Football at the Crossroads

In the late 1960’s an orthopedic doctor, concerned about the health of his football playing sons, wrote his observations. Dr. O. Charles Olsen’s book, “The Prevention of Football Injuries,” made note of the adverse and pronounced effects of “spearing” or head gear to chest tackling.   While this technique was effective and caught on quickly, the number of deaths and severe injuries rose as a rapid level never before witnessed before in football.

Dr. Olsen concluded that energy equaled one half of the mass times velocity squared. (e=1/2m x v squared).   The bigger, stronger, faster players were creating a force that couldn’t withstand head gear to head gear, or head gear to knee contact.

The consolidation of schools eliminated many of the smaller players.   African American footballers were added to the talent pool, along with weight programs, better diets, and better coaching, and in many instances steroids.   Tremendous contact ensued.   And, while efforts have been made to control this violent hitting, football is at a crossroads.

The question of the long term effects of head contacts have forced the questions of (1) are we dealing with concussions properly,(2) are we legally liable if we turn our backs on the problem (3) are the linemen more vulnerable than we thought and (4) can you “take the head out of football?” and on and on.   These questions have been around.   Perhaps no one has done more research than UNC Chapel Hill.   Dr. Carl Blyth and Dr. Fred Mueller have done yeoman’s work in an attempt to protect our young players.   This effort was begun a long time ago.   Dr. Mueller still pursues the data at the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Pro football features a real ballet each game day.   The receivers and defensive backs are making plays that are at a new level of brilliance  . Truly a work of physical, human art. At the same time Olsen’s theory of force is hardly better exemplified than when a receiver crosses the field and is hit by a defensive back.   And, while a defensive back may be penalized for “head hunting”, he knows if he jars the ball loose, and or intimidates the receiver, his game rating goes up. While this risks tragic injury possibilities (his own included) is his job security a factor that urges him on?

The crossroads football faces include some other variables.   The more violent the hitting, the more the injury.   Yet the more violent the hitting the more market appeal the game experiences.   Are we getting to the “gladiator” level of violence?   And while college and professional football are in the crosshairs of violence, perhaps high school footballers are even more vulnerable.   And here is why: The weak and small and slow are eliminated at the college level.   But in many high schools, small players may face tremendous opponents.   These guys hitting the “canon fodder” can create catastrophe.

“You can’t take the head out of football” might become “you must take the head out of football.”   How to do this is the crossroads question.   I fear the 2011 season will make this even more apparent.   “I would let my son play football, but I would not encourage him to play football.”  James Michener, Sports In America 1976.

Beautiful Eastern North Carolina

May 13, 2007
The People’s Forum
PO Box 191
Raleigh, NC 27602

Dear Sirs:

In the Spring of 1968, as the coach of Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College’s Men’s tennis team, I took our team to then Elon College.   After the match, as we exited through the campus, one of our freshmen commented,   “Coach, I wouldn’t want to go to that school.   Look at the campus.”

In 2003, Elon University was selected as the second most beautiful campus among colleges and universities in America! (Santa Cruz, California was #1)

I was employed by Elon in 1985 and changes were already gathering steam.   I watched for twenty plus years.   If you haven’t seen Elon lately, you would be impressed.

How did it happen?

So often, one person deserves the major credit.   Elon’s leader was President Fred Young.   I’m not sure how many doubters there were, but I am sure that Dr. Young could tell you plenty about being told that there wasn’t enough money, or that his was a “pipe” dream, or whatever.   Dr. Young had a “Fred Mobile”, or golf cart, that he and his wife, Phyllis, would survey the campus with.   Often, he would stop and pick up trash.   It all impressed me, as well as many others nationwide.   And it transformed Elon’s entire image and self perception.

I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life, Mountains, Piedmont or “the East”.   And I love Eastern North Carolina, now living on its beautiful coast.   But Elon spoiled me.

We need to clean up Eastern North Carolina!   Dilapidated barns, houses, sheds, trailers, mobile homes, vehicles, yards, etc. make far too many “eyesores” for the well being of our area.   It’s bad for business, our future and our people.   The development of the “Inner Banks” is coming fast. Our whole area has great potential…but “Image is Everything”.

I am an old coach, not a politician or social reformer. I know I could get shot on private land. I’ve heard about the problems with asbestos, etc. How, I don’t know, but maybe we could raise money for this vital cause. Maybe the dreaded “tax” word.   Maybe a trust fund gathered over a period of time.     County by county? Town by town?    Is there a “bell cow” out there?

Some will scoff, resist, maybe be offended. Certainly some people:
1. Can’t afford to do this
2. Can’t physically do this
3. Can’t legally do this
4. Are too old for this

We need a plan.   We need leadership.   We have great potential.   Our offspring, families, neighbors, businesses and environment will be the benefactors.

“…everyone must flush out his house, if he doesn’t expect to be going round housing flushes.”
Bob Dylan, “The Open Door, Homer”

With sincere belief in our State,

Tom Parham
Emerald Isle, North Carolina

“The Outliers”

Letter to the Editor
January 23, 2012
News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina

In his bestselling “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell concludes that the single most important factor in a child’s education is if he/she has parents who read to him/her at an early age.

The Abecedarian Project (see last week’s News & Observer) firmly supports the need for early education (i.e. reading skills) which have “…very long term implications.”

The “Parental Link” to reading is not available to many “at risk” poor kids.

North Carolina would be wise to support the above mentioned project geared at funding early age reading education.

Tom Parham
Emerald Isle, North Carolina


  1. posted on sept 28. sept 29 news of a lawsuit over concussions to two football collegians reported…sept 30 a pbs special featuring a new book on this subject is broadcast. tp

  2. Heath Whittle, Ph.D.

    Dr. Carl Blyth was my professor for Anatomy and Physiology courses at UNC Chapel HIll. He was a brillient teacher and scientist. He conducted research on the effects of hot weather on the body for the military back in the 50s and 60s. His Anatomy and Physioloty courses were so good that pre-med students would take the classes. Also these courses were so difficult that we had very few football players taking them!.

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