Football needs change to survive concussion controversy


Concussions are dangerous and to say that football doesn’t put players at a high risk wouldn’t be logical, but the heightened controversy suggesting an end to the sport seems like the knee-jerk reaction of an overprotective parent.

Some parents don’t want their kids playing football anymore, according to a NPR segment titled “Is football worth the brain-injury risk? For some, the answer is no.”

The NPR segment featured Mike Ditka, former player and coach of professional football, and asked if he would allow his son to play football. His response was “no.”

“That’s sad,” Ditka said. “I wouldn’t, and my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward.”

The sport does not to be put to an end; what it really needs is to continue to change — which it has been for many years — to suit the needs of the players.

“Has the sport gotten safer?” Matt Thomason, director of sports medicine for K-State Athletics, said. “I believe that it has, but there’s a long way to go.”

The rules of football are manipulated as trends change within the game and injuries due to these trends become more frequent. Even in the past year, the NFL has made changes to its rule book to protect players.

The NFL Football Operations’ website lists and describes the changes that have made to the rules over the years. As recently as 2015, changes were made to eliminate the “chop block” and extended defenseless player protection to receivers clearly tracking the ball who cannot defend themselves from opposing players.

So what kinds of changes should be made to protect players’ brains? Football is an aggressive game by nature and that is what many of the fans and players expect from it, so it would be difficult to take out the aggression without also taking out the most important aspect of excitement.

“There’s changes every year,” Thomason said. “Is that related just to concussions? No, but there’s changes to make the game safer every year, and I think if you look at the last couple years you’ll see that. And they continue to implement that year-in and year-out.”

Football is and should remain a contact sport. There are plenty of contact sports that are far from being as criticized as football. The difference is football players specifically use their heads as battle weapons simply because it is effective.

So there is the answer: Make our players’ heads off-limits rather than weapons of choice.

“Because the helmet has gotten very good at protecting the head, I think you see more players use that, use their heads more, so that’s what the big push is for, to educate the football player on proper use of the head — or lack there of, really — and taking the head out of the game,” Thomason said.

Football should be made safer by a few rule changes that would stop players from defending with their helmets, in addition to ensuring that the league informs players what they are really doing to their brains when they use their heads as weapons.

Although some ex-professional or collegiate players have made cases against the NFL stating they were not made aware of the risk they were taking by playing football, great emphasis has been placed on making sure players know what they are getting into.

“I was fully aware of the risk, but I also feel like it was very looked over from a coaching perspective, not really emphasizing the risk for those who wouldn’t know,” Maxwell McQueen, sophomore in marketing, said. McQueen said he played four years of football in high school.

If players do not fully understand how detrimental using their heads can be, they would have no reason to think twice about using what seems to be one of the most effective forms of defense they have.

Calvin Freeman, sophomore in agricultural economics, said he has gotten concussions playing both football and soccer.

“More than a player’s aggressiveness or the nature of the sport, I think that a general lack of knowledge about the everlasting damage of head injuries leads to a lot of concussions going undiagnosed and untreated, and therefore they’re not taken seriously,” Freeman said. “People need to be more scared of concussions in order to prevent them effectively.”

If we can insert a fear into players that would make using their heads looked down upon rather than applauded for toughness, we could greatly reduce the risk of serious brain injury in football. I think these changes to the sport could put America’s parents and players at ease and feeling more confident in the safety of the sport.