How will concussions affect the future of football and the NFL?

The underlying storyline to 4,500 former NFL players involved in a $765 million settlement with league officials is how the rampant concussion issue will impact football long term. At every level.
by Michael Baldwin Published: January 26, 2014

Former NFL wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, an analyst for NBC's Sunday Night Game of the Week, fears some school districts might choose to abolish football if concussion lawsuits trickle down to the prep level.

The underlying storyline to 4,500 former NFL players involved in a $765 million settlement with league officials is how the rampant concussion issue will impact football long term. At every level.

Alarmists point to a 10 percent decline nationally in youth football participation. Concussions were cited as the primary reason.

“All this came to light because NFL owners had information and didn't share it,” said former OU linebacker Jimbo Elrod, who played four NFL seasons, including his role as “wedge buster” on special teams. “That's why everyone is ticked off.

“With all this information coming down the pike on concussions, we've already seen football suffer. Where football is a decade or two from now I have no idea.”

Watch any pro or college game, and you inevitably see a player struggle to get to his feet. They need assistance to get to the sideline. Announcers later report he'll be evaluated for a concussion.

“Concussions are a serious matter,” said former OU defensive tackle Tony Casillas, who played a dozen NFL seasons and is part of the lawsuit. “The goal is to minimize them as best as possible. The key is to use the knowledge they're accumulating to make football as safe as possible.

“I understand why some parents might question whether to allow their sons to play. But parents being concerned has been around for decades. My mother was nervous every time I played. It's football.”

Injuries are inevitable. But the NFL concussion lawsuit has put the head trauma issue in the spotlight. The lawsuit already has produced a trickle-down effect.

Late last year, a handful of former college players announced they're suing the NCAA. The Brain Injury Association of America filed a motion to join the lawsuit. The BIAA, founded in 1980, is the nation's oldest and largest brain injury advocacy organization.

Some suggest radical change is needed. One proposal is the sport should consider restricting kids from playing tackle football until high school, at the earliest junior high.

Football proponents point to medical advancements. When a player suffers a head trauma, injury medical personnel take away his helmet. Protocol is a player, such as Wes Welker, the Denver Broncos star receiver out of Heritage Hall, must pass a battery of tests before he's allowed to return.

“It's completely different than when I played,” said Thomas Lott, OU's quarterback in the mid-70s. “I got knocked completely out against Iowa State. I was still staggering around a few minutes later. Back then, they gave you smelling salts and said: ‘OK, he's ready.' They put you back in.”

Those type of stories are at the core of the lawsuit. A deal was made the week before the season kicked off, but last week, hours after Super Bowl survivors were determined, the case was in the news again.

by Michael Baldwin
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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