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Hard Knocks on Safety This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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This past September, 16-year-old running back Damon Janes, a high school junior from Brocton, N.Y., lost consciousness after a helmet-to-helmet collision during a game. When Janes died three days later – the second death from high school football that month alone – the inevitable question followed: How can we prevent football-­related head injuries?

The NFL had attempted to address the issue three years ago, making a rule preventing players from taking shots at defenseless players above the shoulders. The following year, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association ruled that they would not recertify any helmet more than 10 years old. Last spring, the NFL made perhaps the most significant rule in its capability: penalizing players for intentionally using the crown of their helmet to hit opponents. From behind the desks, the face of football had seat-belted the game as much as it could. The public’s demand for safety was then handed over to the scientists.

“I would not want my child out there,” NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw said. “The fear of them getting these head injuries – and they’re out there – it’s just too great for me.”

“I’m a big football fan,” President Barack Obama said. “But I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play ­football.”

This story isn’t new this year. It’s as recurring as the tears shed every football season. Thirty-nine high school football players have died since 2000 due to injuries sustained while playing. Recently in one week in the NFL, there were three concussions, all from skull-shaking rams to the helmet.

If changing the rules can’t make a difference, what will?

Football helmets have been reconstructed five times by neuroscientists since 1984 to improve safety. Regardless of how many changes are made to regulations on the field and to helmets, it doesn’t seem to be helping.

Despite the NFL’s efforts to make football look as squeaky-clean as we’d all love to believe it is, there remains a layer of filth. Football games are still “Hunger Games,” and the truth is more apparent now than ever: there are arrows flying everywhere.

This year the NFL settled a massive lawsuit with more than 4,500 retired players who had sued the League, claiming it had hid information about the dangers of head trauma. Massive, as in $765 million; that’s more than the Jacksonville Jaguars are worth. It broke down into $675 million for compensation to plaintiffs in the lawsuit, $75 million for medical exams, and – here’s the promising news – $10 million for research into preventing head injuries.

From a scientific standpoint of improving the equipment, we look to be well on our way. However, Damon Janes’ family and friends certainly deserve to ask, “Why not sooner?” And who can blame them?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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