Responsible for safety

Published 10:58 am Saturday, August 9, 2014

In a nation in which the Super Bowl is consistently the top-rated television spectacle of the year, football is likely to have a long future. Children grow up watching the game and look for opportunities to participate along the way. From Pop Warner to the high school and collegiate levels, football remains a popular outlet for (primarily) young boys and men to safely channel athleticism and, to some extent, aggression.

But the sport has been threatened by its very aggressiveness, as doctors begin to have a greater understanding of its physiology, especially in relation to the long-term effects of concussions on the health of former players. High-profile cases of former NFL players suffering the effects of their previous concussions far into their post-football careers have made parents and coaches understandably wary of unnecessarily putting youngsters in harm’s way.

The industry has long attempted to respond to the problem with better equipment. Nobody, for instance, would consider going onto the football field with the flimsy padding and leather helmets of days gone by — in fact that kind of equipment wouldn’t even be allowed on the field under current rules at any level of play.

Indeed, improving equipment is a continual effort, and fathers watching their sons play high school football today are sometimes struck by the differences that exist between what their sons wear onto the field and what they wore just 20 or 30 years ago.

Among the most important advances have been those in helmet technology, and researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a five-star scale to rate the relative safety of helmets. Those with a five-star rating are judged to be the safest in the game — though, significantly, nobody claims that even the best helmet can completely eliminate head injuries.

Western Tidewater’s teams including the Cover 3 Foundation league are well on their way to getting that top-rated equipment, and their coaches and athletic directors are to be congratulated for making the choice to upgrade. Those efforts should continue until every player on a school team has equal access to the safest helmets available.

Another factor in cutting the rate of head injuries is players learning the fundamentals of safe tackling and hitting. Coaches in the area have long focused their efforts on making sure their players know they should tackle with their heads up to minimize the chance of spinal injuries.

Some have argued that the concussion dangers inherent to football doom the sport in the long run. It remains to be seen whether the nation will ever turn away from its interest in the game because of its dangers. In the meantime, though, it’s important for coaches and players to do what they can to maximize safety within the limits of a game that is violent by its very nature.

The evidence would seem to indicate that Western Tidewater’s coaches are taking this responsibility very seriously.