It is impossible to deny that football is a dominant sport in America. Every Friday night, communities across the country come together to watch high school players battle it out under the lights while the weekends are consumed with college and professional ball. The football culture is alive and well in our country, and many young boys dream of the day when they could play in the big leagues. But, the obsession with the sport can lead to immense pressure on young athletes, which in turn can cause detrimental effects on a player’s physical and mental health.
The pressure, both positive and negative, surrounding football comes from many different angles. The community and fans often have high expectations for their young players. Take BHS’s varsity football team for example. Last year the team went on to win state after an undefeated season. Varsity starting quarterback and junior at BHS, DJ Perdaems, says the pressure from our community can be a challenge.
“There are high expectations after last year, and it’s hard for people to realize it can’t be like that every year. There’s a lot of pressure.” However, Perdaems says it’s important to remember that the community simply wants the team to do well.
“(As the quarterback) I feel like I have a lot of support. Everyone wants to see me succeed. That’s important for anyone who is playing sports to remember. They are cheering for you to do well, you shouldn’t feel negative pressure,” says Perdaems.
Although all of the football players interviewed for this article cited their teams being extremely close and supportive, they also said the team bond can actually be a major source of pressure.
“You want to win for each other almost more than for other people. You feel like you let the guys around you down more than the people that are watching,” Perdaems says of his teammates.
This additional unspoken pressure from the players can lead to severe injury on the field. Reflecting on his time in high school football, senior MSU football player Quinn Castalano says that sometimes the desire to stay on the field with the team overrides an injury.
“This group is extremely close out here. No matter what, players are gonna try and play, even if it’s detrimental to their health. Concussions are a big one, multiple people have played through that stuff, and that’s something that’s scary, but it’s about what you’re willing to lay on the line for the guy next to you,” he says. Alex Singleton, also an MSU senior agrees:
“Sometimes you don’t want to lose your spot to the guy coming in behind you. Sometimes you want to fight through [an injury] for the guy next to you.”
Injuries like concussions are common in football. Awareness for the harmful effects of brain damage has been rising thanks to recent national headlines. Several former NFL players are suing the league over lack of prevention and education about concussions. According to The New York Times, one in three NFL players suffers from brain trauma. In the first week of October, three high school football players died after suffering brain injuries from playing. According to the Times, there have been over 50 deaths from injuries sustained in high school football reported since 1997. Though this number is only a small percentage of the hundreds-of-thousands of high school football players in the country, the risk for unseen, and uncaught injury is extremely high.
“There are a lot of injuries in football because truthfully, it’s a really dangerous game—throwing your bodies around at other people,” says Perdaems. He adds that one reason for the failure of reporting injuries is simply a lack of awareness.
“A lot of injuries you don’t feel at the time because your adrenaline is pumping. That’s part of the reason they say a lot of the injuries go unreported, you just don’t feel them at the time.”
BHS has many resources to combat both the lack of injury reporting and the effects of concussions. Head Trainer Mark Meredith believes that one of ways BHS stands out in the world of high school sports is because teammates support each other when injured,
“We rely on other athletes to let us know about injuries. We make a point of saying, ‘If your friend is hurt and not saying anything, you have a duty to make sure they’re being taken care of,” Meredith says. Furthermore, BHS coaches are trained to detect injuries on the field, Troy Purcell, head coach of the BHS football team says.
“ If you have a jammed finger, something that’s not gonna get worse, you have to play through it. If it’s a big hurt, we have to sit them out. We are very conscious about [concussions]. We want what is best for the student-athlete. The team comes second, their health comes first,” he says.
Despite the awareness of injury both from coaches and teammates, injuries are still prominent at the high school, especially in sports that have more public attention.
“I think it’s tough for athletes. Expectations are pretty high here at Bozeman High. There’s always pressure as an athlete to return as soon as possible: expectations from the coach, expectations from the parents, expectations from the community are all high. If athletes come back injured, that means we haven’t done our job well. But it happens a lot, because of the pressure to play,” Meredith says.
Because of this pressure, the training staff at the high school makes an effort to ensure that athletes are completely healed before playing. Meredith mentions that while the immediate goal is to get players back out on the field, the final end goal is to keep recidivism rates of injuries down.
“We wait 7 days with no symptoms before an athlete with a concussion can practice again,” says Meredith. “If an athlete has a concussion, which is the biggest fears these days, the goal is to get the athlete completely symptom free before they can start practice, and certainly not a game. It requires medical clearance before they can get back out there,” Meredith says. The waiting time and subsequent concussion tests are all made in the effort to make sure athletes are capable and aware of the harm injuries can cause long term. Meredith also believes that a key part to injury recovery is having a strong support base, which he and Coach Purcell insist is very prominent at BHS. Purcell maintains that the coaching staff is very supportive, saying his office is ‘an open door’ and that the staff is open and willing to sit down with players.
This support is vital in both injuries and academics. The coaching staff at BHS works with players to help them set goals–something that is vital to keeping athletes successful academically.
“We set long-term and short-term goals. What are we doing right now thats important? If you want to play in college, you have to have grades to reach that college. If you don’t make it in, there is no football. That’s number one. We remind them that there’s a lot more academic scholarships out there then athletic,” Purcell says.
As an athlete on a full-ride scholarship at MSU, Singleton agrees saying,
“It’s hard because I know I’m here to play football, but I have to remember what my scholarship is really for in the end. School is a huge thing. You have to have something to fall back on when football ends and a lot of people don’t realize that that is a degree.”
“As much as I hate to say, education is everything,” he adds. The MSU football players say they are grateful for the breadth of academic support available to them at the university, saying that they are aware they have more resources than an average student. These resources include everything from an academic trainer/advisor, to a room where they can rent calculators and laptops, and print for free.
Much like MSU, Bozeman High School has many resources to help athletes academically and physically. In addition to the support mentioned above, physicians and doctors stop by the BHS training room on a regular basis in an effort to ensure athletes can quickly return to the playing field in a healthy manner. Guidance counselors are getting more involved in ways to help return players to the classroom procedures after an injury. Coaches and players are both aware of stress, and ready to support each other in spite of bad plays and mistakes. At the end of the day despite the negative pressure and stress, both players and coaches agree that as long as the resources are available to help student-athletes stay healthy and academically focused, they will be able to reap the benefits of high school athletics.
“I think you develop so many life skills through athletics, it’s unreal. How to work, how to fight, how to look yourself in the mirror and know that you did your best and prepared yourself the best that you could, that’s all anybody can ask,” Purcell concludes.
Psychologically, Bozeman has many sports psychologists for hire but BHS has highly trained Guidance Counselors for free
Academically, BHS has resources like the Math Lab, Writing Lab, and College and Career Center, to keep students on track.
Physically, BHS has multiple trainers available to athletes for every practice and game to help with injuries.