I saw the hit coming. I was at the top of the stadium watching my son’s high school football game and my stomach clenched as he ran a slant across the middle of the field while a freight train was headed in his direction. The F’word formed on my lips before the hit even happened, before my son leaped up to catch the pass, open and defenseless, to the oncoming hit. A hard tackle would have been bad, but I watched as a kid rammed his helmet into my son’s head and then pushed him to the ground. My son’s arms went slack and his body limp as he fell. The proud defender looked down upon him. I wanted to vomit.
I had just been telling another mom that I hated having to play these final games, when our high school had been eliminated from the playoffs. How I had wanted to be done with football this year. I was looking forward to basketball season and an opportunity for my son to grow and get stronger, make it safer for him to be playing football when the next season came around. He had even scheduled to meet with a trainer to better prepare himself for his junior year. But strength wouldn’t have helped him this night, strength wouldn’t have stopped that targeted hit. The bottom line is, changes need to take place in how the game of football is played, especially at the high school level.
My son has been throwing a football since he was three years old. Every time we go on a family walk, a football is in tow. Football is a part of family life at the Elliott house. I didn’t grow up around the game myself, in my family, football was soccer, but when I was in high school, I supported our team and then later I met my husband at Eastern Washington University where he was playing football. He played college ball, was an All-State quarterback in high school and has coached the game. He loves the game and knows the game inside and out, but I was wishing I’d never heard of the game as I made myself take the stadium steps one at a time to the field. I have spent years as a coach so I know better than to run out on the field like a crazy mom. But I was going crazy on the inside. I wanted to run out and make sure my son was still alive.
The trainers had him surrounded. I walked out and knelt behind them before I saw him move. It took him awhile to sit up. A wave of relief washed through my body but it was followed by more fear. He could not walk away unscathed from a hit like that. I held my breath.
The trainers escorted him to the sidelines. He knew his name, where he was, the basics. The trainers were concerned but optimistic. I was skeptical. He rode home with the team. My ride home with my husband was silent (which NEVER happens), that is until we reached our house. “We got lucky tonight,” He said. I felt it too. There have been six deaths from high school football injuries this year. Again I felt sick.
When I picked my son up from school he acted okay, and when he went to bed that night he seemed fine, but as a coach I’ve had my concussion training, I knew to keep an eye out for symptoms. My husband couldn’t sleep. I woke to find him in his office writing an email titled, “The title of this email could have easily been…”Another High School Football Player Seriously Injured.” He was not only angry and upset that his son was hurt, but he was angry because that night, as he worked the chains on the football field, he’d had to listen to the opposing coaches and players hoot and holler and high-five one another about the “great” hit that left his son unmoving on the field. He was angered by the fact that the game that he loves so dearly had come to this. What had happened to football that was now making it so dangerous? Yes, concussions are a part of the game, but what he had witnessed was not football. It was not a good tackle. A good tackle would have hurt, maybe could have caused a concussion as the player fell to the ground, but when there is intent to use the head and target a player, it is not a good tackle and the chances that something bad will happen are great.
What is the solution? My husband believes that there needs to be a big shift in the rules and officiating concerning tackling. In our area, high school football currently has rules against leading with the head, yet after my son was hit, the only action taken was a 15 yard penalty. My husband believes that a player who makes a targeted hit should be ejected from the game and kept out for one or two more games. Discouraging these vicious hits, by referees and coaches, is where this change must begin. Yes, proper tackling technic is important, but rules and strict enforcement, must be set to keep our kids safe.
Changes must happen now. Even at the professional level changes are happening. Two days after my son was hit, Seahawk Ricardo Lockette, was brought down by a similar tackle while covering a punt. It made me nauseous to watch. The announcer talked about punts being one the last parts of the game, at the professional level, where changes need to happen to remove dangerous hits. If rule changes are happening to protect professional athletes, then they need to happen at the high school level to protect our children.
My son’s concussion symptoms came the following night. I’d made him rest and turn off electronic devices most of the day and when he felt fine that evening we let him meet his buddies for a while, it was Halloween. But later that night the headaches started. The next day was a stronger headache and drowsiness. Then more headaches, drowsiness and difficulty with classwork continued throughout the week.
The average recovery time for a concussion is 2-6 weeks. He will miss his last football game (I’m not so sad about that, but he is bummed), and he’s hoping he’ll be ready for basketball tryouts in a week and a half. We’ve been to the urgent care clinic, the ER and we’re following up next week with the Seattle Sports Concussion Program so we can get a comprehensive understanding of his future, because this is my son’s third concussion and while the kid that hit him is able to play tonight, my son is not only out until his concussion is better, he might be done with football.
I know that I am lucky. My son will be okay. But I have seen far too many concussions with football players in recent years and when it comes closer to home it scares you into action. Let’s work to change the future of high school football. To change and enforce the rules in a way that will make the game safer for our children.
Contact your local Interscholastic Athletic Association today.
In the state of Washington contact the WIAA. CLICK HERE
…also happening this month in the seattle area
Community Forum on Safety in Sports | Monday, November 16, 2015 | 7-8:30 p.m.
Join Q13 Fox anchor Marni Hughes as she moderates a panel discussion focused on safety in sports with an emphasis on signs, symptoms and treatment of head injuries. The panel discussion will be followed by questions from the audience. Parents, coaches and players are encouraged to attend. Event is open to the public.
For more information about the event, CLICK HERE.