Every kid wants to be the next football star and lead his team to a championship. Football, by its nature, is a very physical sport. It’s a sport where the potential for injury is always there.
Over the last few years, more attention has been made to injuries in football, especially concussions. A concussion is a brain injury that is caused by a hard hit to the head or the body.
For years, not much was known about concussions. In the past a player might hear some ringing in his head or feel a little dizzy, but as soon as he started feeling better he would go back in the next play or next series.
As time has progressed, the long-term damage of people suffering concussions with little to no treatment has been pointed out with several former NFL players suffering from severe memory loss and brain damage.
In college football, concussion injuries are one of the most common in the sport.
According to the NCAA, approximately 7.4 percent of college football injuries between 2004-09 were concussions.
Delta State University Assistant Director for Sports Performance Gerald Jordan described some of the symptoms of a concussion.
“They are typically going to be disoriented, acting abnormally so to speak,” Jordan said. “They maybe knocked unconscious. That’s going to be your first tip off there. A concussion doesn’t necessarily mean you were knocked unconscious. You can have one and not be unconscious. Some basic symptoms are headaches, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise. Not all concussions have a headache, but most do.”
Jordan said to take care of players with concussions, it’s important for trainers to stay alert and focused during the course of a game.
“Some of the athletes know if they get one (concussion) and some are going to be truthful and some are not,” Jordan said. “Some will try to dodge the medical team and that’s what you have to look out for. You have to be paying attention to the game and be looking for those kids that get hit. You have to be pro active and keep checking on them. There are some times where they don’t come to you. You have to find them.”
When a player has an injury to a part of the body like the knee, the elbow, the arm, etc., he can do rehabilitation exercises and even be cleared to play in games while he is rehabilitating.
According to Jordan, treating a concussion is much different.
“Once you have a concussion, it has to be totally healed prior to returning,” Jordan said. “It’s not like a bone or joint injury that you might can brace or tape or rehab or treat. It has to be totally resolved prior to returning to participation.”
A concussion can lead to post concussion syndrome or second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome is normally caused when someone takes a blow to the head, while he is still suffering from signs or symptoms of a concussion or post concussion syndrome. SIS causes swelling to the brain.
Jordan pointed out that too many dangerous things could happen if a player goes back on the field while still suffering a concussion.
“There are too many things that if persistent can be permanent, and the worse case scenario could be death,” Jordan said.
Certain rules in the NCAA rulebook have been altered to help prevent concussions. According to the NCAA rulebook, a player can't target an opponent with the crown of his helmet, and a player can’t target a defenseless player above the shoulders with or without a helmet.
Delta State head football coach Todd Cooley said teaching the basic fundamentals are essential to preventing injuries and protecting players.
“If you’re not teaching it, you’re putting young men at risk,” Cooley said. “We talk about it daily in our program. Players’ safety has to always be at the top of what you’re thinking about.”
Cooley said the judgment on whether a player has a concussion or not is in the hands of the team doctors and trainers.
“At the end of the day, you have to go with the doctor's or the trainer’s decision,” Cooley said. “Gerald (Jordan) will have consistent communication with me during practice and in games. We’ve got a system in place that if Gerald says a young man is out, we’re going to let the trainers do their job. They’re the experts as far as concussion tests and signs for those things. That’s how we’re going to handle it.”
High school football nationwide has had its issues with concussions. According to statistics gathered by the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, approximately 15.8 percent of players who suffer a concussion to cause a loss in consciousness end up playing that same day. There are also three times as many catastrophic football injuries among high school athletes as college athletes.
The Mississippi High School Activities has a sports medicine advisory committee that has recommendations for what needs to be done when a player suffers a concussion. According to those recommendations, athletes that have a concussion must be referred to a licensed physician, and the athlete must be fully recovered and cleared by a physician before he or she can play or even practice.
According to MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton, coaches in all sports are required to be certified in CPR and head coaches are required to the complete the National Federation of State High School Associations’ concussion course on www.NFHS.com.
Shaw High head football coach Kendrick Smith and the rest of the coaching staff spend a lot of time on tackling techniques to prevent head injuries.
“We teach our kids how to hit,” Smith said. “We teach them to keep their head up and use their shoulders. When I was playing, you could use your helmet, but they didn’t want you to bring your head down. They’re trying to get away from that. Now what we’re doing is we’re trying to get players to use their shoulder pads more instead of their head.”
Smith said he has learned from past experience how to look for a concussion.
“A few years back we had a kid that had a concussion, and we didn’t let him go back and play,” Smith said. “A few things that you notice about kids are they may have some dizziness or they may have some confusion as far as not knowing exactly where they are. You can look into their eyes, and they’re looking kind of far off. You can look in the face and the demeanor and tell that something isn’t right. When you ever see that in a kid, you take him off the field and let get him evaluated by the proper people. We want our kids to be safe, have fun and play the game, but the main thing is for our kids to be safe.”
John F. Kennedy head football coach Sheldon Hodge said teaching proper techniques to prevent concussions have been a big priority.
“What we try to do in practice is we stress two things,” Hodge said. “Defensively on a tackle, we stress keeping your head up and keeping your head out of football. We tried to lead with the upper torso and frame up on the ball carrier. We try to keep our head out. Sometimes, it’s very difficult but that’s how we teach tackling. We try to keep the players head out of football.
“Offensively, we don’t butt block,” Hodge continued. “Everything starts with the hands. The head may eventually come in but it won’t come with the same impact as it would if you were butt blocking or leading with the head.”
East Side High School head football coach Kendrick Woodard also pointed out that teaching the proper techniques are the best way to keep players safe from concussions.
“You want to start out by teaching the guys the basic fundamentals on how to tackle and keep their heads up,” Woodard said. “You want to spend as much time as possible working on basic tackling drills as far as keeping your head up and seeing what you’re hitting.”
Hodge said the overall health of the players is something that he and the rest of the coaching staff puts first and foremost.
“It’s very important that when a young kid comes to you that he leaves in the same shape that he came to you in or leave in better shape,” Hodge said. “We won’t sacrifice head injuries for hard licks. I’m not interested in how hard a guy hits. I tell them just make the whistle blow.”