Play Smart

Play Smart

Things have changed a lot since Lloyd Carr first took to the gridiron as a player back in the 1960s. For one thing, helmet design has improved. For another, head coaches no longer have the power to hire and fire trainers—as Michigan’s Bo Schembechler did when Carr joined his staff in 1980.

Both changes signal a heightened interest in player safety.

Another thing that’s changed is the mindset of coaches themselves. Carr cites the legendary Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, who insisted that the most important thing in football is the boy who plays the game. “That should be our mantra in coaching,” the former UM head football coach told an audience of medical experts, public health faculty, staff, students, and athletes who gathered at SPH in April for a symposium on sports injuries. Sponsored by the UM Injury Prevention Center, the symposium, “Play Smart: Injury Prevention On and Off the Field,” focused on traumatic brain injuries, particularly concussions.

Carr was joined by David Sleet of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Jeff Kutcher, director of UM’s Michigan NeuroSport Program.

The athlete who plays football is more important than “winning, money, and the prestige that comes with success,” Carr said. And yet sports-related concussions afflict as many as 3.8 million American athletes a year, many of them football players. And recent research has put a national spotlight on the link between concussions in NFL players and long-term dementia.

Carr said education—especially among coaches—is key. “As a group of professionals, most of us are not as educated as we should be,” he confessed, adding that he’s probably learned more since he stepped down from coaching in 2008, thanks in large part to the “great doctors and trainers” at UM who’ve shared their wisdom with him.

But there are still plenty of risks that need to be addressed, Carr said, including the extended length of both football games and seasons, the increasing height and weight of players, and changes in the safety of athletic equipment.

“To me, if you’re a parent or grandparent of a player, the number one thing I think you need to do is to make sure he or she has a good physical exam,” Carr advised. He also urged parents to watch practices “to get a feel for how the coach works.”

Video of Coach Carr's talk:

See also video of Dr. Kutcher's talk on concussions.