Football is in trouble. Can science save it?

Growing up, I used to have those
“head across” tackles. I used to get my bell rung. I was asking, “Coach, what happened?” This is Scott Lawyer. He started playing football when he was 10 years old, and continued into college. When he says “getting your bell rung,” he means getting a concussion. It’s a term you hear all of the time in
football because, well, concussions are kind of common. At its worst, the latest studies show repeated brain trauma causes a sometimes-fatal condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The research has some prominent neurologists saying that there’s no safe way to play tackle football. And it’s forced the NFL to look for ways to make the most popular sport in the US safer. You don’t have to go too far to know somebody that is concerned about their kid playing football, because of this safety issue, and this concussion and CTE issue. Karen Bryant is the CEO of Atavus, where Scott works. The company wants to
change how football players tackle. Atavus is part of a boutique industry
that’s emerged in recent years, of companies aiming to improve the sport. We believe that the long-term impact, the biggest impact, is to focus on changing behavior, changing behavior of coaches,
changing the approach of coaches, and ultimately changing the way players tackle, and the way they’re taught to
tackle. Here’s how it works. Notice how Scott pushes off his right foot and strikes with his right shoulder. He uses the same foot and shoulder
to maintain momentum, while keeping his head out of play. This is what it looks like in a game, in a commercial the NFL made, calling the tackle “the future of football.” ‘There’s no head involved in these tackles at all.’ ‘We think it’s safer.’ For comparison, this is what
a normal, non-Atavus tackle looks like. You grow up with the style of
head-across, it’s hard to get that out of your mind. But that muscle memory from Atavus, and the strategic and the systematic approach we take really helps players have that muscle memory, really feel it come second nature to them. A handful of major colleges, and one pro team, have adopted this brand of tackling. But Atavus has only been around since 2013. And they’re still gathering data to
test whether their tackle is safer. Even if it is, sometimes players will still
get hit in the head. That’s something other startups, like
this company, Vicis, are trying to address. Vicis got a grant from the NFL
to try to build a better helmet. Our focus is just building a helmet that reduces impact forces. Traditional helmets have a hard plastic shell and some sort of padding on the inside. Our helmet actually deforms, or yields upon impact, like a car bumper would, and in doing so, it slows impact forces
before they can reach the head. Depending on the location, we can reduce those impact forces by 40% or so. More than 20 college teams, and at least a dozen NFL teams, will have players wearing the zero-one in 2018. But, like Atavus, their work is so new that they don’t have the data to show whether their helmets prevent CTE. We don’t make any claims about our helmets’ ability to reduce concussion risk or CTE risk. What we do do, is we say, “Here’s the data: Our helmet reduces impact forces
more effectively than other helmets.” These startups are a step
in the right direction, but most experts say improving tackles and helmets alone won’t eliminate concussions from the game. When you’re hit here, your neck starts
moving. And it whips the brain around. And that’s what I believe, and I think a lot of other people believe, causes concussions. So if you want to eliminate concussions, you need to do something about the neck movement. Dr. Jam Ghajar is the director of Stanford University’s Concussion and Brain Performance Center, and a professor of neurosurgery. He says a lot of research suggests that the
sudden rotation of the skull is what most damages the brain, even if the head is protected. Ghajar says solving this would make a lot of sports safer. Not just football. It’ll be a very small device linking the back of the neck. And it’ll prevent this this certain kind of motion that’s producing concussions. And that’ll be the cure. And then you can do all these sports, even martial arts and boxing, and you’ll have a dramatic decrease in concussions, better brain health, better performance. It’s all that, but we have to we have to
understand what the problem is first. He believes we’re working towards a future
where playing America’s favorite sport won’t mean putting your brain at risk. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Something has to change. I think you’d be
hard-pressed to find anybody— layperson, hardcore football fan—that wouldn’t acknowledge that something has to give. So, whether the word drastic is
appropriate or not, don’t know. Can’t comment on, sort of, how drastic
that change might be. But something has to change.

31 thoughts on “Football is in trouble. Can science save it?

  1. A few years ago, I stopped watching the NFL for a few reasons: The league's willful ignorance to CTE and domestic abuse, it started to get boring to watch, and my hometown Cleveland Browns are just dysfunctional.

  2. This is why I stopped playing. I started noticing the effects of repeated concussions and knew if I kept it up my twilight years would be….difficult

  3. Handegg is lame and ignorant. Its dangerous and for a silly cause. Most cause is for money. Whats the point when you will most Defiently end up with CTE by the time you make it to NFL

  4. in boxing the sparring helmets have been proven to increase concussions. This is something that absolutely has to be tested before implementation

  5. even though im not a football fan, i sure hope stuff like this can help alleviate concussions a lot & save football. itll help boxing & many many sports where u get hit in the head as a normal occurence a lot as well too.

  6. How bout we get rid of the face mask or the helmet in general. No one would want to get there head involved at all and would stop using it as a weapon.

  7. I use to play for a team in the Bert bell memorial football league and I played on the offensive line for 7 years and I never saw another player get a concussion and neither have I and we play this football, it’s called heads up football and tackling some one with you head down is a 15 yard penalty and multiple offensives in a game can get you ejected.

  8. oh americants, so smug they feel the need to reinvent the wheel. There already is a safer version of american football, it's called rugby.

    Remove the safety equipment(yes, you heard me you snowflakes, bruises aren't the problem it's frequency – both durring the game and training).

    Less equipment automatically makes the player feel more vulnerable both durring training or on game day. We instinctively don't go 120%. This is why boxing ends up to be more violent than MMA. Having to train skin on skin will prevent players to go overboard under the tension of a game. You feel a direct concussion, you don't feel it micro-concussions that occur hundreds of times durring a week of training and a game.

    Other things americans could learn. Stop making doing plays and start actually playing. Make clear strict rules about contact and tackles and discourage "plays". Make laxer rules about the actual gameplay, preventing cheats or negative plays and encouraging people to play the game rather than go for a call.

    It's too easy when you play for 3 yards at a time to take risky damaging plays – not to mention it's boring as all hell. Make defending more than just having big guys pushing against other big guys. How many QBs would be worth a damn if they had only a 3 second cap on selecting a pass? Just saying, maybe you'd get QBs that are actually smart instead of just capable of throwing stuff hard to people that are amazing runners.

  9. Helmets are great and all, but the brain will still move inside the skull itself making contact with the walls of bone. Which is why a concussion happens. It's like making a box to prevent water from moving in a bucket while throwing it out a window.

  10. Rugby is safer cause the players aren't padded. The pads remove inhibition to protect yourself. It's a collision sport, not a tackle sport.

  11. "the atavus has only been around since 2013"

  12. The only problem with this is that football players aren't standing straight up most of the time when getting tackled

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