High school running back Damon Jones died Monday as a result of injuries from a helmet-to-helmet hit last Friday night, again prompting important discussion around the safety of football and whether greater strides still need to be made in order to ensure player safety. In the last few years sports safety has been a much greater focus than ever before, highlighted by the measures being taken in football to address head injuries and concussions. While these efforts should be applauded, perhaps we should begin asking even bigger questions – questions that go beyond football, or even concussions.
As athletes of all ages become faster, stronger, bigger, and quicker, the question of sports equipment keeping up with these advances has become a very important question. To me, this is not really a “football” problem, per se, but instead a growing issue that athletes from all contact sports should be concerned about. Unfortunately, football has seemed to have received the bulk of the negative attention lately, but this may be undeserving.
There are countless “physical” sports that regularly involve a high degree of contact — and ironically, many of these sports offer little or no equipment to protect players. Wrestling, basketball, and soccer are three sports that immediately come to mind that involve the same amount of risk with respect to head trauma as football does when you factor in the physicality of each sport, and the fact that players are completely unprotected (meaning they don’t wear helmets). And what about baseball and softball catchers and middle infielders who leave themselves wide open to blindside hits? These types of collisions can lead to more than just head injuries, but also potentially crippling ACL injuries.
The future focus, in my opinion, should be less toward football (exclusively?) and more toward safer equipment and on-field rules designed to prevent players from all physical sports from becoming seriously hurt. Of course, football falls under the umbrella of physical sports that warrant safety attention, but football is not alone — and may not even be the riskiest sport when comprehensive, longitudinal data is eventually analyzed and evaluated.
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