By DANIEL GALLEN
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK — They have entire NFL Films highlight reels devoted to them. They can hush 75,000 people or send them into a frenzy. They can make a reputation and a career in a split second. Or they can end one just as quickly.
Big hits have come under more and more intense scrutiny, as research reveals some of their unintended and sometimes fatal consequences. The governing bodies of football at all levels are trying to find a solution to limit concussions and other brain injuries — including rule changes.
But some local high school officials who look at changes in the way the game is played and in the way players are monitored see costs in the precautions.
“They’re trying to change the game,” said DeMatha Catholic High School Athletic Director Ed King, who said he agreed with an NFL rule change last spring to eliminate players leading with their heads, or more specifically, the crowns of their helmets. “But here again, if you’re looking at the old school football fan, they want to see the hits. They want to see the big hits, and the rules are actually taking those big hits out of the game.”
Patuxent High School Athletic Director and football coach Stephen Crounse said there has been an unbalanced reaction to sports concussions recently.
He said the solutions are complicated, and sometimes reactions are simplistic.
Crounse likened the current situation and climate surrounding concussions to the spread of illnesses in locker rooms. He said some could be stopped through preventative methods and taking a proactive approach instead of a reactive one.
“But companies come out with formulas, solutions, sprays and misters and all this stuff, and it creates a hysteria and costs a lot of people money,” Crounse said.
When it comes to football, he said education at the grassroots level through programs such as Heads Up Football is an effective method for cutting down on head injuries. Heads Up Football focuses on education, equipment fitting and awareness to cut down on concussions.
Montgomery Blair High School football coach Andrew Fields said changes usually trickle down from the top, which in this case is the NFL. The league has attempted to alter its game over the years with other new rules — such as prohibiting players from tackling quarterbacks at the knees — but there are still dangerous plays and significant injuries. Fields said if the game is significantly altered to make it safer, there could be an unintended effect.
“As soon as they get to that tipping point where it becomes a different type of game and money stops and money slows down, I think that will certainly trump in many ways the safety thing,” Fields said.
King pointed to another concussion-prone sport making its own adjustments, which could influence NFL decisions. The NHL has taken measures in recent years to prevent concussions through tougher penalties on fighting and stricter enforcement on illegal hits.
“People like the fights in hockey,” King said. “That’s what they love. But with the rules there, they’re curbing the fights and increasing the penalties.”
So what will happen with football?
“I don’t know,” King said. “I know everyone enjoys the big hits, but they’re trying to eliminate the big hits, so there’s definitely going to be a change. Whether it’s going to affect the game or not, time will tell.”