WASHINGTON, November 28, 2012 — In recent years, brain studies on ex-players from the NFL have shown sobering results. Due to repeated blows to the head and concussions sustained in their careers, NFL players have a much higher risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, depression, and a host of other mental illnesses when compared to the general public.
This has led to thousands of NFL veterans filing lawsuits, claiming the NFL committed fraud by not addressing the dangers of head trauma and keeping players in the dark. This negative press has led to changes in the league with new rules and fines in hopes of minimizing the heavy hits that lead to many of the concussions sustained in football, but this is not enough.
Football has been, is, and always will be a high contact sport, and concussions are a reality that will have to be dealt with if the sport is to keep any resemblance to its roots. The problem will not be fixed with rule changes affecting gameplay or improved helmets (although those can never hurt), but by standardizing the way in which trainers and teams monitor and diagnose concussions.
The HITS Solution
Implemented and studied at the University of North Carolina, the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) can monitor an entire teams head impacts during practices and games. Six sensors located in the helmets pads are able to measure the strength, location, and direction of each and every impact. A transmitter wirelessly sends the data to a receiver on the sidelines that allows players to be monitored in real time. Kevin Guskiewiz is the chairman of UNC’s exercise and sports science department, and is the creator of the HITS system.
With hundreds of thousands of hits monitored and logged over eight seasons, Guskiewiz came up with a system to help trainers diagnose concussions. By measuring the Gs over thousands of impacts, he has determined that a hit that rates at 98Gs of force or more has a high chance of causing a concussion. When the HITS system registers an impact of this magnitude on a player, the training staff can quickly perform tests to conclude if a concussion was sustained, and remove them from play if necessary.
This is important for a few reasons. Concussions can range in severity with mild to severe side effects, and diagnosing a concussion can be difficult if the player doesn’t show visible signs on the field. However, having a concussion (even a small one) greatly increases the chances of getting another one, so getting a player off the field is of vital importance.
Since the HITS system logs and tracks a player’s history throughout practice and games, the coaching staff and player can look at where and when the impacts are occurring, and bad form that leads to head impacts can be prevented in practice.
HITS Is Ready for the NFL
With close to eight full seasons of practice and games under the belt at UNC, Guskiewiz is more than confident the HITS system is ready to be implemented across the board throughout the college and professional level. A report by ESPN stated that the NFL was ready to implement a pilot program for HITS, but the plug was pulled in “the eleventh hour” as Guskiewiz said. When questioned about it, the NFL deferred to their specialist on the subject who happened to be the same Kevin Guskiewiz. Kevin is notably frustrated in the interview since he believes HITS implementation at UNC speaks for itself and how well it works. The coaches and staff and UNC believe in HITS so much that they use it as a recruiting tool for potential players.
But Is The NFL Ready for HITS?
While the HITS system might be easy to implement and ready to go in the NFL in theory, it could actually end up being an incredibly complicated endeavor. While UNC uses 98Gs to check for a concussion, the NFL would have to decide on its own limit. Who controls when a player comes out? If a team is on a game winning drive late in the post-season with dreams of the Super Bowl in their heads, would a franchise doctor or trainer pull a star player out of the game with minutes left just because a screen flashed red?
This is already an issue with the Washington Redskins possibly getting fined over its handling of Robert Griffin III’s concussion. However, with all of the negative press surrounding the NFL and their handling of concussions in the past, I would not be surprised to see them warming up to the idea of using HITS and using it as a safety guideline.
HITS does not have to stop with the NFL either. High impact games like hockey, rugby, and a slew of demanding sports could eventually see concussion diagnosing and reducing technologies become an everyday reality as we learn more about head injuries. Those days cannot come soon enough as thousands of kids, teens, college athletes, and professionals strap on helmets and risk concussion every day.
The long term health of an individual should always come before the outcome of a game.
Jerome Manson is a sports enthusiast who enjoys both watching games and writing about them. When he is not cheering on his team from the stands, Jerome is blogging about the NFL for selectaticket.com.
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