Football Helmets and Concussions

Take a look at the concussion epidemic plaguing football players.

| January 2019

 football-players
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/skynesher

“In the United States, professional football is the most popular sport by a landslide. People love the history, competitiveness, and mostly the hard hitting of the sport. It is so popular because you can see the world’s greatest athletes compete with one another on such a physical level. But such an extreme physical level also shortens the careers of the best athletes of the game. It is hard for me to understand why there is not more money and time spent on the design of the helmets. This year, a team spent $1.2 billion on a stadium while one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Ben Roethlisberger, got his fourth concussion by taking a knee to the top of the helmet. This does not seem right. As a spectator, I want to see the best possible athletes on the field. I do not want inadequate equipment design to hinder the game.” (Male, white, age 23, 6´, 180 lb.)

Sports-related concussions affect 1.6 –3.8 million people each year in the United States, and nearly 30 percent of these concussions happen to children between five and nineteen years of age. Male and female athletes in a variety of sports – football, hockey, baseball, softball, cycling, speed skating, horseback riding, and skiing, to name a few – wear helmets for protection. Yet the design of football helmets, an item worn nearly exclusively by male athletes, makes the players of this high-contact, dangerous sport especially vulnerable to injury.

Each year in the United States, roughly 1.1 million high school students play football, 3 million play youth football, and 100,000 combined play in the National Football League (NFL), college, junior college, Arena, and semipro. According to Sports Illustrated, eleven high school football players died before the end of 2015 during in-season and preseason incidents, and more than half the deaths were caused by head injuries. The Sports Illustrated article features heartbreaking profiles of each of the players struck down on the field. In 2014, eleven people died from high school football injuries; eighteen died in 2013. Data from the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research revealed that more than one hundred children died from high school football–related injuries in the last decade. The dangers of suffering concussions while under the football helmet have prompted extensive national media coverage.



According to Dr. Douglas Casa, chief executive officer of the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute (KSI), named after the NFL player who died from heat stroke in 2001, states and schools aren’t putting the right policies in place to protect their athletes. “The best practices are not being followed. . . . I’m kind of mystified, but people are just not implementing evidence-based medicine and policies at the high school level. I’m not saying they’re not interested in it, but they’re just not doing it.” KSI tracks states that meet basic standards for safety in sports. According to an October 2015 Huff­ington Post article, no state had met KSI’s minimum best practices when it came to concussion management, emergency action plans, and defibrillators.

According to an analysis of peer-reviewed studies on head trauma in high school sports, high school football players are nearly twice as likely as college players to sustain a concussion; they suffered 11.2 concussions for every ten thousand games and practices, while the rate for college players was 6.3. The authors of the analysis urged caution in interpreting the results, because many concussions go unreported and data is limited.



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