Parents and Coaches Tackle Concussion Issues in Football

Is football safe? Parents have asked this question for many years. There is no doubt that football is a fun way for young people to learn skills that will help them in life, such as team-building and leadership, but there are also risks that make parents and players question the safety of the game.

Football has gotten a bum rap over the last few years. With new studies coming out about the dangers of concussions, more parents are hesitant to let their kids play. Youth programs have seen a drop in participation. According to an ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report, Pop Warner football saw a 9.5 percent drop from 2010-2012, while high school football has seen a 2 percent drop since 2009.

Despite all the reports and concerns from parents, football remains the most popular sport of the last decade. The Super Bowl is one of the most watched sporting events every year, and the 2015 ratings set a record with 114.4 million viewers. There seems to be no sign of a decline in viewership, as many fans tune into the games each Sunday to see the hard hits.

Why is the game so popular despite being so dangerous? It’s simple, really. People love competition. Football is the only major sport where the championship game ends after just one match. The NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup and the World Series all have best of seven series, while the Super Bowl is one and done. This gives the game more of a competitive advantage because teams have only one shot to become a champion.

With the popularity of football, the issue of concussions is gaining more attention. Several reports have been released in the last five years regarding the high rate of concussions at every level of the game. Because of this, changes have been made to improve player safety. The NFL launched the Heads Up Football program in 2012. It designed to teach coaches how to deal with concussions, and how to teach the players safer ways to tackle. Coaches and parents have seen a difference in the way the game is played.

Black Hills State football head coach John Reiners has noticed a change in the way his players perform on the field. Player safety is something he constantly teaches his players and it is paying off. Reiners said his players are executing the proper tackling formation that he and his coaching staff have been preaching .

Parents are also praising the Heads Up Football program. Denise Hunnings’s son, Tyler, has played football since he was six years old, and she has noticed how much his play has improved thanks to the program. Hunnings said her son’s coaches were adamant about him about tackling with his head down, and now that Tyler is in high school, he takes it seriously.

Even though the Heads Up Football program is working to reduce, there are still many concerns about the safety of the game. Recently, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired from the NFL at the age of 24, after just one season. Reiners said he applauds guys like Borland who give up the game for health reasons, and that he understands why they would choose to retire so early in their careers.

With all the information that parents and coaches have on concussions, the concerns about how to keep the game safe remain. Developing a helmet that can sustain blows better is something that scientists have been working on for a few years. Author and scientist Ainissa Ramirez and, her co-author Allen St. John, have suggested creating helmets made of keratin, the same polymer found in rams’ horns, human hair, and tortoise shells. Ramirez wrote, “It is very stretchy and acts like a crumple zone for a car, but with the ability to recover.”

Putting an age limit on when kids can start playing football is another way to limit the injuries players sustain. Children under the age of six can’t play tackle football. Researchers at Boston University conducted studies that showed players who have been exposed to tackle football before the age of 12 are 20 percent more likely to show signs of brain-related impairments later in life. Raising the age limit for tackle football may be a solution to this issue.

Football is still well-loved by players and fans alike, despite the bad press brought on by lawsuits from former players. Convincing parents that the game is safe enough for their children is not an easy task, but Hunnings said she sees the good in the game. She said she was against her son playing football at first, but is grateful for all of the values the game has taught him.

Will the game ever be completely safe? The chances of eliminating concussions are slim, but there are several ways to improve the safety of the game without ruining the game itself. It is up to players, parents, and coaches to use those methods.