The Ivy League has a history of leadership in education and ground-breaking research, but this year it’s being recognized for its innovation in another category: student-athlete safety.
“So what?” you might say. Player safety should always be a priority, and we shouldn’t need to recognize a team’s commitment to keeping its players injury-free.
But it’s not just about being safe while on the playing field. It’s also about taking preventative measures and protecting players later in life.
The Ivy League’s accomplishments in this area are all geared toward a particular safety issue that is increasingly in the national spotlight, especially in football: concussions.
In recent years, the NFL has recognized the impact that multiple traumatic brain injuries have on players later in life. U.S. government researchers found in September that former NFL players and soldiers are four times more likely to suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Even more alarming are the increasing number of diagnoses of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found predominantly in athletes who have suffered repeated head trauma. CTE’s symptoms include depression, confusion, memory loss and difficulty in making decisions.
The dangers of CTE hit home especially hard for members of the Penn and Ivy football communities. Owen Thomas, a former football co-captain for the Quakers who committed suicide in April 2010, was found after his death to have CTE. Thomas is the youngest player ever to have been diagnosed with CTE.
It doesn’t matter whether it was Thomas’ death or national research findings that spurred the Ancient Eight into action. The point is that the league took action across all athletic programs. In football, teams reduced full-contact practices to twice per week, emphasized education on proper tackling techniques and educated athletes on the signs and symptoms of concussions and the potential short- and long-term ramifications of repetitive brain trauma.
Just before preseason practices got underway for the fall season, the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse programs also implemented a series of preventive measures for concussions, developed by coaches and members of the league’s Multi-Sport Concussion Review Committee. The committee is set to make similar recommendations for men’s and women’s ice hockey as well.
The league also recognizes that safety right now, while critical, is not the only step that can be taken to ensure future reductions in concussions and brain injuries. In June 2012, the league announced a research collaboration effort with the Big Ten Conference, which would pool the resources and expertise of researchers at all affiliated universities.
All of these efforts were recognized when the Ivy League was honored by the Sports Legacy Institute and received the 2012 Impact Award for its proactive stance on concussions.
According to the SLI, “The Ivy League has distinguished itself as the first and, as of yet, only conference in the nation to begin reforming contact sports in light of new traumatic brain injury research. The Ivy League has led by passing strict concussion policies and limiting full-contact practices. The Sports Legacy Institute applauds their efforts to keep their student-athletes safe.”
Sports are inherently dangerous, and the games we love wouldn’t be the same without some of that risk. But the athletes who work so hard to excel deserve to know what that one extra knock to the head could mean. They deserve coaches who will teach them safe tackling techniques. They deserve officials who will police bad hits when they see them.
The Ivy League should continue to be lauded for its forward-thinking on this issue, and other leagues, from the NCAA to the NFL to little leagues nationwide, should take note and follow the example.
ANNA STRONG is a senior English major from Philadelphia and is former sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.