The Broncos line up on their 47-yard line on first and 10 in the second quarter of a game against the Houston Texans. Peyton Manning is in the shotgun and goes through his pre-snap rituals. Wes Welker lines up in the slot to Manning’s right. The ball is snapped and Welker runs 10 yards, pauses, and begins to cut inwards to the middle of the field. Manning cocks his arm back and throws a bullet to Welker for a 10-yard completion. As soon as the ball hit his hands, Welker is pounded by Texans defender D.J. Swearinger.
Welker is slow to get up and is later diagnosed with a concussion. Due to the injury, Welker misses several games. Over his career, Welker has taken many head shots, and after the one from Swearinger, he was never really the same player again.
Welker is just one victim of concussion from playing football. Many players of all ages and sizes suffer concussions every time they step between the lines.
Throughout the years, the number of concussions has steadily increased. According to Concussion Watch, a database that uses the league’s weekly regular-season injury reports to track every concussion, there were 5.4 concussions per week in the 2009 NFL season, 7.6 in 2010, and 8.4 in 2011. The NFL and all of football have noticed the injuries and are doing their best to limit blows to the head.
“Head injuries have brought football to an elevated state of injury awareness,” Springfield College’s Football Coach, Mike DeLong said, “First, everyone was concerned about the knees, but now concussions have elevated due to the long-term effects.”
Since people are becoming more aware of the dangers of concussions, some parents are disallowing their children to participate in football. According to ESPN’s Outside the Lines Pop Warner—the nation’s largest youth football program—saw participation drop off 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012. A Marist College study also shows that one in three Americans would be less likely to allow their child to play football knowing about the damage that concussions are capable of causing.
DeLong believes that parents have a right to steer their kids away from the game, but said “hopefully the parents do research on the improving equipment and how the coaches are educated to coach their children.”
Because concussions have become so prominent, a number of changes have been made across all football leagues. In the NFL, penalty flags are being tossed and fines are being handed out for when defenders lead with their heads. The New York Times reported that in 2010, Pop Warner implemented a rule that once a player is removed because of a concussion, he or she needs a doctor’s letter before returning to play. Coaches also receive special training in identifying concussions.
“The proper teaching of not using the head as a strike point is very critical,” said DeLong. “All of the football coaches are being educated every single day about concussions and how to avoid them thanks to the American Football Coaches Association.”
Head injuries have become so consistent, that some players feel nervous when they get on to the field. This is especially true for wide receivers who run routes across the middle of the field and take huge hits from massive line backers.
“I’m not afraid on every play, but on routes across the middle, it can be very dangerous,” Freshman wide receiver, Tye Mill said. “You just always have to be ready for the big hit and prepare yourself for impact.”
At Springfield College, there is a very in-depth written concussion protocol. Every player receives a pre-test before playing and if a player is diagnosed, he is given a post-test. After being tested there is a mandatory wait period before returning to play and even after the wait period, the player is brought back very slowly.
Taking a hit to the head hurts and is obviously not a desirable feeling, but often, players don’t realize that they have suffered a concussion right away.
Mike Kelly, a Springfield College freshman, suffered multiple head injuries in high school and he said, “You feel stunned for a second and you don’t really know what’s going on. Then you kind of just get up and come back.”
That is where educating the coaches on how to recognize a concussion comes into play. Coaches need to be able to know when a player may have a concussion so that the player does not go back on the field and take another blow to the head that makes the injury worse.
Unfortunately, concussions have become a huge part of football. However, leagues and associations across the football world are taking steps to limit head injuries and learn how to handle them more properly.