Football Head Injuries: Not Just For the Pros

The long-term dangers posed by repeated concussions to athletes are well-documented now, but that wasn’t always the case. For a long time—and still to this day, for some—playing through head injuries was a necessary part of gridiron competition. But the tide is turning.


In nearly 150 different lawsuits, more than 3,350 former National Football League players are suing the organization, alleging league officials conspired not to warn players of the dangers associated with concussions. They even allege the league offered “false scientific studies” to spread misinformation about the long-term effects of head injuries. Some of the players suffer from dementia and other disorders, and head injuries have been suggested as a link to player suicides.

The statistics in the accompanying graphic show the frightening prevalence of concussions in NFL contests.

Professional Athletes Aren’t the Only Ones at Risk

It’s one thing when grown men with multimillion dollar contracts suffer concussions. It’s a different story when it happens to your child on the Pop Warner field.

High schools and other youth organizations across America are struggling to find ways to address the issue and ensure young players get proper medical attention after a tough hit causes a concussion. Children 14 and under are more likely to suffer a concussion than an adult.

Concussions among high school players are most likely to occur during practices, not games. Some states, like South Carolina, have limited the number of days a team can hold more than one practice.

Other states have taken different routes.

In Virginia, a 2010 law required education officials to devise guidelines on how schools should deal with concussions sustained in school-sponsored activities. While the bill may have shined a light on the issue, it does not require schools to report injuries to the state, nor does it apply to sports activities that are not school-sponsored. It’s also not clear the law decreased the number of concussions, either.

Symptoms Can Last Weeks

A concussion can have many symptoms or hardly any. Some can last for weeks and may not occur for several days after the incident.

According to the Mayo Clinic, more immediate symptoms include:

● Temporary loss of consciousness

● Dizziness or “seeing stars”

● Ringing in the ears

● Nausea or vomiting

● Slurred speech

● Headache

Symptoms that may take days to set in and can last for weeks include sleeping trouble, concentration and memory problems, light and noise sensitivity and personality changes, like increased irritability. Also, always keep in mind not all head injuries have obvious signs, nor are they caused by obvious trauma.

Despite the severity of these injuries, some still see it as a necessary part of the game. Detroit Lions rusher Calvin Johnson said last week of an injury he sustained earlier this season: “It’s a part of football. You get concussed, you gotta keep on playing.”

Can you imagine a coach telling that to a child? Yet even at the youth level, some feel the same way. A frightening recent study found more than 40% of fathers think concussions in youth football are overhyped. Many of the same dads who suffered concussions themselves in football games said it was fine for their child under 12 to play tackle football.

What Else Should Be Done?

What more do you think should be done to prevent concussions among football players? It’s hard to imagine the number of concussions will drop substantially if the game remains as physical as it is. But football wouldn’t be football without contact and tacking.

Should tackling be forbidden in youth football? It might prevent thousands of American children from head injuries. But what is the right age? Where do we draw the line?


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