Fundamentals of Social Sciences dissertation

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Safety Decisions in High School Football

This paper focuses on one aspect of high school football safety. The study explores the issue of higher levels of injury being associated with a particular brand or brands of football helmets worn by high school athletes who play football, and the institutional decisions and actions that follow disclosure of such information. A recent study by Virginia Tech rated helmets worn by professional football players -- helmets worn by high school students have not yet been rated by the university. The study compared helmets manufactured by three companies. High ratings were given to the Riddell Speed, the Riddell Revolution, the Riddell Revolution IA, the Schutt Ion 4D, the Schutt DNA, and the Xenith X1. Medium ratings were given to the Schutt Air XP and Schutt Air Advantage. Players were warned by Virginia Tech not to wear the Riddell VSR4 and the Adams A2000. No correlation exists between safety and the price of a helmet. The Adams 2000 is the lowest rated helmet, but it costs $200. The four-star high-rated Schutt DNA costs $170.

It is important to note that the Riddell VSR4 -- the second-lowest-rated helmet -- was the most commonly worn helmet in the NFL games last season, and the helmet is also worn by college student and high school student football players. The industry and the institutions have been reluctant to issue ultimatums about which helmets their players must wear. Apparently, the NFL has been given legal advice that disclosing information about helmets without mandating a particular brand or type of helmet reduces their legal risk. Sports broadcasters enthusiastically calling attention to helmet-to-helmet contact, referees ignoring unnecessary roughness in football games, football practice -- for all practical purposes -- completely unregulated, ill-advised coaches demand nutcracker drills and other cumulatively dangerous training approaches, and pro-football players wearing the least safe brand and type of helmets, Young football athletes are exposed to cultural pressure and branding messages that can result in unsafe decisions (Gerberich, 1983; Saunders and Harbaugh, 1984).

Further, academic budgets have been reduced across the nation in response to the residual effects of the 2009 fiscal crisis and, typically, cuts to athletic programs are some of the first to be implemented. Athletics are highly popular, but they are also inordinately expensive. Educational institutions are under considerable pressure to make budget cuts in areas that are believed not to negatively impact the academic attainment of students, nor their institutional accreditation.

A diminished sports budget is bound to have some impact on sports activities at an affected institution. The condition of equipment used by student athletes can deteriorate if there is insufficient money for repair or replacement. Coaching staff may not be of high caliber if there is not money to pay for their services. Practice sessions may not be well supervised or student athletes may be encouraged to perform above their capacity or in ways that are not regarded to be safe (Pollock, 1977). Disincentives may discourage certified athletic trainers from reporting issues that are related to under-training, over-training, or pressure to perform (DiScala, 1997, "Excessive physical training," 1991).

The manner and degree to which budget cuts to high school football have on safety is of fundamental interest in this study. While the research is intended to explore the purchase and maintenance decisions regarding football helmets provided to high school football athletes following disclosure of preferred brands and types of helmets, the study is also designed to examine the degree to which cultural and traditional forces influence these decisions.

Theoretical Framework

This research is grounded in post-positivist theory in which science is perceived as a socio-cultural activity as well as a technical (empirical) endeavor. It is, in fact, the socio-cultural context that gives meaning to the scientific findings. Any scientific accounts purported to undergird findings related to the sports safety research in the literature -- as presented in this paper -- must be understood as explanations that are put forth by a specific community of scientist who are situation in a particular space at a certain time.

From the post-positivist position, the theoretical framework can be seen to be pragmatism, which is the ultimate scientific position for linking theory and practice. The approach goes beyond explanation to an application of the explanation in practice. This is fundamentally the reason for conducting research in sports safety. It is not knowledge for knowledge's sake that the researcher pursues -- rather, it is a direct application of the research to the practice that matters. The purpose of the research is to determine what "safety" in football is and looks like, and then to apply that learning to the actual practice and playing of the game of football.

From these definitions of the theoretical framework of the study, the reader is encouraged to review the various official agencies and research bodies charged with constructing the corpus of knowledge regarding safety in sport, as presented in the following subsection.

Sports safety record-keeping and research. Football injuries can cause debilitating injuries and are costly to individual players, football teams, and the institutions that host football games. Considerable research has been dedicated to sports safety and the incidence of sports injuries, but coordination of the many efforts has been difficult. Unlike the record-keeping that occurs for pandemic health issues or the sophisticated tracking carried out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, information about football injuries at the level of educational institutions tends to be somewhat isolated.

"Not surprisingly, the rising prevalence and expense of sport and exercise injuries have increased the public's attention toward sports injuries. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) included sports injuries as an area of focus in its most recent Injury Research Agenda" ("Datalys Center," 2011).

Epidemiology and biostatistics. The advent of digital medical record-keeping has made it possible to collect and analyze information that would once have lain dormant and forgotten in obscure medical files. At sports medicine clinics associated with universities engaged in medical research and having established teaching hospitals, medical records scrubbed of individual information are being added to immense databases for analysis. The ability to use electronic record-keeping for tracking the causes of injuries and the outcomes of patients is beginning to reach local levels. Physicians are investing in the infrastructure for electronic medical and health care record-keeping.

Data mining and data integration. As the digital infrastructure expands and electronic record-keeping becomes more common place, the possibility of integrating databases becomes a feasible option. Institutions of higher education and of secondary education generally have well-developed technology infrastructures. Through data mining techniques, it has become possible to collect and analyze information from disparate databases. A number of organizations now exist to keep records and conduct research on sports safety. These organizations are discussed below.

National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. The mission of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) is to commission research that informs the establishment of standards for athletic equipment, and where possible, to establish those standards. The Committee promotes dissemination of information on research finding related to athletic equipment, data on injuries, and other associated areas of inquiry. To this end, the Committee collaborates with organizations that are represented on the NOCSAE Board of Directors and with other entities in the disciplines of sports medicine and athletic medicine.

National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study. The High School RIO is an internet-based data collection system used in the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, which follows a national sample of U.S. high school athletes, and it is currently the only surveillance study of all time-loss injuries within the sample. The study began in the 2005-2006 academic year and has been maintained ever since. The study is a spin-off -- a high school version -- of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance System. Refinements have been made to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study over the years with input from the high school sports community, which includes the student athletes, their parents, high school athletic directors, local and state high school athletic associations and administrators, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and pediatric sports medicine clinicians.

National Collegiate Athlete Association Injury Surveillance System. The National Collegiate Athlete Association Injury Surveillance System offers a program of free participation, training, and system support. The program creates permanent electronic athletic training records, maintains coach's records, creates individual and team injury reports for insurance purposes, maintains team injury and participation records, and serves as a resource for decision-making at the school, conference, and Association levels. The database permits customized reports, such that, a researcher could compare injury trends across academic years to examine, say, changes in coaching staff, or to compare school data to divisional and national trends. Further, reports can quantify the treatment plans and treatment modalities across different sports programs or across schools by sport.

Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention. Researchers, sports associations, and the sports medicine community require complete, reliable information…[continue]

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