August heat and modern-day football is one of several combinations that concern 77-year-old George Beres of Eugene, Oregon. He reads this column in his hometown newspaper, the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times.
Beres worked more than 30 years as a sports information director at Northwestern University (Big Ten) and the University of Oregon (PAC-10). In 1987, he had to retire because of a sight impairment due to an avocation-related injury.
He said the way college football is being played today puts players at higher risk for permanent disability. “For one, back in the ’70s when I was at Northwestern, football seasons were shorter,” said Beres in a telephone interview. “Now college teams play up to 12 regular season games. To do that they have to move preseason practice into early August because their first game is in late August. They are practicing now in mid-August with heavy padding, uniforms, and their helmets.”
Doing this puts players at higher risk for heatstroke, which in serious cases not resulting in death can lead to significant long-term memory, motor, and cognitive challenges.
And he said heavier players are much more prone to heatstroke: “The reality also is that players are getting bigger. High school coaches are encouraging their players to get bigger to get scholarships. A major college team nowadays might have more than 10 players over 290 pounds.”
Besides heatstroke, Beres has been concerned about the long-term effects of player concussions. “Quarterbacks and running backs are particularly susceptible because defensive linemen have been getting bigger,” he said. “I have read where some players of 30 years ago that had concussions are now showing advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as short-term memory loss, even though they don’t have the actual disease.”
Beres said he believes many defensive coordinators encourage their players to punish opposing quarterbacks in order to win games. One former University of Oregon and Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Chris Miller, had so many concussions a doctor recommended he quit pro football completely, said Beres. Far too many players after a concussion return to action too soon, which risks further injury. Sometimes they do this because of personal pride or a coach’s desire to win.
Said Beres, the former sports information director: “I see football as a very violent game and increasingly so, which is why I know longer believe in the way football is played today.”
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