Over the past few years, helmet-to-helmet contact has been taken more seriously. New rules, such as “targeting,” are being integrated into college football in order to protect defenseless players. Players that show symptoms of a concussion must come out of the game and follow a list of protocol.
Football is known as a “tough guy” sport, but has it gotten out of control?
CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a disease that is caused by repetitive head trauma. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression. These symptoms generally appear years or even decades after the trauma.
Dave Duerson, a former cornerback for the Chicago Bears, committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 50. Duerson left a note entailing that he wanted his brain used for research. After further study, it was found that Duerson suffered from neurodegenerative disease, stemming from CTE.
A year later, Junior Seau committed suicide shocking almost every football player and fan across the country. Seau’s family donated his brain tissue to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It was confirmed that Seau’s brain showed notable signs of CTE. Seau’s family later sued the NFL over brain injuries that he sustained over the course of his career.
As we’ve seen players like Seau and Duerson commit suicide due to brain injuries, this has alerted many other current and retired players.
Just recently, Tony Dorsett, NFL Hall of Fame running back, has shown signs of CTE. At just 59, Dorsett has told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that his “quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day.” He also mentioned that he has felt thoughts of suicide.
Dorsett played in an era that emphasized staying in the game even if you’re injured. The NFL back then was way different than it is today. If you decided to leave the game, you were letting your teammates down.
Dorsett was part of the $765 million dollar brain injury settlement between the NFL and more than 4,500 former NFL players.
Other players have consulted doctors after the Dorsett news was released. NFL Hall of Famer, Joe DeLamielleure, and former NFL All-Pro, Leonard Marshall, have also shown telltale signs of CTE.
“I want the guys that don’t have a voice, who are not Hall of Famers, to be taken care of,” he said. “The league is a multibillion industry and they can’t take care of the guys who made it,” DeLamielleure said.
It’s also important to note that there has been a decrease in youth football participants in the last three years. Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football program, saw participation drop 9.5% the last three years.
According to ESPN, Pop Warner lost 23,612 players in the last two years. This marks the largest two-year decline in its history.
In 2012, Pop Warner announced that it would significantly cut back on the amount of tackling permitted in during practice. Starting this year, the organization announced a partnership with the NFL to endorse “Heads Up” football, a program that is designed to teach proper tackling techniques to minimize head contact.
Regardless, even with the new programs being introduced, parents still do not feel safe letting their children play football.
In 2010, Eric LeGrand, a former defensive tackle for Rutgers, suffered a severe spinal-cord injury that would leave him paralyzed. LeGrand suffered the injury on a kickoff, delivering a huge hit to the kick returner. LeGrand was credited with the tackle, but remained on the ground motionless before being carted off.
After the infamous LeGrand injury, the NFL moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line. By doing this, the NFL hopes that it will reduce the number of injuries.
Another detrimental hit against football came last year in the NCAA.
Devon Walker, a safety for Tulane, was paralyzed from the neck down. The lethal hit came from his own teammate, when both of them collided while trying to make a tackle. Walker broke his neck on the play, and has a 5% chance of ever walking again.
Before the 2013-2014 NFL season kicked off, two new rules were integrated into the game.
Teams will no longer be allowed to have more than six players on either side of the snapper at the snap of a point after or field goal attempt. This “overloading” one side strategy was deemed to be unsafe and unnecessary. You also can no longer hit an offensive lineman low, and the snapper now is considered a defenseless player.
This controversial rule angered Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, after the Jets were able to re-kick the game winning field-goal. One of the Patriots players hit the long snapper, which prompted the officials to throw the flag.
The second rule integrated angered most of the NFL’s running backs. Running backs are no longer aloud to lead with the crown of their helmets. Many people believe that it is a natural reaction to duck and lower your helmet before someone hits you.
Matt Forte, running back for the Chicago Bears, took his frustrations out on Twitter as soon as he found out about the new rule.
Football isn’t going to get any safer. By playing it, everyone should know that they run the risk of spinal-cord injury, brain trauma, and even death. The NFL and NCAA need to bring more attention to CTE, as well as introducing proper tackling and hitting techniques.
Football is one of America’s beloved sports, but don’t be surprised if it loses some popularity in the coming years.