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High School Football Playoffs: Not A Time For Concussion Safety To Take Back Seat To Winning

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As the 2013 high school football season enters the home stretch, with teams fighting to stay alive in the playoffs, or preparing for traditional end-of-the-season games on Thanksgiving morning, the risk of concussion is an ever-present concern. 

Football player holding his head

But now is not the time to put winning ahead of safety.

Even in the best of times, studies show that high school football players face what one recently called a ‘culture of resistance' to reporting to sideline personnel that they are experiencing concussion symptoms.

Concerns by parents that players will fail to report symptoms, and, if injured, return to play before they brains are fully healed, are only magnified at the end of the season, when the football careers of the vast majority of seniors will be ending, and when the absence of a key player can make the difference between ending that career with loss or advancing in the playoffs.

In their desire to win, and because they are likely to be tired, and, frankly, a little beat up from the long season, players may also become sloppy in their tackling technique, increasing the risk of helmet-to-helmet contact of the kind that has resulted in the death or catastrophic injury of a number of players this football season.

Safety first

It is thus more important than ever that game officials, coaches, sideline medical personnel, and parents put safety first by:

  • Watching with extra vigilence for signs of concussion in players;
  • Ensuring that players displaying concussion signs undergo a careful screening for concussion and other more serious neurological injuries on the sideline; 
  • Prohibiting players with suspected concussion from returning to the field that day, no matter how much they want to play or how important they may be to the team;
  • Refusing to allow players to rush back after concussion too quickly by making sure that only return after they report being symptom free, have successfully completed a program of gradually increased exercise without symptoms returning, and only after obtaining written medical clearance from a doctor with concussion expertise. 

Resisting the temptation to treat player safety differently in the playoffs and in that final game is critical.  We can never let our guard down, and put winning ahead of safety.

Perhaps one of the moms featured in our documentary, "The Smartest Team," put it best, when she asked the following rhetorical question: "The football game and making the playoffs or the championship, that's one night. Are you gonna take that, or are you gonna take a lifetime of success?"

Brooke de Lench is the Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, and producer/director of the PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer."