The headline in The Times website Wednesday read, “NFL committee to decide whether to tweak interference rule.”
Buried near the bottom of the AP story, though, was an item that deserved far greater notice.
While the NFL rules makers may still be making up their minds on how to regulate pass interference, they took a definitive stand on a practice drill that has been a traditional staple of the game at all levels.
The Oklahoma drill, according to an article published by ESPN.com, “pits a defender against a blocker who is trying to make room for a ball carrier. Teammates and coaches usually surround the drill area to create a battle-type atmosphere.”
Although there has been no scientific study to prove it, the thought is that the drill has been contributing to a high rate of preseason concussions in the NFL. The league reports that 20 percent of its concussions occur in the first two weeks of training camp.
I wonder if the high number of concussions during that time is more a function of borderline players trying to prove they belong with big hits, rather than any particular drill.
Meanwhile, the overall concussion rate during the course of an entire season has fallen — at least it did in 2018, when it dropped by 25 percent.
Despite that improvement, owners want to be seen as doing something to reduce head trauma in the game. Consequently, they voted last week to eliminate the drill and others like it, that feature high-speed, one-on-one collisions.
Can colleges and high schools be far behind in implementing a similar ban?
NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay and commissioner Roger Goodell hope so. In published stories, they both mentioned that they expect the NFL ban will prompt the same action at lower levels.
Middle schoolers need sports medicine management too
While football is assumed to be the deadliest sport, a study published last month in the Journal of Athletic Training reveals something altogether different. Examining cases of sudden death among youth athletes ages 6-17 but not playing for a high school team, researchers from the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut found another sport to be far deadlier.
Between August 2007 and December 2015, there were 45 such deaths. The vast majority were heart related (76%) and occurred among males (80%). More than half (58%) took place during an organized middle school game or practice. Nearly three-quarters of the victims were between the ages of 12 and 14.
Basketball accounted for 36 percent of the deaths followed by baseball (16%), football (16%), and soccer (13%).
“While high school and college sports usually get the spotlight when it comes to the prevention of catastrophic health and injury events, this study confirms the need to extend best practices and policies to the youth and recreational levels to protect all young athletes," said National Athletic Trainers’ Association President Tory Lindley in a press release from the NATA. “It is incumbent on middle schools, organized and recreational sports programs to put the health and safety of participant’s first.”
Lindley is also the senior associate athletic director for health, safety and performance at Northwestern.
His comments were echoed by Joe Sharpe, the head athletic trainer with the Charlotte Hornets, who also serves as chairman of the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association.
“Athletic trainers in the NBA care for professional basketball players, who were once kids with dreams of competing at the highest level of their sport,” he said in the same press release. “Children should be able to play basketball — or any sport for that matter — with an assurance that appropriate medical care is available, and lifesaving best practices are in place.”
Lindley and Sharpe offered five tips for parents of athletes.
1. Get a checkup before play. Ensure that your athlete has completed a pre-participation evaluation with a medical professional who is trained and comfortable with detection of cardiovascular (heart) problems before starting practice.
2. Ask about the coach. While the coach should have a background and knowledge in their sport and be credentialed, the coach should also strictly enforce rules. It is equally important that the coach creates a culture of safety, so players feel safe to report injuries and receive appropriate medical attention.
3. Ask about emergency plans. Ask if there is a venue-specific emergency action plan, which outlines exactly what to do and who to call in case of an emergency.
4. Have a CPR/AED certified person at every practice and game. Know where the nearest automated external defibrillator is located and ask if there is someone certified in CPR, AED and first aid at every practice and game.
5. Ask if there is an athletic trainer. Have a medical professional such as an athletic trainer on-hand at every practice and game.