The safety of Football and Head Injuries

Without a doubt, the biggest issue regarding sports today is the meteoric rise of head injuries suffered among athletes. Head injuries have always been an issue in sports, but we are more aware of them today and we know more of the serious effects that concussions can have. Athletes are not only suffering in the short term, but they are experiencing serious long term effects that are detrimental to their health and wellbeing. Many are starting to question if the benefits of participating in high contact sports are worth the risks that athletes put them through. Players these days are piling up concussions and it is putting their future at risk. Many are pleading for Broncos receiver, Wes Welker, to retire from the game after receiving yet another concussion. Sports writer Jeff Pearlman wrote a letter to Wes, explaining to him that next game isn’t that important and neither is this year’s Super Bowl, but what is important is his family and his long term health (http://www.jeffpearlman.com/dear-wes-welker/). Should athletes continue to play sports in an era where head injuries are so prevalent and one’s career and future health could be impacted at any moment?

Obviously head injuries need to try to be eliminated in sports to the best of their ability to keep safety and health a priority for the athletes. But we have to understand that these safety procedures are not always beneficial for every party involved. For example, let’s take a look at football and the lengths the NFL has made to try to reduce the rates of concussions. No longer in the NFL are players allowed to make contact with the head or neck area on a defenseless player. This may seem like a great rule for the safety of the players, but this actually hurts the defensive players and puts them at risk for injury. Since the players are not allowed to hit the players in the head area, they have to lower their target area and they often make tackles with their head and neck area exposed. An example of this was seen this season with 49er rookie safety, Eric Reid. Reid has suffered two concussions this year because of the way he has been forced to tackle opposing players. Reid suffered his first concussion when he tried to tackle Seahawks wide receiver Sydney Rice. Reid could have led with his head but he would have been flagged for hitting Rice with his helmet when the receiver was defenseless. Reid had to change his tackling style and he ended turning his head when tackling the receiver and he took the force of the hit on his neck area and suffered his first concussion. The truth is Reid and other small safeties often put their own health at risk when tackling bigger receivers because they often have to lead with their head to tackle these players in open space (for more information on Reid’s tackling style, visit http://www.ninersnation.com/2013/11/17/5109616/eric-reid-concussion-nfl-safety-49ers). I bring this point up because people often think that eliminating contact to the head will decrease the rate of concussions. The truth is, by protecting one group of players, you are putting the other group at risk. There is truly no winner with head injuries in sport.

Another repercussion of the new rules in football is the rise of ACL and other knee injuries because of the new rule changes. The rule changes preventing hits to the heads forces players to aim at the knees of offensive players. Players often cannot react quickly enough to avoid a player launching at their knees and catastrophic knee injuries often result. Statistics actually show that knee injuries that place players on season ending injury reserve have skyrocketed since these new rules have been implemented. Last year there were 28 more players who suffered knee injuries that ended their season than the year before. This year, through week 15, there have been 11 more season ending knee injuries than through the same point last year. For more information and statistics, visit http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/106384/inside-slant-knee-injuries-on-rise-overall). These knee injuries will continue to increase every year as long as players are forced to lower their strike zone when making a tackle. We just saw this past weekend how Rob Gronkowski suffered a horrific knee injury when making a catch over the middle. Maybe two years ago, the defensive player would hit him higher on his body and Gronkowski wouldn’t be hurt. But since players are penalized and even fined when making illegal hits, they are forced to go towards the knee area when making a tackle. Is it fair that Rob Gronkowski had to go through season ending knee surgery and the rest of his career may be in jeopardy?

If we try to eliminate head injuries, than we are exposing other players to injuries because of the adjustments that have to be made when tackling. But the truth is there is no way to completely eliminate injuries form contact sport, besides eliminating contact all together. There will either be an increase in head injuries or an increase in knee injuries, but either way the player’s health and wellbeing will be affected. We know how hard it is to come back from injury, both mentally and physically. Rob Gronkowski will have to go through yet another surgery and decide to himself if this is all worth it. I think the NFL needs to continue to keep safety at a premium, but they need to realize that knee injuries can be just as hard on the athlete as head injuries are. At the end of the day, medicine has gotten much better and an ACL can be replaced, but return to normal brain function cannot. Concussions present long term detrimental effects that influence health and wellbeing. Research needs to continue and safety needs to be implemented, but there is no way to avoid injury in contact sport. As long as athletes accept this risk, they should continue to play if it is something they choose to do. 

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Sports Bring More to the Table Than Just Health

Some people might wonder why we participate in sport. Some might say it is a great way to stay in shape and be healthy, but I believe sports are more important than that. Health may be a good reason to start playing a sport, but it’s the sport itself that keeps us coming back. A person may start riding a bike to get in shape for a wedding, but they will continue to ride bikes even after the wedding because it is something they enjoy. If a pill was created that cured all sedentary diseases, people would still gravitate to sport because health is not the reason we participate in sport. Sports are an outlet that lets us be at one with ourselves and that enjoyment is something that can never be taken away from us.

The fun of sports greatly outweighs the health benefits from being physically active. In fact, we often see cases of players ignoring health standards to play the game that they love. A great example of this is offensive linemen in football, where the name of the game for them is “the bigger, the better”. We often see high school players putting health to the side and trying to gain more weight so that college scouts will look their way. According to an article by Tim Stevens, players bulk up at the risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and extra weight that can cause life time concerns. These linemen will do anything to reach the magic number of 300 pounds, even if it means eating their way to that weight (For more information on the health habits of high school linemen, visit: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/12/3272451/how-300-pounds-became-high-school.html). For these players, health is not a concern, and being healthy can actually limit how well they can play. The smaller they are, the harder it is to move people out of the way. To continue playing the game they love and getting the value out of sport, they need to ignore health and get bigger by any means necessary.

So what is the value of sport and why do people participate, even when it means putting their health at risk? Many athletes don’t care about the consequences of participating in sport because the joy they experience is enough to outweigh any possible concern. When athletes are playing sports, they are at play. According to Kretchmar, play is not the consequence of duty, fear, necessity, or even courageous self-sacrifice, but rather it is what those who have an adventuresome heart want to do (p. 147). Athletes who truly love their sport participate in it, not because they are forced to, but because it is what they love and want to do. They don’t see sport as a way to stay in shape or an avenue to get injured, but rather a place where they can escape from the world and do what they love to do. Health benefits are just a bonus to the true value we get out of sport. In the same respect, injuries are just a minor step back in our process of finding ourselves through play. Look at Kobe Bryant for example, he is doing everything in his power to get back on the court after major Achilles surgery that would be career threatening for most players his age. Some people wouldn’t understand why someone with all the money in the world would be rushing back to play and possibly putting themselves at risk for further injury. For Kobe, the answer to that is simple, it’s all about the challenge. In an interview with Mike Trudell, Bryant said that it is not about proving the doubters wrong, but rather facing the challenge form within (for the full interview, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uODSzxe8Ybo). Just like in Kretchmar’s definition of play, Kobe does not play basketball to please anyone else, but he plays the sport to please himself. He loves the challenge of trying to make himself better every day and he could not get that same challenge in any other outlet. You could take away all the external benefits of playing sports (money, health, etc.) and Kobe would still be playing basketball because he feels autonomous on the basketball court and that is a feeling that is often hard to replicate.

So we know the elite competitor like Kobe Bryant would continue to play sports with no external benefits, but what about the average person? I still say an average person would continue to play sports because many people participate in sports for the same reason Kobe does. They play because sports are fun, they can feel in control, and they enjoy competition. More important than that, sports provide a social element that can’t be matched by other activities. In fact, youth sports statistics showed that 65% of young athletes play sports to be around friends (for the complete survey, visit: http://www.statisticbrain.com/youth-sports-statistics/). Sports are a great avenue to have fun with your friends and even make new friends. People join basketball leagues to be around other people who love the same thing they do. Health is not a primary concern for these individuals and their focus is more centered on the social-connectedness that sport brings. You often don’t see ten friends going to the gym to bench press with each other; it just doesn’t work. Sports are a fun way to get multiple people involved in an activity and everyone can feel like they are contributing.

Sports and play will always be around, even if health is no longer a concern, because they are so unique in nature that nothing else could compare. Sports make us feel connected with others and help us feel better about ourselves. Health is not often a reason people play sports because the health benefits we receive do not compare with the internal benefits. It is hard to match the joy feel when playing the sport we love and sports will always be around as long as that emotion still exists.

Dangerous Sport is Play, Not Danger

Physical Activity is something that we do as humans because it is innately fun, but with this fun comes risks that we do not always account for. Activity increases our wellbeing. When we are at play, we are one with the world around us and we don’t tend to think that we are putting ourselves at danger; we are just having fun. But the truth is that physical activity does present risks in its own right. We can get seriously injured or even die doing activities that we love to do. Where do we draw the line between fun and danger? Is it safe for athletes to be competing in events that bring with them such dangerous scenarios? I say that the joy athletes get out of their respective sport is enough to overcome any danger that they may face.

J.S. Russel’s article “The Value of Dangerous Sport” explains how dangerous sport can bring intrinsic value to the athletes that participate in them. Russell talks about an idea that dangerous sport brings “self-affirmation” to the athlete. Dangerous Sport affirms who we are by pushing the ordinary boundaries of our lives and challenges us to be a better person. It tests us by requiring us to make the most out of our “whole selves”, using our mind and body as one because everything around us is at stake. (For more on this article visit: https://moodle-2013-2014.fullerton.edu/pluginfile.php/63582/course/section/33165/Russell%20Dangerous%20Sport.pdf). Danger is a critical part of sports because it forces us to become more extraordinary. It’s our fight or flight tendencies that kick in. When being chased by a hungry animal we get a rush of adrenaline and we are able to run faster than ever before. Without any sense of danger, athletes don’t feel the need to push themselves and they don’t improve. Athletes often have a tendency to believe that the more risk there is, the greater the reward. If you take away the risk, there is nothing for the athletes to work for and suddenly the intrinsic value that they love in sport is gone.

In class, we discussed the four characteristics of play: play is voluntary, extraordinary, autotelic, and fun. Do extreme sports fit all these characteristics of play? As we’ve established, dangerous sports are definitely extraordinary. How often do you see someone on the street flip fifty feet in the air over a fifty foot gap and land perfectly? Extreme sports are obviously fun, otherwise athletes wouldn’t risk their lives participating in the sports. In the same respect, dangerous sports are also autotelic because athletes are internally motivated to perform in their sport. We all perform in dangerous sport and aren’t driven by any external rewards, but instead we enjoy the internal rewards that come of it.

The most interesting characteristic I wanted to focus on is that play is voluntary. Dangerous sport is also absolutely voluntary. We know the inherent dangers of the sports we participate in, yet we do it anyway because it is our choice. We choose our sports because we want to play them. Even when we are confronted with injury, we still choose to play our sports because we have fun when we are at play. Recently New York Giants running back, David Wilson, received very serious news that he may have spinal stenosis, but it was his quotes during that week that grabbed my attention. He said “I’m willing to go out there and sacrifice and play with my team. This is what I love. That is my choice.” (For more information visit: http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/10/11/4829494/david-wilson-injury-spinal-stenosis). He said this just days after finding out that he had a serious spine injury. He is trying to find any possible way to go out there with his teammates again even if that means risking his life to do so. The most powerful part of that quote is when he said this was “his choice”. Doctors can tell him if he’s healthy enough to play, but it is up to him and only him to accept the risks of the sport and play it anyway because that’s what he loves to do. In the same way, society and the media cannot tell him what do to either. He may look like a fool to some of us that he would be willing to jump back into play after receiving very serious news about his health, but it is his choice to do so if that is the route he wants to take. He is not hurting anyone else with this decision and it is his decision alone to make.

However, sometimes the risk of a sport are not always made evident to us. The NFL just had to settle a concussion lawsuit with former players because of the information they did not make available to the athletes playing the sport. The NFL suggested there was no correlation between concussions and long term brain damage, so that the players did not know the true extent of the risks they faced when playing football. (For more information, visit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/health/nfl-concussion-settlement/). I think it is important for all information regarding risks related to a sport be available to an athlete, but I still think it is up to the athlete to find out this information before participating in the sport. Dangerous sport is completely voluntary and it is up to the athlete to proactively find out the risks of the sport and weigh that against how much they enjoy the participation in that sport. If the fun outweighs the risks, than I say the athlete should participate. They are not hurting anyone and it is their decision to make. We need to keep finding ways to make play safer, but at the end of the day the athlete has accepted the risks and are happy at the end of the day because they are doing what they love to do. 

A Holistic Approach to Coaching

When studying philosophy, it is important to try to relate the theories and concepts we learn to everyday life situations. We do not truly learn something until we can apply it to our own lives. Philosophical theories are what defines us as human beings, so it is very important to find a theory that we can relate to. For me, the view of the human person that I most relate to is holism. Holism looks as the mind and body of equal importance and, unlike dualism, it does separate these two separate entities. Instead of focusing on just the mind, a holist will look at how the mind affects the body and vice versa. I believe this to be the most complete theory of a person and it is the one I will use in future professional settings.

After I earn my Kinesiology degree, I will be in a career where I have to work with and understand people. Simply regurgitating information about the human body is not enough for me to be successful in my post-degree job, I must understand how to deal with people. Part of the problem with Kinesiology today, is that we focus too much on quantifiable factors and do not spend enough time on how to communicate with people through different situations. Just looking at medical evaluations is not enough to determine if an individual is completely healthy. We must learn to grow relationships with our patients, and find out information that science and medicine cannot show us.

A New York Times article explains this perfectly. In the article, Abraham Verghese explains a situation where a patient was brought in to take a CT scan to determine her difficulties she was having with breathing. When looking at the CT scan, the radiologist determined she had tumors in both her breasts. The problem was these tumors were already visible on her chest and the CT scans were not only unnecessary, but they also introduced her to radiation that could have made her cancer worse. (for more information on this article go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/opinion/27verghese.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). This shows us that we cannot rely on technology for all our answers and we have to understand the person from both the physical and non-physical if we are to understand them completely.

A field I have always been extremely interested is coaching. As a coach, you need to understand your athletes by their physical capacity and their mental capacity, so you can get the most out of them. If you don’t understand both of these factors, then you are going to put them at risk for failure or injury. A perfect real world example of this is the case of Redskins quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Here is a case where doctors have determined that his knee is 100% healthy from post ACL surgery, but you can clearly see that he is not playing like his knee is healthy. He is afraid to run for extra yards and he looks to be playing extremely cautious at times, as if he is afraid of hurting himself once again. This is a case of where his mind is clearly affecting his physical ability to play. We cannot look at his mind separately from his body because both need to be treated equally so that his mind and body move as one.

 

It is the responsibility of the coach to make sure the athlete is ready to play, both physically and mentally. The coach and athlete relationship is crucial to success for both parties. The athlete needs to trust the coach to get the best performance on the field and the coach needs to understand the athlete inside and out to set up his/her success. The relationship between Robert Griffin III and Coach Mike Shanahan has certainly not been without its fair share of drama. It is clear their communication with each other is weak, from their arguing on the side line to comments that Robert makes about his coach off the field. In an interview with ESPN, Robert Griffin said something about his coach that I found to be pretty shocking. In the interview, Robert states that as a player the coach doesn’t have to listen to him, but he has to listen to the coach (for more of this interview visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxw8AlQ8qlI). To me, this clearly explains why Griffin was playing in a playoff game when he clearly wasn’t healthy enough to play and why he is playing now. He is either too scared to tell his coach that he isn’t 100% or his coach simply is not listening to him or care enough to ask him how he is feeling. For a holistic relationship to work, Robert Griffin III must be able to express to his coach that his mind is not caught up to his body, otherwise he will be put out on the field for further risk of injury.

The question becomes: How do we use holism in a practical setting to help out athletes post-injury? I think the answer to that is clear; we must treat the mind and body as if they were both injured and make sure both are healthy before playing an athlete. Successful rehabilitation includes treatment of the physical and non-physical person. Characteristics of non-physical treatment include the athlete’s belief in the efficiency of the treatment, a social support system for the athlete and the athlete’s orientation towards task related goals in his or her sport. Also, the athlete must work towards getting rid of negative or counterproductive mindsets (for more information on the mind-body relationship see: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=zwc-YNnho0sC&oi=fnd&pg=PA157&dq=holism+and+athletes&ots=A44OMtf7Bi&sig=LJ5tRJLf4cTxd-J7VEV5t93rHkU#v=onepage&q=holism%20and%20athletes&f=false). Coaches need to be there for the athlete in all the steps of rehabilitation and offer all the support they can. It is important to realize that it is not only their body that is damaged after an injury, but their mind too. A holistic attitude tells us that both need to be complete if the athlete is to achieve success again. Understanding this holistic theory is something that would greatly benefit me if I were to become a coach.

Kinesiology and Philosophy: A look of steroids in sports

            As Kinesiology students, we are always searching for the next breakthrough in the fields of science and medicine. Most of the classes we are required to take, deal with the application and methodology that is required to plan and execute new studies that will lead to these great breakthroughs in our field. We tend to think that science holds the answers to any question we may come across, but is that necessarily the case? Science can show us an endless amount of informative studies that can tell us everything we need to know about the human body. But there are many questions that science cannot give us the answer to. Like what makes up a human soul? What makes competition unique and appealing to athletes? I can answer these questions at another time, but instead I want to look at the relationship that science and philosophy could have together. There is room for both of these fields to have their own individual impact in Kinesiology, and understanding both may open up new research in the field.

            A question I want to bring up to you is what can philosophy bring to the table that science can simply not explain to us? I found the answer to that question to be quite simple: we can use philosophy to explain how the results of science should or should not be used. If we look at the field of Kinesiology, one of the most controversial subjects in all of sports is whether or not athletes should be able to use anabolic steroids to increase their performance. In an article on Blogspot.com, Martin Cothran explains that when it comes to questions of how, when, or whether to use new technologies that science brings up, science is of little help and we must rely on finding out our own answers to these questions and come up with our own conclusions (Cothran). So if look at steroid use among athletes under a philosophical microscope, we can ask ourselves whether or not athletes should be able to use steroids in sports using the findings that science provides us.

            Philosophy is not a black and white subject, and with that understanding, we can certainly come up with scenarios in which an athlete would resort to using an illegal substance. Maybe the athlete is succumbing to all the pressures around him. Competition can be so intense in sports at times and you can understand why an athlete would want to do everything in their power to gain a competitive advantage. Maybe the athlete is coming off a serious, career threatening injury and  using a substance that can aid them in their rehabilitation can be the difference in him/her putting money on their family’s table or becoming unemployed. A real life example of this can be seen with former NFL player, Charlie Waters. He was a player who took a minute amount of steroids, under doctor supervision when rehabbing is knee. This is not something he is proud of or would tell others to do, but taking the substance significantly helped him aid his rehab process and allowed him to play in the NFL for more than ten years. Waters even felt the ramifications of the drug, saying “My personality changed. But I was strong. Much stronger. I recovered much quicker. It was beneficial for the recovery of my knee” (Fisher). With this example, we can certainly see a scenario of why an athlete would take steroids and we can almost emphasize with this athlete because he did not abuse the substance to gain a competitive advantage.

Charlie Waters

            But there are also many reasons why steroids are banned in mostly every sports league or organization around the world. Steroid use among higher skilled athletes will show much greater gains than gains to an individual who has never worked out before (muscle.ucsd.edu). In fact studies of anabolic steroid use among high athletes have shown weight gains of thirty to forty pounds and strength increases of up to thirty percent (Fahey). In this case, science tells us that steroids give athletes a greater advantage in terms of strength over athletes who do not take the substance. If we were looking at this under a strictly scientific perspective than it would be clear that steroids should never be allowed in sports. But like I said earlier, we need to start incorporating philosophy and science together if we want to obtain the greatest amount of knowledge. Philosophy shows us, like the example with Charlie Waters, there are scenarios where steroids can greatly benefit an athlete without giving them an athlete a huge competitive advantage. Why is it that athletes who uses the substance once treated the same as an individual who abuses it for the length of their career? They are both ostracized by fans and media as being “cheaters” and “ruining the integrity of the game”. If steroids can benefit an individual in the rehabilitation process, should we not look into steroids as a viable recourse to help out athletes? In an era of player safety, should we not allow the player access to beneficial drugs so they decrease their chance for re-injury? Science can tell us the effects/benefits of a substance but it is up our philosophical minds to determine whether or not we should allow athletes to use it. It is not a simple case of steroids should never be allowed in sports. There are situations and scenarios that science cannot account for and we must think about that before coming up with such broad generalizations.

If we look at Philip Kitcher’s idea of what makes a good theory, he says that a good theory must be general, precise, and accurate. Banning steroids in sport because it might give you a competitive advantage is both general and accurate but I don’t think it’s precise. To be precise, the measurements under the same condition must show the same results. We know this is not the case because steroids may have a different effect for one athlete over the other. Also the abuse or intake of steroids will show different results. Simply put, it is not fair to lump all athletes under the same rule because each athlete is different and their circumstances are different. 

Cothran, Martin http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2012/09/three-things-philosophy-can-do-that.html

Fahey, Thaomas D. http://www.sportsci.org/encyc/anabster/anabster.html

Fisher, Mike http://dal.scout.com/2/394427.html

Kitcher, Philip https://moodle-2013-2014.fullerton.edu/pluginfile.php/63582/course/section/33162/The%20Trouble%20with%20Scientism.pdf

http://muscle.ucsd.edu/musintro/stereff.shtml#anabolic