The death of Alex Karras last week reminded us once again about the dangers of football, despite our passion with the sport. Karras actually died of kidney failure, but his mind had long since been gone, the result of too many blows to the head when he was a player for the Detroit Lions. The fact that he had a career as an actor for decades after his playing days did not change the fact that his brain had become scrambled and he died too soon.
Karras was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the National Football League for not being advised about the severity of concussions. Do you want to know why the New Orleans Saints were penalized so much for “bountygate?” It wasn’t because they were going after players’ knees. It was because they were going after their heads.
Concussions are more prevalent at the professional level where the players are bigger, faster and stronger. Hall of Famer Troy Aikman retired early because of one too many bell-ringers, and rookie phenom Robert Griffin, III left a game after taking a shot to the head because for a few seconds he didn’t know where he was or what game he was playing.
A recent story out of Massachusetts emerged reporting that five children in a Pop Warner football game sustained concussions during a lopsided 52-0 game, one in which the coaches of both teams were suspended for the remainder of the season and the referees were barred from officiating any more games in the league. It wasn’t clear which was more disturbing, the fact that five 10-year-old boys were taken off the field with head injuries or that the response from both teams’ supporters — many of them parents — were supporting the remaining players to soldier on.
According to a study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, about 5 to 6 percent of football players and about 8 percent of National Football League players suffer concussions or other forms of brain injury that can result in as many as 67,000 injuries by high school football players a year.
Now, in more than a couple of cities in the US, some people are talking about banning football at the high school level. That talk hasn’t seemed to gain much traction in Faulkner County or in Arkansas, but don’t be surprised if it gets talked about more often.
It is apparent after watching games at all levels that some players have not learned proper tackling techniques. They would instead prefer to launch themselves into other players — sometimes defenseless — and “knock them out.”
Don’t expect football in Conway or Little Rock or anywhere in this region to go away any time soon. But with more older players suffering long term effects from the sport, don’t expect this issue to go away either.