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Football safety has become a public health issue in America. Research shows quite clearly and consistently that playing football over time is hazardous to one's health.

Football Safety

But a good share of the current debate about football and serious head injuries (including CTE) is getting us nowhere fast. It's largely a partisan struggle between those who defend the game and those who say it needs to change.

The back-and-forth reached the level of lunacy last week when a number of NFL owners and coaches stepped to the microphone.

Dallas owner, Jerry Jones, called the relationship between brain injuries and football “absurd.” Indianapolis Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, drew a connection between possible consequences from taking aspirin vis-à-vis football hits. Arizona Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians believes parents are “fools” if they don’t let their kids play football. And Baltimore Ravens’ head coach, John Harbaugh, believes a lot of people are “attacking football” and doing so passionately. What football needs, he asserts, is people who’ll defend it with the same fervor. And he did.

Viewing the debate as defense vs. offense limits the outcome. You either defend it or you want change. There's another path—a more reasonable path, particularly from a public policy perspective. It's to support the game and improve it, both at the same time. And that's exactly what’s happening in The Ivy League.

League head coaches voted unanimously recently to ban in-season tackling during practices. The focus instead will be on improving tackling techniques, which includes tackling electronically controlled robots programmed in a variety of game-like situations. (See a ESPN Outside The Lines video here.)

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I don’t know what football will look like in ten years. But I do know things can't stay as they are today. Players are at risk, especially young players. We must move beyond hyperbole and do what's right.

The new approach is especially relevant because research has shown that repeated hits have a potentially onerous impact, whether or not they produce concussions. The goal in the Ivy League is to reduce the number hits to the head. A recent study done of football players showed that head hits in just one season can produce measurable brain damage.

This change is not only the right thing to do, it also brings benefits to the game. Here's how head coach Buddy Teevens (Dartmouth) put it: "By doing it with (tackling) bags, we’ve become a lot more consistent and confident. Our missed tackles dropped by 50 percent. We cut them in half. Quite simply, we practiced it more."

I know football is a billion-dollar industry. I also know that it’s baked into our fan-crazy (addicted) culture. The challenge is to make sure that neither of those extraneous (to public health) reasons is strong enough to overcome doing what's right.

The antidote is to do what we always do when facing an issue like this in America. We study, analyze, debate, decide what’s best, and then implement better protocols.

We did that with smoking. We can do it with football.

I don’t know what football will look like in ten years. But I do know things can't stay as they are today. Players are at risk, especially young players. We must move beyond hyperbole and do what's right.

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The good news is that it's happening.

Frank Fear