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May 06, 2012

Head Injuries and Collision Sports (tmi3rd)

Hi, Morons…
So, in the news, we’ve had the death of former San Diego Chargers LB Junior Seau by suicide. He is the eighth member of the 1994 San Diego Chargers football team (made a Super Bowl run) to die.

Seau’s is the only death from this group by suicide- there were deaths by plane crash, lightning strike, and natural causes.

Especially given the press that concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE, or the atrophy of brain tissue as a result of concussions) has had lately in the press, there was an immediate rush to judgment by the media that Seau’s death was because of CTE, Slate is hosting a debate as to whether football should be banned, and ESPN is wringing its hands about “the tawdry culture of football” (links are below).

I apologize in advance for the length of this- there wasn't any good way to do this in a short version.

Former Raiders WR Tim Brown jumped into the fray to tap the brakes on that notion. He was friends with Seau, and he pointed out in an interview that there was more going on in Seau’s life than CTE, and that he felt like Seau was having a hard time adjusting to life without football every day.

So what are we seeing right now from the media and from the collision sports industry?

Well, first of all, there’s no helmet made or makeable that’s going to give you complete protection from concussions. Concussion has no set definition medically, but is accepted as trauma to the brain, not always from impact. You can get concussed from being hit in the head (no, really!), but you can also get a concussion from whiplash injuries. The brain moves around in the skull hard enough to compress or bruise it, and voila, you’ve got a concussion.

One couldn’t even really prevent whiplash concussion injuries by securing the spine, and that’s neither practical nor really possible. You’d have to basically immobilize the spine to prevent any sort of torque along it, and you don’t need me to tell you how much that would screw things up. Tack onto that that you have guys in excess of six feet tall and 200-300 pounds hitting each other at moving-car type speeds, and the risks are apparent. The other thing is, if you hit your head on a hard surface (falling on ice, or onto the concrete beneath FieldTurf), you’re still moving fast enough to knock your brain around.

The NHL (quietly leading the Big Four Sports in concussion research) and the NFL (leading the Big Four in visibility) are underwriting lots of research into various types of concussions and what causes them. Furthering that, the NHL has sort of jumped ahead in terms of concussion treatment, including requiring evaluation in a “quiet room”, and so forth. The response is far from perfect, but they’re the leading edge of treatment for concussions at the moment.

In the meantime, though, there’s a crusade going on in the media that really ramped up with the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, and is peaking yet again with Seau’s death. You had initial calls for former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to be banned from the sport for life (and those calls have mysteriously disappeared, by the way), and you had this incredibly crappy column from ESPN’s Howard Bryant talking about the game being too violent for today’s culture. Equally absurd is the hand-wringing from Grantland’s Charles P. Pierce (who writes also for NPR) in this piece.

What is this?

I asked a few NFLers and a couple of Arena Leaguers what they thought about this (off the record, because there are legal considerations in both directions), and the responses were largely something to this effect: Football is a physical sport, and hard hits are a part of the game. We know quite well how badly we can be hurt long-term by playing football at this level, and nobody’s making us play the game we love.

So I asked some of my friends who do sports journalism what they thought. There were two distinct camps in this group. The ones who had actually played sports of any form largely were of the opinion “Sure, you keep researching the effects of this, but you can’t take the serious physical play out of the game without changing the game in ways that folks aren’t going to want to watch.”
Then you get to the ones who’d never played any sports, but somehow wound up in sports journalism. They objected to the barbarism of hitting people in the first place. “You couldn’t get away with doing this on the street; why should it be legal within the field of play?”

When pressed, these folks had had hard times at the hands of the athletes they’d grown up with, and were never in a position to stand their ground against their athlete adversaries. I heard a great desire for revenge in this group of people- once again, bathing in the emo-prog identification by victimhood.

So here, yet again, we see another manifestation of the nanny-state-ophiles… they can’t compete with these folks, so they want to see them eradicated. There are all sorts of subtexts to it, as well… “Jocks are too stupid to know what they’re getting into…”, “These kids who grow up in the ‘hood have no other choices in life, so they have to go beat their brains in just to have a chance…”, “The evil corporate NFL never told them how badly they could get hurt playing this barbaric game…”, blah blah blah… you could make a hell of a Twitter hashtag game out of it.

These are the same idiots who think that soccer is a non-violent game. Chelsea’s Petr Cech (goalkeeper) wears a soft rugby helmet when he plays because he sustained a depressed skull fracture from taking a knee to the head.

Anyway, you get the idea… it’s certainly in both sports’ best interests to make sure that its players are kept as safe as possible. USA Hockey, in conjunction with Hockey Canada, has made prevention of both concussions and spinal injuries key points of focus in coaching. The websites of the two organizations have tons of information and coaching tips about not hitting people from behind, putting STOP signs on the back of jerseys, and players KEEPING THEIR HEADS UP (skating with your head down is a sure way to get knocked out).

It is widely agreed in football that we’re seeing guys lead with their heads when they tackle (the Steelers’ James Harrison keeps getting fined for it, fairly or unfairly), and that is certainly a contributor to head injuries. As many of you who have played remember, a good form tackle involves keeping your head up, getting a hold of the other guy’s legs, lifting him up, and driving through him. USA Football is now working on coaching form tackling back into the game.

Unsurprisingly, I want kids playing collision sports like football and hockey. Both sports were very good to me, and taught me a lot of key life lessons. With the nanny-state crew out there, they seem unwilling to let the sports police themselves, or look out for their own best interests. This is a battle we’ll be fighting throughout the 21st century.

When it comes down to it, it’s incumbent upon me as a hockey player to play smart and look out for my own best interests. As a parent and as a coach, it’s my responsibility to monitor my children and keep them properly coached in how to take care of themselves. With the professional athletes I know, the attitude seems to be similar- they’re smart enough to make informed decisions in their own best interests and about their future.

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posted by Open Blogger at 06:37 PM

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