” If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …. “
America’s New National Pastime*
Whether you are cuddled beneath a blanket on the bleachers under the Friday night-lights, hidden in your office making online fantasy trades, surrounded by friends and nachos on Sunday, or lounging in your recliner on Monday night, chances are many Americans are tuned in for their beloved pastime—football. And in many communities, soccer (Fútbol) continues to make serious inroads, especially among young athletes.
However, as many settle in to watch their favorite players advance the pigskin, or watch their kid maneuver the soccer ball on the pitch, nervous parents, family and friends have other things weighing on their minds and hearts, such as,
* will today be the day their loved one has a serious accident such as a blunt force head injury?
In 2015 alone, seven high school players have died due to injuries playing football.1 Their injuries have ranged from blunt force head injuries to untreated concussions to spleen lacerations.2
This is up from 2014, where there were six fatalities directly related to football, five high school athletes and one college athlete. Annual Survey of Football Injury Research. Of these injuries, 83.3% where brain injuries and the other 16.7% were cervical fractures.3
Here, in Arizona, in 2013, Hopi High School football running back Charles Youvella died when he was tackled and his head hit the ground during a Division V playoff game.
In the past ten years (2005-2014) there have been a total of 36 fatalities due to head and neck injuries. And although this is a reported low, to the families affected it is still much too high. Penny Gilbert, the mother of Damon Janes who died as a result of a blunt force head injury while playing stated, “No one should die playing the game they love. We don’t want to take away football, we just want to make is safer. We don’t want Damon to be just a statistic.”4
And, in a recent article in The New York Times in connection with a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and others last year, it was reported that “nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 – more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.”
Helmet to helmet tackles don’t just cause fatalities; they more often cause head injuries such as concussions. And although in the past the NFL has quietly brushed effects of concussion injuries under the rug, this April’s 5,000-player settlement has brought concussion awareness to the forefront.
The settlement provides payments for up to $5 million to players who have one of a handful of severe neurological disorders, medical monitoring for all players to determine if they qualify for a payment, and $10 million for continuing education about concussions.5
As the research and evidence continues to pile up, the NFL will have not choice but to address the dangers that traumatic injury and concussions can cause their players.
A study by Patrick Bellgowan, a scientist at University of Tulsa’s Laureate Institute for Brain Research, is the most recent to reveal evidence that not only does the contact sport of football cause severe neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the shrinkage of the hippocampus causing Alzheimer’s, but it will also cause altering of mood, cognition and behavior while causing damage and structural changes to the brain.6
And while the evidence is yet another “black eye” for the NFL, it is a real risk faced—every day—by student, club, league and collegiate athletes across the country.
While the dangers of football continue to be realized and communicated, why hasn’t there been a change? Here’s the problem, football is as popular as ever. It is violent, dangerous, makes tons of money and it captivates audiences.
Football is not only the new national pastime, it is essentially the bigger than anything on television.8 The top 21 most watched shows of all time are Super Bowls,9 and with the advent of DVRs and Event Programming, the NFL and College Football are keeping cable providers in business.10
Additionally, once the NFL season begins, its nationally televised games instantly become the most watched shows on television for the week.11
With a culture of toughness that the players, coaches, owners and fans expect, the process of creating a better, safer game of football will take time.
The change is beginning slowly as people began to speak out about football and its dangers. Recently, celebrities such as LeBron James have spoken out against football.
James told ESPN.com that he does not let his sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce Maximus, play football. “We don’t want them to play in our household right now until they understand how physical and how demanding the game is. It’s a safety thing. As a parent you protect your kids as much as possible.”12
Additionally, director Peter Landesman’s highly anticipated movie ‘Concussion’ will premiere on November 10th at AFI Fest. Concussion, which stars Will Smith, will profile forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, the doctor that discovered a disease in the brains of NFL players.
How Can I Make a Change?
Studies show that there are approximately 1,100,000 high school students playing football, 100,000 NFL, NCAA, Arena Football, and Semi-professional players and 3,000,000 youth football players.13
With nearly 4,200,000 participants that could be seriously injured or even killed, the Lamber Goodnow Injury Law Team believes it is time to take action.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has drafted new guidelines to help ensure player’s safety while participating in football, let’s step up and implement these strategies to reduce fatalities and injuries to our loved ones:
- Decreasing the number of contact practices.
- Delaying or eliminating tackling until a certain age. Youth player’s brains are not fully mature and therefore are more susceptible to second impact syndrome, a circumstance in which a player is concussed once and then a second time before fully recovering.
- Teaching proper tackling technique. Many states still teach ‘spearing,’ a form of head tackling that was made illegal in 1976.
- Modification of tackling rules.
- Enforcing proper safety equipment use, including regulation helmets, chin straps, and mouth guards.
- Employ athletic trainers. Just 37% of public high schools nationally have full-time athletic trainers.14 These health professionals are trained to recognize concussions and keep players from returning to games when they should not.
- Neck muscle strengthening to decrease neck fatigue and maintain the head-up position related to proper tackling.15
No More Heading In Soccer
Most recently, U.S. Soccer announced a new set of initiatives designed to reduce the number of concussions suffered by youth soccer players, including the limitation and/or outright banning of heading the ball for players under the age of 13.
Take Action Now
We love sports here at Lamber Goodnow, and while all contact sports come with inherent risks, we’re asking you now to join us, so you, your kids – and their schools and coaches have all the facts before making a decision that has the potential to affect your children for the rest of their lives.
Please sign our petition here, demanding mandatory concussion protocol training and an awareness clinic for students, parents and coaches nationwide.
To be delivered to The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate, President Barack Obama, and The National Federation of State High School Associations.
2 Edwin Rios, We Had No Idea This Many Kids Have Died Playing High School Football This Year, MotherJones (Oct. 21, 2015, 5:00 AM),http://www.motherjones.com/media/2015/10/high-school-football-death-camron-matthews.
3 National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, https://nccsir.unc.edu/files/2013/10/Annual-Football-2014-Fatalities-Final.pdf.
4 Eric Brady, Why are high school football players dying?, USA TODAY (Nov. 30, 2014, 10:24 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/highschool/2014/11/30/high-school-football-deaths-damon-janes/19712169/.
5 Ken Belson, Judge Approves Deal in N.F.L Concussion Suit, The New York Times (Apr. 22, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/sports/football/nfl-concussion-settlement-is-given-final-approval.html?_r=0.
6 Patrick Hruby, Facing The Truth, Sports On Earth, (May 15, 2014), http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/75487104/football-concussions-traumatic-brain-injuries-nfl.
7 The Bloomberg Politics national poll of 1,008 U.S. adults was conducted April 6-8 by Selzer & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa-based research firm. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Read the full poll questions and methodology here.
8 Will Leitch, Move over Baseball: Bloomberg Politics Poll Shows 67% of Americans Now Say Football Is National Pastime, Bloomberg Politics (Apr. 16, 2015, 3:02AM),http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-16/move-over-baseball-bloomberg-politics-poll-shows-67-of-americans-now-say-football-is-national-pastime.
12 Chris Broussard, LeBron: No football in my house, ESPN (Nov. 13, 2014), http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/11866239/lebron-james-says-kids-allowed-play-football.
13 National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, https://nccsir.unc.edu/files/2013/10/Annual-Football-2014-Fatalities-Final.pdf.
14 National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, https://nccsir.unc.edu/files/2013/10/Annual-Football-2014-Fatalities-Final.pdf.
15 Tackling in Youth Football, American Academy of Pediatrics (Oct. 25, 2015), http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/136/5/e1419.full.pdf.