Posts Tagged ‘youth football’

Heads Up Football’s False Concussion Claims Exposed by New York Times

A recent article in the New York Times entitled “N.F.L.-Backed Youth Program Says It Reduced Concussions. The Data Disagrees” has exposed USA Football / Heads Up Football for publicizing misleading data and conclusions about the findings in the Datalys study. In their blogs, USAFB crowed about the effectiveness of the Heads Up Football program in reducing concussions; however, the actual data from the study do not support this.

Sadler Sports Insurance realized that misleading statements were being made several months ago after an independent review of the Datalys Study and mentioned this in our blog entitled AYF Study: 2005-15 Concussion Trends in Youth Tackle Football. We are in favor of getting the head out of the tackle, but have serious concerns about any program that publishes misleading conclusions in its blogs, especially when making the claim that their program is the standard in youth tackle football.

USAFB hired Datalys to study effectiveness of HUF and  practice contact restrictions

USAB hired and funded Datalys Center, an independent research firm specializing in sports injury research and prevention, to study player safety in youth football on a national level. They did so in an effort to promote safer playing standards and lessen injury risk, including concussions. Datalys completed a study in 2014 entitled Comprehensive Coach Education and Practice Contact Restriction Guidelines Result in Lower Injury Rates in Youth American Football.  The study compared overall injury rates, lost time injury rates, and concussion rates between three groups:

  1. Heads Up Football Leagues with Practice Restrictions (Combined HUF | Practice restriction)
  2. Heads Up Football Leagues without Practice Restrictions (HUF Only)
  3. Non Heads Up Football Leagues (Non HUF)

The study has been widely cited by USAFB and the NFL as evidence that Heads Up Football  leagues have significantly fewer injuries and fewer concussions than Non HUF leagues.

The unstated reason for the study was to prove that the HUF Only group significantly reduced concussion rates vs the Non HUF group.

It’s my opinion that the primary reason for the study was to find out if the HUF initiative reduces concussion rates in youth tackle football. Youth tackle football is under attack by the media and various researchers and activists, not because there are too many overall injuries, but instead because there are too many concussions and subconcussive impacts.

However, the statistics generated from the study were not favorable for the HUF Only leagues as regards to reduction of concussion rates. The concussion rates for the Non HUF leagues were actually a little lower than the HUF Only group, as will be explained.

USAFB made misleading claims about Datalys study

In various online publications such as its blog, USAFB made the following statement as regards the Datalys study (but recently taken down):

“Compared to non-Heads Up Football leagues, leagues that adopted Heads Up Football had a 34 percent reduction in concussions in practices and a 29 percent reduction of concussions in games.”

To the extent this statement appears to compare HUF Only leagues vs. Non HUF leagues, this is just not true according to Table 2 in the 2014 Datalys study.

What the math really says about concussion rates in HUF Only leagues vs Non HUF leagues

Table 2 of the Datalys study indicated the following about concussion rates in Combined HUF | Practice restriction leagues vs. HUF Only leagues vs. Non HUF leagues:


Practice concussion rate

Game concussion rate

Combined HUF|Practice restriction




HUF Only








Concussion rate is the rate per 1000 “athlete-exposures,” defined as one athlete’s participation in one practice or one competition.

It’s clear that the concussion rates are actually slightly greater for the HUF Only leagues as compared to the Non HUF leagues in both practices and in games, although these slight differences were statistically insignificant.

Practice restrictions drove the reduction in concussion rates in the study

The Combined HUF | Practice Restriction Group produced significantly lower concussion rates as compared to both the HUF Only leagues and the Non HUF leagues. Why is this the case? Is it the combined synergistic effect of HUF + practice restrictions or is it primarily due to practice restrictions?

The researchers lamented not having a group of leagues to study that consisted of leagues with practice restrictions, but not HUF. That is the only true way to isolate the practice restriction variable. Regardless, instituting HUF without practice restrictions did not reduce concussions.

Was a new group formed after the fact to rescue HUF?

It is possible that the misleading statistics referenced in the USAFB blogs differ from the Datalys study due to an attempt to rehabilitate the poor HUF Only performance?  A new group may have been formed, called “Leagues that implemented Heads Up Football,” consisting of all leagues that used HUF, regardless of whether or not they also used practice restrictions. Data from this new group is consistent with the statistics that were referenced in the USAFB blogs, which USAFB has since taken down. Because the injury rates were much lower in HUF leagues that used practice restrictions, the Datalys report separated out these groups to show the difference, whereas the USAFB blogs may have combined these groups to hide these differences. The statistics that were created in the blogs were misleading because they implied that HUF was the driving force behind lower injury rates and don’t give the practice restrictions the proper credit.

Our conclusions and what this means for brain injury / concussion risk management

We still believe that removing the head from the tackle is an important element of a youth tackle football brain injury / concussion risk management program.  However, it is clearly not the primary solution as touted by USAFB and the NFL. USAFB has hurt its credibility with this misleading marketing campaign.

AYF Study: 2005-15 Concussion Trends in Youth Tackle Football

Provides perspective for impact of education, getting head out of tackle, and practice restrictions

The latest American Youth Football (AYF) study on concussion trends reveals that education of administrators, coaches, parents, and players is having a positive impact on the identification of and more aggressive response to concussions. On the other hand, popular initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and practice contact restrictions may have a more limited role than portrayed by various groups due to the high percentage of concussions that would not be impacted by these measures. Nevertheless, these initiatives are important components of a broad based brain injury/concussion risk management program.

Updated statistics based on Accident insurance claims for 2005-15 seasons

AYF is the largest youth football organization in the U.S. and represents a wide cross section of players aged five to 15.  The data in this study is based on Accident insurance claims filed with the endorsed AYF insurance program through Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance. An injury questionnaire consisting of some 20 questions is completed by the authorized team official as a part of the claims filing process and the answers are input into a database. A variety of reports can be produced to drill down to answer specific questions about concussions. The study includes 3,855 injuries reported from 2005 through 2015 of which 434 are concussions. This study is a representative sample of concussion trends occurring not only in AYF, but in youth tackle football as a whole.

Concussions as a percentage of total injuries

What this tells us about the positive impact of concussion education

2015 14.48%
2014 16.18%
2013 16.41%
2012 15.99%
2011 11.55%
2010 7.73%
2009 8.20%
2008 6.36%
2007 5.88%
2006 3.80%
2005 6.72%
Total All Years 11.26%

Notice the spike in concussions reported in 2011 and continuing through 2015. This coincides with the media reports of the NFL class action lawsuit, other concussion related lawsuits, autopsies indicating CTE in deceased pro football players, and anecdotal stories of disabled pro athletes. This also coincides with the beginning of widespread and heavily publicized educational efforts on behalf of the Center for Disease Control and various football-sanctioning and governing bodies on concussion recognition, removal-from-play, medical response, and return-to-play protocols.

It appears that the media attention and educational efforts to train administrators, coaches, parents, and players are having a positive impact in that concussions are taken more seriously and reported more frequently than in past years. Suspected concussions are resulting in increased rates of emergency room and doctor office visits, and diagnosed concussions are resulting in more follow up care as pertains to return-to-play protocols. Overall, Accident insurance carriers are experiencing increased claims payouts for concussion care.

Concussion by situation (physical cause at point of contact)

What this tells us about initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and to limit contact at practice

Tackled by player 23%
Contact with ground 23%
Collision with opponent 18%
Tackling player 7%
Blocked by player 7%
Collision with teammate 6%
Blocking player 5%
Other 3%
Total 100%

The initiative to take the head out of contact as detailed by the Seahawks Tackling video or Heads Up Football (HUF) is very important, but not the magic silver bullet to solve the concussion problem in youth tackle football.

For argument’s sake, assuming that the initiative to remove the head from the tackle is 100% effective in reducing concussions (Datalys study by Kerr on HUF refutes this – see paragraph below), this would result in a reduction of concussions by 30% (sum of tackled by player 23% plus tackling player 7%). If heads-up blocking is added to this equation, that would result in a total reduction of 42% (add blocked by player 7% plus blocking player 5%). The other 58% of concussion claims that occur due to contact with ground, collision with opponent, collision with teammate, and other would not be touched by this initiative.

The above analysis assumes that HUF is 100% effective in reducing concussion claims arising from tackling and blocking. To the contrary, the Datalys study by Kerr in Table 2 indicates that HUF-only leagues have slightly higher concussion rates that non-HUF leagues. Let’s hope that future concussion studies with more participants reach a different conclusion.

On the other hand, the initiative to limit contact at practice would likely have a larger impact in reducing concussions among more categories of physical causes of loss, including contact with ground, collision with opponent, and collision with teammate.

Concussion by activity being performed


Tackling 33%
Running with ball 30%
Blocking 15%
Running w/out ball 6%
Shedding blocker 5%
Passing 3%
Catching ball 2%
Recovering fumble 1%
Other 5%
Total 100%

Concussion by event type (practice or game)

What this tells us about initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and to limit contact at practice

Practice 32%
Game 65%
Other 3%
Total 100%

Since most concussions occur during games and not practices, the initiative to limit contact at practice would only impact those 32% of concussions that occur during practice. With regard to the initiative to remove the head from the tackle, it’s easier to get the head out of the tackle in controlled practice drills as opposed to live action during games, and as a result, its effectiveness should be expected to be diminished as well.

Concussion by position played


Running back 20%
Linebacker 16%
Defensive line 16%
Quarterback 10%
Offensive line 8%
Secondary 7%
Receiver 4%
Practice drills 4%
Kickoff returner 2%
Kickoff blocker 2%
Kickoff tackler 2%
Punt tackler 1%
Punt return blocker 1%
Other 7%
Total 100%


Concussion by type of play from perspective of injured participant


Offense 42%
Defense 42%
Receiving kickoff 4%
Other practice 3%
Kicking off 2%
Punting 1%
Kicking field goal/extra point 1%
Other 5%
Total 100%

The kickoff accounts for 6% of total concussion injuries: 4% when receiving kickoffs plus 2% when kicking off. That statistic does not seem to be out of proportion with the total percentage of plays in a typical game that are kickoffs. Pop Warner recently banned kickoffs for ages 10 and under starting with the 2016 season due to perceived risks.  Based on our statistics, banning kickoffs would not appear to reduce concussion rates.

Concussion and absence from play


2011-2015 2005-2010
1 to 3 Weeks 44% 46%
3+ Weeks 27% 15%
1 to 7 Days 11% 18%
None 2% 7%
Unknown/Not Answered 16% 15%
Total 100% 100%

The period from 2011 to 2015 shows increased absence from play, i.e. later return-to-play times, presumably due to following suggested return-to-play protocols. The 3+ weeks category shows a significant increase with significant decreases in the “1 to 7 Days” and “None” categories. This is further evidence that increased educational initiatives are having a positive impact on concussion treatment.

Concussion and weight of injured player compared to other players


About-average weight 78%
Below-average weight 10%
Above-average weight 6%
Significantly below-average weight 1%
Significantly above-average weight 1%
Other 4%
Total 100%

It appears that players of below-average weight are only slightly more susceptible to concussions than players in the other weight categories. Players classified as significantly below-average weight have the same percentage of concussions as players of significantly-above average weight.

Conclusions about concussions from the study of Accident insurance claims

The higher rates of concussion reporting and more aggressive medical care and return-to-play protocols seem to validate that concussion education is having a positive impact. Initiatives to get the head out of the tackle and to limit contact at practice, while not game changers in themselves, are important components of a broad based concussion/brain injury risk management program as they have the potential to reduce a significant percentage of concussions and subconcussive impacts. Our statistics indicate that practice restrictions may play a larger role than removing the head from the tackle. Additional studies with more participants are required before firm conclusions can be drawn on these concussion reducing initiatives.

Beware USA Heads Up Football League Contractual Requirements

Posted | Filed under Football

Leagues forced to share liability limits and assume liability that should belong to HUF

Last September, we posted “USA | Heads Up Football Imposes Onerous Contractual Requirements On Leagues” in an effort to educate our clients on how they were exposing themselves to legal risk when they signed the 2015 Heads Up Football (HUF) contract. In summary, most leagues that signed the contract were unknowingly reducing (i.e. giving up) their valuable league insurance limits by sharing them with HUF and were contractually accepting liability that should otherwise belong to HUF.

This conclusion was not just my opinion as a 30-year veteran sports insurance specialist, sports risk manager, and attorney, but was also the opinion of the experts at a major sports insurance carrier.

HUF is taking advantage of its superior negotiating strength to transfer insurance responsibility and litigation risk to the leagues that usually don’t have the luxury of staff legal counsel to review contracts on their behalf. That’s a smart move by HUF if no one notices and they can get away with it. However, it’s my job to educate my league clients so that they are informed decision makers before they give away their rights and protection.

Negotiation attempts with HUF have not been productive

During the off season, we shared our concerns and thoughts with USA Football about a more equitable HUF contract that would be fair to our insurance clients.  However, the recently released 2016 Heads Up Football Youth Coach Training agreement does not provide any relief on these unfair provisions. This is very disconcerting, and leagues need to understand this risk prior to signing the 2016 contract.

What do we have against USA Heads Up Football?

Absolutely nothing. We commend them for developing the HUF program and they are one of the few vendors providing this type of training to get the head out of the tackle. We just want them to back their product and to use their own insurance limits if they are sued in conjunction with a league for negligent course content or negligent training.

Does USA Heads Up Football have a different opinion?

Yes, they have a different opinion and think that their contract is equitable. We just disagree and want to work with them to clarify some provisions. This is a highly technical contractual problem with potentially serious consequences for our clients.

Would you turn over your liability insurance limits to football helmet manufacturers and agree to accept their liability?

What if you wanted to buy new football helmets for your league and you approached the big helmet manufacturers, Riddell, Schutt, and Adams? And what if they told you that you could not buy their product unless you named them as a primary additional insured under your General Liability policy and signed an indemnification / hold harmless provision agreeing to accept their liability if you did not meet 10 of their conditions? I’m sure you would be outraged. You would probably be wondering why they did not want to be responsible for the safety of their own product and why they wanted to tap into your insurance limits and reduce your potential coverage when they already buy their own insurance. This situation is very similar to what HUF is trying to accomplish. Both are vendors of a high-risk product and/or service. If you wouldn’t accept this from the helmet manufacturers, why would you accept the same from HUF?

Are there any alternatives?

Some youth football leagues may want to explore other coach training options to get the head out of the tackle such as the  2015 Seahawks Tackling video. The  Seattle Seahawks video was developed by coach Pete Carroll and delivers online training to coaches on rugby style tackling techniques. It includes drill demonstrations and actually displays techniques during live action. The 2014 video was updated for 2015 and is touted as an excellent resource for youth tackle football coaches. AYF has developed an online test that can be found on their website that goes along with the video to verify that the coach has learned the essential elements.

Coach training to remove the head from the tackle is an important part of any youth tackle football concussion/brain injury risk management program. We discussed this in our recent post, “The Truth About Concussion Risk Management In Youth Tackle Football.”

The Truth About Concussion Risk Management in Youth Football

How to Plan a Youth Football Brain Injury Risk Management Program

Local associations must adopt and implement a concussion/brain injury management program to battle looming liability crisis.

For the past three years, Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance has been urging our youth tackle football clients to implement comprehensive brain injury risk management programs to help to prevent injuries and resulting lawsuits from becoming insurance claims. In the event that a lawsuit is filed by an injured participant, whether from a single concussion, multiple concussions, or cumulative traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), it is crucial for a local association to show that it has complied with the national standard of care for brain injury protection. Doing so not only protects the players against injuries and the association and staff against lawsuits, but also protects the General Liability insurance carrier, which makes it more likely that brain injury coverage will be available in the future.

Standard of care owed is determined by state legislation, case law, sanctioning and governing bodies, risk management resources, and expert witnesses

In a negligence-based lawsuit, the claimant filing the lawsuit must prove that a duty was owed, the duty was breached, and that the breach was the cause of the damages. The duty that is owed is also known as the standard of care. The standard of care to protect against brain injury for youth football players will be determined by state legislation, case law, sanctioning and governing bodies, risk management resources, and expert witnesses.

Depending on the source, some standards are mandated and others are recommended or are just guidelines. However, understand that the claimant’s attorney will argue that even recommended standards and guidelines should be implemented by a reasonable and prudent youth football association.

9 Elements of a solid written risk management program for youth football associations

The following elements should be considered by local tackle football associations when developing their concussion/brain injury risk management program.

  1. Written program

A written risk management program should be adopted by board action and communicated to all administrators, staff, players, and parents. A written program that builds in accountability is much more likely to be implemented than a program that is not in writing.

  1. Educational awareness through online training and information handouts

Coaches should receive training and certification in both 1) concussion basics for youth sports through the CDC Concussion Training CourseNAYS Concussion Training Course, or a similar online course, and 2) a tackle training program on how to remove the head from the tackle such as through Seahawks Tackling.

Players and Parents should receive and be required to sign off and return to the association a concussion fact sheet handout from the CDC or a similar source at the beginning of every season.

  1. Document retention

The local association should maintain documentation of coach training certificates and player/parent fact sheets for 15 years. Note that a 5-year-old child may wait until age 20 in many states before filing a lawsuit for a past injury.

  1. Baseline and post injury neurocognitive testing

This is a rapidly changing area with the emergence of new, lower-cost technologies where baseline and post-injury testing can be delivered on the sidelines through smart phones and tablets. So far, baseline neurocognitive testing is considered to be a voluntary measure in most instances.

  1. Identify suspected cases of concussions

The highest medical authority (M.D., D.O.,  athletic trainer, or person with EMT or Red Cross certification) at a practice or game should make the call in terms of signs observed by parents, guardians, or sports staff and symptoms reported by player. The highest authority must be aware of danger signs that would result in an immediate trip to the emergency room and in questions to ask and exertional maneuvers to perform to identify a potential concussion. Identification of potential concussions is a rapidly evolving area with a number of new tools that have recently hit the market or that will soon be available, such as helmet impact indicators, smart phone/tablet apps for sideline testing of memory and fine motor coordination to compare to baseline results, tablet eye-tracking devices, telemedicine with doctors via smart phones, etc.

  1. Actions to take if a concussion is suspected

Remove the athlete from play, make sure the athlete is evaluated by an M.D. or D.O., inform parents through the CDC fact sheet, and keep the athlete out of play until written return-to-play medical clearance is received from a qualified medical provider. Some state concussion laws allow return-to-play medical clearance by a “health care provider” which may also encompass professionals such as physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners.

  1. Reduce full contact during practices

The Datalys Study by Kerr indicates that limiting contact at practice may reduce concussions in youth tackle football. Governing and sanctioning bodies have started to adopt contact limitation guidelines.

  1. Proper fitting and care of helmets

This has always been and continues to be of critical importance in protecting youth football players from head and neck injuries. A number of online guides and videos are available from helmet manufacturers to assist coaches and equipment managers in this area. A list of these sources can be found on the risk management section of our website.

  1. Compliance with state concussion laws and governing body and sanctioning body requirements or recommendations

Any risk management program should comply with the standards as prescribed by state concussion legislation (this only applies to schools in some states) and governing body (USAFB) and sanctioning body (AYF, Pop Warner) requirements and recommendations.

Based on my 30 years of experience in the sports insurance niche and the potential for brain injury litigation, I would not want to be a board member or staff member involved with a youth tackle football organization that did not have an effective, formally-adopted and fully-implemented written concussion/brain injury risk management program.

Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance has developed a sample concussion/brain injury risk management program for our youth football clients that incorporates the elements listed above and that can be downloaded from our website in WORD document format.

10-Second Sideline Concussion Test

 Software tracks eye movement on iPad

As the sports world continues to focus on concussion prevention, it’s no wonder innovators are coming up with faster, smarter ways to detect a brain injuries. EyeGuide, start-up group out of Texas, has introduced a concussion

EyeGuide’s Focus technology uses a headset connected to an iPad to track eye movement. Users set a baseline reading and then repeat the test when it’s suspected they may have suffered a concussion. Coaches can have each player take the test at the beginning of the season to set their normal baseline eye function. The Focus is then used on the sidelines for immediate comparison on players suspected of suffering concussions.

New technology using known methods of concussion detection.

EyeGuide’s Focus system was developed after years of research at Texas Tech University. The software quickly measures neurological impairment following protocols established in neuroscience research. There are similar products on the market aimed at aiding coaches and trainers to detect concussions immediately.

Eyeguide explains the Focus technology in layman’s terms by comparing it to the follow-my-finger eye test given to suspected drunk drivers.

Players avoiding concussion diagnosis vs. intelligent technology

Approximately 500,000 concussions are reported in youth sports across the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Eyeguide, knowing that even more concussion go unreported, took into account that players fear being removed from play if they report symptoms of a concussion.The Focus technology gets smarter with use as it compares each player’s eye movements with a database of other athlete’s records. This prevents players from cheating the system.

Company still awaiting funding

The company is still awaiting start-up financing, which it believes to be imminent. Therefore, the product has not yet hit the market.

Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance is all about safety and injury prevention. We offer more information on concussion research and prevention on our blog and free concussion risk management resources in our risk management library.

Source:  Mary-Ann Russon, “EyeGuide Focus: This eye-tracking headset can diagnose concussions in just 10 seconds,” 3 Dec. 2015.

Concussion Paranoia Trend in Youth Tackle Football on Decline

Many mainstream media outlets, bloggers and brain injury research groups have had a field day so far in reporting on the dangers of concussions and CTE and how youth tackle football is very dangerous. It seems as if many of them need for football to be very dangerous to further their interests. Generally, those in the media need an entertained audience and research groups need continued funding.

We recently blogged about two events that represent a return to common sense. The first is a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on safety in youth tackle football. The second is news that a judge dismissed a concussion class-action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association. Interestingly enough, neither of these two events have received any significant amount of press.

Just to be clear, the media and these brain injury research groups have served an important function in the education of players, parents, administrators and staff on the dangers of concussions and too early return to play. They also reinforced the need for mandatory concussion risk management protocols that must be implemented by local youth tackle football organizations. Please see our youth tackle football brain injury risk management program under the concussion resources of the risk management page on our website. However, talk of widespread brain damage in youth football and the need to ban football is not based in science.

AAP Makes Safety Recommendations for Youth Tackle Football

American Academy of Pediatrics says no need to delay teaching of proper tackling techniques to younger age groups

The American Academy of Pediatrics is tackling the issue of safety in youth football with new recommendations published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics. The AAP statement is a result of research on football injuries, head and neck injuries in particular, and the connection between tackling to football-related injuries.

The main points of the AAP recommendations are:

  • Enforcement of proper tackling methods by officials and coaches, i.e. not tolerating head-first tackles.
  • Informing players about the benefits of play vs. potential risk of injury.
  • Offering more players opportunities to play through expansion of non-tackle leagues.
  • Putting athletic trainers on the field to assist in preventing injuries.

No perfect answers to safety risks

The removal or delay of introducing tackling are ideas that get floated regularly. According to Greg Landry, co-author of AAP’s recommendation statement, delaying the tackling experience until players are older and stronger could actually result in higher injury rates. The AAP would not go so far as to recommend removing tackling from youth football. Doing so would “dramatically reduce the risk of serious injuries to players, but it would fundamentally change the sport,” said William Meehan, III, a co-author of the statement.

The AAP stance is that proper tackling techniques should be taught early, even if tackling isn’t incorporated into the game. The AAP also encourages reducing the impact to players’ heads through ongoing coach instruction in proper tackling methods.

Tackle football is played by nearly 1.1 million high school players and consistently ranks as one of the most popular sports for youth athletes. There are untold millions  more ranging from 5 to 15 years of age playing in youth leagues.

In my opinion

These common sense recommendations help to restore balance when so many are trying to stir the pot and predict the “end of football” for their self serving interests. The bottom line is that all sports and recreational activities involve risks, but in most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. I do question whether youth leagues can afford to have athletic trainers on the sidelines at every practice.

Source: “The American Academy of Pediatrics Tackles Youth Football Injuries.” 25 Oct. 2015.

IL High School Assn. Concussion Class-action Lawsuit Dismissed

Judge uses head in rendering decision

An Illinois concussion class-action lawsuit, which is the first concussion class action against a state high school association, has been dismissed. The suit was filed by players against the Illinois High School Association. The judge ruled that IHSA has put policies in place to improve the safety of the game and minimize brain injury risks. Judge Leroy Martin, Jr. also stated that mandating costly requirements would only cause football to be unaffordable for many schools.

The judge recognized IHSA’s efforts to protect student athletes, and that it has no direct relationship to football or the plaintiffs. In addition, his written decision read in part, “Imposing broader liability on this defendant would certainly change the sport of football and potentially harm it or cause it to be abandoned.”

The suit against the IHSA is the first of its kind against an organization overseeing high school football. The plaintiffs were asking the court to supervise high school management of football head injuries and seeking payment for medical testing of former students who played from as far back as 2002. The suit’s lead plaintiff played from 2010 to 2014 and states he continues to suffer memory loss from injuries suffered during that time.

The arguments

IHSA argued that it’s not an NFL-like cash cow and has an annual revenue of only $10 million to cover over 40 sports and other activities among the state’s high schools. There would be no room in the budget to comply with any requirements imposed by the court, according Thomas Heiden, the attorney representing IHSA.  He also argued that covering the payment the plaintiffs requested would lead to poorer schools shutting down their football programs and leaving only the students in wealthy schools eligible to participate.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Siprut, IHSA was giving the false notion that high school football is being threatened, and that improved safety would lead to its survival. He argued that the sport is already in danger since many fearful parents are not allowing their students to play.

In my opinion

This is a common sense ruling that may help to restore some balance against the media and research group-induced paranoia that evidently needs youth and high school football to be very dangerous to serve their interests. But, of course, this is just a trial court ruling and we probably have not seen the last of these. The good news is that the educational outreach programs and new risk management protocols seem to be having a positive impact.

Source: Michael Tarm and Sara Burnett, “Judge Tosses Concussions Lawsuit,” 20 Oct., 2015.

Balancing the Concussion Hype

Looking at both sides of the sensationalism

Over the past few years, the media has kept concussions, particularly with respect to football, in the headlines – some would argue ad nauseum. But the truth is, the press attention and research into causes, long-term effects and prevention is provoking both good and bad outcomes.

The best outcome is the awareness being brought to the general public about diagnosis, second-impact syndrome, removal, and return-to-play policies. Players who have been clocked are no longer being told to “just suck it up.” There are now concussion laws on the books in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and required concussion training for youth coaches and athletic trainers.

However, there is definitely a downside to the hysteria, according to Rance A. Boren, a Texas neurologist. “The notion that everyone who plays football going to be mentally unstable in 15 years is just not true,” he said.

Boren points out that the majority of sports concussion research has focused on professional and college level athletes, not high school athletes. This generally points to the number of hits a player sustains over a period of time, as opposed to the force of a few hits. A player with a decade-long professional career preceded by four years of college ball who likely also played youth football is an example of someone at risk for the long-term injuries frequently seen in the media. The kid who started playing football at 12 and stopped after three or four years of high school ball is hardly ever in that risk category.

It’s important to understand that CTE is not a risk associated with young football athletes –  only a small fraction of NFL and college players exhibit its effects.  CTE is not caused by a single or even multiple concussions that have been properly treated. The word chronic in CTE means the trauma resulted from multiple sub-concussive brain injuries sustained over a long period of time. CTE is usually something boxers or NFL linemen might experience after sustaining thousands of blows to the head over the course of their careers.

However, second-impact syndrome and unreported concussions resulting in subsequent injuries are more common at the high school level. Susceptibility to second-impact syndrome is biological. Boren explains that “metabolic buffering syntheses” haven’t been able to reset. So if you are hit again during that short period between an initial hit and recovery, then you are going to do more damage. If you are then hit again, then you do even more damage.”

It’s for this reason that the University Interscholastic League instituted a 10-day return-to-play rule. The 10-day period begins after all symptoms of concussion have subsided. Returning to play too soon can affect reaction time and  vision, which leaves players vulnerable to other injuries.

We invite you to read our many articles on concussions and concussions relating to football.

Source: Travis M. Smith, “Concussions: A headache of a problem,” 23 June, 2015.



Innovative sports equipment and safety regulations

Weeding through the hype

There’s an abundance of sports equipment manufacturers coming up with innovative products intended to make contact sports safer. The ongoing concern about concussions, particularly among youth athletes, is a focus and big money maker for many of these manufacturers.

As Eric Berman, an advertising and antitrust attorney, points out in a recent article, manufacturers compete for a share in the market by advertising their products’ safety features. However, the claims made by advertisers and marketers and the science they use to bolster those claims will be scrutinized by both regulators and consumers. Berman’s article discusses the false advertising claims recently being denied by a federal judge in the Riddell Revolution helmet case.

Riddell may have prevailed, but manufacturers will be held to the FTC’s new stringent test data retention requirements. It’s important that advertiser claims are supported by science and that all the documented data, test protocols and records for the clinical studies are maintained.

All that is well and good, but the best way to lower the risk of concussions and other sports-related injuries is through risk management and proper technique training based on credible scientific research. We encourage you to read some of our many articles advocating for risk management policies and concussion education. A perfect example is the Seattle Seahawks’ tackling video, which was released in 2014 as a way to educate coaches and players about their team’s methods of tackling.

Don’t count on technology to provide the safety you can achieve using common sense and proven methods.