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No Helmets in Football? Training Without Helmets May Prevent Head Injuries

Published: May 22, 2015 in Personal Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury

Athletes who play these sports, whether in their youth or later in life as a career, face an increased risk of suffering a concussion or traumatic head injury (TBI). After a head injury, an athlete may experience symptoms of post-concussion syndrome and some may need medical treatment. Most people are well aware that the risk of head injury is generally quite high in contact sports, particularly if proper safety gear is not worn, or safety precautions are not followed. Certain types of sports, such as football and hockey, have an inherent risk that is almost unavoidable.

While various programs have been developed to aid in minimizing the risk of concussion or other brain injuries in youth sports, high schools sports, at colleges, and in professional leagues, one team has taken a somewhat unique approach.

How the University of New Hampshire Practices Football

The University of New Hampshire Wildcats, in an attempt to reduce the risk of concussions, has players on the team train and practice without helmets, according to an NPR report. The idea is that training without helmets will help get the players to keep their heads up and tackle their opponents chest-to-chest rather than helmet-first.

The hope is to dramatically reduce the risk of injuries when tackling if players avoid leading with their helmet, head, face, neck or shoulders. It is expected that over time, it will become a matter of habit for players to look up when tackling another player in the game, thus lowering the risk of serious injury.

Sports-Related Head Injury Statistics

Traumatic brain injuries are one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 30 percent of all injury deaths are TBI-related. In one recent year, the CDC reported 248,418 children under the age of 20 received emergency treatment for sports-related injuries including, but not limited to, concussions, head injuries and TBIs.

Statistics highlighted by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) revealed:

  • Football is one of the top 10 sports-related head injury categories, both overall and among children under the age of 15.
  • The rate of football injuries with incomplete neurological recovery at the high school and junior high level was close to 0.07 per every 100,000 players.
  • At the college level, the rate of football injuries with incomplete neurological recovery increased to 2.66.
  • Four football players at the high school level and one football player at the college level sustained brain injuries from which they did not fully recover in 2012. Another five players sustained either head or neck injuries, from which a full neurological recovery was achieved.
  • While no fatal injuries were sustained by high school or college football athletes in 2012 (the most recent reported year), two players at the semi-professional level did lose their lives as a result of football-related injuries.
  • Direct fatal injuries that year was at a rate of 0.04 per 100,000.

The NFL Payout to Injured Players

As it currently stands, more than 25,000 retired players and approximately 9,000 relatives of deceased players are part of the lawsuit filed against the NFL for its alleged failure to warn players of the serious, long-term concussion risks. The NFL is expected to pay at least $765 million dollars for care and neurological testing. However, additional NFL funding may be required. Those who sustained injuries can access settlement funds for at least the next 65 years. It is estimated that another 220 players or families have opted out of the proposed settlement, either to file their own individual lawsuits or for other reasons.

Concussions and Head Injuries in the NFL

After years of disputing the fact that its players’ propensity for developing long-term brain damage and other cognitive difficulties was directly related to the head injuries they sustained on the field, The New York Times reports the NFL has finally agreed brain trauma will likely affect one out of every three players. The New York Times goes on to state the NFL submitted documents to the judge currently presiding over the NFL concussion injuries settlement, based on data gathered by actuaries, which confirm that the league “expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at ‘notably younger ages’ than in the general population.”

This massive settlement does raise the question of how many serious head injuries could have been avoided if proper education and injury-avoidance training – such as practicing without helmets to get players trained to hit with other parts of their bodies rather than their heads – had been implemented at all levels of the sport.

Helmets or No Helmets: Reducing Risk of Concussion and TBI

Because Americans love their football, the key to the continued viability of the sport is to turn our attention to how to make the game safer for its participants. This has and will continue to involve study of the biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology of the players and how the game is played with an eye towards how to reduce head impacts and thus head injuries. Rule changes have been implemented at many levels to reduce the risk of TBI. Kick off plays have been removed in some leagues and significantly reduced in others by moving the kick forward to almost ensure a touchback. The development of the targeting call has also been implemented.

The key issue, however, is training. Training players to look up when they tackle another player, or to use their chest rather than their head, neck or shoulders, can be an extremely important tool in reducing the risk of concussion and traumatic brain injury. If coaches can adopt “Heads Up” training techniques so tackling with one’s body becomes second nature, the number of head injuries and concussions is expected to decline, perhaps dramatically.

Talk to the Alabama Serious Injury Lawyers at Belt & Bruner, P.C. Today

If you or a loved one were injured in a devastating accident, call the serious injury lawyers from Belt & Bruner, P.C. at (205) 933-1500 or use our online form. We offer a case evaluation free of charge and are ready to help you obtain full compensation for your losses. With offices in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, and Montgomery, our traumatic brain injury lawyers will quickly travel to investigate your case.