Since football and television began their relationship, fans have been captivated by the big hits.
Former players yelled “Jacked up!” over ESPN highlights. Teenagers loop YouTube videos of Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins flying in from the secondary to deliver a devastating blow to an opponent.
Those hits were the most celebrated by fans and, in turn, the most concerning by officials, wondering whether their sport was celebrating a culture that endangered players with highlight-reel impacts.
Dr. Joel Stitzel and his research team instead wondered about the smaller ones, the hits absorbed every day in practice by millions of young football players across the nation.
Stitzel, the chair of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the associate head of the Virginia Tech‑Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, is the senior author of a study that measures every impact absorbed by a football player throughout the season.
“From our perspective, it’s trying to quantify the subconcussive impact exposure and understand if that has any negative consequences,” Stitzel said. “I think it’s about, for us, you can’t really do anything about practice or the game if you don’t understand what’s going on. That’s kind of the first step for us, understanding what’s going on.”