Hard Knocks: College Football’s Wake-Up Call
First off, let's get one thing straight: college football isn't
going away. Neither is pro football, nor Pop Warner, nor high
school. Football is America's national pastime, baseball having
flushed away decades of goodwill with the steroid era. College and
pro football are both billion-dollar industries that fascinate us
with fast-paced gameplay, dramatic storylines, and of course, those
train-wreck hits. But it's those same hits that have everyone from
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to President Obama concerned about
the game's violence. And if it's too dangerous for the pros, what
does that mean for amateur college athletes?
A Bloody History
Those familiar with the history of the game know that violence
is nothing new, and that in the early days death was a not-uncommon
visitor to the gridiron. In fact, over a century before President
Obama voiced his worry over college players facing "concussions and
so forth," President Teddy Roosevelt called a meeting of several
university football team representatives to push for safety
measures after 19 boys were killed during regulation time in 1905.
Four years later, the five-year tally was 113 dead, and finally
changes began to take shape.
Out went the freedom to perform a "flying tackle," a dangerous
hit where a player launches himself off the ground into the
ballcarrier. Also banned was the popular blocking method whereby
players locked arms with each other to form a mobile wall.
Nevertheless, helmets would not become mandatory in college
football until 1939, and even they haven't been enough to put an
end to death by sport.
From 1931-2006, the number of fatalities directly or indirectly
caused by football action at just the college level has averaged
about 2.5 per year, with hundreds of severe injuries. For high
school, the numbers for that period are far worse: nearly 15
fatalities a year on average, with concussions increasing 8%
annually from 1997 to 2008, according to the American Journal of
The Rise of Brain Damage
Brain injury has become the elephant in the room for this sport
that from the beginning has encouraged a culture where injured
players are supposed to rub some dirt on it and get back out there.
Only recently have we come to recognize the mortal danger of repeat
concussions, or even just single traumatic blows to the head, which
can be lethal in either the short- or long-term. In both cases, the
results are tragic.
References and further information