Ah, Friday - the start of another fall football weekend. Tonight, there's a full slate of high school games. Tomorrow, colleges take their turn. Sunday, it's time for the professionals. The game is undeniably popular. Just check attendance figures and the time fans spend talking, texting and otherwise communicating about games every week. Football clearly remains the king of sports, especially in this part of the country. The game has a dark side, though. The increasing physical toll the game exacts from those who play it is hard to ignore.
Football always has been dangerous. But the possibility of a particular injury - a concussion - has grown greater in recent years. That's an inevitable result of faster, stronger and bigger players in middle and high school and at the collegiate and pro levels. Indeed, hardly a game goes by these days without play being stopped at least once and probably more for coaches and trainers to check on a player knocked silly by a hard, high-speed but completely legal tackle or collision. The consequences of such an injury can be dire.
Concussions, once dismissed as an inevitable part of an admittedly violent game, receive a lot more attention nowadays than in the past. Indeed, a great deal has been learned in the decade or so about both the immediate and long-term consequences of what is a traumatic injury to the brain. One positive result is that players, coaches, trainers, administrators and parents are far more knowledgeable about ways to help prevent concussions and to treat those who suffer them.
It's no longer acceptable, thank goodness, for a player to be told "to shake it off" and to return to the game after a blow to the head. Indeed, deeper understanding of concussions and their short- and long-term consequences have prompted firm mandates about a player's immediate and future return to the playing field. There are new rules, too, to protect players and to penalize and fine, when applicable, players who purposefully deliver blows that do or could cause concussions.
Equipment manufacturers have joined the campaign to reduce head injuries. They've begun working with physicians, scientists and others to develop more protective headgear. It is doubtful, though, that adapting even the most cutting-edge technology to football equipment can completely eliminate the chance of injury. Additional efforts to prevent concussions will be required.
Parents, coaches, medical personnel, collegiate athletic directors and presidents and pro team owners will have to continue to make changes, even unpopular ones, of rules to protect players. The need for such change is evident. It's now widely documented by lawsuits brought by former players still suffering from concussions and neurological disorders, and by the families of those who died prematurely due to those injuries.
Football is undeniably popular, but that popularity must now be balanced against the knowledge that those who play it do so at considerable risk. The safety of players at every level should be uppermost in the minds of all who love the game and who flock to stadiums small and large this weekend and in the future. Too often, it is not.