Big Hits = Big Problems for Athletes Young and Pro

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Big hits are one of the reasons we watch football, but they can also be dangerous.

According to the watchdog website TheConcussionBlog.com, the NFL had 159 concussions last season. Several five-figure fines were also given to players for their helmet-to-helmet hits.

But the issue is not isolated to professional athletes.

Rutgers defensive tackle Eric Legrand was paralyzed from the neck down last season after a hard hit on a kickoff return.

At the high school level, Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., had several players suffer concussions last year, including senior quarterback Nicholas Jesse.

"He came off the end and hit me hard," Jesse recalled.

"Next series, when the center snapped the ball it just went passed me and I was blanking out," he continued. "[I] went to go get the ball ... and it felt like it was moving around, but it was just sitting there."

"He just didn't get back in his back pedal like he should. We pulled him out and he was not responding to me," added coach Donnie Simpson.

Senior linebacker Austin Pyeatt wasn't aware he had a concussion until an official told him to leave the game.

"I'm running to the other side of the field and I grabbed the guy, and when I spun around our safety came through and hit me on the chin," he told CBN News.

"I remember blacking out. My first thought was, 'That's not good,' and then I didn't want to come out [the game]," Pyeatt recalled. "But I guess it is safety because it was my brain."

Getting Realistic About Concussions

An effort to teach head safety to younger athletes has affected the way video games are being designed.

The latest version of the popular EA Sports video game "Madden NFL" no longer allows helmet-to-helmet hits or head-first tackles. The game also requires players to sit out for the remainder of any game if they sustain a concussion.

"It's very realistic. I think that's good," said Greenbrier Christian Academy coach Eldridge Reynard.

"If you get a concussion in real life, you're going a get taken out for the rest of the game," Pyeatt added.

Dr. Steven Duma has been conducting impact research at Virginia Tech for more than eight years, accumulating data on 1 million-plus head impacts.

"We began in 2003 and that was the first time in the world anyone had done that for football players," he said.

Duma and his team tested every major football helmet on the market last year. Their findings have been published as a comprehensive star ranking system on the Virginia Tech website.

"Before it was all about cost and appearance, and now you have some idea of the biomanical response," Duma explained.

"Two years ago, I got the new Riddell speed [helmet], which is supposed to have a lot more padding," Jesse said.

Have Fun, Get Out Safe

Still, Jesse's coaches believe equipment is only part of the preventive solution.

"I don't think there is one helmet that can prevent a concussion," Reynard said.

"A lot of kids want to make the big hit and just throw their body around, but with proper technique you will prevent injury if you do what we teach," coach Simpson added.

The desire to see and deliver big hits in football may not change, but the outcome for those involved at every level of the sport is the same.

"The goal is for everybody to play, have fun and get out of the game safely," Reynard explained.

To learn more about concussion symptoms and how to prevent traumatic brain injury visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Injury Center website.

--Published Sept. 23, 2011

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.