Preventing football concussions about more than helmets

Concerns over injuries from tackles prompt calls for better helmets. Sports professionals say that's not the only answer

As Senator Chuck Schumer was calling for new legislation to improve helmet safety standards for young football players, local sports people were telling us it takes more than a helmet to keep players safe.

Senator Schumer (D-NY) proposes the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act (senate bill ~601) which would require football helmets to meet safety standards to protect younger player from concussions. Schumer says current voluntary industry-created safety standards to not address concussion risk or youth sized helmets.

Helmets have changed significantly, both in what they're made of and how they're padded. As SU's Assistant Director of Athletics for Sports Medicine, Tim Neal, told us, helmets were originally constructed to prevent skull fractures, and the face masks were added to reduce facial injury. Concussions are a much more recent concern, and one that can be addressed by more than head protection.

"Coaches should be teaching proper technique, so that the athlete is not hitting someone with the crown of their helmet," Neal tells us. It's a sentiment that's echoed by CBA head football coach Joe Casamento, who says athletes need to drill proper tackling and hitting procedures, so that doing it with the least risk to them becomes instinctive. "Proper technique, that's critical," he says.

Casamento says the bond between coach and athlete is also key. 'Kids do wanna play, they really love the game," he says, and the concern is that they might try to hide an injury to keep playing. " Knowing your kids, having a relationship with your kids so they can tell you stuff and know that as soon as thye are well you're still gonna put them back in and they're gonna play the next week or two weeks from now, whenever it might be."

And it's not only the coaching staff that has to be part of the team. Family members need to look for signs of injury too: a concussion can show symptoms right away, or it can be weeks later. "What you want to look for is dizziness, fogginess, they're confused, they don't really resp9ond to simple questions very well. And any of those things are present, that young person should be taken out of activity."

Despite the concerns, Coach Casamento says football is still safe. "I really think if you put the right equipment on a kid, in youth football, I'd be really surprised if you could come away with a concussion." Though it's been a big issue in the NFL, Casamento says young players are no where near as fast, or as heavy, so even if there is a hit, there's usually not much force.

Even so, the protective equipment helps--as much as the drills that teach how to play the game.