Ronnie Lott advocates better protection for players

September 12, 2013 10:31:01 PM PDT
The number of students playing high school football is on the decline and while strapped school budgets could be part of the reason, there's also growing concern about the lasting impact of concussions on young players.

Football builds teamwork, spirit and character, but the sport is undergoing some serious introspection.

"I think people are in denial mostly because they just don't want to believe something they love so much is dangerous if handled improperly," said New York Times sports reporter Alan Schwarz.

San Francisco 49ers hall of famer Ronnie Lott estimates he suffered at least 20 concussions during his career, but now he is advocating better protection for players, especially at the youth and high school levels.

"We need to find ways to make sure that a doctor is on site, that a doctor is there, if we do have a head injury, that he can help that young man and make sure that that young man's welfare is taken care of," said Lott.

Brain trauma experts joined team managers at a Santa Clara University symposium to encourage a new attitude toward concussions. The NFL is addressing it now and that's having a trickle-down effect. Mike West is the athletic director at San Jose's Bellarmine College Prep.

"We have kids that are keeping an eye out on one another that are reporting concussions that they think their teammates may have had. To me that's a great sign in terms of what the future has for football," said West.

Bellarmine has medical staff ready to intervene, but state law doesn't require it. Some schools can't afford it. For that reason, along with their age, former UC head team physician Cindy Chang, M.D., says high school players face greater risk than college or pro players.

"The reason they're more at risk again is because the coaches are busy coaching, the officials are busy officiating, and there's really no one on the sidelines that's watching for these types of injuries," said Chang.

Experts are suggesting student athletes should be examined early on to create a base line for brain activity so future injuries can be assessed and tracked.

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