PD Editorial: Heading off concussions on the playing field

  • Rnacho Cotate ninth grade volleyball player Ella Doss takes a baseline concussion test at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, Saturday August 24, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Concussions are frightening, potentially life-changing injuries.

For anyone who loves sports or cares about athletes, especially kids, ignoring the dangers associated with head injuries is inexcusable.

As fall sports get started, there's progress to report — stepped-up training for coaches, improved safety equipment for players, baseline testing of many athletes. Many local high schools are hiring trainers to help care for young athletes.

Then there's the National Football League.

On the subject of concussions, the billion-dollar behemoth of American sports is tossing its weight around like a tackler on the football field.

NFL officials met last week with ESPN, which has the rights to the lucrative Monday Night Football broadcast. Soon after, ESPN ended a 15-month collaboration with PBS' "Frontline" on a documentary about head injuries in footbal. Both parties deny any interference, but the New York Times reported that the NFL objected to the program, just as it did in 2004 before ESPN canceled a fictional drama about pro football players.

The two-part "Frontline" documentary is based on "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," a forthcoming book by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. The authors are brothers and investigative reporters for ESPN. (Fainaru-Wada is a former reporter for The Press Democrat and the San Francisco Chronicle.)

When the NFL season opens next week, stadiums will be packed. TV ratings will be high. Yes, we'll be watching. We'll also be keeping tabs on the league's handling of the sensitive issue of head injuries. NFL officials say player safety is a top priority. But if they keep undermining their credibility, expect more parents to encourage young athletes to compete in other sports.

The risk of head injuries isn't exclusive to football. A study published last year in the Journal of Athletic Training found 36 concussions per 100,000 player games or practices in girls soccer. For boys soccer and girls basketball, the figures were 22 and 21, respectively.

But the news about these sports, and high school football for that matter, is more encouraging.

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