True to its name and that of this website, The Smartest Team was a group effort, which would not have been possible without the support of the entire Newcastle, Oklahoma football community, from the school superintendent to the athletic director and head football coach, from the athletic trainer to the parents (especially, Kerali Davis) and, of course, the players themselves. It would not have been possible without the contributions of our on-screen experts, Drs. Congeni, Meehan, Moser, and Cronin; and, last but not least, without the contributions of a talented and dedicated post-production staff, especially Taylor and Lauren Lench at Lench Films, and MomsTEAM Senior Editor, Lindsay Barton.
Our intent in making the documentary was to provide a visual way for the football community to understand all of the things it can do to make a football player safer through an emphasis on a set of principles - what we call the Six Pillars - which football communities, large and small, can use as a foundation in the development of a sound concussion risk management program.
We see the documentary as a jumping off point. We don't underestimate the enormity of the challenge of making football as safe a sport as it can be. We know that it will require an ongoing commitment by all stakeholders. As our understanding of traumatic brain injury and technology evolves and changes, the ways in which football responds to the concussion challenge must evolve and change as well.
But we also know that, as The Smartest Team shows, there are steps that can be taken to make the game safer, right now. Whether it can be safe enough is up to parents to decide; that the decision on whether to allow their child to start playing football - and when - or to stop playing football, and when, is theirs, and theirs alone. But we want that decision to be informed by objective information, not by a "sky is falling" hysteria.
Past, present, and future
I envisioned The Smartest Team as a blueprint for a concussion risk management program; not by any means the only one, of course, but one that we believe fairly and objectively reflects:
Where we have come:
- A sport in which players were taught to block and tackle using their heads;
- A sport in which players were simply asked whether they felt okay, and if they said yes, then they could go play;
- A sport in which concussion management was cookie-cutter, one-size fits all, where how long a player was held out depended on the "grade" of concussion, and where there was no gradual return to play.
Where we are:
- A sport in which, as in all contact and collision sports, there is still a huge education gap about concussions;
- A sport in which players, as in other contact and collision sports, remain reluctant to report their own concussions, much less those of teammates;
- A sport in which, as Coach Bobby Hosea says in the documentary, the way tackling is taught is too often a "‘Heinz 57' approach;"
- A sport in which athletes too often return to play before their brains have been given the cognitive and physical rest needed to fully heal; and
- A sport in which our understanding of what causes some players to suffer concussion and not others, of the mechanisms that lead to traumatic brain injury, how to reliably identify concussion on the sports sideline, how to know when it is safe to return an athlete to play after concussion, and the effects of repetitive subconcussive blows, while light years ahead of where we were 15, 10, 5, or even 1 year ago, is still incomplete.
Where we are going:
- A sport in which there is a standardized, heads-up approach to tackling and blocking;
- A sport in which there is better enforcement of existing rules against helmet-to-helmet contact and new rules are enacted to reduce the risk of concussion and catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries, such as the NFL's recently enacted ban on ball carriers and defenders using their head as the initial point of contact in the open field;
- A sport in which a certified athletic trainer is on the sideline at every high school football game and practice;
- A sport where sideline assessment screening tools allow for more informed "return from play" decisionmaking;
- A sport which takes advantage of technological, equipment, and product innovation advances, such as impact sensors to help in the early identification of concussion, that can help make the sport safer;
- A sport where conservative treatment and cautious return to play take precedence over a win-at-all-costs attitude;
- A sport where a better understanding of the risks of long-term brain damage from repetitive sub-concussive blows spurs a concerted effort to limit total brain trauma, such as by eliminating off-season full-contact practices and imposing limits on the number of such practices during the pre-season and over the course of the season.
As we have from our founding in 2000, MomsTEAM remains committed to doing what we can to arm youth sports parents with well-researched and practical information and advice from a team of world-class experts and journalists, not just about concussions but about every aspect of the youth sports experience.
We are confident that working together, we can, like the entire football community in Newcastle, Oklahoma, all become part of The Smartest Team.