Marshall University researchers look for ways to make football safer

Eyewitness News (Charleston, West Virginia)

February 12, 2023

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WCHS) — When the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin collapsed in a Monday Night Football game, it revived the debate over safety in the sport and in particular, concussions. Some progress is being made to make the sport safer thanks to research being done at Marshall University.

The sound of football gets the adrenaline pumping, but those sounds also can mean serious injuries for players.

Eyewitness News spoke with Gerald Cadogan, a former professional football player who now serves as an assistant coach at Portsmouth High School.

“Being an offensive lineman, you are guaranteed to make contact with a defensive lineman every play,” Cadogan said. “I have not had any concussion to where I was hospitalized or lost consciousness, but I have got ‘my bell rung’ or a stinger, which is under the umbrella of head trauma.”

The constant contact is a point of concern for Marshall University athletic trainers Dr. Zach Garrett and Dr. Suzanne Konze.

“A hit to the head is a hit to the head and the more often it is happening, we know is not good for you,” Garrett said.

The two researchers are trying to find ways to make football safer and reduce injuries, using a variety of instruments within helmets such as sensors. Konz said sensors may collect data on literally every impact to the head, be it from the ground or another player.

“We are trying to limit those that are occurring on the top of the head,” Garrett said. “That’s a good thing.”

Data collected from sensors in helmets provide athletic training staff an objective tool in assessing a possible concussion.

“There’s this idea that concussion takes a huge, massive amount of force to happen and we are finding with some peewee football research that is not the case and that it actually can happen at much lower levels,” Konze said.

Cadogan welcomes the new technology in detecting and reducing head injuries and reports the Portsmouth football coaching staff goes the extra mile to tell whether or not a player should be in the game.

“If you have to sit out a game or two because you had an injury to your head, that is tough,” Cadogan admitted. “But at the end of the day, that is what you have to do. Whether it cost you the game or not having your star athlete on the field, you have to take into consideration there is life after football.”

Konz said an undiagnosed concussion could lead to a significant increase in a muscular skeletal injury three to six months down the road.

“Concussions are not something that need to be disregarded and understand the traditions, ‘Oh, you got your bell rung,’” Konze said. “That’s a concussion. It’s not this, ‘Oh it’s nothing.'”

Cadogan said the culture of continuing to play with a head injury needs to be broken.

“It’s a culture that has been created by athletes, by the coaches, by the trainers and by the parents,” Cadogan said. “The NFL stands for ‘Not for Long,’ so unless you are one of the elites, afterwards there is life after football. You want to be conscious of what that looks like for you because games will come and go and it’s better to tackle life when you’re healthy.”

Garrett and Konz report their goal is to be able to get the concussion sensors in all Marshall football helmets and eventually introduce more sensors at the high school level.

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