Monday, November 5, 2012
(My friend Rick Hurst has started a publication The Real Deal, a sports related magazine for the northern suburbs of Detroit. I contributed the following article for their October issue, it might become a regular monthly feature.)
A Coach’s View of Concussions
Concussions have always been a part of sports, but only until recently has it become a media story that won’t go away, and for good reason. For years the common reaction to concussions by coaches and trainers was to tell a player he had “a dinger,” or had his “bell rung.” A player was taken out of the game, often administered some sort of ammonia to help him breathe and get his senses back, and allowed back in the game. Concussions were not taken seriously. Those days are long gone.
Concussions are now a big story for a variety of reasons: concussions on all levels of football; concussions in sports other than football, including girls sports; concussions stemming from constant hitting (like linemen in football); and concussions from one strong hit (like a base runner sliding head first into home plate). Probably the most glaring issue has been the long-term affects of concussions, not only on professional football players but also youngsters playing youth sports.
I have been very lucky the last fifteen years to coach football at Division III John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, a school that has as good as a medical support staff as any college on any level in the country. Because of our relationship with the near by Cleveland Clinic, our athletes are often treated for injury by the same doctors who treat Cleveland’s professional athletes. Our in house training staff is filled with seasoned veterans who are also up to date on the latest methods in injury prevention and treatment.
Don McPhillips, our head trainer and a veteran of over twenty-five years in the sports medicine field, has seen it all. “We are much better now at managing concussions, making sure players don’t come back too soon. But one thing we haven’t improved upon is avoiding concussions.” If you ask McPhillips what needs to be done, he pauses and then states the obvious, “Until players quit using their heads as weapons, we will always have concussions.”
And that is the dark secret of sports, especially sports like football and hockey: players lowering their heads, leading with the top of their helmets.
In football it wasn’t always like that. Back in the 30’s, 40’, and 50’s, when helmets were made of hard leather or cheap plastic with no faceguards or masks, players did not lead with their heads first to tackle, block, or run. They were taught to block and tackle with their arms and shoulders, and that is what they did. Making the helmets stronger and adding facemasks made the game safer, but very soon that hard plastic sitting on player’s heads became a weapon itself, and that continues today.
Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the designs of new helmets were often advertised as a cure for concussions. As hard plastic replaced leather on the outside, a variety of changes happened inside the helmet. Players went from wearing suspension helmets, where the skull was literally suspended inside of the plastic shell with a spacing of air meant to absorb any blows to the head. That airspace would be replaced with a variety of padding material, then by water pockets, then by air packets that can be blown up like a bike tire. As that went on inside of the helmet, the outside became harder yet lighter through advances in plastics. But instead of offering more protection, these advances in helmet technology have just made the helmet more of a weapon.
And it just isn’t a football problem. Since helmets became mandatory in ice hockey the same thing has happened, a rise in concussions because players are using their heads to guide their bodies to check players. Same thing in baseball, when helmets became mandatory on all runners on base, more players started sliding head first into bases.
There is no such thing as a concussion proof helmet in any sport. Helmets in any sport will protect an athlete to a certain extent, but are not 100% safe.
And concussions are also increasing in sports that don’t require helmets like soccer and basketball. We are not sure if more are happening, or more are being reported than in the past.
There are several things high school athletes and their parents need to do in regards to concussions. First, each student athlete needs to track concussions over the length of a complete playing career. For example, in football from the first time a kid puts pads on in CYO or Pop Warner all the way through high school and college to the pro leagues. Also any head injuries playing any other sport should be tracked also. Too often the history of concussions for a player starts over as he moves up the ladder or switches sports.
Another consideration is to limit on the amount of concussions a player can have over a certain amount of time, or over the course of a career. And if a player has to hang it up after so many concussions, so be it. That has already happened to some players voluntarily on the high school and college level, and if the NFL, NHL, and other pro leagues really care about the long-range health of its players it has to happen on that level too.
Parents must be sure that their student athletes are wearing the proper equipment at all times, and that is not just to help prevent concussions. Too often a player will discard a pad or other piece of equipment because he or she will feel faster or more athletic without it. Mouthpieces should be worn in every competitive sport, and if a player chews on it then it should be replaced on a regular basis.
Coaches in all sports must make sure they teach their players to play their games the proper and safest way. And I really think for the most part that is being done, but as long as young players see their pro sports heroes on TV tackling, checking, or sliding headfirst I doubt much will change.
(Greg Cielec is both a college football coach and a freelance writer. He is the author of the novels My Cleveland Story and Home and Away Games. Check out his work at www.gregcielec.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sunday, September 30, 2012
When you head down to the Rock Hall to see the Grateful Dead exhibit, make sure you save time to go down to the lower level to the Patty, Jay and Kizzie Baker Gallery and check out the exhibit “Can’t Get Enough: The Photography of Robert Alford.” Alford is a Detroit based music photographer who has covered the national rock scene since the late Seventies, doing a lot of work for Creem Magazine. The exhibit, put together by curator Howard Baker, features portraits and on stage shots of artists as diverse as the Clash, Morris Day, the GoGos, and John Mellencamp. Music fans will recognize often used portraits of Mellencamp and Boy George; a shot of the Clash in front of the original Motown Records building in Detroit; and pictures of Z.Z. Top in all their 80’s glory. Other photos include great images of Cheap Trick, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Big Country.
Alford attended a media event last week to preview the exhibit to the local media, and he was quite affable and informative. He did make some insightful comments on the demise of his profession as a concert photographer. “Now they give everyone in the audience a three song window to take pictures,” he said. “And that’s it. No one, including me, gets access like we use to.”
|Robert Alford on the left with Rock Hall Curator Howard Baker|
“Can’t Get Enough: The Photography of Robert Alford” exhibit will be at the Rock Hall through the winter. The Grateful Dead exhibit will be there until December. For more information on either exhibit, and all the other great stuff going on at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, go to www.RockHall.com.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The John Carroll University football team, coaches, support personal, along with a heavy dose of family and friends, had a terrific experience in Ireland over the last week.
The team and coaches went over on four different flights, and things got off to a shaky start on Tuesday when all of United Airline computers went down on the east coast causing temporary chaos. Most of our entourage either got stuck on the ground in Cleveland or New York for several hours before the situation got resolved. Once my flight got to Newark Airport things almost got back on schedule and the trip over to Ireland was very pleasant. On their international flights United now has entertainment centers on the back of each seat that contain free movies, music, and television shows. I listened to nothing but music on the way over, including the new Ray Charles tribute album featuring Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, and Norah Jones (outstanding); a Bowie Anthology; and a John Coltrane disc that contained his take on 1950’s and 60’s movie and Broadway themes. It made the trip fly, and we landed in Shannon Airport at daybreak.
After going through customs and claiming our luggage we were off to the Cliff of Mohers on the west coast. It was cold, wet, and miserable there, but the sites were breathtaking. I would strongly suggest checking it out if you ever go Ireland.
We finally checked into our hotel by the late afternoon and traveled to a local rugby field for practice. By then most of the kids had been up for 24 hours, so practice was a bit sluggish. We had a late dinner and then everyone had a good night’s sleep.
Thursday was a great day. We practiced and had lunch at the University of Dublin’s main campus, which was quite impressive. We then went and checked out the stadium we were going to play in the following night, the Donnybrook Rugby Stadium. What a great venue, old and historic it will prove to be a great place for the game. But on Thursday afternoon it was empty, and we checked out the turf and took some pictures. We then went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College. Old and historic, we took some great pictures of our players in the garden next to the cathedral. We then participated with all the other high school and college teams playing in Dublin over the weekend in a parade through downtown Dublin that ended on the main plaza of Trinity College were there was speeches and welcomes from dignitaries, including the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland.
Friday was game day. We had breakfast and mass in the morning then some short meetings. Everyone had a couple of hours of down time, then a pregame meal and the drive over to the stadium. There was a high school game before us, a thriller won by Jesuit Prep of Dallas over Loyola of Chicago 30-29. Both teams had a good amount of parents and fans at the game, as were a lot of Irish fans.
A big thrill for our players, especially those from the Pittsburgh area, was meeting U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney before the game. He spoke a few words to both teams, as well as shaking dozens of hands and posing for many pictures. An affable guy considering he’s a Steeler.
Our game against St. Norbert’s of Wisconsin got off to a shaky start as they took an early 3-0 lead after we gave them great field position on an interception. That would proof to be one of our few mistakes, as we would roll to a 40-3 victory over what was a pretty good football team. Our new quarterback Mark Myers threw for 457 yards and five touchdowns; one of our new running backs Randy Greenwood took a swing pass 73 yards for a TD; and Lane Robilotto and Alex Kline both had 2 touchdown catches. I coach the running backs with Ron Dolciato and they had a good game, D’quan Grobsmith had several exciting plays, as usual, and scored a rushing touchdown; and all nine RBs saw action both in the backfield and on special teams.
Even with all of those offensive exploits, the story of the game for the Blue Streaks was the defense. They were outstanding, giving up a total of 90 yards and only 7 first downs.
The Irish fans were absolutely nuts during and after the game. Aided by the fact that there was a bar in both end zones, a few of them had had a pint or two. They stormed the field afterward asking our players to pose for pictures and to sign autographs. Between the history and ambience of the stadium and the enthusiasm of the crowd it was one of the best game day experiences I have had in my football career.
The mood back at our hotel afterwards was quite festive. The team, parents, and fans took over the lobby and pub area, while the coaches and support staff retired to Coach Scafe’s suite to celebrate the big victory.
Saturday found us in total tourist mode, as we went to the Notre Dame/Navy Game, which was fun but turned out to be not much of game as ND rolled 50-10. Navy could have kept it close, but blew some first half scoring opportunities and threw an interception for a touch down right before half. The game should have ended 43-10, but ND drove for a final score instead of taking a knee at the very end of the game, a classless way to end the game. This is from the same coach who left his University of Cincinnati team two weeks before they played in the Orange Bowl to go to Notre Dame. Oh, the high moral standards of DI athletics!
The Midshipmen marched on the field before the game; ND’s band did a great halftime show of ‘Irish songs,’ most of which made the real Irish in the stands cringe a bit.
On Sunday we had a day full of highlights, starting with a team mass attended by not only the team but also friends, family, and a host of JCU dignitaries. It was held in the chapel of the Catholic University of Ireland, a beautiful church located across the street from Stephen’s Green. We then had a brunch in the lobby of the National Concert Hall. Afterward we had an hour or so to do a little sight seeing, I went of to St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s version of Central Park. It’s a beautiful urban park, 22 acres of lawns, ponds, walking paths, and landscaped gardens.
We then went off to what was the surprise moment of the trip, to see County Mayo play County Dublin in the semi-finals of the National Gaelic Football Championships. We were amongst the eighty thousand crazy fans who watched the Irish National Sport, which is a combination of soccer, rugby, basketball, and keep away. The game came down to the end, as Dublin came back from a 17-7 deficit to pull within 2 points, only to see Mayo hold on for the victory. The game was played by amateurs from their home counties, and we were on our feet screaming for both teams until time ran out. It would be like if the Browns were made up completely of players from Northern Ohio, and the Steelers were made up completely of players from Western Pennsylvania, and everyone had to go back to their day job the day after.
Monday was our travel day, with the players due back in class on Tuesday. Special thanks to Coach Regis Scafe and the fulltime coaches, Jane Evans and Laurie Massa in the Athletic Department, Mrs. Debick and Father Niehoff from the administration, Father Bernie, and everyone else involved in putting the trip together. It was a terrific week filled with priceless moments.
Some Misc Comments:
1. I traveled the week on the offensive bus, and our driver Tony was a real treasure. A great representative of Ireland and its people.
2. Except for the first day at the Cliffs of Moher, we had terrific weather. It rained a bit, but it was perfect for the game and for our practices.
3. The Irish really love their green spaces, especially lawns. Whether it was in St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, or our hotel, there were beautiful rich green lawns everywhere. Can you see in America someone saying ‘no you can’t build a shopping center there because a lawn is already there’? Look what’s going to happen to Acacia Country Club.
4. The entertainment units on the back of the seats on the United oversea flights really make the trips a lot more bearable. Our flight back was over seven hours long, but I watched three films and the time flew by.
5. It was enjoyable watching the British take on American politics on their news shows.
6. Dublin is a city without a skyline. Most buildings are only four stories tall, including those in its downtown. That gives the city a great charm, and it is also filled with wide walking paths and sidewalks, and is very bicycle friendly. And, as I mentioned already, contains a lot of urban green space.
7. Our hotel City West Hotel and Golf Club was ideal. It was a large charming place, with winding staircases, pubs filled with comfortable leather furniture, and classy old dining rooms. It also had a championship golf course, a health club with a lap pool, and a convention center that was huge. It was far enough out in the country to keep us out of trouble, but a short bus ride to everywhere we needed to go.
|Monday was a travel day for the Blue Streaks|
|Monday was nothing but bus rides, layovers, and airplane flights as we made our way back home.|
Sunday, September 2, 2012
|Inside of the Chapel at the Catholic University of Ireland|
|Outside of Chapel|
|We had a great brunch with everyone in the lobby of the National Concert Hall|
|Head JCU Coach Regis Scafe, Assistant Coach Ron Dolciato, JCU Alum General Carter Hamm '76, |
and Assistant Coach Tom Arth.
|Stephen's Green #1|
|Stephen's Green #2|
|Stephen's Green #3|
|A Team Mayo Fan in a pub before the big game.|
|Dublin fans in the street before the Gaelic Football game.|
|A big fan of Dublin's|
|Mayo fans in the street.|
|Mayo fans celebrate after the game with JCU players.|
|They sell everything in Dublin|
Saturday, September 1, 2012
|This is Luke, Alex, and Shawn, three of our players. This photo was taken on the front plaza of|
our hotel in the Dublin countryside.
|Some of our players enjoying the ND/Navy game.|
|Some of our coaches doing the same thing.|
|Navy Midshipmen on parade during pre game.|
|ND band at halftime with Irish tribute.|
|Alex at the game.|
|Aviva is a great stadium, this is the view from the third deck towards the open end.|
Friday, August 31, 2012
|Offensive bus on the way to the game.|
|Father Meouf, President of JCU, addresses the team.|
|USA Ambassador to Ireland Mr. Dan Rooney|
|Both teams line up for American and Irish National Anthems|
|JCU tem celebrates the win with fans in the stands by singing the fight song.|
|Irish fans celebrate with JCU players.|
|Coach King and Cocoran|
|Father Bernie, team chaplain, celebrates the win|
|Tom and Jane|
|Coach Tom Arth, QB Mark Meyers, Coach Ron Dolciato|
We left Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon, got into Dublin Wednesday morning, and had our team up for pretty much 24 hours in a row. Wednesday's practice was spotty at best. But after everyone got settled in our hotel and got a good night's sleep, Thursday was quite a day. We practiced and then had lunch at the University of Dublin, followed by an afternoon of tourism. We visited the Donniebrook, the stadium we will play in Friday night. It is the home of Dublin's four time world championship rugby team, and it reaks of tradition. One of the best venues we have ever played in. Then we visited St. Patrick's Cathedral and park, and Trinity College. The day was capped off with a parade through downtown Dublin of all the American and Canadian high school and college teams participating in the football festival, finishing with a pep rally on the main plaza at Trinity College.
|Some of the Coaches|
|Taken on the plaza at University of Dublin|
|Running Backs and their coaches at Donniebrook Stadium|
|St. Patrick's Cathedral|
|Team Photo in St. Patrick's Park|
|On the steps of Trinity College|
|Beginning of Football Parade in Downtown Dublin|
|Two of the high school teams are from Cananda|
|Dallas Jesuit High School Dance Team|
|JCU Blue Streaks in parade|
|JCU fans along parade sight|
|Football Rally in main plaza of Trinity College|