 to 18 years, the risks of injury and concussions are higher for the older athlete (>15 years) than the younger. In youth football, the likelihood of a head injury ranges from 5% to 22%, and approximately 20% of all head injuries are concussions.
How the NFL May Be Making a Difference
With a new program called Heads Up Football, the NFL claims that it is making football safer for our children. Introduced in 2012 by USA Football, the NFL’s youth arm, Heads Up Football teaches concussion awareness and proper helmet fitting. Now employed by more than 2500 youth leagues across the country, at its center is the Heads Up Tackling Program. The main goal of Heads up Tackling is to take “the head out of the game.” It teaches young players to keep their heads raised and to lead with their shoulders when making a tackle. The NFL believes that if you can limit the amount of contact with a player’s head, then you’re going to reduce the frequency of head injuries.
While the NFL appears to be taking some important steps to help reduce concussions by changing its rules, requiring evaluations from medical professionals, and improving treatment procedures, many feel the league’s efforts are coming much too late. In the past, the NFL declined to even acknowledge the dangers of head injuries, refusing to speak about concussions or the need to make the game safer. Only recently, in the face of impending litigation, have they acknowledged the need to address tackling injuriesat the youth, high school, and college levels.
A Debate About Youth Football’s Future
As the debate over concussions and brain injuries in youth football continues, even President Obama is weighing in: “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before letting him play football.” That sentiment seems to be shared by many, as the enrollment numbers for youth football continue to decline year after year. President Obama has also called for the sport to “reduce some of the violence.” Others have called for an even more extreme solution: remove football from society altogether, similar to dogfighting. They may have a point. If former players, fans, and even the president of the United States believe that playing youth football is too dangerous for their kids, how can the sport go on?
- Fainaru S, Fainaru-Wada M. Questions about heads up tackling. ESPN website. January 13, 2014. http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/10276129/popular-nfl-backed-heads-tackling-method-questioned-former-players.
Miller JJ. Football as root of American character. Real Clear Sports website. October 10, 2013. http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2013/10/10/football_as_root_of_american_character_ 97871.html.
- Sports-related concussion project. Florida Institute of Technology website. http://research.fit.edu/concussion/about.php#Question_1.
- Waldrin T. What does the NFL’s concussion settlement mean for the future of football? Think Progress website. August 29, 2013. http://thinkprogress.org/sports/2013/08/29/2552921/nfls-concussion-settlement-mean-future-football/.