Tackling Injuries

From the Editors of Sports Illustrated KIDS: Professional football gets serious about head injuries.

Nov 05, 2010 | By Sachin Shenolikar

On October 19, NFL officials announced that players could be suspended without pay for dangerous hits to an opponent's head. The stiff punishment was put into play after a weekend when several players suffered concussions from tackles.

It usually takes at least two weeks for a concussion to heal, but athletes are often under pressure to return to the field sooner. "There's a warrior mentality that exists," says Kevin Guskiewicz. He is the head of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That tough-guy attitude creates dangerous situations. Studies of retired NFL players have found that players who had three or more concussions during their career are more likely to suffer from later problems, such as depression and memory loss.

"If concussions are not managed properly, they can lead to significant long-term consequences," Ruben Echemendia, an expert on sports-related brain injuries, told TFK.

Be Tough and Play Smart

Football helmets are designed to protect against skull fractures, but not concussions. Helmets may not be able to absorb the impact that causes concussions. 

The NFL is taking steps to change the culture of a sport in which players pride themselves on being strong. "You can be tough and still play smart," says Echemendia. "The brain is not an injury you can play through. It's not like a knee or an ankle. You can't replace it."