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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Is bigger, stronger and faster really safe?

By BROOKS TAYLOR | Jan 29, 2016

Okay, I’ll admit it. There is no comparison to athletics when I played and athletics today.

That statement also encompasses injuries.

Back in the “olden days,” we not only never heard of the ACL acronym, but had we heard the term, we would have had no idea what it was. While we had an occasional ankle sprain, hamstring or quad injury, that was the extent of the injuries.

The only way athletes during my era missed games was due to illness or family emergencies. I was a five-sport athlete in high school and never missed a game because of an injury.

Taking it a step further, I also don’t remember so many Major League baseball pitchers with torn rotator cuffs, and that was when nobody paid attention to appearances or pitch counts.

The same goes for the other college and professional sports. Although there were minor injuries, there weren’t the major ones experienced by professional athletes in today’s game.

So, what’s the difference?

I have a theory, but bear in mind, it is just my theory and not based on a $1M federal study.

Aside from the lack of series injuries back in my day, there was another difference — weight-training. There was no weight-lifting at 6 a.m., in the weight room because first of all there wasn’t a weight room, and secondly, I don’t know of any school district even owning a five-pound barbell.

Our weight-training came through work. I spent high-school summers working on farms (I was a “townie”). Many a hot summer day, I was standing on a hay rack, grabbing bales from the baler or placing them on a conveyor belt for their ascent into the barn.

In the fall, I helped with corn shelling and harvesting.

One summer I did rise at 6 a.m. (very difficult for a high schooler on summer vacation) to drive 12 miles to pick cucumbers for Gedney.

The rewards for the work definitely weren’t monetary, but the work provided muscles in new places and the highlight was those noon dinners. Wow! We worked hard, ate very well and had no trouble sleeping at night.

I’ve had two daughters play college basketball. They weren’t into weights until college. Both were hurt their freshman year of college when they began lifting weights in earnest. The oldest daughter’s playing days were more than a decade ago, but she still feels the effects of the injury.

Am I blaming today’s sports injuries on weights? Not entirely, but I think they play a supporting role. I think if done with the proper technique and following instructions, weights can be beneficial. However, bending the rules can lead to problems. Muscles, tendons and ligaments must retain elasticity and flexibility in order to function properly. Short-circuiting the natural process can cause injuries.

There was a popular weight-training program a few years ago called “Bigger, Stronger and Faster.” But is bigger, stronger and faster what we want?

This week, news emerged that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in the brain of former University of Iowa All-American football player Tyler Sash. Sash, 27, died last fall and his parents had his brain examined by doctors at Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Sash, who never was known to shy away from contact during his playing days, had as much CTE in his brain, doctors said, as did NFL star linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide several years ago at age 43.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma that has been found in dozens of former NFL players. Symptoms include confusion, memory loss, inability to focus and minor fits of temper. The inability to focus was listed as the reason Sash was unable to find a job after being cut from the NFL several years ago.

Doctors rate the severity of CTE on a scale of 1-4 with four being the most severe. Sash’s CTE was at level two. Medical personnel said they had seen only one other case in a similar-aged athlete — the athlete was 25 — with a like amount of CTE.

Injuries and deaths resulting from participation in athletics makes you wonder — wonder if we are taking the correct approach in making athletes bigger, stronger and faster and wonder if some amateur sports will survive due to the danger associated with them.

I played high school football had a son who played football, albeit sparingly, in the 1990s. If I had another son who asked me for my opinion on playing football today, I am not sure how I would advise him. I am just relieved that I don’t have to fret about it.

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