With the Super Bowl a day away, many are turning their attention to not only the sport of football, but its safety as well. The family of linebacker Junior Seau is the latest to join thousands of former NFL players suing the league over head injuries. Seau committed suicide nearly nine months ago. His family is citing Seau's condition, known as CTE, to be the reason for the suicide. Health professionals say the only known cause of CTE is repeated head trauma. Some argue helmets are part of the problem, leading players to treat their heads as battering rams. Our Katie Gibas spoke with coaches and health professionals about issue and possible solutions.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- There's no question football safety has come a long way since the early 20th century.
"Athletes were dying. So there was actually some thought of banning football at that time, but someone thought, 'Hey, let's put helmets on them and maybe that will help,'" said Brian Rieger, PhD, the director of the Upstate Concussion Center.
Joseph Casamento, the CBA head football coach, added, "I can remember when they were almost just made out of like cardboard.”
As technology advanced, helmets did help. They prevented fractured skulls and brain bleeding.
"The helmets have allowed them to survive hard hits, but the brain is floating inside the skull. And as I always say, you can put a helmet on the head, but you can't put a seat belt on the brain," said Rieger
Obviously helmets have come a long way in terms of preventing injuries. But experts say helmets aren't the only answer. Fundamental changes to the game and the way players learn it need to happen as well.
"Learning your technique and practicing your technique is important. I think one of the things in high school that's great is there are no pads. So there's not a lot you can do except technique," said Casamento.
In the last ten years, there's been a growing school of thought that the helmets might be creating a false sense of security and leading players to use their heads as battering rams.
"You have bigger stronger faster people playing on the same sized field that the college and high school guys do, but I think they take tremendous risks because a lot of money is at stake and they're trying to get that job," said Casamento.
Now thousands of former NFL players are suing the league for head injuries.
"The NFL has gotten away from football. It's pure entertainment. It's all about dances in the end zone and knocking people out, standing up over them and acting like a fool because you're so tough. And then you want to complain that your head hurts five years later. I say if you go out and play a great game, within the rules, especially with the equipment they have today, it's minimal that you're going to get hurt," said Casamento.
Those we spoke with favor harsher penalties to hold players, coaches and refs accountable for player safety.
The NFL players union has chosen Harvard University to lead a $100 million study on the best ways to treat and attempt prevent injuries that lead to long-term health complications for players.