Local football coaches cite the increase of scientific facts behind Casey Cochran’s concussion crusade as positive, but firmly believe the game of football and its contributions to life’s lessons aren’t about to fade away.
Cochran’s “13 Concussions” essay on The Players’ Tribune website accented the message of the movie “Concussion” and increased awareness about the ravages of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative disease of the brain ostensibly caused by repeated blows to the head.
The movie touched off a maelstrom of denial in the NFL. Lyman Hall coach Aidan Lynch regrets that the scientific evidence is based on NFL data.
“I didn’t like when they cut to clips of youth football [in the movie],” said Lynch, who along with Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi has worked hand-in-hand with the Wallingford Youth Football League in the interest of safety and the flow of communication between the teams and parents.
“The physics are different in the NFL. Force equals Mass times Acceleration. People aren’t supposed to be 6-5, 250 pounds and run a 4.5 40. These guys are freaks. Division 2 and 3 college, high school and youth football are not even near that. You can’t compare them. It’s like apples and oranges,” Lynch said.
Platt coach Jason Bruenn said the CIAC and the high school football officials have worked effectively in tandem to lessen the number and severity of head injuries. He respects Cochran’s opinion and his determination to publicize it, but stands firmly by the high school game.
“I’m not going to question Casey. He’s played the game at high levels and feels he’s doing the right thing,” Bruenn said. “If what he does helps make football safer, more power to him. The concussion issue is never going to go away, but if we can educate people on the risks and improve techniques in high school and youth football, we have a chance to at least limit them.”
The growing concern over the effect of concussions and how they can alter a person’s brain for a lifetime stimulated changes in tackling techniques that have been implemented by youth and scholastic coaches over recent years.
“The game has had to change and it’s starting to,” said Pete Selmecki, president of the Wallingford Vikings. “We can’t play the way we used to. I don’t think you need to be afraid. Like any other sport, you can’t guarantee no one will get hurt, but we’re working together to teach new tackling techniques to avoid the harder hits.”
Bruenn noted how the tackling lessons he learned have suddenly become obsolete. He cited the game of rugby, where tackling is performed without the use protective equipment.
“Football is getting stricter, but do you really need to run full speed and crank somebody? When I played, I wasn’t looking to hit anybody softly. But you look at rugby and we’re starting to implement that style of tackling. It’s easy to see how you literally take the head out of the tackle. Maybe it will cause more shoulder injuries, but if that’s what’s going to save football from extinction, it’s worth tackling with the shoulder,” Bruenn said.
“It’s not a black-and-white thing. It’s going to take some time to work through the issues. We have to continue to make it safer and I can’t stress technique enough.”
Lynch pointed to the number of ex-boxers whose conditions are referred to as “punchy” and wondered about the long-term effects the popular new sport Mixed Martial Arts may produce. Like Bruenn, he referred to rugby as a possible answer.
“We’ve always know what the end result would be. We’re only now learning the cause of it and what it takes to get there,” he said. “We didn’t know the scientific specifics, but taking too many blows to the head will catch up with you. We’re becoming more aware of the science and we’re looking at rugby because they don’t wear equipment, so they have to take the head out of it.”
Selmecki doesn’t feel the game at the grass-roots levels should offer the kind of concern that would question the validity of football and the positive messages it teaches.
“I don’t think it’s a game for everyone and I can understand the apprehension,” Selmecki said. “What I don’t believe in is the parent who says, ‘I’m going to wait until my kid gets to high school for him to play.’ If you’re going to let your kid play tackle football, get them in by middle school. Every level gets faster. Putting a kid on a high school field without the training that we offer in youth football could be more risky.”