New Concussion Prevention Techniques Ensure Football’s Future

Video courtesy of USA Football

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Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland made headlines last month when he decided to retire from the National Football League after only one season. According to ESPN, Borland cited concussions and the risk for neurological damage later in life as his reasons for retiring so early from what looked like a promising career.

“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Borland said.

Borland’s retirement is only the latest chapter in football’s problem with concussions. This concussion epidemic has left many wondering where the game is headed in the future with all the challenges it faces to become safer.

Fairfax head football coach Kevin Simonds believes that the sport is “thriving and doing well because of all that it teaches, but [also] because [of] the technology and where it’s come in the protection side of things.”

According to Simonds, from the outside looking in, football looks like it will “die” within 10 years because “people are more afraid of what the media portrays and they believe everything the media puts out.”

In fact, the game has become a lot safer over the past few years through the implementation of the USA Football Heads-Up program, which is the official program to teach safe hitting techniques. This program teaches the safe way to tackle and block by keeping the head up and out of harm’s way.

Fairfax head athletic trainer Amanda Johnston believes the program has worked so far. “[Concussions have] actually decreased some, since a few years ago they implemented the Heads-Up program, which is basically learning how to hit correctly and properly and different levels of hitting during practices.”

The FHS football team has had to structure their practice more in order to fit the program. According to Johnston, the team is only allowed to go “Level 5,” or full contact, certain times during practice.  The next lower level of contact is called “thud,” which is hitting, but not to the ground.

“They’re trying to structure the game a little bit more to try and prevent some of those injuries,” said Johnston.

The prevention and treatment of concussions has also come a long way in recent years. “The fact of the matter is you’re never going to prevent a concussion,” said Simonds. “But I always make sure I have the best equipment that I can buy.”

In addition to buying better equipment, the team does neck and shoulder strengthening exercises in the weight room to prevent concussions caused by whiplash.

Concussions, such as this one sustained by California running back Jahvid Best, have supposedly thrust the future of football into jeopardy. (Photo courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga)

Concussions, such as this one sustained by California running back Jahvid Best, have supposedly thrust the future of football into jeopardy. (Photo courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga)

“They find that whiplash has more of an effect on concussions than the sheer collision side of it,” Simonds said. “So, if we’re able to curb the whiplash effect, and have stronger necks and stronger shoulders, we do that.”

All athletes at Fairfax, not just football players, must take a concussion baseline test every two years. “It’s not just one test; there’s multiple tests that we’re using to help assess and treat concussions,” said Johnston. “We have them do a symptom check as well.”

Johnston believes that the culture of reporting concussions has changed with the increased awareness about them. “Overall, I think here at Fairfax we have a good atmosphere of kids reporting symptoms so we don’t have as many kids continuing to play after having symptoms,” she said. “We catch them sooner and they don’t have to be as prolonged as they could be.”

Simonds also sees an increase in reporting concussions. “Even [with] the slightest concussion, which most people in the past wouldn’t have said anything, people are now taking better care of [it] so they’re better to go for the future,” he said.

So while the game of football is a very dangerous sport, many measures have been instituted to make it safer and to prevent injuries. Johnston has seen a decrease in concussions at FHS and the NFL saw a 25 percent decrease in concussions last season, according to Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy.

There will always be risks when playing a violent sport, but there is a risk in everything in life. Simonds compared the risk of being concussed in football to getting in a car accident. “You might trust your son or daughter to drive the car,” he said. “But you’re putting faith in that they’re going to do the right thing and everybody else is going to do the right thing.”

“Football has been around for a while and it’s going to take a lot to be completely gone,” said Johnston. The NFL still ranks as America’s favorite sports league and generates millions of dollars in revenue each year.

While there are many health risks associated with playing football and there is potential for health issues later in life, the improvements that have been made to make the game safer show promise that the sport will remain alive and well for a long time.

Simonds said, “If you listen to people that are in the game and the life lessons that they learn about getting knocked down and getting back up, teamwork, perseverance [and] working through adversity, you’re going to say that football’s a great game.”

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