Nov 30, 2009, 3:45 PM EDT
Football head injuries are in the news once again, as you Steelers and Cardinals fans — and most of all you fantasy owners — surely know. But while Mike Tomlin’s roster shenanigans with Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner’s occasional dizziness make for interesting dinner topics, a drama of a more somber, weighty sort is playing out in San Jose, Calif.
Matt Blea, a 16-year-old player for San Jose High Academy, is still in a physician-induced coma today following a football head injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day. Blea fell backward and struck his head on the artificial turf at San Jose City College after a collision with a player from Lincoln High School, who was about the same size.
Blea struggled to his feet, but moments later collapsed, lapsing in and out of consciousness as his father, who is one of the team’s coaches, begged him to stay awake.
“A lot of us are really hurt by what happened,” said Rafael Flores, a 17-year-old senior cornerback on the team. “Even though you’re wearing a helmet, to be between life and death like this scares you.”
The NFL, it was announced today, is preparing to issue a memo altering the rules of when players can return to a game. Roger Goodell is said to be in favor of banning players returning to the field following injuries if they feel “woozy, have general dementia or memory loss.”
NFL players have been getting their bells rung for decades, but it’s a big business now, and quarterbacks are getting hurt. But what of football at the high school and youth levels, where players are still growing and more susceptible to injury?
The incidence of catastrophic head injuries, including brain bleeding and swelling, is more than three times greater among high school football players than college players, according to the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
Another study done by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne showed that on average, high school players absorb blows to the head with more force than college players.
“You can play a long time, and then have that once-in-a-lifetime head injury. That’s it. It’s huge,” said Dr. Jim Kovach, a former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints. Now president of the Buck Institute for Age Research, his organization urges more study of the little-understood science of brain injury.
“The neck musculature of high school students is much less well developed,” said Kovach.
“Also, players learn over time how to fall. It would be highly unlikely to see an older player fall in this way, with the neck snapping back like that,” he said, of Blea’s injury.
I assume that high school players are larger, faster and more athletic than in the past, just as is the case in college and the NFL. If helmet technology can’t keep up with the punishing nature of the sport at the high school level, should football be banned? You don’t seem to have these problems with rugby, or, you know, chess.
San Jose High Academy football player Matt Blea remains in critical condition [San Jose Mercury News]
San Jose football player Matt Blea critical with head injury after Thanksgiving Day game [San Jose Mercury News]
Despite better coaching and equipment, head trauma remains a danger in high school football [San Jose Mercury News]
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