Concussion concerns linger around football

Baylor's Levi Norwood tries to escape K-State senior free saftey Ty Zimmerman on Oct. 12, 2013 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (File Photo by Emily DeShazer | The Collegian)

The Kansas State football team recently played its spring game, and while fans may have to wait until the fall for football to resume, questions have remained as to the safety of players at the national, college and local levels, especially in regards to the effects of concussions on player’s health.

The National Football League reported 244 concussions during the 2016 football season, and over 500 concussions were reported in the NCAA’s Division I between 2013 and 2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concussions can be caused by “a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.” The brain’s resulting sudden movement can damage brain cells and create “chemical changes in the brain.”

With wider awareness of the effects of concussions, some players have questioned their playing careers.

“If I would have known what I know now, I never would’ve played football past high school,” said Terrence McKinney, senior in social sciences and former redshirt football player at Kent State University. “Nothing is worth damaging my mind.”

For others, the chance of concussions are an accepted risk of stepping onto the field.

“I’ve always felt that it’s just part of the game, just like any risk of injury,” said Ty Zimmerman, former Kansas State All-American safety and former New Orleans Saint. “I think the way the game is going now, with some rule changes and changing the way players tackle, is definitely a good thing though, because as we learn more and more about concussions, we see the long-term effects that it has on some people.”

Zimmerman referred to a change in rules in the NFL that penalizes hits to players’ heads, as well as hits on defenseless players.

In implementing those rules, the NFL has balanced player safety with the inherent physical aspect of the game that draws fans to the game. For example, the league implemented a rule in 2016 that placed the ball at the 25-yard line, rather than the 20-yard line, after a touchback during a kickoff. Kick returns are one of football’s most dangerous plays because players run full speed with high momentum.

Zimmerman said the main difference in concussion protocol between college and professional football is that the NFL takes a more business-minded approach, and that professional players may take more time off for concussions than college players, as their livings depend on their health and ability to play.

Rule changes and an increased emphasis on proper tackling are a few of the reasons for the NFL’s decrease in concussions. Some of the NFL’s most popular athletes, including Calvin Johnson Jr., Patrick Willis and Marshawn Lynch have also retired early in what seemed like promising careers, prompting speculation that health concerns, particularly concussions, have been a driving factor in the retirements.

In December 2016, the NFL settled a lawsuit that could pay as much as $1 billion to former players over the next 65 years in response to player accusations that the NFL had hid the dangers of playing.