Football and concussions go hand in hand. However, after several blows to the head, a player’s brain can be left feeling scrambled.

According to a 2013 study done by the Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, football accounts for more than half of all concussions (56.8 percent).

The Sports Concussion Institute indicates that it takes longer for high school athletes to recover from concussions and the damages done may be more substantial, since the frontal lobes of the human brain continue to grow until the age of 25.

As technology and science have improved over the years, doctors and researchers have been able to better understand the causes and symptoms of these serious injuries.

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But what is the best way to prevent concussions? And what do the football coaches around Hancock County know about the subject?

A firsthand look

At the local level, much like the NCAA and NFL, coaches and training staffs must monitor concussions. According to Mt. Vernon head coach Doug Armstrong, the concussion subject becomes more prevalent each year.“There’s been more concussions now practicing in a non-concussion scenario than when we played 10 years ago it seems like,” Armstrong said, who is in his fifth season with the Marauders. “Everybody you talk to now, it’s ‘this person’s got a concussion, that person’s got a concussion.’”Although some teams have experienced this problem more often than others, it has still changed the way the game is played. From reduced physical contact in practice, to the way coaches plan for opposing teams, concussions have made a significant difference in a short amount of time.

“Concussions have changed the game dramatically,” Armstrong said. “It’s changed how you practice and some of the schemes you run actually.”

Never been safer

Greenfield-Central coach Roger Dodson is in his 40th year coaching football and spent most of his childhood around the sport. He said, despite the number of concussions found, there’s never been a safer time in football.“The game is safer today all the way around in regards to just about everything and, in particular, concussions because of the awareness part,” he said. “A long time ago, it didn’t happen in the same process.

“They are treated like a lot of other injuries. There are different levels of sprained ankles and different levels of concussions, as well.”

Like most other high schools, the Cougars use a baseline test to log levels of activity among athletes, particularly in the brain. In the event of a concussion, the school is able to test the athlete again to see what has changed before and after the injury.

“At our school we have the baseline test that each player takes at least twice throughout his career,” Dodson said.

Many change

sKyle Ralph, head coach of the Class 5A No. 1 New Palestine Dragons, has played football at every level and has seen the way it’s changed in just a decades times.He graduated from St. Xavier High School (Cincinnati) in 2002 and played at North Carolina before a few stints with the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers in the NFL.Ralph was never diagnosed with a concussion but is certain one had to have happened.

“I’m sure at some point I’ve had one,” he said. “There really wasn’t a whole lot out there about them. They really diagnosed them if it was something severe, like passing out on the field.”

“We just rubbed it off like you’re playing football. There wasn’t a big buzz about it.”

The third-year Dragons coach is fully aware of the issues in the sport today. However, he said he believes football gets a bad rap just because of its physicality.

“On the flip side of that, football’s an easy sport to point at in my opinion,” he said. “There’s a study out there showing football isn’t even the worst (by rate). Bicycling is actually one of the worst. You don’t see people telling people to stop riding bikes.”

The increased popularity of the sport only sheds a brighter light on the subject.

“I think it’s America’s sport right now,” Ralph said.

Eastern Hancock opened its season against Northwestern and while talking to the opposing head coach, Royals coach Jim O’Hara learned they suffered no concussions in the first weeks of practice.

Eastern Hancock had four or five, according to O’Hara.

“This is just in the first three weeks of practice,” he said. “A lot of times you don’t even see the hit.”

However, he believes the game today is “10 times” safer.

“When I was in grade school we would stand eight feet apart and go head to head,” O’Hara said, who is 56 years old. “You used to use your head like a ram.”

This is the first part of a two-part series discussing the ever-evolving topic of football and concussions. Read Saturday’s Daily Reporter for the second part of the story.

Historical Background

Historical background

In 1991, according to deadspin.com, the Colorado Medical Society came up with the first system that measured concussion severity, as well as strict guidelines for allowing players back into NFL games. The NCAA and high school football quickly adapted these guidelines.

It was not until 1994, though, 74 years after the start of the league (1920), that the NFL officially acknowledged the danger of concussions by forming the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. Three years later, the American Academy of Neurology recommends players who are knocked unconscious during game play must exit and not return. The NFL denied these guidelines, according to deadspin.com 

Eight years later (2002), a doctor performed an autopsy on the brain of Mike Webster, a former NFL player who died at the age of 50, and discovered his brain had an accumulation of tau protein, which points to a disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. ETC is a neurological degenerative disease usually found in boxers and shows a link between head trauma and dementia.

Over the next several years, players including Andre Waters, Chris Henry and Terry Long took their own lives. Doctors found that they had suffered from ETC, caused by their football careers and the repeated blows to the head.

Although the NFL acknowledged the danger of concussions before, it was not until 2009, according to pbs.org, that the league accepted the effects of head trauma. As NFL spokesmen Greg Aiello said, “It’s quite obvious from the medical research that’s been done that concussions can lead to long-term problems.”

Over the next few years, according to pbs.org, nearly 250 cases came to light as approximately 5,000 former players filed lawsuits against the league. Some players were from the 1940s. Finally, four years later, in 2013, the lawsuits filed were settled as the NFL was forced to pay out 765 million dollars.

Today the NFL has installed rules — like the one penalizing players for leading with their head — in an attempt to keep the game more safe. 

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.