By Ken Reed
NFL executives, and football lovers everywhere, continue to hope that at some point a magic helmet will be created that makes taking blows to the head in football safe.
The problem is, nobody can conceive of how you can put a helmet inside the human skull to protect the brain that’s floating around unprotected inside. Blows to the head cause the brain to crash into the side of the skull, like Jello bouncing off the sides of a bowl when shaken.
Dr. Lee Goldstein, a psychiatrist and researcher with the CTE Center at Boston University, which is a leading research institution for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive blows to the brain, when asked what sort of technological breakthrough would protect a player against CTE says, without smiling, “A force field that keeps a player from blocking or tackling you.”
Nevertheless, a handful of scientists continue to search for the technological breakthrough that would allow for the development of helmets that would keep the brain safe in a game in which the average college and pro player undergoes 700 to 1,000 blows to the head a year. It is these mostly sub-concussive blows, that research has shown leads to CTE, not the severe traumatic collisions that result in concussions.
“I can say with great certainty that there is no correlation between a single concussion and CTE,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s the accumulation of hits.”
Nevertheless, some scientists, funded by a variety of research grants (some from the NFL), continue to believe that it’s possible to one day create a high-tech helmet that will make it safe to play tackle football.
Dr. David Camarillo, a former college football tight end and now a Ph.D. bioengineer at Stanford University, believes he has discovered a new helmet shock absorber that could reduce concussions by 75 percent. While other scientists question that number, even if the number of concussions could be cut in half some day, it would be a great thing. In addition, a high-tech helmet like this would also make skull fractures virtually non-existent.
However, once again, when it comes to CTE, it’s the accumulation of sub-concussive hits to the head that are the culprit, not concussions.
“My fear is that a better helmet will give false assurances,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s like developing a better cigarette filter. It’s smoother and it might not give you a hacking cough. But you still get lung cancer.”
A recent study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Rochester placed sensors in the helmets of 38 Division III college players and measured hits in practices and games for an entire season. They discovered that while only two players sustained concussions during the season, two-thirds of the players had structural damage and changes in their brains. A Purdue University study ructural damage and changes in their brainhad similar findings. That’s scary stuff.
While tackle football can’t be made safe, it can be made safer than it is today. It simply means reducing contact substantially during the season.
Other than not playing the game, the only thing that will significantly reduce sub-concussive brain trauma, as well as limit concussions, is greatly reducing the number of full-contact practices and scrimmages during the season. That’s exactly what the Ivy League did. The Canadian Football League recently followed suit.
It’s crystal clear. The appropriate action for youth, high school, college and pro football is simple: A policy that bans all full-contact practices once the season starts and stringently limits full-contact practices in the off-season and preseason.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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