This post will continue about the issues with safety among the NFL. If you have not read the first post, please take a few minutes to read and then come back. Click here to read the first post. If you still did not read the first post, I am still going to summarize the first topic. I first started out talking about how many injuries there are per game. There could be 6 major injured each game! That is crazy. I also talked how pre-season is too long and super unnecessary, because they already have to play 16 weeks of football and 4 more games that don’t mean anything is unnecessary. I then started to talk about how CTE affects football players and the effects it will have later on in a football player’s life. I wrapped it by pointing out how high school students are our future and how if they play football at a young age, football could cause some very negative effects in the long run.
After the first post, I wanted to do more research about the different injuries in the NFL. I read more about CTE. There was a study where former NFL player’s brains were donated to see how many of them had CTE. What the study showed was shocking. The study showed that 99% of former player’s brains had CTE. That is a huge number. The sample might have been a bit too small to see if this trend is truly true. There were only 202 brains donated, but that is a decent sample size. That could also mean that some brains were in stage 1 while others were in stage 4, but that is still a huge number.
A medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear is more common among people who play football. You can tear your MCL if you get tackled and land the wrong way, or if you jump and the land the wrong way. MCL injuries are more common than ACL injuries and can be treated in better ways. If the tear is just slightly injured, then you can just wait to let it heal. Surgery is not usually required even for more severe cases. It is only requested if the person wants the MCL to heal faster. Last season, there were 151 MCL tears in the NFL. Even if MCL tears are not the most severe injury, that is too many tears.
For this stage in the project, I had to interview or do a study about an expert on my topic. I tried and tried and tried. I emailed Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, 3 different times with 3 different emails and I have still gotten nothing from him. I then tried to contact some doctors that know a lot about concussions and injuries in the NFL and same deal; no responses. I then went to plan B, and I was going to try to call the front offices of different organizations within the NFL, but that also did not work. I was starting to worry that no one cared about me. I then tried to contact local football high schools to ask for an interview with the players, and EVEN them did not respond. I then emailed back all of the people I already emailed, and someone finally responded! I then had my dad’s friend contact some high school football coaches and he helped me get more interviews and some survey responses.
The very first interview that I have was last friday (March 16th). The man that I interviewed was named Dave Kutzler, and he is a youth football coach. The reason why I wanted to interview him is because he would provide an interesting perspective about football. Below are the questions that I asked him and what he responded with. There is also the audio of the interview if you would want hear it that way.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about football?/What made you want to become a youth football coach?
A: “I played from a young age as well. I think I started when I was 8 years old, and I played till I was 16, and I have a lot of fond memories like playing with my teammates and stuff like that, so that is really what wanted me to coach football. When I was playing I always had fun, I never got hurt, never got a concussion. So, yeah that is why I like it.”
Q: How has the greater awareness of player safety changed the game and the way you coach?
A: “I have coached for about 10 years. Back when I first started coaching him, he did flag football for his first two years, and then when you are 7 years old, you can convert to playing tackle football. When I first started out coaching, I had to take a bunch courses that were pretty expensive. They are run by USA Football, which is endorsed by the NFL, and they have NFL coaches giving video chats that we would have to watch. The people who pioneered a lot of the ‘Heads Up’ stuff were the Seattle Seahawks. They had a defensive coordinator who taught this different style of tackling, more like rugby style, where it is called ‘Heads Up’ tackling or ‘Seahawks’ tackling where your head is always up, you never dip your head. It does not get rid of the concussion injuries, but it does eliminate neck injuries. What the Seahawks taught was that you wrap around the legs and roll, which is a different style of tackling than I learned early on. From the years that I have coached, I have seen it change. For the first 5 years that I coached, there were no instructions, there were no videos or courses to take. They just trusted that the people teaching the kids understood the game. But in the last five years, they started to teach how to do proper techniques regarding the neck injuries, spine injuries, concussions on how to take that out of the game. So there have been a lot of advancements in the youth coaching within the last 4-5 years. Before that there was almost nothing.”
Q: Do you think that the NFL should be implementing the “Heads Up”/Rugby style of tacking?
A: “They actually do. That is why you are seeing a lot of these dudes roll. Within the last year or two, a lot of the defensive back hits have not been anywhere near the head. I do not think that it is widely broadcasted, but I do think that this ‘Seahawk’ tackling is being used more often than you think. I think that a lot of people are starting to teach it that way, because the NFL changed the rules so much because if they do not, they will be penalized and will hurt the team more. If you do not see it a lot now, you will see it very soon (the “Heads Up” tackling”).”
Q: You said in the email that for the 10 years you have coached, none of your players have received a concussion. What have you done as a coach to make sure of that?
A: “When the kids are young, I would say anywhere between 7 and 10 they truly do not hit hard enough as far as concussions. So that has really never been a concern, and I do not think it should be a concern for any parent or any organization. They just don’t hit hard enough, they are just a bunch of bobbleheads walking around a football field. Now, at about age 10 or 11, you can start to see some of these kids really develop. They are really starting to understand the game, and really starting to understand the hits. That’s really when the teaching and the movement and the pushing towards that ‘Seahawk’ tackling (“Heads Up) football is put into place. We took that as coaches and integrated that. Football starts in August. Your biggest concern in August is heat exhaustion. So they taught us that as well. What to look for as far as heat exhaustion (symptoms, etc.), and the first week is no pads, and just allowing the body to get used to the heat, and the running, and stuff like that. That is week one; no hitting, just heat. The second week is really when you teach the kids basic fundamentals. What I mean by that is doing step by step processes of how to hit, and we do it very slowly. It is really two weeks of getting your body just to the heat and the second week is very step by step no large hitting. Not only that, they teach us that during practices, you should not have the kids tackling more than 3 yards part. In other words, you are not running 20 yards in full steam, bashing each other 20 yards apart. That contact is very close contact, so if the contact is very limited during practice, we do not have large collisions. Within the last 5 years, the NFL has really brought in a lot into the lower levels of football as far as training.”
Q: So, as highers schoolers go to college and might want to be professional football players, and they are not doing the 3-yard tackles, when do they learn that running 20 yards at full speed to tackle someone is not the right idea? When is the learning curve?
A: “What we also teach is this thing called angle tackling, and the ‘Heads Up’ tackling. You always have your head up, and you always have to keep your head out of tackles. When I played, you always had a coach who would say, ‘Put your hat on,’ or ‘Let ‘em up’. Stuff like that. We do not say stuff like that anymore. When you have a tackle, your head has to go across the body, the head is never down. During games, hopefully, that what we have taught in the 3-yard drills, does work. You are going to see concussions in any sport; soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics. The best thing that we can do is to keep emphasizing the ‘Heads Up’ to just keep your head out of the tackle. I do know that they teach the technique at high school level football. That probably is also probably only been out for 4/5 years, because when we (coaches) have to take the courses, there are high school courses. The high school coaches have to take the high school level courses.”
Q: Do you think that enough/too much is being done to prevent concussion in football?
A: “There is never too much. There can always be more, but do I think that they are going in the right direction and heading the right way as far safety? Let's face it: If people do not address this issue, football is not going to existent anymore. About 3 or 4 years ago, I would say that amount kids signing up for football was at an all-time low. But now that people are starting to see what we (the coaches) are doing as far as courses, training, stuff like that, the amount of kids signing up for football is rising again. I have seen within the last 2/3 years, the levels are going back up, but there was a time where some parents were reluctant about putting their kids in. But again, there is never enough training. I think that they are heading in the right direction. It is definitely a lot better than it was.”
Q: Have you received any concerns from parents regarding the safety of their child/children?
A: “I have not. I think they see us (coaches) the way we approach our practices. We have their their best interest at heart as far as safety. Let’s face it; these are kid are anywhere from 10 to 14 years old. Most of the kids who play football have been playing a few years before that, and also the kids who play football are a different breed. Most of them are very aggressive kids. Most of them are very up-beat kids, very postivekids, not a lot of negativity. And honestly that is another reason why I love coaching football, just kids that can listen to discipline, kids that like discipline, kids that listen, kids who want to get better, kids gernalary a little more athletic. I love teaching kids football. They are a different breed - I can not explain it. Some of the kids that play baseball can play while others are just okay. If you can not play football, you are afraid to hit, stuff like that, you get weed out pretty quick. So you are dealing with a type of child that wants to be there, and wants to get better, and wants to learn teamwork, and wants to learn the game of football. That is another why I really like it (coaching football) as well. I loved dealing with the kind of kid that is really interested in it.”
Q: Any else that you think would help me?
A: “I know that we all want to keep our kids as safe as possible, I mean there are all kinds of sports that can be dangerous. Like I was telling you earlier, cheerleading can be dangerous especially if you are getting through 20 feet into the air. People can get hurt by that. That being said, you can not put your kids in a bubble. We can do all kind of things to keep them as safe as we can. But kids have to be kids and I hear parents say that they will never let their child play football, but if they want to? I do not want to hold my kid back. If he wants to play football, I will ensure that he is getting the best instruction as he can to be safe, but I would let him do it. I hear a lot of the conversation, ‘I will never let me kid play’....why...why? There might be another sport that you could not play because your parents would not allow you, you be upset? That is kind of how I feel about it. The kids are totally into it. Alright lets teach them the proper way to play and go by it that way.
After doing the interview with Dave Kutzler, I learned a lot. I learned that football is changing for the better. Youth coaches are teaching the kids the proper way to play without injuring themselves. I also did not know how much the NFL is helping out. They want the younger generation to be safer so they can play in the NFL as well. They want as many kids to enjoy football. The interview also many me think of my project in a different light. I thought that there was a lot to improve upon within football. You can never help out too much, but the NFL is working on safety issue more than I thought that they were. Dave answered all of my questions wonderfully and I was left with no questions.
The very next day after I had my interview Dave, Will Parks called me. Will Parks is a safety who plays for the Denver Broncos, but he grew up in Philly. My dad’s friend, friend friend, knew Will and set me up with an interview. I do not have the written portion, but I do have the audio that you can listen to.
After doing the interview, I learned a lot. Will Parks was lucky enough to have no major injuries, but has seen injuries. He noted that the last game of the season that he played, he saw one of his own teammate’s break a leg. His response to someone the questions were similar to Dave, in the fact that he said that football is football. There will be injuries either way. He also said that if you want to play harder, you have to more careful and watch out for yourself. Since Will Parks did not have any major injuries, I could not find out some information about players who had to go through the injuries process, but other than that I got all I needed from Will Parks.
For my project, I also did a survey. The survey is supposed to be filled out by high school football players to see how much they know about the risks of football. I have a few responds, but I want to wait a few more days for more responds, so I will post another post about the survey and what it said.
After doing all of this, I have learned a lot. Reading a bunch of articles made me think one way, and then doing my interviews makes me think another way. At first, I thought that the NFL was not doing a whole lot, but after doing the interviews, that is false. The NFL is trying to reduced injuries in football. The last thing that I have to do is “change” or fix my issue. I have some general ideas, but they are half-baked. I might try to design a helmet or pads to reduce the number of injuries, or I can make a website or powerpoint to have my reader know about the issue. If you have ideas please comment below.
The link to my annotated bibliography is here.