Head trauma controversy surrounds high school athletics


Photo Credit: Arman Azad

Head trauma is a constant concern for football players.

Public awareness surrounding the risk of head trauma in sports has spiked in light of recent lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA.

As many as 70% of high school football players will sustain a concussion in their career, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In early October, three students died in football-related head injuries within a week of each other. On October 17, a high school football player from Mecklenburg County, Virginia died from blunt force trauma to the head.

While some argue that improvements in football safety should be the sport’s top priority, others, like Flint Hill coaches, say the game is not as dangerous in high school as some make it out to be. How does this phenomenon affect our school?

One may be surprised to learn that head injuries in high school football have in fact declined dramatically in recent decades. However, according to FHS fitness and strength coach Peter Salvano, parents are more concerned than ever about this risk.

Salvano said that many tend to confuse the NFL’s weak rules and regulations with more stringent regulations practiced at the high school level. Salvona added that parents’ concerns about high school football safety have led to upgrades in helmet technology over the past thirty to forty years.

Indeed, according to Newsday, better equipment and changing rules targeting concussions assisted in dropping the number of deaths directly related to high school football from 119 in the 1970s to 33 in the 1990s. These numbers do not include indirect deaths, such as collapsing from heat stroke during practice.

“They are always upgrading helmets to make them better immensely over the years,” said Salvano. “People have had more concerns which have improved helmets dramatically. For example, high-school football has changed immensely over the past 30-40 years. Nowadays, you cannot lead your head for an attack. High-school football and the NFL are completely different.”

At Flint Hill, approximately 10 students have had concussion-related injuries so far this fall, though some have been for sports other than football, according to Derek Ross, head athletic trainer and director of internal transportation.

That number would, according to Ross, “increase a bit more” if it included incidents that were not athletic-related. Salvano has noted that the reality of high school football is that the plays and safety measures have been altered to be much less risky than the NFL’s. In the professional world, one can lead in with his head, a move banned in high school football.

“The athletes’ health and safety is our number one priority,” Salvano said.