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VOL. 7 | NO. 34 | Saturday, August 16, 2014

Editorial: Football Must Find Way to Improve Safety

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The start of another football season comes with memories of the previous season – the victories, defeats and moments in between.

Somewhere in that space in between is what football at all levels intends to do about concussions and how that changes the game where hits are celebrated and the consequences of those hits increasingly cannot be ignored.

In the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks will be wearing new Riddell SpeedFlex helmets that come with the promise of dispersing energy from a hit reducing the risk of trauma. There is also an InSite Impact Response System that alerts coaches to a significant hit to the head.

Perhaps football’s problem can be solved by better technology. Or perhaps the technology is a kind of arms race that only benefits those on the new product end of an equipment switch.

Both of the above examples still rely on a player and/or coach taking the initiative and using their judgment when there is a concussion. And a concussion does not necessarily mean a player goes unconscious.

Parents are starting to act on long-held concerns about concussions and their long-term impact as we all learn more and football continues to evolve as a result.

We think the evolution is moving too slowly and football has to change now. There are already indications that is happening before high school in leagues where children are being taught to tackle with their heads up. It’s a long way from the days when coaches taught players the art of the “spear” and to put their heads down.

But high school football still remains the center of the storm and where there seems to be the most resistance to change. Those athletes in the pipeline between old school and the new methods can’t wait for the sport to evolve. And better equipment may lead to a false sense of security that doesn’t alter the science of the game nearly enough.

Bret Bielema, the Arkansas coach whose team is using the new-style helmets this season, also has advocated rules changes that slow down a faster-paced game where no huddles are increasingly preferred by many coaches.

Part of Bielema’s logic is a slower game means fewer plays and thus fewer chances for a player to take the hit that leads to a concussion. We aren’t sure about that logic because the toll of concussions on players in the days when a Dallas Cowboys huddle looked like a team picture has become apparent as those players age.

Bielema, though, may be on to something when he targets the inability to take out an injured player between plays when there are no time outs.

Our point is not only the rules need to change. The core mechanics – the rites and rituals – of football must change now.

In the last few years it has become impossible for fans to ignore what happens when the clock runs out.

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