‘The truth’: the game of football has changed

Andrew Rosenthal, Spread, Webpage Editor.

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Bennet Omalu, the coroner from Pittsburgh discovered CTE from his work on former NFL player Mike Webster. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On February 1, 2009, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward pulled himself out of Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals because he wasn’t feeling right. Despite the Steelers 27-23 win, members of the media gave Ward grief in the aftermath of the game. Ironically, Ward had done exactly what is asked of every athlete now.

New discussions involving the NFL have recently arisen due to the movie “Concussion,” directed by Peter Landesman and starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, a well-educated Pittsburgh coroner born in Nigeria who discovered the condition that led to the death of several former NFL players: Chronic Traumatic Encelophy (CTE). The movie looks at Omalu’s struggle to tell the NFL about his findings, and it reveals that the NFL not only rejected Omalu’s findings, but Omalu himself.

“An NFL doctor said to me at some point, ‘Bennet, do you know the implications of what you’re doing?” Omalu said in “League of Denial,” an investigative Frontline documentary. “He said, ‘If ten percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.’”

Throughout the movie, several scenes show violent collisions, most in NFL games, but some are also shown in high school or youth football practices. The younger players collide head to head, suggesting that the nature of youth sports is unsafe, and could be the root of CTE. While it is true that CTE is an effect of long-term exposure to these type of hits, some believe the usage of high school football clips in the film is minipulative.

“You cannot compare the NFL and High School football,” GCHS head football coach Jason Schaal said. “The size of the player, speed of the game, and size of stadium are all different. It is the same game, but not in that regard.”

Michigan Stadium, AKA “The Big House” is the largest sports stadium in the United States. Players play in front of 107,000 fans, much larger than any high school field. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

To put the different levels of the game in perspective, according to Schaal, the largest player on GCHS’s team is junior Zack Cashmore. His build, 6’5”, 265 pounds equates to a high school lineman. In college, that would make him an outside linebacker or middle linebacker, he would be among the smaller collegiate lineman. In the NFL, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 6’5”, 255 pounds.

“If there are over 1.5 Million high school football players, less than one percent go on to play Division I football, and less than one percent of those Division I football players will go on to play in the NFL,” Schaal said. “Every level you go up, everything is faster, the hits get harder.”

Ever since the allegations were directed toward the NFL, several football-related organizations have taken action to make the game safer.

USA Football has started “Heads Up Football,” which shows coaches how to teach their players to safely tackle. This system has been endorsed by all NCAA Power five conferences, the NFL, and most importantly, the National Federation of High School Sports.

In a high school game, a penalty can be drawn for “spearing,” or going in to tackle, leading with their head. Some coaches, like the coaches at GCHS, use drills to teach safer methods to their players.

“We have drills every practice based on USA Football tackling techniques,” Schaal said.

It goes on from there, Riddell, the primary helmet manufacturer for football introduced the Riddell SpeedFlex this year. The SpeedFlex includes InSite technology that measures levels of G-Force to assist in determining if a player may have a concussion.

“I think it gives us a good opportunity to keep our eyes on those guys who may take a bigger hit,” said athletic trainer Glenn Gerdes. “Unfortunately it is not easy to determine the magnitude of the force that is going to give each individual kid a concussion. Everyone is different.”

Finally, the IHSA has started to increase their regulation of full-contact practices. This year, GCHS, and all other IHSA schools were only permitted to have 90 minutes of full contact practice per week. The start of play is also regulated. Players must have two days with helmets only, and three days in helmets and shoulder pads before they were allowed to have a full contact practice.

“[The IHSA] is continuing to improve concussion awareness for coaches,” Schaal said. “They offer coaches’ clinics every summer.”

Still, the NFL saw 184 more concussion cases in 2015-2016 than in the previous season, which equates to a 58 percent increase. NFL trainers are still clarifying the reson behind this increase.

“I think it is a result of more education. People know what they are, people know what can happen with alot of them,” Gerdes said.

Due to the increased knowledge about concussions, it can be concluded that the game, is now in fact safer.

“The game is safe now, if not safer than when I played,” Schaal said. “You cannot get rid of concussions, but if you see it right away, you [can] treat it properly.”

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‘The truth’: the game of football has changed