The Tartan

Tackling low may be source of increasing knee injuries

By Victor Tuccy, Staff Writer

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As the Chicago Bears injury list grows larger and larger for the second year in a row with three members of the team going to Injured Reserve, it begs the question: Why are there more knee injuries happening in pro football now more than any other time in history?

In my search for answers to this question I came across some interesting statistics that blew my mind. From MDedge.com a website dedicated to case studies and injury statistics, they stated that football has the highest rate of injuries of all four major sports. In my years of watching and listening to sports, I never really took into account how many times I see someone or some team go through a stretch where it seems like the players are dropping like flies from ACL, MCL, and PCL tears in the knee. One recent Sunday alone there were five players that came across a knee ligament issues whether it be a partial tear, and or complete tears of the knee.

According to MDedge.com, in a study done from 2001 to 2005 ,there was an estimated 1.1 million emergency room visits from football players across the country of all levels of play. This number has only increased as the years have gone on, I was unable to find a reliable number as it differs from article to study but in doing so within the 12 years since the original study that number has more than likely doubled. In further research of the numbers from the original study 45% of those injuries where specifically related to the knees of these players. These knee injuries are more likely to end seasons or end the careers of some if not most of these players, not to mention the permanent damage, psychological damage, and further down the line in life complications due to major surgeries for these athletes.

Recently I attended my 7-year-old nephew’s football game, in watching I started to notice how one of the many ways the likelihood as to why these knee injuries have increased. It very well could be in the way how youth football coaches are teaching young kids to tackle. Every time there was a tackle or a kid running towards the ball carrier the coach would scream “hit low, hit low” or “wrap their legs up.” As the kids would tackle one another I didn’t see anyone hurt or in pain but over time the kids will get bigger, stronger, faster, and after hearing to always tackle like that it will be muscle memory to these kids to keep hitting low.

When the game was finished, I spoke with the coach of my nephew’s football team the Antioch Vikings, Cameron Campbell who was a high school defensive and offensive lineman, an ex-defensive coordinator for the Waukegan Bulldogs and Warren Blue Devils. He also was the special teams and wide receivers coach for the Antioch Sequiots. After getting to speak briefly about his past, my first question to him was: “When you have practice with the young kids as opposed to the older high school kids who have been taught how to tackle a certain way for so long, how do you go about teaching the younger kids how to tackle properly and safely?”

He answered “with the NFL and College level of play being under scrutiny by the outside pubic because of CTE the leagues send notes and information down to the youth and high school level coaches on how not to aim for the head or anywhere above the shoulder, in turn this makes us as youth coaches have to start teaching the kids on how to go about wrapping the legs up of the opposing team or trying to grab by the waist section so they are not leading with the crown of their helmet or hitting the other kids with head-on collisions. One way we teach is to come at an angle at someone’s legs instead of head on because there is likelihood of an injury to the legs section that we are worried about as well as concussions and head collisions.”

I asked him  what he thought about the other coach and his players only going for the legs or knees of his players.  “I don’t have a problem with players only going to either wrap the legs up or make a lower contact tackle,” he said, “but to be screaming at a rate that may intensify and distract the player from making a safe grab or wrap of the legs which could cause an injury, that I have a problem with.”

Campbell says the shrinking tackle zone is a double-edged sword. “On one hand your helping to reduce the risk of fatal brain damage and injuries which can and could lead to CTE a major problem within the sport of football the last 20 plus year,” he said. “On the other you have seen an uptick in the amount of injuries to the legs and knees of not just grown men in the NFL, but also in the college and high school level all the way down to the very early stages of the featherweight leagues of youth football. There are right ways to teach how to tackle and then there are wrong ways to teach how to tackle, I believe if you start to teach very early on in these careers of these kids they will be more equipped to not only protect themselves better from getting contact but also in the way they give out contact within the sport of football.”

After my interview with Campbell  I believed I had found at least one way to shed some light on how football of all levels can start to eliminate this huge epidemic of injuries to the people that play this sport.

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Tackling low may be source of increasing knee injuries