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Modern safety methods reduce risk to players

Football's reputation is taking a beating, especially after results of a new study were released late last month.

The media is focused on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, abbreviated to CTE. A study showed that upon review of a set of brains of former players, an alarming number of them showed signs of CTE, which can result in mental issues, ranging from general forgetfulness to explosive anger and suicidal tendencies.

Of the 202 brains studied, 99 percent of the organs that came from former NFL players showed signs of CTE. It also showed that 21 percent of the brains from former high school players and 91 percent of the brains from college players showed evidence of CTE.

Those are startling statistics, but keep in mind the study only included brains donated by families who felt CTE may have existed. It was a stacked deck.

Still, as football season kicks off, it has spurred new debate over the safety of players, and especially young players.

There can be no doubt that players in the NFL are assuming a great risk of CTE. Not only does the physical style of the game increase risk, but longevity also increases the possibility of sustained trauma. We believe the human body just isn't built for sustained exposure to the type of collisions that exist in the NFL. But NFL players know the risk and are paid to assume it.

High school is different. We cannot say there is no risk for players in the youth and high school levels, but we do know efforts are being made to make the game safer than it ever has been.

A good example is the Heads-Up method of coaching, which teaches athletes to change an age-old style of playing. For years, many players were urged to play with their head or body down, or lowered. But when done properly, this new method teaches players to tackle in a more straight-up fashion and essentially helps keep the player's head away from the actual collision.

It is taught to players in Grand Forks and, we hope, elsewhere in the region.

The American Journal of Sports reported on a 2015 study, one in which researchers tracked 2,514 high school athletes in South Carolina. Among the players without Heads-Up training, the rate of concussions was six per 100. Among the players who were taught the method, the rate was lower — four per 100.

Also, we know local schools are strict in their efforts to spot players with symptoms of concussions. Any player with symptoms is kept out of play.

And many schools have adopted limited-contact policies during practice, which greatly reduces the likelihood of concussions.

Football is a great sport, and we suggest parents encourage their boys to participate.

Meanwhile, coaches must adapt to the times and understand these new methods — Heads-Up training, strict concussion protocols and limited-contact practices — are the essential to lowering concussion rates.