School sports have come a long way from the days of dodging wooden rounders bats and running around a soggy sports field. Although the traditional British sports are still popular, more and more sports coaches and PE teachers are looking further afield when considering their long-term plans.

There are many rules which have been introduced to various sports with the intent of making the activities as safe for those taking part in them as possible. Join curved stair lift manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts as they look at how two of America’s most popular sports have adapted over time to become safer…

American football

According to Marvin Washington in a post that the member of the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl XXXII championship-winning team penned for The New York Times, “the game of football is safer than it has ever been”.

Mr Washington went on to state: “Over the last few years, the NFL has made 39 rule changes to enhance player safety. Kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line from the 30-yard line to increase touchbacks and decrease dangerous kickoff returns.

"A more rigorous protocol was established for dealing with concussions. Independent medical spotters can now call a timeout if they see that a player may have been concussed. Receivers on a pass that is intercepted are now classified as defenseless players.

“These are just a few recent changes that have had measurable results.” A pupil in American football kit

The NFL in particular has come a long way where rules are concerned. In its early stages, the offense could begin just a yard from the sideline, player substitutions were prohibited and players on both teams in action were granted the opportunity to grab the facemasks of their opponents at will.

Today, NFL and football in general have rules which intend to make contests fairer, safer and more entertaining for all involved. Paying close attention to the health of the players, NFL rules were modified in 2008 to prevent three or more defensive players from being able to form a wedge to block for the return man on kickoff returns, in a move aimed at driving down the number of injuries recorded in the sport.

Limitations have also been made to the chop block — a move where an offensive lineman blocks a defensive lineman high while another offensive player opts to block the same player low — due to the number of knee injuries which the action caused. In 2016, the rules were modified to the point where chop blocks were prohibited in running plays. As a result, all instances of the move are now illegal.

There are so many more rule changes which have been made in the NFL where health and safety of players are concerned, with those from the past 30 years alone able to be reflected on through this post.

Revolutionary technology is helping to make football safer too. Just take a mouthguard showcased in a NOVA video reported on by PBS. This common piece of kit for footballers was made more advanced by being fitted with both a gyroscope and an accelerometer.

The aim of the accelerometer is to measure the speed and movement of the player wearing the mouthguard through space, while the gyroscope monitors where the same player’s head is in space. As a result, both sensors will work to register where a player got hit and at what force if they suffer a tackle. Should the hit go above a certain threshold, a coach or trainer based on the sidelines of the action will get an alert via Bluetooth to inform them that they should take the player off the field for a medical evaluation before pursuing any further play.

Technology has also been introduced at youth football level with the intent to make the sport safer for those taking part, in the form of Mobile Virtual Players. Introduced to schools such as St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, these robotic dummies — measuring in at six feet tall and weighing 185 pounds each — are dynamic and can be used to create a more realistic playing simulation than static dummies could ever achieve. In fact, they can run across a football field at speeds of 20 miles per hour, complete a 40-yard dash in just five seconds and simulate offensive football players.

Players can remain safe throughout training too, as defensive linesmen can practice their technique by knocking over the Mobile Virtual Players time and time again without coaches needing to worry that those getting tackled will suffer an injury.

Boxing

Boxing is often viewed as at least a relatively dangerous sport, with this statement more than backed up in a study by researchers in Germany. In their research, it was revealed that there have been on average ten boxing deaths recorded per year between 1990 and 2016.

While this is a worrying statistic, a counterargument has been made by Doug Ward, the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company. He underlined in a post published on the TITLE Boxing Blog that “the real fact is that boxing is among the most regulated sports in all of athletics”.

Mr Ward goes on to explain that amateur boxing’s foundation is to provide a level playing field for all competitors. As such, bouts are set up by pairing fighters of similar weight, age and experience levels. “The goal is to make fights that are fair and competitive”, Mr Ward goes on to note — something that isn’t seen in many other sports where athletes who are different in many ways are pitted against one another.

The Underground Boxing Company President goes on to acknowledge that “boxing has gone the extra mile to insure the safety and protect the well-being of its athletes”. Here’s a few reasons how this is the case:

  1. 1. Doctors are present during pre-fight physicals, who will be tasked with determining the health and ability of the boxer to compete before they step into the ring.
  2. 2. At least one physician must be present at all times during a boxing match, who will be tasked with monitoring both boxers throughout a bout to ensure their health and physical welfare remains at a safe level. These physicians will also be tasked to examine each boxer once the match is finished.
  3. 3. There’s always a referee in the ring throughout a boxing match. As well as making sure that the rules of the sport are always being followed by the combatants, they will also be tasked to continually monitor and gauge both the physical and mental state of each boxer during a bout.

This is not to say that boxing can’t be made safer. N.K. Sethi is a board-certified neurologist at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center. He’s also been a physician at boxing matches, recalling in a post written for Athlete’s Quarterly that he once had to make the call to stop a bout when there was only 30 seconds remaining in the last scheduled round on medical grounds.

Mr Sethi noted that while he was berated by those in the concerned fighter’s corner for his decision, he stated: “As a doctor, I can tell you for certain, 30 seconds in a fight truly matters. One punch can be the difference between life and death. The final punch can have a fatal effect. So while we, as ringside physicians, endure the wrath of trainers, the media and sometimes the fighter himself, for stopping a fight, we cannot let this discourage or intimidate us to make comprises on a fighter’s safety.”

From this, Mr Sethi has the following advice: “The fighter’s mentality is never to quit no matter what the circumstances. Doing so brings disgrace to the fighter, his family and his corner. This mentality and culture needs to change.

“Boxers and corner staff should be educated and encouraged to actively recognize and report to the ringside physician any subjective symptoms of concussion and traumatic brain injury, such as headache, subjective feeling of dizziness or light headedness, blurring of vision, double vision, confusion and a feeling of fogginess.”

Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney has another solution for potentially making the sport safer — making weigh-ins take place on the same day that a boxing match is scheduled to take place to reduce the number of injuries which are tied into competitors being dehydrated.

Speaking on the UK’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she explained: "I think it’s something to do with dehydration, making weight, because the fluid around the brain is drained out when fighters have to make weight.”

Sources:

https://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/evolution-of-the-nfl-rules/

https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/02/05/is-it-wrong-to-watch-football/football-is-safer-than-it-has-ever-been

https://operations.nfl.com/football-ops/nfl-ops-honoring-the-game/health-safety-rules-changes/

https://youth1.com/football/gear-innovations-how-technology-making-youth-football-safer

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/boxing/nick-blackwell-is-boxing-safe-deaths-chris-eubank-jr-a6959631.html

https://www.titleboxing.com/news/is-boxing-safe/

https://www.athletesquarterly.com/makeboxingsafer/

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/boxing/nick-blackwell-is-boxing-safe-deaths-chris-eubank-jr-a6959631.html

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