Holtz prophetic on concussion issue

Earlier this month, Pittsburgh native and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino became the latest Hall of Fame football player to sue the National Football League over concussion-related issues.

More than 4,000 other ex-football players, including 14 other Hall of Famers, have done the same.

The NFL and the plaintiffs agreed on a $765 million settlement last August, but the settlement was rejected by a federal judge in January.

This week, Cleveland.com reported that a former Baldwin Wallace football player has sued the university claiming that it failed to recognize, diagnose, test or treat him for head trauma and symptoms of a concussion.

A recent study published by the Orlando Sentinel states that 13.2-percent of injuries sustained on high school football fields are concussion related.

And, on the smallest gridiron scale possible, Pop Warner – the largest youth football league in the country – says its numbers have dropped nearly 10 percent during the last two years.

The league says it’s due to parents worried about concussion potential.

Football as a whole has taken a major hit from head injuries.

Leave it to one of football’s greatest ambassadors to come up with a solution to the cranium crisis.

“Take the facemask off the helmet,” said legendary coach Lou Holtz.

Yes, you read that correctly. The 44-year coaching veteran, who has a national title, several coach of the year awards and 252 victories to his name, suggests that the facemask should be removed from the helmet.

For good reason, actually.

“All of a sudden, people will start tackling properly,” Holtz continued. “They don’t even wear a helmet in rugby and they’re tackling.

“They don’t use their heads and that’s why there aren’t many concussions in rugby.”

Still, it’s the biggest cause of injury in the sport. Though concussions are monitored with greater emphasis.

The USA Rugby Association lists “The 5 Rs” as a strict policy to follow before a player suffering from head trauma is allowed to play again.

Recognize. Remove. Refer. Recover. Return.

“USA Rugby believes in a ‘brains over brawn’ philosophy when it comes to player welfare and head injuries in particular. There is no single play or game worth suffering from a brain injury, and we must all be smart, educated and informed when it comes to player safety issues. Players need to throw pride out the window and never attempt to ‘tough out’ a head injury,” said Nigel Melville, president and CEO of USA Rugby on the organization’s website. “Let’s play head’s up rugby out there and commit to taking good care of one another through education and responsible action.”

Even though there are only a reported 450,000 registered number of rugby players in the United States and 1,088,158 high school football players, alone, according to the National Federation of High School Sports, football numbers are dwindling each year as pointed out by Pop Warner statistics.

But according to Holtz, learning the game the right way at a young age can prevent concussion-related injuries later on.

“People have been using the helmet as a weapon,” Holtz said. “They’re not taught to tackle properly, and that’s why we have more concussions now. There’s no doubt that the way you use your helmet is integral to how you play on defense.”

California lawmakers are taking another approach to head up concussion-awareness at a young age by limiting the number of football practices and cutting down on practice hours.

“We have a multitude of evidence that this does not just affect professional athletes, but that younger kids who are still developing are just as susceptible,” the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley, said in a statement which was published by Reuters. “Medical research has shown hits don’t have to produce a concussion to have long-lasting effects.”

It’s smart thinking. It’d be a smart move for California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the measure, making it the 20th state to support practice restrictions. Then, it’d be even smarter for every state to adopt the move and for coaches nationwide to get on board, too.

Now that’s using your head, just like Coach proclaims.

“You can use your head mentally,” Holtz said, “you should never use it physically.”

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)