Forum tackles concussions, sports safety

Players and experts discuss safety during November forum

Dave Wyman has always played football carefully with his head.

At Stanford, where smarts and good instincts are required, Wyman blossomed as a roving linebacker who led the Cardinal in tackles in 1983, ‘84 and ‘86.

As a 245-pound force, Wyman went on to play nine productive NFL seasons with the Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

Wyman missed his share of snaps and played in pain. There were customary bumps and bruises, sprains and strains. A severe knee injury temporarily took him off the field at Stanford. A bad left shoulder, knee trouble and other injuries crimped his pro career.

He also played with his “bell rung.”

“Yup, sure did,” Wyman said during a break from his work as an analyst for 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Danny, Dave and Moore.” “We didn’t know any better back then (with concussions). Stanford was doing their best at the time.

Much has changed since the ’80s. The fast and physical game of football has dramatically changed the way it recognizes and treats trauma to the head and spine.

More organized sports associations – from youth football to Little League, the Pac-12 Conference to the NFL – are following protocols and procedures more cautiously than ever before with regards to concussions and head injuries.

To discuss those measures and other trends, Wyman joined a panel of experts and leaders in the field of athletics for a special Town Hall on Concussions &Youth Sports at the Kentwood High School Performing Arts Center in Covington last month.

The program, presented by 710 ESPN and the Kent School District, discussed how concussions and head injuries have impacted the health of players, especially those in the early levels of development, and what school districts are doing to make all games safer.

The discussion was open to parents and coaches involved in all levels of sports.

Along with Wyman, featured panelists included Dr. Stan Herring, former Seahawks team physician who specializes in neck and spine injuries; and Dave Lutes, Kent School District athletic director. Danny O’Neil, 710 ESPN host and former Seahawks beat writer for the Seattle Times, moderated.

Given the concerns about concussions and player safety today, 710 ESPN and the school district decided to organize a forum to reach out, engage and better educate youth sports communities.

‘Unifiying topic’

“Sports are an incredibly unifying topic, but there are also issues that you wrestle with,” O’Neil said. “And I think safety is one of the primary issues around football right now, not just at the pro level but especially with our communities. We have a unique opportunity because of our partnerships with the Seahawks. … These are conversations at the station we want to help facilitate.

“The NFL has a role in this in that they set an example,” O’Neil added, “but ultimately the more important decisions about football safety are made at the high school level.”

Steps have been taken to make football safer. USA Football, for instance, has introduced the Heads Up youth program, which promotes safer tackling methods.

Today’s college games have little or no tolerance for “targeting,” often described as a helmet-first tackle on an unprotected ball carrier. The pro game is more scrutinized, tightly regulating how players tackle at or above the neck-and-head area .

Wyman likes how today’s game has become much aware of how it treats concussions, but admits it is impossible for the NFL to eliminate hard hits entirely and the consequences that come with them.

“I’m a little more skeptical on the tackling and the hitting, just because it’s really hard to keep your head out of it,” he said.

Concussions often are a result of hard blows to the head from another part of the body, not just helmet to helmet. Wyman should know. As a Stanford freshman, he caught a knee to his head when an opponent jumped over him in the first quarter of a game. Wyman considers it one of the worst concussions of his playing career.

“I didn’t wake up until the middle of the second quarter,” he said of the hit in 1982. “Somehow I found my way off the field … then all of a sudden there I was, I lost 20 minutes of time. But I went back in before the half.”

Today’s medical staffs and team doctors are better trained to recognize and treat such injuries. Wyman has Herring to thank for keeping him healthy and walking on his feet, then and now.

“He’s worked on every back in my family. He’s one of the best,” Wyman said of the good doctor. “He’s a real thoughtful guy as far as how concussions go and how to handle them. Stan’s always just as good about that as you can be as a doctor as far as being aware and always up on the latest, whether it’s spinal injuries or concussions.”

Doing just fine

Wyman said he has had no residual effects of his playing career. Other NFL alumni have not been as fortunate. Many are dealing with debilitating illnesses and other health problems.

“I mean, I can read and write still. I feel like I’m a normal 52-year-old person,” Wyman said. “It does make me concerned, though, when you hear about (the ramifications of a pro career). I’m definitely sensitive to it. I wouldn’t say I worry about it, but it is concerning.”

O’Neil hoped the forum would give parents and coaches a better understanding on sports and injuries.

“I don’t know if you can ever make football completely safe,” he said, “but we have to be more aware and conscious of the best things we can do.”

“We want to show people the positives of the sport,” he said. “It’s OK to make the decision that you don’t want your child to play football but make that decision out of knowledge as opposed to just fear, and to understand what the real true risks are and how you can monitor the injuries.”

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