Heads Up: Concussions in Football are Inevitable

Three hours of fun or potential brain damage, is playing football really worth the risk? Concussions in football have been a prominent part of the sport since it’s beginning, but it’s never stopped people of all ages from taking part in it. According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, football players suffer more brain injuries than any other sport with approximately 67,000 concussions diagnosed in high school football every year.

Football continues to be the most popular sport in America, with over Roughly 5.22 million kids having participated in youth tackle football in 2018 (www.statista.com), but the concern over the dangers has increased vastly over the past decade. In High School football there has been a decline in participation since 2010 according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Concussions vary in severity, but can be very dangerous, leading to permanent brain damage. There has been many changes across all levels of football to make it safer for players, but in a sport were tackling is vital concussions are inevitable. 

According to post by Forbes in 2019, “In April, University of Washington School of Medicine researchers released a survey of 1,025 parents (55 percent of them mothers, 45 percent fathers) nationwide finding 61 percent of parents supported bans on youth tackle football.”( www.forbes.com, 2019).

Montclair, New Jersey 11/16/19 Final game of the season for the Montclair State University Football team. Assistant Coach and former player, Liam Nelson, on the sideline during game. Photo by Ben Berube

Many people have heard the term concussion but not many people know what a concussion entails. “1 in 4 adults reported having had a concussion in their lifetime”(www.npr.org). One of those people is a former college football player, Liam Nelson. He used to play for Montclair State University, a team based in Montclair New Jersey. The scariest injury of his life happened on October 23, 2017. Nelson was on a punt return and he was getting ready to make a tackle but an opposing player hit him on the side of his head. Nelson was out just laying on his back. An opposing player helped him get up, but he thought it was his teammate who helped him up. He attempted to go to the sideline, but as he was walking everything began to shake. He couldn’t stare straight and he was taken out of the game. The days following the game Liam experienced headaches and fatigue from that experience. Those symptoms lasted for nearly three months. Headaches and fatigue are common symptoms of a concussion (www.mayoclinic.org). After this scary experience he wondered if playing again was worth the risk. Nelson is now an assistant coach on the team as he finishes school at Montclair. He plans to continue coaching. Liam is not the only one to experience a football-related concussion, “Between 1.7 and 3 million sports- and recreation-related concussions happen each year. Around 300,000 are football-related.” (www.upmc.com).

Rick Giancola, is Montclair State’s head football coach and he began his head coaching career in 1983. 37 seasons later he has remained in that position and has endured a lot of success is the active winning-est coach in Division 3 history. His coaching style has changed over the years with the awareness of concussions. While he remembers a time where that was put to the side. He has mentioned that player safety comes first.

“When a trainer says no he can’t go in. There was a time many years ago that a coach may argue saying he looks okay let’s put him back in. That doesn’t happen anymore.” 

Rick Giancola, Montclair State University Head Football Coach

 Coach Giancola also mentioned how concussions were not always a big topic of discussion in football. There was a time where if someone got hit in the head the common term that was said he got his bell rung. The player would later go back into the game, not thinking about the previous play or the impact it made to him. 

Montclair, New Jersey 11/16/19 Final game of the season for the Montclair State University Football team. Coach Rick Giancola on the sideline during the game, Photo by Ben Berube

The goal for the Montclair football coaching staff is to teach a player to keep their head up on a tackle. Montclair State only practices one day of the week where players will tackle each other to minimize the chances of suffering a concussion. Montclair State has also looked at other sports to improve tackling fundamentals such as rugby and sumo wrestling. 

Dr. Raffaele Lagonigro is a Rutgers graduate with a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy. He deals with many athletes who have gone through concussions. He sees mainly High School athletes and he believes the number 1 thing coaches can do to protect their players would be “education on the concussion.” 

 There are programs that educate on concussions. One of them is created by USA Football who introduced a program called Heads Up Football. The program started in 2012 with the goal of teaching tackling formation, concussion awareness, and equipment fitting. It is used in “7000 High School and youth football programs.” They claim that they are “…setting the highest standards in the sport and giving the football community one voice when it comes to safety.” (usafootball.com). Concussions in High School football are still prevalent since 2012. 

Concussions are scary and continue to be prevalent, but kids continue to participate in football. The only was it can become safer is if coaches change with the game, “Improvements in this response are reflected through evolving policies that are strongly rooted in sports medicine research and epidemiological studies, with the most successful programs having flexible coaches that can adapt to policy evolution,” (www.ncbi.gov).

The NFL has taken stands promoting player safety. Changing rules that are “…aimed at eliminating potentially risky behavior that could lead to injuries.”(https://operations.nfl.com). If changes are being made in the highest level of football, like the NFL, then youth football also has the ability to change and become safer. These steps will hopefully give football a chance to alter the narrative of concussions in football.

Ben Berube and Evelyn Lavitola
We chose this topic because we are both sports media students and were interested in this sports related topic that is relatable to us and those around us. We hope that our work is impactful to anyone that comes across it.

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