Football will occupy the psyche of this country from late August to the Super Bowl. It has become America’s National Pastime.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed the results of 111 former NFL players examined after death, showing that 110 of them suffered from CTE, caused by sustained physical jolts. It should be noted that players studied were not a random sample but those who had shown symptoms of CTE later in their lives, and their families had given permission for the study.
On average, 130 times per NFL game, a snap is made and physical activity–hitting, blocking, running, catching, trapping, tackling, holding, grabbing, slapping, pushing, etc.–takes place. Over a 16 game schedule, all the above occurs more than 2,000 times. In an average NFL career of four years, plus high school and college, that number balloons to nearly 25,000.
The NFL has set aside nearly a billion dollars to compensate players who are suffering from CTE as a result of these physical activities over and over again. The malady cannot be detected until after death. Symptoms later in life are depression, dementia, confusion, paranoia, and suicide.
As might be expected, different positions should expect different rates of acquiring the condition.
Linemen, both offensive and defensive, are six times more likely than quarterbacks to contract CTE because linemen, both offense and defense, make up half the number of players on the field on every snap, and they are the only ones guaranteed to get hit over a hundred times a game.
Defensive backs are three times more likely to contract CTE than the wide receivers they are covering.
Linebackers are nearly twice as safe as running backs. That makes sense because ball carriers have to bruise through defensive linemen before they even reach linebackers, who, a good percentage of the time, drop back into pass coverage.
It is fine to compensate those former players who now suffer from CTE or will in the future. It is equally important that all connected to the game get on board with current scientific evidence and support changes to make the game safer at all levels. Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones does not believe constant blows to the head cause CTE.
I will be discussing new ideas for player safety as they emerge. For starters, since linemen are recipients of most of the hits, why not equip them with larger and more padded helmets and eliminate the helmet slap at every level from Pop Warner to the NFL.
I have suggested a new scoring device which will add excitement to the game while ensuring greater player safety on kick off returns with my “Power Kick” idea.
Parents would be wise to consider flag football for their children before allowing them to play tackle football. Those million dollar NFL pay days will come to very few young boys trying out the sport for the first time.
It is imperative as fans, parents, coaches and officials that we do all we can to ensure the safety of those playing and the guarded continuance of the game we love.
More of these ideas will come in future Coach’s Corners.