Fall 2017 Stories

Are YSU Football Athletes in Danger?

By Alexa DeVore

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio: The National Football League was caught under fire and put to blame after a recent autopsy sought out how deceased New England Patriot, Aaron Hernandez, suffered from a severe form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

During the mince of committing suicide, Hernandez was in the trial process for conviction of murder of a friend. According to the New York Times, his autopsy revealed, “he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.”

Now parents from all over are asking: could this happen to my child?

CTE is constant, instant and persistent blows to the head from collisions or strong impact, the concussion foundation said.

A study done by Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, on 111 former athletes brains showed 110 of them were found to have CTE.

The study started sparking concern in the parents of adolescents on the dangers associated with children playing football.

The NFL is being sued for former athletes being diagnosed with CTE after autopsies confirmed CTE was the cause of death.

Equipment Manager of Youngstown State University, Alvy Armstrong, seems to think the increase of CTE has to do with the ill-fitting helmets.

“I have had parents bring their kids in here from high school teams, peewee teams, and the helmets they would get, I wouldn’t put that on,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said high school helmets are not reconditioned each year like college football helmets. He said if they are not conditioned, the helmets may not be keeping these athletes safe in the lower leagues.

“I formed the opinion that when I played football in eighth grade, I learned that concussions take more time to clear the younger you are. The older you are, it clears more quickly,” YSU president and former football coach Jim Tressel said.

Armstrong said when he is fitting a player for helmets, he worries solely on the fit whereas the players worry about the look of the helmet.

The newest helmets used by YSU football players, other colleges and in the NFL this year are called VICIS Zero1. The company’s mission is to, “Protect the athlete, elevate the game.”

A VICIS helmet includes a soft outer shell to defuse collisions from multiple directions. The company also mentions the helmet evaluates performance with the widest field of peripheral view.

For further information on these helmets, watch the video courtesy of VICIS.

The helmet is used to reduce the impact of the force from a hit. YSU athletics is using this helmet because they were given three to try. With the cost running into the thousands, athletics cannot afford to buy all 100 athletes these helmets.

The VICIS helmet cost about $1,200 each. Although the helmet was designed for elite athletes, and players it is recommended for are those weighing 150 pounds or above.

Because of the cost, most high school athletes will not be able to afford them either.

Tressel said football is not the only sport affected by concussions, but with recent findings within the NFL, football is in the spotlight collecting blame.

Tressel compared playing sports frequently to riding a bike; if a person does it enough times, there is a bigger chance of getting a concussion.

“I also formed the opinion as I was coaching that I was not really for the extended seasons,” Tressel said.

When Tressel was first in college, he had a nine-game season, but the number of games per season kept increasing. Tressel said the same applies with high school.

“As history went on, they had play offs, then they had more teams in the play off,” Tressel said. “So there were more teams playing more games.”

Tressel said the topic needs to be brought around the frequency of games and practices.

“When people ask me for my opinion on the concussions, I think it is more of a frequency discussion,” Tressel said.

If collegiate, high school and professional football corporations cannot cut the frequency of games, the amount of hitting practices and padded practices can be cut also. Tressel said this still involves hitting practice.

“There’s been a lot of movement [in cutting the amount of practices],” Tressel said. “There was [a cut on] how many practices you were allowed to have, but unfortunately if you are in a non-padded practice, you still run into each other.”
Tressel said these are really good discussions to talk about with the frequency of practice and the amount of games, but he does not think this is as impactful of a discussion as the length of the season.

One other thing to look at is size and speed of athletes with how the game is played.

“Mass times acceleration equals force and force is what causes concussions,” Tressel said.

Now, athletes are bigger and faster but are playing on the same size field with the same number of people.

“I went to a CFL game, Canadian Football, I’ve never been to one, it was a playoff game,” Tressel said. “I was talking to the coaches and there were a couple guys that coached American football and I asked, ‘what’s the biggest difference?”

In Canada, they have 12 people on the field and it is a much bigger field. The rules are different; they have 3 downs instead of 4 downs.

“The guy I was talking to said the biggest difference I see if there is not injury time outs because no one gets hurt,” Tressel said.

John Linkosky, a former YSU football player, had to stop playing due to many concussions.

“[I had] two concussions at YSU and five overall,” Linkosky said. “They were bad enough where I couldn’t look into lights, listen to music or think straight because of the headaches.”

Linkosky said it was terrible to stop playing football because it was like his life was taken away.

“We need to get as much information as possible about CTE and figure out ways to prevent it,” Linkosky said. “Your head is the only part of your body you can’t get surgery to fix.”

Billy Price, former Youngstown resident and center for The Ohio State Buckeyes, said CTE is something that he is very concerned about while in competition.

“I’ve only had one concussion in my career, it was my sophomore year at Austintown Fitch. I only missed one scrimmage during August [that year] because of my concussion,” Price said.

Because CTE is a huge concern to Price, he makes sure his equipment is a proper fit for performance.

“I make sure I have a mouth piece that fits properly and my helmet does not move on my head throughout competition. If my equipment does not fit properly, I make sure it is corrected and that there is no doubt when I step on the field,” Price said.

Football may not be the only concern for players or family members that are athletes.

“Football is not the only sport that needs to be viewed for potential effects of CTE. Soccer is another sport that creates a lot of head contact. My brother plays soccer at Austintown Fitch and making sure his head health is at an all-time high is one of the priorities that the medical staff at Fitch focuses on,” Price said.

Tressel and Armstrong would like to see a study done on all sports that have contact like soccer, rugby, even women’s sports.

By some studies on a specific sport should not be determining if children do these things or not. It’s living life and athletes take away many benefits from playing sports and getting involved when they are younger to now.

To read more about CTE in the NFL and the Canadian Football League click here.