The days are becoming shorter and although the current heat wave doesn’t suggest it, the nights will get crisper, the leaves will eventually turn and the autumn of the year will be upon us. For some that means apple cider, wagon rides, playing in the leaf pile and long walks in the woods. It also means the start of another school year with all that it brings and, of course, the return of high school football as our local champions carry the banner for their communities across the state.
This year, perhaps unlike any other, an increased awareness has been created as it relates to player safety. In the wake of the tragic deaths of former Chicago Bear safety Dave Duerson and San Diego Charger linebacker Junior Seau, concussions and their symptoms have become Topic A at meetings for administrators, coaches, trainers, players and parents. These two professional players were diagnosed at autopsy with chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma and the subsequent concussions. As noted in much of the available literature, symptoms of CTE many times will not show up until years after the playing days are finished and when it is too late to do anything but manage the symptoms.
This discussion is not meant to scare anyone. While perhaps ignored for too long, awareness of the concussion issue and a strategy to handle it is taking place with the National Football League and leading medical research institutions carrying the discussion. The pace of new information on the subject is accelerating, and well it might, as the league finds itself in the situation of knowing that the problem has existed and been pushed under the rug for a long time.
It is not out of view anymore. Politicians have even gotten into the act. In Michigan, Public Acts 342 (Senate) and 343 (House), mandate a protocol for the handling of suspected cases and that educational requirements to be distributed by the Department of Public Health to all agencies (think schools) where concussions could occur in offered programs. The laws went into full effect this past June 30 so training for coaches and trainers has been accomplished.
Another initiative that we’re pleased with comes from the organization called USA Football which has developed a program they call “Heads Up Football.” While developed primarily for the youth programs of the country, the initiative has worked its way up to the high school level. Its focus is to teach the proper techniques for tackling while keeping the head out of harm’s way. It reinforces the adage in the rule book that the helmet is not to be used as a weapon.
But, let’s not kid ourselves. Football can be a dangerous game. Although one stands a greater chance of getting a concussion on a fall from a bicycle, any time we get 22 sets of arms and legs and all of that plastic armor in a pile—with force—something can happen. The message for the players is to follow your coach’s lead and teaching. No longer will he be telling you to put “your hat in the numbers.” Don’t emulate what you see on Sunday afternoon on TV either. That is a completely different game.
Right now everybody is undefeated. We hope that with appropriate teaching of technique and diagnostic protocol, everyone who participates stays healthy and secure in the belief that they are truly playing for the fun of it and the opportunity to learn some valuable life lessons. Good luck to all.
Editorial opinions are the consensus of The Daily News editorial board.